Trimdon to Thornley

The Trimdons

In County Durham it’s not unusual to get two or three or perhaps more than three villages in the same neighbourhood all with the same name. Trimdon is one such place or perhaps we should say four such places.

Trimdon Church west side
Trimdon Church, Trimdon village © David Simpson

Here we have the village of Trimdon itself and the neighbouring villages of Trimdon Grange, Trimdon Colliery and Trimdon Station, collectively known as ‘the Trimdons’ though Trimdon Station also goes by the name of Deaf Hill.

Duplicate village-names partly occur in County Durham because new colliery villages often sprung up near earlier farms or farming villages and often adopted their name. Another reason is that duplicate variations of neighbouring farms and hamlets are actually not unusual, it’s just that in Durham little hamlets and farm settlements with similar names often developed into major colliery villages drawing attention to the duplication of names in a way that less-known farm-names do not.

Trimdon village
Trimdon village © David Simpson

Trimdon : King Cnut’s hair cut

According to legend Trimdon was the place where King Cnut (or Canute), the famed Viking king of England, Denmark and Norway shaved his head and trimmed his beard before donning a cloak at the beginning of a bare-foot pilgrimage from Garmondsway (now the site of a deserted medieval village near Coxhoe) to St Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham.

Sadly there is no evidence to support the well-known theory that Trimdon means ‘trimming and donning’ as early forms of the name are quite different. Of course that does not discount the possibility that Trimdon was Cnut’s ‘place of tonsure’ prior to his pilgrimage.

Trimdon village
Trimdon village © David Simpson

Historic forms of Trimdon include ‘Tremeldona’ in 1196 and ‘Trembledon’ in 1339. The present form Trimdon did not come into use until 1539. The ‘don’ in Trimdon is almost certainly an Anglo-Saxon word for a hill, perhaps a reference to the nearby ridge which stretches west to Cornforth.

‘Tremel’ the first part of the early name ‘Tremeldon’ is thought to mean a wooden cross or sign. It has been argued that the name referred to a wooden post erected by pagan Anglo-Saxons and that a Christian church was later established on the site. An idea that ‘don’ referred to a mound formed by a pagan burial is now thought unlikely.

Manor Cottage, Trimdon village
Manor Cottage, Trimdon village © David Simpson

Trimdon Village

Trimdon lies close to the River Skerne, which begins life here as the tiniest of streams in boggy land just to the north-west of the village. From here it heads east in the direction of Hartlepool towards the Hurworth Burn Reservoir before twisting south and then heading back west across the poorly drained carr lands in the neighbourhood of Sedgefield and south towards Aycliffe.

Hurworth Burn Reservoir near Trimdon
Hurworth Burn Reservoir in the Skerne valley near Trimdon © David Simpson

In truth it is not until it reaches Darlington on its way to its confluence with the River Tees near Croft and Hurworth that the Skerne might be described as a small river rather than a stream. It’s interesting that the Skerne both begins and ends near a place called Hurworth. Part of the ‘river’ course just north of Trimdon is occupied by a fishing pond.

Hurworth Burn Reservoir
Hurworth Burn Reservoir © David Simpson

The old village of Trimdon ‘the Tremeldona’ of times past is situated on a long street orientated west to east that is split into two parts by a village green. During the later twentieth century the village has extended southward but it is the area around the green that forms the heart of the old village.

Here older houses, some of stone are interspersed with a few houses of more recent times. Historic buildings in the village are the church and the old manor house.

Roper House Trimdon
Trimdon Hall Farm, 1718, also called Roper House, Trimdon Village © David Simpson

Trimdon Hall and Trimdon Hall Farm occupy buildings at number 4 and 5 on the north side of Front Street. The name and date ‘Bryan Roper Anno Dom 1718’ is marked above the fine doorway of the hall, which is also known as Roper House.

Doorway, Roper House, Trimdon
Doorway, Roper House, Trimdon © David Simpson

Roper was the owner of the manor. Some parts of the house date earlier to the seventeenth century but there were also extensive alterations in later times.

Trimdon’s parish church is set in a pleasing setting on a raised mound (as at Easington) in the centre of the green. It is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and dates to Norman times.

Trimdon church
Trimdon Church stands on a mound above the main street of the village © David Simpson

From the 1140s the church was attached to Gisborough Priory in Cleveland and the manor was also given to that priory but following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s the manor and church came into the hands of the Roper family.

Old parsonage Trimdon Village
Old parsonage Trimdon Village © David Simpson

A stone in the pavement outside the church marks the spot where the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair announced the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales in August 1997.

