Tursdale House


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Tursdale House

To people living locally, farms are most often known by the name of the current, or a recent but long-term, farmer. So Tursdale House farm is known to many simply as “Stevensons’ Farm”. It is also sometimes called “Hett Mill Farm” – perhaps strangely, given that (although the name “Hett Mill” is still on today’s Ordnance Survey maps, and gives its name to the nearby railway crossing) the mill itself was demolished in about 1870!

Moreover, “Tursdale”, to most people, now means the former colliery village – now just a single-street hamlet – nearly a mile west of the original mediaeval village of that name.

Tursdale House farmhouse

The farmhouse at Tursdale House farm dates from the 17th century. It is a Grade II listed building, though it was greatly altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. The front (south-facing) and left (west-facing) walls are of the orginal sandstone rubble, although the former was cemented over, some forty years ago, by its then owners, the National Coal Board. Much of that cement has since fallen off but it has clearly caused considerable damage, by delaminating the stonework.

It has been suggested that the large chimney stack on the left (western) gable may contain a priest hole, though that theory has never been physically investigated. There is some subsidence damage to this wall, as well as to the eastern gable.

The walls beyond the western gable are the remains of stables and a possible former coach house (and kennels, immediately next to the building). There was a dovecote above them. The whole block fell down in the late 1960s.

Before 1600, this was the site of a much grander, three-storey, castellated mansion house and the north-east corner of today’s farmhouse may date from that earlier building. Carved into one of the quoin stones on this corner is what is believed to have been a saltire, as a message to Scottish soldiers that they would be welcome inside this house. (If so, did this date from the 14th century? Or, more likely, was it carved there in the mid-17th century?) Built into the front garden curtillage wall is a carved stone, possibly of a human face or figure, which presumably came from the original manor house.

Two stone barns in front, right and left, of the farmhouse may be older than the house itself. They appear to contain arrow loops (or “bow-le-holes”), bricked up. The arched building east of the farmhouse, possibly from around 1800, was the granary. In front of that, there was once a mediaeval gin-gang. This was demolished by the NCB, in the 1960s, to make way for a cowshed.

A once distinctive, though more recent, landmark was a red-painted corn-drying plant, made of corrugated iron, behind the granary. This came down in about 1995.

Aerial view of Tursdale House farmstead, thanks to Mr. Robin Stevenson

(A better copy will be sought to replace this. The blame for poor photograph lies with Bowburn LHS.)

The name, “Trillesden”, means something like Thrall's Dene, and was probably named after a Norseman called Thrall or Thryll. It later became “Tirresdale” and thence “Tursdale”.

There is believed to have been a deserted mediaeval village (“DMV”), named “Trillesden”, near here. It was possibly located south of the farmstead, on the levelled area above the beck.

Before 1887, when the parishes (formerly townships) of Cassop and Quarrington were combined, Tursdale was part of Cassop – though it was separated from the main part of that parish / township. (It was “sundered land”.) It consisted of two farms, that of Tursdale [House] and that of Hoggersgate, to its south-west.

The hamlet that is today known as “Tursdale”, on the A688 just north of the Metal Bridge roundabout, takes its name from Tursdale colliery, which was sunk in 1859 and merged with Bowburn colliery in 1931. (The whole colliery closed in 1967.) But Tursdale colliery was not, in fact, near the original Trillesden / Tursdale but at Hoggersgate. It was presumably sunk by the iron masters, Bell Brothers, who continued to operate it till they were absorbed by Dorman Long & Co., in 1923. Legend has it that they called their new colliery “Tursdale” because one of the director’s wives found the name, “Hoggersgate”, uncouth. (“Hoggers” were what might today be called “boxer-shorts”, worn by miners underground.) To be fair, though, Hoggersgate was always part of the larger Tursdale estate.

