Croxdale, between Spennymoor and Durham has a name that comes from ‘Krokr’s-Taegel’ meaning ‘Crook-Back’s tail of land’, Krokr is a Norse personal name meaning ‘crook-back’, suggesting a Viking presence in the neighbourhood. There is certainly a tail of land here in the nearby Sunderland Bridge area formed by the River Wear and adjoining Croxdale Beck. Sunderland Bridge, we should point out, is the name of a neighbouring village and not the bridge in city of Sunderland.
Croxdale is really two places. The more familiar of the two Croxdales is the former mining village noted for its stone terraces that line the Old Great North Road (A167) to the south of Durham City. Here, the road splits in two with the A167 continuing south towards Thinford, Ferryhill and Chilton with the other road (the B6288) heading south west to Tudhoe, Spennymoor and onward to Bishop Auckland.
Croxdale village used to be called Croxdale Colliery. In the 1870s it was the arrival of the railways in the neighbourhood (now the East Coast Main Line) that brought about the birth of the mining village. With it came the opening, in 1876, of Croxdale Colliery which was connected to this line and owned by the Weardale Iron and Coal Company. This company also owned the colliery at Tudhoe. Croxdale Colliery was situated off the Tudhoe road near Sunderland Bridge and was worked until 1934.
Old Croxdale, Sunderland Bridge and Hett
Old Croxdale is the original Croxdale and is a farming settlement centred around Croxdale Hall in parkland across the Croxdale Beck to the north east. It is a place of much interest and accessible from the village of Sunderland Bridge just off the great road.
Like the city of Sunderland, the village of Sunderland Bridge has the meaning ‘separated land’. It was historically a separate, outlying part of the parish of St Oswald in the Elvet area of Durham City and in medieval times belonged to the De Kilkennys and Nevilles and then to the Salvin family from the 1600s.
The Salvins have long been the principal family of Croxdale but it was the Sunderland Bridge branch of the family that produced the famous architect, Anthony Salvin (1799-1881). The attractive old bridge at Sunderland lies to the west of the present road bridge and once carried the Great North Road across the Wear. The middle arch of the bridge dates from the thirteenth century. Further to the west is another bridge, a railway viaduct, which carries the East Coast Main Line across the Wear.
The village of Sunderland Bridge consists of two facing rows in what is a pretty and secluded village despite its location just off the busy A167. It has a Victorian church that was built to serve the neighbouring mining community as in earlier times the villagers used the tiny Norman church at Croxdale Hall. At the west end of the village row a quiet road continues south to the village of Hett and a nearby lane on a private road leads to Old Croxdale.
Old Croxdale consists of Croxdale Hall, a private residence and its associated buildings. In the late thirteenth century this Croxdale belonged to Roger of Rothbury who also owned nearby Shincliffe but it belonged to Robert De Whalton, a Treasurer of Brittany by the 1350s. De Whalton’s granddaughter, Agnes, married a Gerard Salvin in 1409 and from that time on Croxdale has been associated with the Salvins. A family of Norman origin, the Salvins originally settled in the Sherwood Forest area of Nottinghamshire from which their sylvan – ‘forest’ – name derives.
For centuries owners of Croxdale have gone by the name Gerard Salvin and the family have long been noted as Roman Catholics. They had to keep a low profile during past centuries in times of Catholic persecution.
Croxdale Hall is mostly of the eighteenth century but incorporates a private, Gothic-style, Roman Catholic chapel that dates from 1807. Outside the hall across the lane nearby is a tiny enigmatic medieval church, which is part-Norman in origin. Other neighbouring buildings include a farmhouse and an enormous late eighteenth century hay barn.
For a time in the nineeteenth century Croxdale Hall was leased by the Salvins to John Rogerson, the owner of the Weardale Iron and Coal Company who also resided for a time at Mount Oswald in Durham City.
Hett village, about a mile to the south of Croxdale Hall is a curious settlement of old farm buildings clustered around a large village green that looks like a large farmer’s field with a duck pond. Old buildings in the village include Slashpool Farm which dates to 1708.
The name Hett means ‘hat-shaped hill’ and as well as farming was noted for mining and quarrying, with coal mining first mentioned here in 1407. The fashion designer Bruce Oldfield (born 1950) was raised in this village by his foster mother Violet Masters, who taught him to sew.
Croxdale Hall should not be confused with Burn Hall, the grand and much larger nineteenth century mansion on the west side of the Great North Road near Croxdale. Once admired by Queen Victoria who was passing in a train – the east coast main line skirts the estate – she considered it the finest looking estate between the Humber and the Tweed.
