Middle Herrington

Middle Herrington appears to have been regarded as largely unprofitable waste land falling between the eastern and western manors – in fact a “middle” ground – and only tenures of small parts were held by a handful of people willing to undertake cultivation.

In the 1300’s John de Denum held, as well as the Wardhale and lands in East Herrington some 14 acres in Middle Herrington from Roger de Eshe.

Here in Bishop Hatfield’s survey John Pynchard had 2 acres and later there appears John de Herrington with 40 acres – possibly one of the original lord’s family. William de Eshe of the eastern manor held 100 acres and 3 messuages also.

But the chief tenants by copyhold from the time of Edward III had been the Robinsons who originally held High Haining. It was Ralph – the first of many Ralph Robinsons – who settled in Middle Herrington in Tudor days and established a family that continued at the Hall until the beginning of the 19th century. Here they intermarried with many well-known local families: Shepperdson of Bainbridge, Smith of Tunstall, Hutton of Houghton, Holme and Rotheram, but always keeping links with merchants and business. Though armigerous, their trippant stag on a vert shield suggests nothing of a martial past.

The Will of Ralph, the founder of the Hall family in 1591, illustrates what a small prosperous family in this area might be expected to possess. Though he left a total of £31.10 he was a farmer of standing to whom others in the area might apply for loans and in fact £42 was owing to him in debts when he died.

His Will was made when “Sicke and evil! at ease in my bodie by the visitation of Almightie god but by his grace and mersye in good and perfect remembrance”. Having committed his soul to God he asks to be buried “before my fathers” in the parish church at Houghton. Then leaving 10 shillings to the poor he bequeaths some £8 to his brothers and sisters.

But it is the inventory that brings the picture to life. For he possessed:

  • I Nagge of 2 years old and the advantageworth – 40 shillings
  • 6 sheepe – worth 26/8
  • Wheate and Otes – worth £4
  • One branded Oxe – worth £3-6-8
  • Come upon the ground – worth 33/4
  • Bigge mault and oate mault – worth £8-13-4
  • A quarter of otes – worth 10/-
  • his wearing apparel! and furniture – worth £5
  • In present money – worth £5

Noting the malt – in 1715 Richard Robinson of Middle Herrington was maltster and steward to the Lambtons, and one of the 12 gentlemen allowed parcels of ground in the newly formed parish of Sunderland.

A crop of wills in Stuart times helps to give an impression of the households in Middle Herrington. For example the will of Richard Surrett in 1677 shows:

  • In his pocket and his apparel – worth £1-8-0
  • Two pewter dublers, candlesticks – worth £2-10-0
  • Three spoons valued at 5/-
  • Brass valued at 5/-
  • One spew and 4 chests – worth 8/-
  • A table, a chair and a form – worth 4/-
  • A wooden (kitchen) vessel – worth 2/-
  • A Bedstead and bedding – worth 5/-

No doubt it was a typical example of the old houses that could still be remembered in the 1860’s opposite Ivy House consisting of one room and a loft reached by a ladder.

Even by 1847 with the making of the Tithe map only four or five homesteads existed in Middle Herrington.

Indeed until the early 19th century they seem to have led pretty peaceful lives here. The real excitement of the area was the setting up of the mineral line from Warden Law in 1823. We forget the astonishment country folk must have felt when they first saw a horseless carriage glide through the open fields. One Durham M.P. had argued it would frighten the cows and ruin their milk but the cows seem to have taken the experience more philosophically.

Years ago when a house was being demolished in Tunstall it yielded an old letter in the attics which mentions the mineral line:

“We have had five weeks of very severe weather, seven days of continual snow with strong winds that filled most of the roads full. We have nothing new in the neighbourhood with the exception of a new colliery at Hetton which crosses Warden Law and comes West of Silksworth, all with machinery with what is called an Iron Horse which. …takes 12 wagons the whole of the road above 8 miles without horses.”

Later the Foxcover embankment was erected for the Lambton railway and this brought new people into the village described for the first time as mechanics and waggon men in the Census Returns.

The newspapers report at this time hay stacks being fired during the night at various farmsteads in Herrington and Offerton – incidents that have recurred with depressing regularity.

A village green of sorts lay between Fox Cover Lane and the farm. The land was owned by the Earl of Durham with a cottage near the farms lived in by William Green (in 1847) and another couple of cottages at the other end owned by Ann Dunn. Several times railed off in an attempt to enclose it, the palings were always pulled out again by the villagers in protest until Edwin Vaux erected a 3 foot high fence but even this received some damage.

Eventually further houses were built, two smaller houses developed into “Greenbank” lived in for many years by Mrs. Weightman and the “Croft” occupied by Weightmans, Watsons, Mr. Brown (first headmaster at Silksworth Secondary School), W. Haver (whose son became vicar of St. Nicholas), J. Crake, Dr. Smith and T. Murphy.

Opposite were the stables for the Hall and the two houses for coachmen and a gardener (in the 1840’s, I. Humphrey, later Mr. Portsmouth the head gardener). Here also were the greenhouses and behind, a tree-Iined orchard with protective wall.

The farm was a substantial building, William Cumming was here in the 19th century. Later occupied by the Weightmans until the 1930’s then Professor R. W. Wheldon, his magnificent black bull tethered behind in the lane, a notable resident for many years.

The small cottage at the entrance to the farm once occupied by the Poole family had begun as a stable for Mr. Neashams horses for the waggonway that ran through the farmyard northwards then east via Grindon to Sunderland.

Fox Cover Lane appears as Pope’s Lane on the Tithe map – apparently from the farmer Robert Pope who lived at the “Low Place” originally the house farm to the Hall next to the cottages now demolished. The original “fox cover” seems to have been the road at the junction of the farms.

In the steading here lived once Mrs. Howlett an elderly lady often seen riding her bicycle along country lanes. The two adjoining cottages were demolished in 1976.