Category Archives: COUNTY DURHAM

THE CASTLE

Typical of 20th century decline. A once great mansion that fell on hard times. The fall and rise of a country house

The Castle 1 (Urban Base)

It’s taking a surprisingly long time to shift The Castle at Castle Eden. Offers are wanted in the region of £2.5 million, a reduction of nearly £500,000 since being advertised in 2017. This Grade II listed mansion was built about 1765 by William Newton for Rowland Burdon III, a merchant banker. It was embellished with gothic detail by architect Sir John Soane about 1780 and there were later additions, including a prefabricated concrete palm-house on the west front, by F.R. Hicks in 1863.

The Burdon family go back a long way. They lived at Stockton-on-Tees from the reign of Edward IV, and one of them, Robert Burdon, was Mayor of Stockton in 1495, and the first Rowland Burdon was Mayor of Stockton-on-Tees nine times. It was in 1758 that his great-grandson Roland Burdon III bought the dilapidated Castle Eden estate from William Throckmorton Bromley and became the family seat for nearly 200 years. According to Historic England the estate was in poor condition and unenclosed, the chapel was in ruins and the house had gone. He set about enclosing the land, in 1764 re-erected the church and a year later built the house we know today. It has three storeys and a seven-bay entrance front. The central three bays are canted and the whole property carries a castellated parapet.

The Castle (Durham County Council)
The exterior of The Castle. This photograph is thought to date between 1900 and 1909. (Durham County Council).

No expense was spared constructing the country house. Burdon bought nearby Horden Hall, simply to cannibalise it for its staircase and its Jacobean fireplace, while its parkland was carefully planned to hide distant views of the flourishing Shotton Colliery. Within this hidden idyll the family remained until the 20th century despite almost losing it through some poor financial investments along the way.

It might have been paradise for the Burdons, but J.B. Priestley wasn’t enamoured when he visited the area in 1933: “I stared at the monster [the Shotton tip], my head tilted back, and thought of all the fine things that had been conjured out of it in its time, the country houses and townhouses, the drawing-rooms and dining rooms, the carriages and pairs, the trips to Paris, the silks and the jewels, the peaches and iced puddings, the cigars and old brandies; I thought I saw them all tumbling and streaming out, hurrying away from Shotton – oh, a long way from Shotton – as fast as they could go.”

The Castle 1 (Northern Echo)

When Colonel Rowland Burdon died in 1944 the family’s fortunes, like the surrounding area, had diminished and were to be found living in more modest houses in Yorkshire and New Zealand. In 1947, arrangements were made for the National Coal Board to move into The Castle, as headquarters No 3 for the area, and remained for twenty years. “It is a charmed spot concealed from the scarred industrial landscape which surrounds it”.

As might have been expected the occupants didn’t care too much for their new surroundings. One commentator described the house as being ‘savagely raped and institutionalised – the staircase was torn out and consigned to a nearby museum while six-inch holes were hammered through the cornicing to fit central heating pipes’.

Northern Daily Mail - Sat apr 20 1946 (BNA)
The Castle, pictured in 1946, a year before being sold to the National Coal Board as offices. (British Newspaper Archive).

When the NCB moved out in 1967, The Castle was left to stand derelict and probably fortunate to survive the demolition men. It was sold in 1979 to a private owner, who carried out some work to halt the decay, but remained unoccupied. By 1983, it was on the market again and proved to be a stubborn property to sell. Described as being ‘a poisoned chalice’ for each local estate agency chosen, in turn, to sell it, it wasn’t until 1999 that the mansion found a buyer.

The Castle (Keys to the Past)
The Castle, empty and decaying, photographed here before restoration in 1997. (Keys to the Past).

Sue Gillman came to visit her father’s grave in the adjoining churchyard: “The first I knew about it was when we approached the churchyard and saw a big sign saying, ‘Castle for sale’.” Having persuaded a security guard to show him round, her husband Tony discovered a scene of despair. “The house was full of dogs’ poo,” he says. “It was a warm summer’s day outside, but inside it was cold. The building was boarded up and had been heavily institutionalised and the gardens were completely overgrown. The unusual, pyramidal cupola above the central atrium turned out on closer inspection to be an aluminium greenhouse hastily erected in a vain attempt to keep out the rain. In fact, water had been pouring through the roof, down three storeys on to the floor of the hall. The asking price was £500,000, around which, hardly surprisingly, some negotiation was permitted.”

Within two years a large part of the house had been restored although the older part still required restoration and remained empty. However, the value of The Castle had already soared to £1.3 million.

