Herrington Hall

From at least Tudor times there was a Hall in Middle Herrington, occupied by a local minor gentry family called Robinson. A long line of Robinsons lived here with property at Cleadon, Hetton, Whitburn and Houghton but their principal business interests became centred on the quayside at Southwick where they were maltsters. In the late 18th Century one Robinson married Robert Surtees, the great historian of the country; another married a son of the poet Robert Burns. The last to live there was Ralph Robinson but in 1795 it was sold to William Beckwith from Thurcroft, Yorkshire.

General Beckwith (later noted for his part in putting down the Bristol Riot) was born here. General Beckwith settled here only a short time for his wife, Priscilla Hopper, who inherited the Silksworth House Estate. He was High Sheriff for the county, army general and Knight of Hanover, a Guelphic Order now obsolete. With his wife he spent most winters in Paris. Mrs Beckwith was a Catholic convert in the days of the Oxford Movement and built St Leonards Church at Silksworth entirely from her own purse. Parish tradition there remembers her arriving in her carriage for Sunday Mass. General Beckwith, whose name was given to Beckwith Road and General’s Bank, is buried at the Rock Cemetery, Houghton-le-Spring. In 1871 Mrs Beckwith owned 792 acres with £2,133 in rents. They had no children and a nephew inherited Silksworth. After his marriage the property was bought by the Lambtons, later Earls of Durham.

Later occupants at the Hall were the Clay family; in 1855 it was T W Panton, manager of Bishopwearmouth ironworks – his business partner John White, father of Sunderland’s first M P and Mayor, lived at nearby Thorney Close Hall. In 1871 W Moore, a solicitor was here. In 1894 William Lishman, colliery manager, was occupant, the Earl of Durham having by then bought the property.

The Vaux family rented the Hall in the early years of the century, Colonel Edwin Vaux, son of Cuthbert of the brewing family was in command for 44 years of a gunnery volunteer company. He married in 1875, Mary, sister of Sir Theodore Doxford of Silksworth Hall and had one daughter who married Major Cheke. Their son Sir Marcus Cheke, who often came to the Hall, was British Minister to the Holy See. He died in 1961 in Rome. Colonel Vaux died in 1908 leaving a fortune of £86,000. In 1926 the Hall contents were put up for sale by his widow and were disposed in a two day auction.

The last occupant (during the 1930s) was Mr Harry Bell, a building contractor. In 1947 the property was taken over by the N C B. Plans to convert it into a miners’ convalescent home never materialised and in 1957-8 the building was regretfully demolished when the cellars (dating from about 1570) were exposed.

It had been a Georgian two-storied mansion, with bow windows and splendid staircase. Long conservatories had been added. Now only the stone steps that once led to the terrace remain. The orchard wall was demolished but the stable block was converted for use by the Scout movement.

This house had been a dwelling continuously from that date though added to and altered throughout the years. The installation of electric light at the Hall was probably the first seen in this area. Subsidence, a fire, dry rot and all the problems of an empty building left standing contributed to the decision to demolish it.

In 2000 some Robinson descendants from New Zealand came to view their ancestral homelands.

The parkland, a green oasis, with the remnants of the stream that traversed it and century-old trees was the site of many local sporting events. Before the First World War an annual cricket match between East and West Herrington took place. The bothy men from the Hall once held boxing matches organised by the Rev Knight of Ryhope, then Curate of New Herrington. The Durham County Show was held here twice in the 1940s.

With the opening of the 5 acre playing field at the top of the parkland a telegram of congratulations was received by officials from the Duke of Edinburgh as President of the National Playing Fields Association. The parkland is a heritage of open space and was given to the people of Herrington in perpetuity as a place of recreation although the main road now crosses through it. It is to be resolutely preserved and defended.