The early Lords of Herrington

We cannot begin, as parish histories often do, with an appropriate extract from the Domesday Book. This area had been devastated for many years and was regarded as a wasteland. But when William the Conqueror died confessing it was said, to nightmares about rivers of blood he had shed in the North, a Norman bishop, the wild Ralph Flambard, was appointed to maintain the peace in Durham. And the first mention of Herrington in a document comes from this man – as far back as the infancy of the Cathedral itself.

In the 12th century he granted the Manor of Herrington to William son of Ralph, described as “nephew” to the Bishop though Surtees thinks it was the case of an old man providing for his natural son. Descendants of this William adopted the name “de Herrington” and moved in as Lords of the Manor of both Herringtons. The main house itself stood at West Herrington near the site of the old church and it is from this that Manor Grove took its name. In the Boldon Buke of 1183 this manor was confirmed as the possession of Thomas son of William. In the following century Sir William de Herrington was named as one of the Knights “betwixt Tyne and Tees” who fought with Henry III at the Battle of Lewes (1264). Later a priest, Robert de Herrington, was made Vicar of Dalton and in 1291 appears a Sir Thomas de Herrington holding also Houghall near Durham.

It is likely that vestiges of Elms once growing near the Boiling Well, point to an avenue leading to the Manor House. Doubtless it was built from the stone quarried out of the side of the limestone hill adjoining. Timber was also readily available from the Woodhale or Herrington Woods, mentioned in 1326 as possessed by John Denum from the Bishop with other land helf from the lord by service at the West Mill. This Mill may have been one mile away to the West on the rivulet “Ellynburne near Heryngton”. If so it existed for 500 years when converted in the 19th century to a paper mill, then a flint mill where strings of ponies carried bags of flints.

This ancient village must have commended itself as an attractive settlement. Here at the head of a little pasture with its constant spring of water, its ready source of limestone and wood, guarded by the approaches to the place from the hills of Herrington, Penshaw, Hastings and Warden Law was a delectable spot. Understandably it was fastened upon by the first lords of Herrington as their manorial demesne.

In the time of the warlike Bishop Bek (1283-1311) the Manor of East Herrington was separated and granted by the lord to Roger de Eshe, remaining a distinct and separate area from this time.

With this act, the de Herringtons pass from the record though the name appears from time to time in what were presumably minor branches of the family still settled in the area. Might it be one of this family or at least someone from this place who appears as Richard Heryngton in the Durham Priory Rolls from 1514. He was Cathedral sacrist in charge of the Sacred Banner of St Cuthbert when the King of Scots invaded at Flodden.

Of some kin to the original lords, John D’Arcy, Knight, eventually obtained the lordship of the Manor. The D’Arcy line ended in heiresses and the thirds of the manorial rights passed into other families including the Hedworths who lived at Harraton, their principal seat.

Two thirds of West Herrington were acquired by purchase by William Smith, a lawyer, who now took up residence in the old Manor House. In 1680 the Smiths moved to Morton House and the building was passed from family to family who either purchased or inherited parts of the Manor.

A complicated story, for here runs the long account of those faceless figures with ancient names – Punshion, Lambe, Cuthbert of Witton, Rowe, Watson, Ayton, Blake of Twizell and Hedworth.

All these manorial “thirds” were inherited by judicious marriages or else bought by the Lambton family by the late 18th century.

The early house had been demolished by 1800 and a second Manor House built nearby, owned by Meaborne Smith, Esquire, of three storeys with flat roof and castellated parapet. Later given a high pitched roof, it was divided into two separate dwellings. About 1890 there lived here the Bourne family and Mr Wallis, foundry manager to Lambton Engine Works.

When in 1938 the antiquarians Thomas Corder and Theodore Nicholson visited the old place to find out what remains might still exist, they found the foundations of the older hall, but the later dwelling in bad decay, tenemented, and scheduled for demolition. The cellars of the original Manor House they found at the South East corner of the church where no burials had taken place because the stone roof had left no depth of earth.

Near the North East corner of the Cemetery, the depression in the field was said to mark the entrance to the cellars, with a wide covered way where villagers might drive their cattle for protection in time of danger.