From a newspaper article in the ‘Star Series’
dated 23rd July 1998
The oldest building In Wheatley Hill - Rock Farm -
which boasts architectural features dating back to the time of King Henry
VIII, is to be the subject of talk this month.
Hill History Club member and owner of Rock Farm, Connie Gregory, is giving the
talk to her group, which meets every month in the village.
Farm, which is a working family farm, has been owned by the Gregory's since 1927
and was once also owned by members of the Bainbridge family.
A beautiful 10 foot inglenook fireplace graces the
main hall of the 16th century manor house in Wheatley Hill's main street.
Much of the history of the house has been uncovered
by Connie as she charted Rock Farm's background while studying for a diploma in
archeology and local history.
Connie's talk to Wheatley Hill History Club takes
place at Wheatley House, Woodlands Avenue on Wednesday, July 29 at 7.30pm,
admission to non-members is 50p.
The following is based on a series of articles for
the History Club
Study of a 16th Century
The first reference to
the village is in 1180
when Hugo Burrell gave up the lands at Whetlaw, Windgate and Great Smeaton
in exchange for lands in Normandy. Wheatley Hill has a long history and various
names ranging from Quetlaw and Whetlaw and eventually Wheatley.
Rhodes inherited the estate containing Rock Farm in 1451 from his wife, Joan
Hardwike, of Little Eden. Rhodes was a wealthy man and represented Newcastle in
Parliament, eight times from 1427. In 1440 he was appointed Controller of
Customs at Newcastle by Henry VI and he is credited with the building of the
beautiful lantern tower of St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle.
He died on 20 April 1474 without issue and the estate of Wheatley Hill
passed to his niece, Alice Bainbrigg, aged 14 who was the wife of Richard
Bainbrigg. (Robert Rhodes will be the subject of a future article).
Bainbridge of Wheatley Hill married Alice, daughter of John Rhodes who was
Sheriff of Newcastle in 1417, and mayor of that town in 1429 and 1431.
member of the Wheatley Hill branch of Bainbridges was Francis Bainbridge of whom
it is recorded “entered into wages at there repaire to Bernarde Castle from
the musters at Chester the 26th November 1569: one Captain (Francis
Bainbridge gent) at 4s."
made his will on 10th March 1575. To his son Thomas he left "the
letting of my lande in Hutton
Henry" and to his daughters "to have the grounds called the paster
grounde and another close for winter ground called the Greenhill for ten years
for their better advancement in marriage".
family of Bainbridges are the likely ancestors of Bainbridges Store in
1480 an Indenture was made dividing the lands of Thornley and Wheatley Hill. The boundary was to be
a dyke, probably the Gore Burn which is shown on the 1839 Tithe plan. Parts of
the original boundary can be seen on modern day maps.
Bainbrigg family lived at Wheatley Hill until 1621 when it was sold to Sir
Thomas Riddell of Gateshead for £2700. It is likely that the house was built
probably early in the 16th Century as the fortunes of the Bainbridge
family seemed to be declining later on in the century. Greenhills was sold in
1616 by George Bainbirgg.
estate was sold again in 1639 to Lord William Howard to be held in trust for his
son Thomas Howard who was killed in Royal service in 1644 at the Battle of
Marston Moor - the Royalists last stand against the Parliamentarians, where he
was on the losing side. The Estate was sequestrated (confiscated) after his
death and an annuity of £60 paid to his widow.
Wilkinson bought the estate in 1699, however there are no records of the
Wilkinsons ever living in the house.
Tithe plan of 1839 shows that the owner was Thomas Wilkinson and the tenant was
Mathew Dixon. The census returns 1841 - 1871 show that Mathew Dixon remained on
the farm for this period. The Census returns 1881 show the farm to be
1870’s onwards was a period of great depression in agriculture with a series
of poor harvests and 1879 was a disastrous year. The continued rise in
population led to an increasing volume of grain imports from the Colonies and
many tenant farmers left the land for other occupations.
1890, the Durham Directories show that John Dunn was the tenant. As a young girl
Ruth Gregory worked for his son Ralph, the next tenant, and William and Ruth
Mary Gregory became tenants in 1927. The farm has remained in our family since
that date and in 1991 we were able to buy the farm and carry out extensive
renovation work. As a result of this work some very interesting architectural
features were uncovered.
deeds are available for the building as they were destroyed in a fire in 1926.
