Sedgefield Area


The town of Shildon, across the River Gaunless, a mile to the south east of Bishop Auckland will be forever associated with the history of the railways, as it was from here on the 26th September 1825 that George Stephenson's famous Locomotion Number One', made its historic journey to Darlington for the opening of the world's first public railway. Shildon, rather than Darlington was the western terminus for locomotives on the Stockton and Darlington railway and in fact the railway itself, extended further west still, beyond Shildon towards Etherley and Witton Park Collieries near the River Wear. This part of the railway was operated by means of stationary engines.

Shildon was also noted in railway circles as the home of the railway pioneer Timothy Hackworth, who had been an assistant to George Stephenson. Locomotives built by Hackworth at Shildon included the Royal George, which ran between Stockton and Darlington and the Sans Pereil, which competed against Stephenson'sRocket at the Rainhill Trials in 1830. Timothy Hackworth's former cottage at Shildon has been converted into a museum dedicated to the work of Shildon's most famous son. Until recent times Shildon was still a railway town, but sadly its last great link with the industry was broken in 1985, by the closure of the local waggon works. Today, however its railway links are restored as it is now the home of a branch of the National Railway Museum.


Not far to the east of Shildon, is the new town of Newton Aycliffe, which was created in 1947. Nearby are the older villages of Aycliffe and School Aycliffe. The name of latter of these has nothing to do with the site of a former school, but in fact derives from the name of a Viking warrior called Scula, who owned land in this part of south Durham many centuries ago. The former Viking occupation of southern County Durham is also indicated by the predominance of local streams in the area called `becks' rather than `burns'.Across the other side of the A1M motorway from Aycliffe, towards the northern outskirts of Darlington, is the village of Brafferton where the famous Durham Ox was bred.

The Durham Ox was developed by the brothers, Charles and Robert Colling of nearby Ketton farm in 1796 and achieved such great fame that it was exibited throughout England and Scotland in an especially designed carriage. Over a period of five years, the ox journeyed more than 3000 miles before the unfortunate beast dislocated its hip while on show at Oxford in February 1807. It was slaughtered two months later and weighed in at 189 stones. During its lifetime, it reached an incredible maximum weight of 270 stones. The Collings acheived far reaching fame for their development and throughout the country there are many inns named after the Durham Ox of Ketton Farm.


The untypically flat Durham countryside to the east of Newton Aycliffe and Darlington is among the least populated parts of the eastern part of the County. Parts of the Sedgefield district were not within the Durham coalfield and as a result there are no former colliery villages in the locality. Apart from a few tiny rural villages, many of which are now in the nearby county of Cleveland, the most prominent feature in the area is an old Roman road called Cade's Road, which runs northwards from Dinsdale on the Tees through the village of Sadberge towards the outskirts of Sedgefield on its way to Chester-le-Street. Sedgefield is a small market town, with the pleasant appearance of a very large village.

The town is at the heart of south east Durham and in days gone by, was fortunate enough to lie just outside the now largely redundant Durham coalfield. The town is the home of County Durham's only racecourse and is situated close to two notable parkland estates, namely Hardwick Hall (and Country Park), to the west and Wynyard Hall (now in Cleveland), to the south. Sedgefield is only six miles north of Stockton-on-Tees and many of its residents are commuters who work on Teesside. The church at Sedgefield is of particular interest. It contains good examples of the beautiful woodwork of John Cosin, Bishop of Durham (1660 - 1672). Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, has described the work of John Cosin as "one of the most remarkable contributions" of County Durham to the history of architecture and decoration in England. More examples of Bishop Cosin's woodwork can be seen in the church of St Brandon at Brancepeth near Durham City.


According to legend Trimdon, near the source of the River Skerne was the place where King Canute shaved his head and trimmed his beard before donning a cloak at the beginning of a bare foot pilgrimage from Garmondsway near Coxhoe to St Cuthbert'shrine at Durham. Sadly there is no evidence to support the claim that Trimdon means 'trimming and donning' as early forms of the name are quite different.