A 1451 description of the Tursdale estate was quoted and discussed by Robert Surtees (1816): “The History and antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham”. It appears to include the area later occupied by the two farms, plus some land to the north. On the map below, the boundary of the Tursdale part of Cassop township, on the 1839 Tithe Plan, is shown in red, overlaid on a modern satellite view (thanks to Google maps). The northern boundary in 1451 was either that shown in blue, which follows what today is called Skip Beck, or that shown in purple, which follows the track and bridleway that passes South Grange farmhouse to connect High Butterby with the Durham road (A177).

Tursdale estate boundaries

(See text for explanation.)

Owners of Tursdale

1. Le Boteler, de Trillesden and Elmeden

The occasion for this 1451 description was a claim that the estate had been the subject of fraud, some time before 1200 AD. Like all land in County Durham, Tursdale had belonged since soon after the Norman Conquest to the Prince Bishop of Durham. But the Tursdale estate was granted by Philip of Poitiers (Bishop of Durham, 1197-1208) to “his servant”, John le Boteler. It was later claimed to have been granted by Philip’s predecessor, Hugh de Puiset (Bishop of Durham, 1153-1195). This claim was effectively dismissed, in 1451, when the owner at that later date was allowed to keep the property. But there had probably indeed been a forgery, or at least an altered original, more than two centuries earlier.

In the meantime, the property of the le Botelers had become that of the de Trillesdens, after John le Boteler’s granddaughter, Alice, married Peter [no known other name], who assumed the name de Trillisden, and later the Elmedens. The estate was sold some time before 1337 by William de Trillisden, great grandson of Alice & Peter, to William de Elmeden (who died in 1339). It was the Elmedens who were involved in the 1450s’ legal dispute.

A 15th century map (not yet identified) is reported to have shown Tursdale manor house as a castellated building.

2. Bulmer

In 1508, the last in the line of the Elmeden family, Elizabeth Elmeden, heiress of Embleton near Sedgfield, married William Bulmer (1492–1546), who thereby acquired the estates at Embleton, Tursdale, Claxton and Fishburn.

WB’s father, Sir William Bulmer (1465–1531), of Wilton Castle (near Redcar), Yorkshire, had been High Sheriff of Durham, 1503-1516, and High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1517. His brother and sister-in-law, Sir John Bulmer (1481–1537) and Margaret Stafford, were heavily involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, in October 1536, and were both executed – he by hanging and she by burning.

In 1638, Sir Bertram Bulmer, great grandson of William and Elizabeth, died. He had “resided here in considerable splendour in the reign of King James, and died in 1638, after having dissipated the greater part of his paternal inheritance” (Surtees). He was “said to have been one of the most gallant and expensive men of his age in this country” (Fordyce, 1857). Another, undocumented, story has it that he lost Tursdale in a game of cards, possibly to one of the Salvin family… However Sir Bertram must still have owned it at his death, as it was sold a few months later by his heir.

3. Howard

In December 1638, Sir Bertram’s eldest son, William Bulmer of Morwick, sold the Tursdale estate to Lord William Howard (1563-1640), of Naworth Castle, Cumberland. WH was the third son of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who had been beheaded in 1572 for his part in Ridolfi's plot (to place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, following a Spanish invasion – and possibly her marriage to Thomas Howard). The 4th Duke’s father, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey and eldest son of the 3rd Duke, had also been executed for treason, in 1547. This family was not noted for quiet, sedentary lives! Lord William Howard, however, was a noted scholar and antiquary. He did not live at Tursdale, but at Naworth Castle, which he had had restored. Like the Bulmers, he was a Catholic. He died in 1640.

On 2nd December 1642, his youngest son, Col. Thomas Howard (1596-1642), was killed fighting Parliamentarians at Piercebridge. He was referred to as “Thomas Howard of Tursdale”, so it may be inferred that he moved to live there soon after his father bought the estate in 1638.