Farm is situated approximately one mile north of the A 181 road and about eight
miles south east of Durham City, roughly on an east/west alignment. It is
located in the former colliery village of Wheatley Hill and once formed part of
an agricultural/manorial hamlet. The Ordinance Survey map of 1857 shows the plan
of the house to be similar in shape to the present day building. Research has
failed to give a positive date to the features in the house but in the opinion
of Peter Ryder, architect and expert on medieval buildings, the parlour door
dates from 1500 and is most unusual in a house being more in keeping with church
architecture. Dating the house is even more difficult as there is no record of
another cross passage house in County Durham with which to compare Rock Farm.
farmhouse was built originally of magnesium limestone of which there was a
plentiful local supply with some sandstone rubble and sandstone quoins and
dressings on the traditional longhouse design. It consists of a two bay, two-storey
house with cross passage and service wing with a prominent west gable. The house
was divided into two dwellings at an unknown date.
house was built without foundations as it is built on a solid limestone base.
it was built for a wealthy family can be shown without doubt most probably in
the beginning of the 16th Century replacing an earlier building.
Documentary evidence shows that Richard Bainbrigg was living at Wheatley Hill
1471 when he was sworn in as a Commissioner of the Peace at Durham Quarter
two storey rear wing with single storey offshoot which led from the hall was
demolished in 1991 and replaced with a new wing, now a separate house. Older
residents of Wheatley Hill may remember this part of the building being a
cobblers shop run by 'Lonsy' Lambert.
was probably an original part of the main building perhaps a further service
wing. The features were more basic
and had none of the fine features of the house. Although part of the wing was
two storey, the attic was very low and may have been sleeping quarters for
servants. The gable wall was 7 feet thick and contained a fireplace of very
some period the building was re-roofed covering part of the original sandstone
sheepshank slates. These were a favoured method of roofing in the north England between the 16th
and 19th Centuries and occurred where stone is found in thin slabs.
During building work a small doorway was found just under the eaves, which led
through a short passage in the gable wall into the upper chamber.
A three light-chamfered mullioned
window with a single light in the attic was uncovered in the east gable. A pair of very worn boots were found to the
right and above the mullioned window. They had been placed in a special niche in
the wall, most certainly as a symbol of good luck. They were replaced where they
were found without any attempt to date them. The significance of the find was
not realised at the time. Further research has shown that the tradition goes
back to the 13th Century and continued until the 19th Century,
examples having been found in America and Europe and mostly in the southern half
of England and Wales. Shoes were felt to take on the wearers identity and may
have been buried to warn off evil spirits. They are always found near doorways,
windows and chimneys. (Shoes and their significance in the walls of houses will
be the subject of a later article).
two light mullion window was removed from the north facing aspect of the house
and pieces of lozenge shaped, leaded glass were found in the cavity. The glass
could date from 1560, when mullions were first built with tiny glass panes set
in lead. The Glass Museum in Sunderland were unable to give the glass a definitive dating but could
say that it was made from around 1600 and was in use for the next hundred years
using the same ingredients and methods.
renovation of the west gable chimneystack, a beehive bread oven was discovered.
The oven measured 5 feet across and was 2 feet 6 inches high. It was lined with
handmade bricks and the floor was of red sandstone blocks approximately 15
inches square. An oven door can be seen at the back of the oven and vestigial
traces of a bulge can be seen. The chimney was in danger of collapse with large
cracks down its length. Extensive repairs were needed and the oven shored up
from the inside. The bread oven was situated in the service/kitchen end of the
house and was first discovered to the right of the fireplace in the 1940's.
a house with an attached kitchen was rare before 1600, there is no evidence to
suggest that the kitchen was built on. The roof is continuous, there are no
straight lines in the stonework and the bread oven is an integral part of the
part of the house had been divided off from the hall and parlour, which was the
dwelling of the farm tenant for many years - traditionally it was the 'hinds'
floor plan shows the layout of the kitchen and the entrance into the hall. There
has been very little alteration to the exterior shape of the building since it
was built. The interior however has been altered extensively. It has been
possible to draw a fair representation of what it was like originally.