Commemorative stone Trimdon church
Commemorative stone to Diana, Princess of Wales, Trimdon church © David Simpson

The villages of Trimdon and Trimdon Grange are linked by the B1278 which is part of the ancient Salter’s Lane (see under Warden Law on the Seaham page). The section of Salter’s Lane between the two places is called ‘Watch Bank’.

Old parsonage Trimdon Village
Old parsonage Trimdon Village © David Simpson

Trimdon Grange Explosion

Trimdon Grange Colliery opened in 1845 on the Great North of England Clarence and Hartlepool Junction Railway of 1839 which linked the mine to the port of Hartlepool. Its first owner was a Mr Joseph Smith and by the 1880s when a dreadful disaster occurred it was owned by a Mr Walter Scott of Newcastle. The colliery operated until closure in 1968.

Mining disasters and colliery explosions were sadly a common feature of life in County Durham in times past and the Trimdon Grange disaster was not unusual. Caused by an explosion in the mine which took place on February 16, 1882 it claimed the lives of 74 people.

Trimdon Grange memorial, Kelloe
Trimdon Grange memorial, Kelloe churchyard

The disaster is principally remembered by a memorial in Trimdon cemetery and by another at the nearby church of Kelloe (Trimdon Grange was in the parish of Kelloe) as well as in a song written by the County Durham ‘Pitman Poet’ Tommy Armstrong of Tanfield Lea in North West Durham (1848-1920).

Tommy’s beautiful if very sombre song was composed to raise money in aid of widows and orphans:

Let us not think of tomorrow,
Lest we disappointed be;
All our joys may turn to sorrow,
As we all may daily see.

Today we may be strong and healthy,
But how soon there comes a change
As we may learn from the explosion.
That has been at Trimdon Grange.

Men and boys left home that morning.
For to earn their daily bread.
Little thought before that evening
That they’d be numbered with the dead;

Let us think of Mrs Bumett,
Once had sons but now has none.
By the Trimdon Grange explosion.
Joseph George and James are gone.

February left behind it
What will never be forgot;
Weeping widows, helpless children,
May be found in many a cot.

Homes that once were blest with comfort,
Guarded by a father’s care,
Now are solemn, sad and gloomy,
Since the father is not there.

Little children, kind and loving,
From their homes each day would run
Far to meet their father’s coming,
As each hard day’s work was done.

Now they ask if father’s left them.
Then the mother hangs her head
With a weeping widow’s feelings.
Tells the child that “father’s dead.”

God protect the lonely widow,
Help to raise each drooping head;
Be a father to the orphans,
Never let them cry for bread.

Death will pay us all a visit,
They have only gone before;
We may meet the Trimdon victims
where explosions are no more.

Trimdon Grange Colliery banner at the Durham Miners' Gala. Trimdon Grange Colliery closed in 1968
Trimdon Grange Colliery banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Trimdon Grange Colliery closed in 1968 © David Simpson

Trimdon Colliery

Trimdon Grange was one of three collieries, each with an associated village that sprung up alongside the neighbouring railway to Hartlepool. Just to the east of Trimdon Grange village is the village of Trimdon Colliery where the mine of that name opened in 1840 and operated until 1925.

John Gully
John Gully colliery owner and pugilist

The colliery owners included the colourful champion pugilist, John Gully who also owned the colliery at Thornley (of which more below). Of course Gully wasn’t the most famous person associated with Trimdon Colliery.

In 1983 Myrobella House, the former pit manager’s house at Trimdon Colliery was purchased by the newly elected MP for Sedgefield, Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie. This modest four bedroom detached house lies at the end of a terrace of former pit houses in the village.

Blair had childhood connections with Durham and had grown up in Durham City from the age of five where he was the son of a university lecturer and educated at Durham Chorister School near Durham Cathedral.

In 1994 Blair became the leader of the Labour Party and when he became Prime Minister in 1997 Myrobella House continued to be the constituency home for the Blairs. The most famous moment for Myrobella House came in 2003, when US President, George Bush came to visit as a guest, with his helicopter landing in a nearby field in the village. Another noted visitor was the French president Lionel Jospin.

Labour suffered a poor performance in the 2005 General election which reduced the party’s majority and Blair’s popularity had waned as a result of events connected to the Iraq war. On May 10, 2007 Blair announced his resignation to the world as both Labour leader and Prime Minister at Trimdon Labour Club. In Blair’s later years as Prime Minister Myrobella House served as a centre for the Tony Blair Sports Foundation but was put up for sale in 2009 and subsequently sold.