He was there shortly before the battle. For in 1641-42, the men of Tyrsdale (i.e. Tursdale) who signed an oath of allegiance “to live and die for the true Protestant religion, the liberties and rights of subjects and the privilege of Parliaments” were Richard Mainsford, James Nickson, William Oard, John Oard, his sonne, John Maltby, and Thomas Steele. Those who did not sign the protestation, “nor came to have the same tend[e]red to them”, were Thomas Howard, Esquire, Thomas Oard (“very sicke, but willing”), Francis Maltby, and Brian Ellenor (“very lame with a broken legge, but willing”).

TH’s estates were sequestered for the recusancy of his widow, but Tursdale (“Tirresdale”) and some other estates were returned to the family, on appeal, in 1654.

Their eldest son, also Thomas, was also referred to as “Thomas Howard of Tursdale”, when he sold the Tursdale estate in 1692. So it is to be supposed that he, too, lived there. (Afterwards, he was TH of Framwellgate. He had married Dorothy Heron, of Northumberland – possibly of the Herons of Chipchase. They had three daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Dorothy, but no male issue.)

Although the Grade II listed building description of today’s farmhouse says it dates from the 17th century, it seems likely that the original mansion was allowed to decay at the end of the Howards’ occupancy, or after they left and it was sold. It is believed to have been unoccupied for a hundred years.

4. Wilkinson

In 1692, Thomas Howard jnr sold the Tursdale estate to William Wilkinson of Crossgate, Gent. (1632-1717). This was not the first property he had sold to Wilkinson: he had previously, in 1683, assigned to him the remainder of his lease on the Manor of Wheatley Hill.

A century or so later, Thomas Wilkinson (1760-1825), of Witton Castle and Coxhoe, great grandson of WW, inherited Tursdale after the death of his older brother, Anthony, who had died unmarried. (Their father, also William Wilkinson, one-time Sheriff of Northumberland, had died in 1768.)

In 1825, Tursdale was inherited by TW’s son, Anthony Wilkinson (1785-1851). It was he that bought Coxhoe Hall (though his parental family had lived there beforehand, presumably as tenants) and was “of Coxhoe Hall” when he died. He also owned many other properties. These included several in County Durham but also property in London and plantations in Jamaica – for which he received compensation when slavery was abolished.

A plan of the Tursdale, Hoggersgate and Hett Moor Estates belonging to Anthony Wilkinson, Esq., by Anthony Reed, Land Surveyor, of Bishop Middleham, drawn in 1833*, shows the boundaries of Tursdale and Hoggersgate exactly following the parish boundary. Tursdale farm was 325.44 acres (out of a three-farm total of 593.01 acres).

[*University of Durham Special Collections Ref.: DHC11/VI/47]

After AW died in 1851, Tursdale was inherited by his son, also Anthony (1839-1927), of Sheraton Hall, County Durham, and of Clennell, Northumberland. He was the great-great-great-grandson of the 17th century purchaser. One time Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham, he left £150,000 (the equivalent of £6m at today’s prices) when he died in 1927. This estate will have included whatever was left of the proceeds from the sale of Hoggersgate and Tursdale (and, presumably, Hett Moor) farms. It will also have included the value of his coal royalties, which he retained after those sales.

5. Coal owners – Bell Brothers, Dorman Long & Co. and National Coal Board

Bell Brothers are presumed to have sunk Tursdale colliery, in 1859, although no primary or even contemporary sources have yet been found to confirm this.

(No later source refers to any earlier owner being responsible for the sinking. Nor has any evidence been found for a theory that the original coalmining interest at Hoggersgate might have been that of Ralph Ward Jackson’s West Hartlepool Harbour & Dock Co. – which in 1851 sunk Page Bank colliery, later bought by Bell Bros., and which before Jackson’s downfall had owned all the collieries in Quarrington parish.)

Anthony Wilkinson (1839-1927) – or perhaps his uncle and cousin, the executors of his father’s will, if he had not yet reached the age of 25 – presumably sold most of Hoggersgate farm, to whichever company or partnership first developed Tursdale colliery in the 1850s.