For the purposes of authenticity all measurements of the building are in
feet and inches as these are the measurements used by the medieval builders.
cross passage house was an innovation of the later middle ages separating the
domestic life of a house from the householder. The hall was the most important
and imposing room of the house with an impressive ceiling and fine features.
Rock Farm can most certainly fit into this category.
of the cross passage wall was removed in 1963 to the left of the north entrance,
it was approximately a yard square and did not support anything, it ended before
the roof space. Its function was
not realised at this time. The remaining cross passage wall as removed in the
1970's to make a separate kitchen, the heck passage remains and is now a
cupboard. A window was placed in the south facing entrance of the cross passage.
In the early 1950’s the cross passage was converted into a bathroom for the
main house with just enough room for a bath and washbasin.
existing staircase (not original, being of more modern date) was modified in
1964. It had originally ascended up six stairs and then made a sharp
right-angled turn at the side of the cross passage wall. The stairs led
originally to two upstairs rooms, one of which was partitioned to create a
renovation work was begun in the roof space. In the opinion of an archaeologist
who examined the materials in the roof, the trusses are not original and date
from the 18th Century. They are not in keeping with the rest of the
house – the original trusses would have been more ornate. The house was
probably re-roofed for the tenant Edward Walton of Wheatley Hill who was
bequeathed it in his will in 1768 together with a house and garden at Old
Shotton and £2000 for a Schoolmaster to teach 20 poor children.
single light window was uncovered in the east gable and during the work in this
area, signatures of workmen and a date of 26th September 1930 were
discovered. Work was carried out on the south-facing slope of the roof in 1930
when pantiles were replaced with Welsh slate.
The pantiles on the north slope of the roof were not replaced until 1952.
There are no exterior traces of a chimney on the north gable roof, although
three fireplaces in the north gable wall were found to have one common flue.
east gable window has been obscured by a chimney built internally from ground
floor to roof, almost certainly in 1894 as workmen’s signatures and ‘27 Nov
1894' were written in the plaster. The alterations tie in with the farm being
re-let and the colliery being revived.
The Upper Chamber
window in this part of the house is a three light mullioned window with hollow
chamfered (cavetto) mullions set in a deep dressed stonesplayed reveal. This
is the upstairs window, which can be seen on the east gable of the house.
the north wall a dressed stone fireplace with a flat head of rollmoulding was
uncovered. A bricked up doorway, which led into the rear wing, was
revealed in this area. The original entrance door to this room was to the left
of the fireplace.
heavy oak beam in this room had been repaired at an unknown date when beam
supports, fixed with wrought iron bolts had been fitted, possibly when work was
carried out in 1894. Some of the scribed joists were badly rotted and had to be
discarded, joists were replaced in alternate sockets and the beam was repaired.
fireplace of the same design as that in the upper chamber was also found in this
room. The stone lintel had been removed, the walls heightened with brick and a
new curved timber head had been inserted. This room was converted to a kitchen.
hall was the principal room in the house and its importance is noted with
impressive original features - namely the fireplace and adjacent heck area and
the doors to the parlour and rear wing. (A heck is a shelter from the fireplace - similar to a braddish). The hall was described by Martin Roberts,
an architect with Durham County Council: "the high ceiling is divided into three by chamfered and plain
stopped oak beams. The oak joists have scribed roll mouldings on the underside
and are of the same design as the parlour ceiling"
The ceiling level has been raised to make this room higher than
the parlour. A modern
staircase rises from the east wall
reversing the previous staircase, which was built at some unknown date.
doorway to the parlour is a very substantial and unusual design in dressed
stone. It appeared to have had a four centered arched head but at some point,
the central voussoirs (wedge shaped or tapered stone to make an arch) in
the head were removed. The doorway is rebated with iron door hooks and slightly
splayed into the parlour. The arch is built in the style known as perpendicular
Gothic in architectural terms and came into vogue in the early 16th
Peter Ryder and other archaeologists gave a definitive date of 1500 - 1525 on
the house based on this architectural evidence, after my project was completed.
the other end of this wall is a plain doorway, which was the entrance into the
the north wall there is it low stone doorway which led to the rear wing with a 'broad
unstopped, chamfered, semicircular head. Again at floor level is a stump of the
(M Roberts) Before renovation this doorway had one step up into the offshoot, the doorway into the rear wing
had two steps up and a further two steps to the outside doorway.
