Architect: James Paine
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.
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.
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
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
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.
¹Sunniside Local History Society
²Douglas Archives Genealogy Pages
³Chronicle Live. 26 Jan 2016
†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