Trimdon Station also known as Deaf Hill
Trimdon Station also known as Deaf Hill © David Simpson

Deaf Hill (Trimdon Station)

The village of Deaf Hill adjoining Trimdon Colliery village to the north and alternatively known as Trimdon Station came into being in 1877 with the establishment of Deaf Hill Colliery by the Trimdon Coal Company and the mine operated until closure in February 1967. The meaning of the name Deaf Hill is something of a mystery. There was an earlier farm here called Deaf Hill Farm but that does not explain the name of the hill on which the farm stood.

Deaf Hill mining banner at the Durham Miners' Gala
Deaf Hill mining banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala © David Simpson

One theory is that Deaf Hill is a corruption of ‘Death Hill’, being a reference to the poor quality of farmland here in times past. Peculiar place-names that turn out to be a reference to poor farmland are certainly not unusual and the familiar place-name Pity Me falls into this category.

Deaf Hill mining banner at the Durham Miners' Gala
Deaf Hill mining banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala © David Simpson

There is a story that a sycamore tree once stood in this neighbourhood to the north of Trimdon and that a child was passed through a gap in its branches in the strange belief that it would cure diphtheria. The child sadly died and so the spot was supposedly named Death Hill.

It’s also worth considering a link to Silent Bank, the name given to part of the A181 near Thornley to the west. In truth we will probably never know the explanation but it’s certainly worth asking the hill itself as that may, quite unsurprisingly, provide the answer.

Wingate © David Simpson

The station of Deaf Hill’s alternative name ‘Trimdon Station’ has long since gone but stood alongside the former railway line – since dismantled. The station was situated a little to the west of Station Road which is the road that links Deaf Hill to Trimdon Colliery its near neighbour over on the other side of the former railway to the south.

Wingate, Station Town, Hutton Henry

The early history of Wingate is focused upon Old Wingate village which in reality is an isolated collection of farm buildings that lies a mile to the north of the Trimdons.

Old Wingate is situated to the east of the collection of villages called Kelloe south of Wheatley Hill and to the west of Wingate itself. First recorded a few years after the Norman Conquest, the name Wingate is from ‘wind-gate’ and means ‘gap which the wind blows through’ – the gap being that between Wheatley Hill and Deaf Hill.

Early owners of Wingate included Hugh son of Pinton who held onto these lands in the 1100s despite a betrayal of the Prince Bishop of Durham William St Barbara during that bishop’s war with a usurper. Later, lands here belonged to the Prior of Durham Cathedral monastery. Wingate Grange, a farm to the south also belonged to the monastery.

Wingate Quarry nature reserve
Wingate Quarry Nature Reserve © David Simpson

Just below Old Wingate is a lovely nature reserve set within the old Wingate quarry where magnesian limestone was quarried from the eighteenth century to the 1930s. It is the magnesian limestone grassland that forms a distinct habitat for fauna and insects that means the reserved is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Magnesian limestone was quarried for building stone, as a fertiliser (after burning in kilns) or used in the industries of nearby Teesside.

Wingate pit wheel © David Simpson

Salter’s Lane, an old salt trader’s route passes through the Old Wingate area hereabouts though its actual course in this locality seems uncertain. It is easily traced southward through the Trimdons to Fishburn and northward from the Shotton Colliery area to Warden Law between Seaham and Houghton-le-Spring. The route of its course around Wingate was perhaps obliterated by quarrying in times past.

Wingate Colliery banner at the Durham Miners' Gala
Wingate Colliery banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala © David Simpson

Wingate Colliery village to the west of Old Wingate was established along with its colliery in 1839. The mine was opened by Lord Howden and although it produced coal it was initially such a costly operation that it was sold by Howden to the coal owner and one-time pugilist, John Gully. The mine was called Wingate Grange Colliery and operated until October 1962. A mine disaster at the pit in 1906 claimed 26 lives.

Just across the now dismantled railway to the south of Wingate is Station Town named from Wingate Station that once stood here. Despite the ‘town’ of its name, it is in fact smaller than the village of Wingate.

Station Town
Station Town © David Simpson

The quiet village of Hutton Henry lies to the east of here. Hutton means ‘hill-spur settlement with the addition of the name Henry from Henry De Esh who held the manor in 1380s.

Hutton Henry
Hutton Henry © David Simpson

The name Henry was added to distinguish the place from other places called Hutton, Hetton and Houghton. The Esh family came from the village of Esh near Langley Park to the north west of Durham City. The A19 lies east of Hutton Henry with Hulam Farm and Monk Hesleden to the east and Hartlepool to the south east.

