Information about the generations of Spearmans who lived in Thornley Hall is scarce, but they seem to be representative of the middle class of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries being a family of high repute and holding at times the office of Justice of the Peace.
The Spearmans were descended from Robert Spearman, a younger son of the Spearmans of Dunnington, Shropshire (seated there since the Conquest and said to be descended from the old Lords of Aspramond) who came into the north with the troops who suppressed the Pilgrimage of Grace.
John Spearman purchased the Manor of Thornley in 1678. He was a sound judicious lawyer and antiquary and for thirty years was under-sheriff of Durham. He died in 1703 leaving six sons and two daughters, the sixth son Gilbert succeeding to the Thornley estates which seems to suggest that the family owned other and more valuable land than that in Thornley.
Gilbert Spearman was a barrister at law and in 1697 he married Mary, co-heiress of Robert Bromley of Nesbitt. He died in 1738 and was succeeded by his eldest son Robert, who married Anne Stare of York. He died in 1748 and his son Charles married twice, having two sons and two daughters by his first marriage. He died in 1763 and his eldest son, Robert Irvin Spearman died unmarried and was succeeded by his brother Charles Spearman, a Justice of the Peace for the County Palatine. He married and had four sons and three daughters, but the eldest son was killed at the Battle of Waterloo. The second son, Henry John Spearman, born in December 1794 became the successor and died in 1866.
The Gore and the Milnefield, which had been lost by the Trollops in 1625 and 1621 respectively, were eventually re-united to the Manor by the ownership of the first wife of Gilbert Spearman and in 1702 the ownership was conveyed to Gilbert Spearman.
In the first years of the nineteenth century English people feared an invasion by Napoleon Buonaparte and the fear was very apparent in the parish of Kelloe as Church records show. After the close of worship in Kelloe Church on the second Sunday in August 1803, the congregation with the vicar at its head adjourned to the churchyard to decide how best they could defend their hearths and homes should an invasion occur. A hastily formed committee resolved “that it be referred to Mr. White and Mr. Walton to consider the best uniform and the best means of providing the same, and to ascertain the expenses thereof and to report at ye next meeting.” What they accomplished is not recorded but it is clear that they intended to be prepared to face any attack from France.
It appears that Napoleon was not the only force to be feared at that time, for raids were frequently made in the neighbourhood to impress men for service in the King’s navy and hinds and others were forcibly carried off to sea.