The manor here in medieval times was called Great Burn and once belonged to the Nevilles and later the Claxtons and is named from the ‘Brune’ or nearby River Browney that joins the River Wear nearby. Great Burn was historically connected with Little Burn, (Littleburn) at Meadowfield to the west.
Burn Hall was built in the 1820s and early 1830s by the Durham architect Ignatius Bonomi for Brian John Salvin of Croxdale and remained in Salvin hands until 1926 when it became a Roman Catholic seminary at which boys were trained as Catholic missionaries. In the 1990s the hall was divided up into luxury residential units and is now only accessible by a gated driveway.
Tudhoe – the hill spur once belonging to an Anglo-Saxon called Tuda – consists of the relatively secluded former farming village of Tudhoe which lies along two sides of a village road in the countryside to the west of the once separate mining village of Tudhoe Colliery. In the 1270s Tudhoe belonged to a Hugh Gubyon but later passed to the Nevilles and then to the Salvins. A branch of the Salvin family resided in Tudhoe during the 1600s and 1700s.
Tudhoe is centred around a village green or rather three greens with two larger outer greens and one smaller central green. The largest old house in the village is Tudhoe Hall which dates to the seventeenth century with a partly oak roof dating to 1600.
The house includes some hidden spaces which may be priest holes as Tudhoe through its association with the Brancepeth estate of the Nevilles and the Salvin family of Croxdale had a long tradition for Roman Catholicism which continued during times of Catholic persecution.
An academy for the education of Roman Catholic boys once stood in the village and was one of the first in England. It opened in 1778 but the building is no longer here. It once sheltered five trainee English Catholic priests from the Catholic college of Douai in Flanders who had fled the French revolution and sought refuge in England. These Douai priests eventually re-founded the Catholic college of Douai at Ushaw to the west of Durham. Tudhoe was for a time considered as a potential location for the college.
The former colliery village of Tudhoe lies along the main road (B6288) leading into the adjoining town of Spennymoor. Tudhoe Colliery was operated from 1864 until 1935 by the Weardale Iron and Coal Company and stood to the west of the main road where we now find the Tudhoe Industrial Estate. Stone terraces line the colliery front street similar to those at Croxdale.
Recorded as Spenningmore in the 1290s, Spennymoor was open moorland for much of its history. There was no town or village, the moorland stretched from Binchester near Bishop Auckland to Hett. Spennymoor’s name means ‘moorland at the spenning’ – a spenning being a fenced enclosure.
Railways came to the area in the 1830s and brought about the opening of several collieries and the Tudhoe Iron works which were the catalyst for Spennymoor’s growth as a brand new town. It was a branch of the Clarence Railway from Teesside called the Byers Green branch that brought about the town’s birth, facilitating the opening of the iron works and associated collieries.
Several new mines exclusively linked to branches of this line soon opened up. The collieries included Tudhoe (1864-1966); Whitworth Park (1841-1974); Page Bank (1855-1931); Binchester Colliery at Middlestone Moor (1855-1908) and Byers Green Colliery (1841-1731). The collieries were mostly operated by Teesside industrial firms like Bolckow and Vaughan, Bell Brothers and Dorman Long. Miners moved into the colliery villages of the area from across Durham and from places more distant like Lancashire and Wales to provide the workforce of the area.
Spennymoor developed mostly on land belonging to the Shaftos of Whitworth but also subsequently on land belonging to the Salvins at Tudhoe Grange. The mining village or town of Spennymoor itself, centred on the High Street, initially developed on the west side of the wooded stream called the Valley Burn which was known to the new locals as ‘The Jordan’.
In 1853 the Tudhoe Iron works were opened by Charles Attwood’s Weardale Iron and Coal Company. Despite its name the iron works were built in the heart of what we now call Spennymoor rather than at Tudhoe. The works were located in what are now the open fields of a park near North Park Primary School between Spennymoor and the then newly founded village of Low Spennymoor which came into being with the opening of the ironworks. The Weardale Iron and Coal Company also opened collieries in the area, namely the Bishop’s Close Colliery on the line just to the west of Spennymoor (1860-1909) and the Tudhoe Grange Colliery next to the works in 1869 though this was short-lived and closed in 1885.
Over time the settlements of Spennymoor, Low Spennymoor, Merrington Lane, Middlestone Moor, Tudhoe Grange, Tudhoe Colliery and Tudhoe all merged to form the Spennymoor we know today as working class housing was built at a rapid rate. There are some elaborate terraces here and there, amongst more typical houses. However, perhaps the most extraordinary development was a Victorian working class housing estate of neatly spaced semi-detached houses in the Bryan Street, Gerard Street and Marmaduke Street areas of Spennymoor just north of the town centre.