Wheatley Hill

Wheatley Hill lies across the A181 to the north west of Wingate. In ancient times there were a number of Iron Age and Bronze Age settlements in the hilly region around Thornley, Wheatley Hill and Kelloe (or historically Kellaw) to the west of Shotton Colliery and a number of natural caves formed by the limestone in the neighbourhood may have been an attraction for these ancient people.

Wheatley Hill pit wheel
Wheatley Hill pit wheel near the site of the colliery © David Simpson

In place-names the element ‘ley’ usually refers to a clearing, often in a wooded area. However, early spellings of the names of Wheatley Hill and Thornley to the west of Shotton show they were both originally ‘laws’ rather than ‘leys’ with ‘law’ being a term for a hill. Wheatley Hill was called Wuatlawe in 1180 and means ‘the hill where wheat grew’. Hutchinson, the Durham historian writing in 1857 thought that the ‘wheat’ in Wheatley Hill’s name was in fact ‘white’ and referred to frost.

The Anglo-Saxon settlement was probably situated just off the road from Hartlepool to Durham – now the A181. In 1993 an Anglo-Saxon ring was discovered while digging the foundations of a house in Woodlands Avenue. The silver ring had been inscribed with runic letters that read: [H]RING IC HATT [æ]

This translates into modern English as ‘Ring I am called’. Usually a ring with a runic inscription gives the name of the bearer but this name seems to reflect the Anglo-Saxon penchant for puns and riddles.

The ring has been dated to the seventh century and at some point three bosses were riveted on to the ring for the placing of gems but only one gem of glass remains. Part of the runic inscription was covered by the added bosses but the inscription could still be understood.

If the ring was somehow dropped by someone on a journey to Durham it should be remembered that Durham City did not become the resting place and home to St Cuthbert’s shrine until 995 AD – the late tenth century. The runic ring is not the only ancient ring to have been found in the Wheatley Hill area. A gold Roman ring was discovered in fields near the village in 2010.

Rock Farm, Wheatley Hill.
Rock Farm, Wheatley Hill © David Simpson

The old part of Wheatley Hill where the original settlement stood is in the Rock Farm area of the village. Rock farm, a stone building is the oldest house in the village and is part medieval. Wheatley belonged to the Bainbrigg family from 1474 to 1621 and was probably their manor house. Opposite is the Nimmo Hotel which has been known by that name since the nineteenth century and named from John Nimmo, a brewer of Castle Eden.

Miners' Meadow, Wheatley Hill
Miners’ Meadow, Wheatley Hill at the entrance to a holiday home. The figure called ‘The Bonny Pit Lad’ is by Ray Lonsdale and commemorates the young men who worked at Wheatley Hill Colliery 1869-1968 © David Simpson

Wheatley Hill Colliery was founded in 1869, so it was not as old as that at Thornley but was linked to the port of Hartlepool by the same railway line. The colliery village of Wheatley Hill sprung up to the east of the old Rock Farm area but all the original colliery terraces have gone with some new houses in their place and today the greater part of the village lies to the south of the old farm.

The Wheatley Hill Colliery banner at the Durham Miners' Gala © David Simpson
The Wheatley Hill Colliery banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Depicted on the banner is Peter Lee © David Simpson

Old Thornley

Old Thornley just off the A181 half way between Wheatley Hill and Thornley itself is the site of the original village of Thornley and is named from the nearby hill once called Thornlaw meaning ‘thorn tree hill’. In the 1140s a castle was built on Thornlaw by the supporters of William St Barbara, a newly appointed Prince Bishop of Durham.

Thornley, the former colliery village, pictured here, is about half a mile north of Old Thornley © David Simpson

Bishop St Barbara was engaged in a prolonged battle with William Cumin, a usurper Bishop of Durham who had seized the bishop’s castle at Durham with the encouragement of King David of Scotland before the new bishop could take up his post.

At the time England was suffering a period of anarchy and civil war caused by the royal rivals Stephen and Matilda competing for the English throne. During this period King David’s son, Henry had taken ownership of the Earldom of Northumbria (which then also included the Sadberge district in the region of the Tees) and with Cumin as Prince Bishop the North East found itself virtually annexed as a part of Scotland.

Thornley was one of a number of places connected with the events of the war between the two bishops. Bishopton near Stockton, Kirk Merrington near Spennymoor and St Giles Church in the Gilesgate area of Durham City were all associated with flash points in this long-running battle of the bishops. One of St Barbara’s supporters, Hugh the son of Pinton (who owned nearby Wingate) switched sides after Cumin promised his daughter in marriage. There are no traces of the castle at Thornley today.