The Castle 7 (Urban Base)
The past few years have been kind to The Castle. Refurbishment continues although the size of the property is deemed too big for its owners. Once again it is a showcase on the property market. According to estate agents Urban Base, The Castle comprises; Orangery, Grand Reception Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Sitting Room, Games Room, Breakfast Kitchen, Cloakroom. Nine superior bedrooms comfortably accommodating up to eighteen at any one time, luxury bathroom suites. Externally there is approximately 14 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens and mature woodland, along with ample parking for up to eight vehicles. A golf course occupies the former parkland.

The Castle 2 (Urban Base)

The Castle 4 (Urban Base)

The Castle 3 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 9 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 11 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 8 (Northern Echo)

The Castle 9 (Urban Base)

The Castle 6 (Urban Base)

The Castle 10 (Urban Base)

The Castle 15 (Urban Base)

AXWELL HALL

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The focal point of the estate, Axwell Hall, a nationally important jewel of Palladian architecture and for this reason is listed as Grade II* by Historic England (Axwell Park)


Built: 1758
Architect: James Paine
Private apartments
Grade II* listed

“Ashlar; roof of graduated Lakeland slate. 3 storeys; 3, 3, 3 bays x 1, 3, 1. South elevation: cornice to rusticated ground floor; central three bays project under open pediment containing later corbelled arms.” (Historic England)

Axwell Hall , a house once so splendid, it is hard to believe that it fell into spectacular decline. So dramatic was the decay that by rights it should not be with us today.

In its heyday it belonged to the wealthy Clavering family with prosperity gained through land and mines. They remained custodians for 162 years before economic conditions eventually forced them out.

The Clavering family were descended from 13th century Anglo-Norman aristocracy, the Lords of Clavering and Warkworth, from Alan de Clavering of Callaly Castle, who died in 1328.¹ The lands around Axwell were purchased by James Clavering, a merchant adventurer from Newcastle upon Tyne, for £1,700 in 1629. However, this Lord Mayor of Newcastle would die just a year later.

The estate passed to his John Clavering who died in 1648 but it was his son, Thomas Clavering (1620-1702) who became the first Baronet, ‘Clavering of Axwell’, in 1661. The title was graciously passed down the line until it was handed to Thomas Clavering (1719-1794) who succeeded the title in 1748. He found the existing manor house inadequate for a man of his means and made plans to replace it with something much grander.

Sir Thomas Clavering, 7th Baronet, was MP for St Mawes (1753-1754) and for Shaftsbury (1754-60). He resigned his seat at Shaftsbury to fight for a seat in County Durham but would only succeed in 1768. However, it was a seat he held until 1790. With substantial mining interests, with collieries at Beckley and Andrews House, he had lived at Greencroft Hall (demolished in 1960). In 1782 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) by Oxford University².

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Greencroft Hall, Lanchester. The former home of Sir Thomas Clavering which was demolished in 1960 for urban redevelopment (Durham County Council Archives)

The old house at Axwell was demolished in 1758 and the architect James Paine engaged to build a Palladian-style house in its place. By all accounts it was not a harmonious relationship between Clavering and Paine, who complained of regular interference in the design by his client.³

Differences apart, Axwell Hall was a resplendent property with parkland laid out in ‘English landscape’ style. It has been suggested the new house and estate was Clavering’s attempt to keep up with the Bowes’ family estate at nearby Gibside.

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The architect James Paine (1716-1789) and his son (Ashmolean)

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An engraving of Axwell Park from 1786 (Newcastle Libraries)

The next few years saw improvements to Axwell Hall, culminating with significant remodelling by north east architect John Dobson† in 1817-18. A garden temple was erected in the grounds but this has since been demolished.

The Baronetcy became extinct on the death of Sir Henry Augustus Clavering, 10th Baronet, in 1893, but only after he’d made further improvements to the pleasure grounds.  The title now extinct, Axwell Hall remained with the Claverings until the early part of the 20th century. The last occupant was Colonel Charles Warren Napier-Clavering who battled to keep the estate alive but eventually admitted defeat. In 1920 he turned his back on Axwell and moved to Staplegrove House, near Taunton, in Somerset.⁴

002476:Axwell Park Blaydon. Black-and-white photograph around 1920
Axwell Hall shortly before its sale in 1920 (Newcastle Libraries)

The Axwell estate was put up for sale and the inventory provided an insight into the enormous size of the property.  Details in the sale catalogue listed the hall, stables, pleasure grounds, walled kitchen garden, home farm, a gardener’s house, a villa, several lodges, cottages, a dairy and the spa well.