Historic forms of the name include Tremeldona in 1196 and Trembledon in 1339 and 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 and is 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. A former idea that the don referred to a mound formed by a pagan burial is now thought unlikely. Today the original Trimdon is the site of a medieval church but is now accompanied by the nearby villages of Trimdon Grange and Trimdon Colliery, both more recent settlements with coal mining origins.


Mining disasters and colliery explosions were a feature of life in the coal mining days of County Durham history (See Coal Mining and the Railways). The Trimdon Grange Colliery Explosion which took place ion February 16 1883 is especially famous because it was recorded in a song by the County Durham Pitman poet Tommy Armstrong of Tanfield Lea, North West Duham(1848-1920). Tommy's song was composed to raise money in aid of the 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
T hat 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 Tames are gone.
February left behind it
What will never be forgot;
Weeping widows, helpless children,
May he 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 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 widows 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.


A mile to the north west of Sedgefield, is the village of Bishop Middleham, where the remains of a castle earthwork can be seen. The castle was once an important residence of the Prince Bishops of Durham. Two little known Durham Bishops, Robert De Insula (1274-1283) and Richard Kellaw (1311-1316) are known to have died at the Bishop Middleham residence. De Insula was described as "a jolly monk, whose mother complained of too many servants" while Richard Kellaw's reign was troubled by Scottish raids and problems with local robbers and bandits, who he tried very hard to suppress.

To the west of Bishop Middleham, on the other side of the Durham motorway and back into former colliery country, is the small hamlet of Mainsforth near Ferryhill. This was the site of Mainsforth Hall, home of Robert Surtees (1779-1834), author of The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham. His four volume work is the classic pre-industrial history of the County. Mainsforth Hall was demolished in 1962, but the Surtees Society was set up after the death of Robert, aiming to continue his work through the publication of historical manuscripts relating to Northumberland, Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire.


Kirk Merrington, a village north east of Bishop Auckland, near Ferryhill and Spennymoor is associated with the Edens, who are one of County Durham's best known families. Members have included Sir Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister of Britain (1955-57), who was born at the nearby family seat of Windlestone in 1897. Windlestone Hall is also associated with Sir Timothy Eden, author of an excellent two volume history of Durham, published in the 1950s. The church at Kirk Merrington is situated on a high ridge with good views of the surrounding Durham countryside. In 1153 the building witnessed an unusual siege in which William Cumin, a notorious usurper Bishop of Durham, was captured by Roger Conyers, a Durham baron. Cumin had taken refuge in the church, because of its naturally defended location, with extensive views of the surounding enemy countryside - good views can still be obtained today. The usurper had been able to maintain his false claim to the bishop's throne for three years, during which time he had violently ruled and terrorised the Palatine of Durham under the encouragement of King David of Scotland


Spennymoor is a town with industrial origins, but the countryside nearby has an unexpected romantic connection. The connection is with Whitworth Hall, not far from the River Wear to the north of the town. Here once lived none other than a certain Mr Robert Shafto, whose name is immortalised in the well known North Country Ballad;

"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 in fact a County Durham M.P, who was elected in 1761, when the song was used as an election jingle. A sweetheart of Bobby Shafto, to whom the ballad is often attributed is believed to have lived at Brancepeth Castle across the River Wear, three miles north of Whitworth, near the outskirts of Durham City. She died of a broken heart !.


Brancepeth Castle just south of Durham City was at one time a residence of the great barons of Durham called the Nevilles who also had a family seat in the south west of the county at Raby, near Barnard Castle. Like Raby Castle, Brancepeth is known to have played a part in the Rising of the North in 1569, when a plot was made to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I;

"From every side came noisy swarms Of peasants in their homely gear;
And, mixed with these,
to Brancepeth came Grave gentry of estate and name,
And captains known for worth in arms,
And prayed the earls in self- defence
To rise, and prove their innocence."

William Wordsworth

The Neville family were of Norman origin but had married into a local Saxon family of Brancepeth, called the Bulmers and thus adopted the bull's head as their emblem. Members of the Bulmer family included Sir William Bulmer of Brancepeth, known as `the Defender of the North' .He fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.


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