It is very substantial for an interior door with ashlar dressed stone and
most probably was an exterior door at some time and led directly into the hall.
A modern window has been inserted in this wall replacing a door and smaller
window, not of original date.
the renovation work, all the plaster was removed from the south wall to reveal
the outline of the original hall window, which was much wider than the modern
window and probably of four lights. 'An
unusual dressed stone corner was revealed between the window and the parlour.
The feature was finely constructed of ashlar work, similar in character to the
other architectural details of the room and had a thin chamfer, which extended
(after excavation below the current floor level. Its reveal had no jamb for door or window and must have
originally extended out beyond the main wall as a full height southerly
projection' (M Roberts)
large ten feet wide inglenook fireplace was found on the hearth passage wall, it
had been filled in by later fireplaces but survived intact. 'It
is a substantial false four centered arched design, with a roll moulding stopped
by two stone benches running into the full depth of the fireplace. There is a
relieving arch over it. A bell-shaped projection, with access from the hearth
passage was removed during building work."
the right of the fireplace is a solid stone wall, which separated it from the
heck passage (now a cupboard). A large timber lintel can be seen over the heck
passage, it appears to have been severed at the arc but most probably ends
there. In the opinion of Martin Roberts there was possibly a support post at
this point as access to the staircase would have been difficult if the lintel
had continued to the north wall, there were also probably two or three stairs,
which projected into the forehouse.
original stone staircase has survived, having been bricked up at some unknown
date, one of the lower steps was incorporated in the brickwork. It rises and
turns over the heck passage, giving access to the first floor. The top steps
were removed and a landing created with a new opening to the outside.
remained on the walls in this area and samples were sent to Anthony Wells-Cole
of Temple Newsam House, an acknowledged expert on wallpaper dating. In his
opinion the first of the wallpapers probably dates from about 1860, the second
from the 1890’s and the third dates from the 1920’s. The papers are all
machine printed on machine-made wood pulp paper, techniques which only came into
being after 1840.
dating of the wallpaper is very significant as it is most likely that the
provision of an upstairs flat coincided with the sinking of the colliery, which
began in 1863. The paper sample dating to 1890 is also significant in that the
colliery began to make a profit at about that time and accommodation in the area
would be needed. It was also a time when extensive renovation work was carried
out - verified by the workmans
signature 1894 (earlier article). The flat was last occupied during the 1920's.
until the 1860's, Rock Farm and its buildings would be the most substantial
building in Wheatley Hill. In 1863 however with the sinking of the pit shaft,
sinkers etc would move into the
village to work for the Hartlepool Coal and Coke Company.
land on which the colliery, was being built was leased to the Coal Company by
Thomas Wilkinson who was also the owner of Rock Farm at the time, and presumably
recognising an opportunity to make money from offering accommodation, he
presumably gave permission for the alterations to the house.
newly formed village of Wheatley Hill was chronically overcrowded and obviously
where overcrowding exists, conditions were unsanitary, - this of course was also
in the light of no running water or suitable drainage system.
report by Dr Arthur for the Easington Sanitary Committee in 1882 recorded a
death from typhoid - that of a 32 year old man 'in a house with two rooms
where dwelt wife, six children and two adult lodgers' (W Moyes 1969).
Mary Gregory, who worked at the farm as a young girl, spoke of an old lady who
used to live upstairs in a room over the kitchen. The 'flat' was unoccupied when
the Gregory's became tenants 1927. There used to be steps up to the outside door
of the flat, but no trace
remains of them today. Vestigial traces of the doorway can be seen in the
marks were found on the east gable window in the upper chamber, on the fireplace
in this room, the parlour door and the hall fireplace. The marks were the
symbols, which identified the mason, showed his proficiency and enabled him to
get work as he travelled around. They were also used to certify that mason 'x'
had cut and dressed stone from a quarry which was suitable for building work.
The marks were called 'bankers marks' by the masons, as a masons workbench is
his 'bank'. They are still used today.
Heritage advises that no definitive work has been done on mason’s marks and they were often
passed down from father to son. It would be unlikely that a mason could be
identified or his work dated unless a comparative study was done on a similar
building in the area and as I mentioned in an earlier article there is no record
of a similar building in County Durham.