Old Thornley is a shrunken medieval village and stands on a site now occupied by farm buildings including Thornley Hall, a building with an eighteenth century façade that is built around the scant remains of an earlier house. Medieval owners of this manor included the Lumleys and later the Trollops.

The Trollops of Thornley were especially colourful characters. A John Trollop took part in the failed Rising of the North plot against Elizabeth I in 1569. Many northerners were executed for their part in this plot but Trollop’s life was spared and instead his estate at ‘Thornlaw’ was confiscated and given to a Londoner.

When the Londoner arrived at Thornley he was offered generous hospitality by Trollop, who along with his kinsfolk, were disguised as countrymen. The seemingly friendly party got the Londoner drunk, bound his hands and feet and took him to Hartlepool where he was thrown on board a skiff and shipped to Flanders. In the meantime Trollop somehow managed to make peace with the authorities and his land was restored. The Londoner never returned to County Durham.

Another notorious John Trollop of Thornley got involved in a quarrel with a William Selby of Newcastle at a horserace in 1636, fought him in a duel and killed him on the spot. Trollop fled the scene and was declared an outlaw by the courts. Later Trollops supported the Royalists in the Civil War of the 1640s before falling on hard times. In 1670 they sold Thornley to the Spearman family.

Memorial to Thornley colliery
Memorial to Thornley colliery © David Simpson

Thornley Colliery

Thornley Colliery opened in 1835 and was established with the extension of the Hartlepool Dock Railway to the area. The colliery owners were headed by John Gully and Partners. A further colliery was opened at Ludworth to the north in 1837 with Gully again involved. Ludworth Colliery operated until 1931 and Thornley until 1970.

John Gully, the part owner of both these mines was an extraordinary character. A former champion pugilist, Gully was born in Bath, the son of a butcher and inherited his father’s business. The business failed and he was imprisoned for debt. Gully was seemingly handy with his fists and learned to fight in prison, catching the attention of businessmen who saw his money-making potential and his lucrative gift for punching enabled his debts to be paid off.

Thornley Colliery banner at the Durham Miners' Gala
Thornley Colliery banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala © David Simpson

Gully fought the champion prize fighter Henry ‘The Game Chicken Pearce’ in a match that lasted a staggering 59 rounds before Gully lost. Bear in mind this would have been a bare-knuckle fight. Gully went on to have rather more successful bouts with other noted boxing champions before turning his hand to racehorse ownership, successfully winning the Derby on two occasions.

As the owner of Ackworth Park in Yorkshire he was MP for Pontefract for a time but his later years were spent in Durham where he successfully invested in the Thornley mine and other mines in the neighbourhood. He resided at Cocken Hall near West Rainton for a while and in Durham City at Number 7 North Bailey near the cathedral and it was at Durham he died aged 80. He left behind 24 children from two successive marriages.

The colliery village of Thornley grew next to Gully’s colliery in an area once known as the Gore (a word for a triangular piece of land). A large farmhouse called Gore Hall that stood here was only recently demolished. The Gore Burn and Edderacres Burn at nearby Wheatley Hill are the first trickles of what becomes Castle Eden Burn to the east.

A lovely memorial to Thornley Colliery featuring a pit wheel can be seen outside the Thornley village hall near the former site of the colliery. It also features a commemoration of Thornley hero and Victoria Cross recipient, John Scott Youll (1897-1918).

Memorial to John Scott Youll VC at Thornley
Memorial to John Scott Youll VC at Thornley © David Simpson

Born in Thornley as the youngest of six children on June 6, 1897, Youll worked at Thornley Colliery power station and enlisted as a sapper in the Fist World War, serving with the 2/1  Durham Field Company Royal Engineers.

Recommended for officer training he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers. It was for his bravery and leadership at the Battle of Caparetto in Italy on June 15, 1918 that he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Returning to Thornley on leave he was welcomed as a hero in his home village with a procession that featured the Thornley miners’ banner. Accompanied by his sister, he personally received his Victoria Cross from King George V on September 4, 1918 at Buckingham Palace.

Sadly, on returning to the frontline in Italy, Youll was killed in action at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, just two weeks before the end of the war.

Durham City Durham : Gilesgate 

Castle Eden and Crimdon | Peterlee 

Rainton, Sherburn and Pittington

Cassop, Kelloe, Coxhoe | Sedgefield 



North East England History and Culture