Semi-detached housing is usually something associated with the 1950s, 60s and 70s onwards but remarkably this estate was built in the period 1865 to 1870 by Marmaduke Salvin, and seems way ahead of its time. Many of the houses and the layout can still be seen.
By 1894 Spennymoor’s civic status was confirmed with the first election of the town council and in 1916 the Town Hall with its distinctive tower was opened.
One interesting feature of Spennymoor’s history was the establishment of the ‘Spennymoor Settlement’, a community venture formed in 1930 and initially funded by the Pilgrim Trust during the depth of the Depression, but still going strong today.
Practical activities such as mending shoes were carried out as well as all kinds of educational pursuits that would not normally have been made available to working class people in times past.
The organisation was designed to encourage neighbourliness and develop knowledge and interests within a friendly atmosphere. Known as the ‘Pitman’s Academy’ it proved to be a huge success to the extent that it produced a number of Oxford graduates and unearthed the talents of pitmen like the writer, Sid Chaplin and local artists Norman Cornish and Tom McGuinness.
The Spennymoor Settlement included an ahead-of-its-time citizens’ advice service, a library, and an Everyman Theatre built in 1939 by out of work miners and still hosting performances today. The theatre and settlement buildings are located on O’Hanlon Street just off Durham Street near Spennymoor town centre.
Whitworth Hall : Bobby Shafto
The country park and hall of Whitworth Hall (the name means ‘the enclosure belonging to someone called Hwitte’) is situated just over a mile to the west of Spennymoor with a park stretching west towards the banks of the River Wear. At the time of the Boldon Buke in 1183 Whitworth was held by Thomas de Acle (Aycliffe) whose descendants took the family name Whitworth from the place.
Later owners included the Nevilles and others but it is the Shafto family, who purchased the manor in 1652, with which Whitworth is most famously associated. The purchaser of that year was Mark Shafto, Recorder of Newcastle, a descendant of the Shaftos of Bavington in Northumberland, a family who ultimately took their names from Shafto Crags near Wallington in that county.
There were a succession of Shaftos at Whitworth including Mark’s great grandson, Robert Shafto the MP for Durham City, and a great-great grandson, another Robert Shafto, who was an MP for County Durham. This Robert Shafto was the ‘Bonny Bobby Shafto’ of the famous North East folk song who was depicted in a portrait at Whitworth as a handsome young man with ‘yellow’ hair:
Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles on his knee,
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair;
He’s my ain for evermair
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
Bobby Shafto went to court
All in gold and silver wrought
Like a grandee as he ought
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
Bobby Shafto rode a race
Well I mind his bonny face
Won it in a tearing pace
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
Bobby Shafto throws his gold
Right and left like knights of old
Now he’s left out in the cold
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
Bobby Shafto’s gettin’ a bairn
For to dangle on his airm
In his airm and on his knee
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
Bobby Shafto was elected to parliament for Durham in 1760 and again in 1761. The song was apparently used as an election jingle. The ballad is often associated with Mary Bellaysyse who lived at Brancepeth Castle across the River Wear to the west of Whitworth.
Mary was in love with Shafto and is said to have died of a broken heart when he married someone else – his bride being Anne Duncombe, the sole heiress of the Duncombe Park estate near Helmsley in Yorkshire whom he married in 1774.
Today, Whitworth Hall, which is late Georgian in style, is a hotel noted for its beautiful surrounding 73 acre country park. Here we find an ornamental lake, waterfowl and a herd of fallow deer that can be hand-fed on the purchase of bags of appropriate food at the park.
Page Bank and Byers Green
Just across the river from Whitworth Park on the road to Brancepeth is Page Bank. This was the site of Page Bank Colliery and an associated tiny colliery village of that name that came into being in the 1850s but was abandoned following the colliery’s closure in 1931. Back in the 1600s the Page Bank area was known as Pedgbank and is thought to be named from its former ownership by the Pegge family.
Byers Green to the west of Page Bank is named from cow sheds that once existed on the village green in times distant. Around the 1380s the place was owned by Richard Park and was then called Byers Geffrey from one of Richard’s ancestors.
In 1711 Byers Green was the birthplace of Thomas Wright, a famed astronomer and mathematician who was born to John (a carpenter) and Margaret Wright of Pegg’s Poole House in the village. Apprenticed to a watchmaker in Bishop Auckland as a boy, he later studied mathematics in London and then returned to the region to establish a school in Sunderland.
Wright was also a garden designer but it was as an astronomer that he was principally famed, being the first to describe the shape of the Milky Way. On retiring in County Durham he was known for building the distinctive observatory in the village of Westerton to the south west of Spennymoor near Kirk Merrington.