In 1916, Bell Brothers Ltd bought from him what the minutes of their directors’ meeting on 11th May referred to as “Wilkinson’s Tursdale Farms”. This presumably comprised Tursdale farm; what was left of Hoggersgate farm, and Hett Mill farm. Wilkinson continued, however, to lease the coal royalties beneath his former estate to the colliery owners.

Bell Bros. Ltd. was absorbed by Dorman Long & Co. in 1923 and they, in turn, were bought out when the coal industry was nationalised on 1st January 1947. The coal royalties had by then already been nationalised, in 1938.

The National Coal Board and its successors remained the owners of Tursdale House farm, with tenant farmers, until the last of these bought the freehold in the early 1990s.

Farmers of Tursdale House Farm

From the above, it seems that, until the 17th century, the owners of Tursdale manor house may often also have been its occupants. It seems quite possible, therefore, that they directly oversaw the working of the farm – which may have included what was later the separate farm at Hoggersgate. That does not make them hands-on farmers, however: that was clearly not the chosen occupation of Sir Bertram Bulmer!

Tenant farmers were certainly involved from the 17th century onwards. If Tursdale House itself was unoccupied for some time, as the present owner believes, then its farmlands may perhaps have been worked by the tenant farmer at Hoggersgate. However no evidence has yet been found to make this clear.

By the early 19th century, there were definitely two farms. At the time of the tithe apportionment, in 1839, both were owned by Anthony Wilkinson. Tursdale farm (306.94 acres) was occupied by Francis Emmerson, while the farmer at “Hoggarsgate” [sic] (121.925 acres) was Miles Storey.

In the 1841 Census, the farmer at Tursdale was Francis Emerson (i.e. Emmerson), aged 70.

In the 1851 Census, the farmer at Tursdale was Francis Emmerson, aged 29, born Tursdale, described as “Farmer of 325 acres”. His family connection with the previous FE, if any, has not yet found – though their being [grand]father and [grand]son seems likely.

In the 1861 Census, the farmer at Tursdale was William John Brown (“Farmer of 270 acres, employing 4 Labourers”). He subsequenly moved, with his large family, to Linthorpe in North Yorkshire.

In the 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 Censuses, the farmer at Tursdale was George Brown (of 220 acres in 1881). He and his wife, Ann Walton Brown (née Gould), appear to have had no children, but there were a niece and a nephew and a cousin in their household, at various times, as well as general and farm servants.

In the 1911 Census, the farmer at Tursdale was James John Jackson. His wife, Elizabeth Ann (née Gould), was a niece of Ann Walton Brown. They were still there in 1925.

The 1929 Kelly’s Directory, however, named Tursdale’s farmers as Messrs. Stephenson Brothers. In 1934, it named Henry Stephenson, and Henry & Ethel May Stephenson were living there immediately before World War II, in 1939.

By 1945, however, it was occupied by Ronald and Joyce Gauden.

In 1948, Thomas Randolph (Randy) Stevenson took over the tenancy and moved to live at Tursdale House with his wife, Evelyn Annie, and young family. These were not connected with the “ph” Stephensons, but they were distantly related to the Browns and Jacksons who had been there earlier.

The Stevensons bought Tursdale House farm from the British Coal Corporation (successors of the NCB) in the early 1990s and it is now owned by Robin & Pauline Auriel Stevenson, and farmed by their nephew.

Coaching inn?

It has been suggested that Tursdale House may once have been a coaching inn. If it was, then it may be relevant that the current owner has referred to the stable block next to the western gable as including a “coach house”. And the former blacksmith’s shop across the way from there (now a boiler house, next to which has been built a modern bungalow conversion / extension) could have served passing travellers.

The coach route would presumably have been along Strawberry Lane, running south from the top of Shincliffe bank. (See Cade’s Road West.)

However we have not yet found any early reference to this use of today’s farmhouse, nor indeed of this being a coaching route. No mention is made of it by Robert Surtees, in 1816.