The estate was eventually bought by the Newcastle Industrial and Ragged School founded in 1847 at Sandyside.  ‘There being no agency to bring moral and religious training to bear upon the juvenile depravity and delinquency prevalent in the town’. Its aim was to provide education and industrial training to poor youngsters.

The change of use allowed youngsters from Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Sunderland and Middlesbrough to move to Axwell. When it opened there were 153 boys all receiving a dinner of a pennyworth of bread and cheese.

In 1933, Axwell Park as it was now known, became an Approved School, under new legislation introduced by the Children and Young Persons Act, which replaced Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The house was run by the Home Office and received regular mention in newspapers as young offenders were compelled to spend time at Axwell. Locally, the house was referred to as the ‘bad lads’ home.

Forty years later, around 1973, Axwell Park became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Newcastle City Council. However, the house was in such a poor state of repair that it eventually closed in 1981.⁵

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By the end of the 20th century Axwell Hall was derelict and the park neglected

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Axwell Hall was purchased in 2005 but was still abandoned in 2014 (Chronicle Live)

For almost a quarter of a century  the house and estate suffered vandalism, arson attacks and had to be boarded up to deter its attackers. Finally, in 2005, it was bought by Eight Property Ltd, which turned the derelict walled garden site into the 18-home Axwell Gardens. In 2016, the £3.3 million Courtyard development was completed with 27 apartments and houses on the site of the former stables adjacent to the hall.

Presently, work is underway to restore the main house, with its interior being converted into luxury apartments.

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Work is now underway to convert Axwell Hall into luxury apartments (Chronicle Live)

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Years of dereliction are swept away and former glories are revealed (Axwell Park)

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Rear view of Axwell Hall while restoration takes place (Axwell Park)

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The £3.3m Courtyard development stands in place of the former stables adjacent to the hall

References:-
¹Sunniside Local History Society
²Douglas Archives Genealogy Pages
³Chronicle Live. 26 Jan 2016
⁴rolyveitch.20m.com
⁵childrenshome.org.uk

Notes:-
†John Dobson (1787-1865). The architect worked in the north east of England. With the builder Richard Grainger he was responsible for the area of Newcastle upon Tyne bounded by Grey, Market and Grainger Streets. He was also responsible for Newcastle’s gently-curving Central Railway Station regarded by many as one of the finest in the country. His best-known country houses are Nunnykirk (1825) and Meldon Park (1832) in Northumberland. 

A collection of old photographs of Axwell Hall by Dig Hastilow, a Clavering descendant, is available to see at Axwell Hall – The Bad Lads School

Axwell Park, Blaydon-on-Tyne, County Durham, NE21 6RB

SHOTLEY HALL

ShotleyHall1
Shotley Hall, a beautiful Victorian mansion, with William Morris features (Savills)

Built: 1863
Architect: Edward Robson
Private ownership
Country House
Grade II* listed

Dressed sandstone with ashlar dressings; graduated lakeland slate roof, stone chimneys. Playful Gothic style (Historic England)

Shotley Hall, near Consett, County Durham, was designed and built in 1863 by renowned architect Edward Robson, an associate of both John Dobson and Sir George Gilbert Scott, for Thomas Wilson (1800-1880), local magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for Cumberland. The Hall’s beautiful High Victorian neo Gothic design and solid but romantic style fulfilled the aspirations of the wealthy owner.

Edward Robson (1836-1917)
Edward Robson, architect (1836-1917)

The family originally came from Nent Head and made their fortune in the lead mining industry. They arrived in 1830 when there was already an extant Queen Anne house. Because they had the money they decided to replace it with this ‘muscular gothic’ design.

It was built in dressed sandstone with ashlar dressings, a graduating lakeland slate roof and stone chimneys. Historic England call it ‘playful Gothic style’.

ShotleyHall4
Image: Savills

Shotley Hall’s importance in British architecture is emphasised by the outstanding works of William Morris, with his pieces and inspiration prevalent throughout the property. William Morris’ influence in Shotley Hall is clearly present; from the ten stained glass windows, the brass fireplace surrounds, the unique tile roundels set into the dining room fireplace to the main hall staircase wrought iron balustrading.

It has been lived in throughout by members of the same family who built it and is Grade II* listed. In 2016 it was offered for sale with Savills at a guide price of £1,350,000.

References:-
Savills

Shotley Hall,
Shotley Bridge, Consett, County Durham, DH8 9TE