KNOW YOUR PARISH – COCKERTON, Co. DURHAM
Cockerton village lies on the north-western side of Darlington, as a suburb, and has been part of the town’s borough since 1915. Although surrounded by large housing developments, it still retains its own identity with many old cottages and former farmhouses situated mostly round the traditional village green. The Cocker Beck, a small stream, runs through the area and empties into the town’s River Skerne via a string of valleyed parks which were donated as recreational areas for the town in the early 20th century. Typical of so many villages in the region of the Durham and North Yorkshire borders, Cockerton was a self-supporting community where agriculture was the main means of employment with good arable soil, plentiful meadow, and grazing land used mostly for cattle.
Records, such as the parish registers, dating from 1594, show early Cockerton parishioners attended St Cuthbert’s, Darlington. Circa 1380, a general survey of the Bishop of Durham’s lands was made, similar to the Bolden Book, called Hatfield’s Survey but containing a record of the freeholders paying yearly rent for their cottages as well as doing seasonal work for the Bishop. Such was – ‘John Morton, a free-tenant, holds a messuage and four oxgangs, by knight’s service and 20/-, and one parcel [of land] once of Margaret Ralph rendering yearly 12/-: Geoffrey Kellaw holds a messuage and oxgang, and renders one hen and a farthing at Michaelmas: Cottager John Dow holds a cottage and garden containing an acre of meadow land rendering 3/4d yearly, and shall drive cattle to the lord’s manor house when required, and clean the houses in Darlington against the coming of the lord or his officers. All the tenants make hay ricks, carry fruit and work at the mill’.
Throughout the following centuries there was always the threat of the Scots invading the northern regions of England as is seen in the summer of 1640 when the English army ‘retired’ into Yorkshire after being driven back to the Darlington area. The majority of country people in Durham were ordered to drive their cattle and sheep into that county to more remote places, and also remove most of their families and goods ‘as soon as they possibly can’.
During the 18th century a linen trade grew here with men working on large looms in their own homes which would create cramped living conditions for their normally large families. Later in the early 19th century most people were thrown out of this work when weaving machines were installed in the large Darlington mills, and this, of course, caused great hardship to all families. Mid-century, the village had the usual occupants of shopkeepers, grocers, shoe & boot makers, carpenters, cartwrights, blacksmiths and farmers though more interesting were Jonathan Baker, a spinning wheel maker, George Blakiston, a thread manufacturer, and George Noble, a bird and animal preserver! Towards the end of the 19th and early 20th century, the majority of men were heavily employed in the local iron and steel foundries or were railway workers in the nearby depots.
Cockerton Hall once stood on the site which is now where the library stands. It is uncertain when the Hall was built but was the home of the two eminent Quaker families of Joseph Fisher and William Goldsborough in the early 18th century, and then passed to William Wrightson in 1745. At his death in 1806, the 23-roomed property passed to his daughter, Nanny the wife of John Garth, a well-known musician in his time, and after his death, she built three almshouses on The Green to provide rent free homes for elderly widows in his memory. After this the house passed down to John’s nephew, Richard and his wife Eliza Henrietta, who shortly remarried Thomas Topham and they moved to Darlington.
Later a Mrs Dodshun, as tenant, opened it as a boarding school for young ladies. On her death in 1861, her daughter, Maria Dodshun took it over, but it closed just over ten years later. The estate was handed down through two more generations of Tophams until Major Charles F Thomas bought the property in 1920 then sold again in 1946 before it falling into disuse and was demolished in 1964.
One of the oldest buildings (opposite the Hall) was the Dr Syntax Inn, named after a clergyman who featured in many popular poems. It had thick walls of cobbles, held together with straw and mud, a thatched roof, with a large back garden running down to Cocker Beck. John Wetherall was its owner in 1860 and kept ‘a good house’. The Cockerton Association for the Prosecution of Felons held their meetings here, and many poor out of work weavers were fined for poaching – their only means of feeding their hungry families. It was also used for the popular annual ball, property auctions, coroner’s inquests and other village meetings. The inn changed hands several times and was eventually demolished in 1921.
In the early 19th century, Cockerton had several inns licenced to several landlords such as John Williamson at The Lord Nelson, Robert Armitage in The Lord Wellington, and The Horse & Jockey (later the Dr Syntax) run by Matthew Eales who was also a shoemaker. The earliest appear to be The Drovers and The Travellers Rest which catered for cattle drovers probably heading for the markets in Darlington and travellers using the north-south roads to and from the town. In about 1790, a famous ox was bred by Hilton Middleton in nearby Archdeacon Newton from local Durham stock and a Scottish kyloe, giving its name, Newton Kyloe, to an inn on the village green. This was eventually used from 1915 by scouts but the building is now defunct.
On the south-west corner of The Green was Ivy House farm, owned by Mr Bert Bainbridge who used to deliver milk by pony and trap. Johnsons, the previous owners, were the first people to have gas lighting installed in their home.
A local landowner, Thomas Pickering Robinson, gave a cottage to the church authorities for use as a day school in 1824. The upstairs rooms provided accommodation for the schoolmaster, George Dodds. However, with the growing number of pupils, the schoolroom was too small so a year later a National School was built on The Green with financial support from the Anglican church, donations, and weekly contributions from the pupils’ parents. By holding lectures, concerts, bazaars and a penny-savings bank to raise funds, further rooms were added to accommodate the further increase in numbers of pupils. From 1875, under the leadership of the headmaster, Thomas Whitfield (from Bellerby), the enlarged schoolroom was used for social gatherings, and evening classes for adults were introduced. The final extension was opened in 1889 by Thomas Robinson, a descendent of T P Robinson who had given the cottage for a schoolroom 65 years before.
With overcrowding post war, a new primary school was needed, and was eventually built behind St Mary’s church (built in 1901), for 176 infants and juniors. During World War II, the school also served as a centre to receive evacuated people from bombed areas but, by the 1950s, was no longer used and was pulled down. The original stone from above the entrance has been placed in the grounds of the new larger building as a reminder of earlier days.
A period Georgian cottage next to The Drovers was opened as an orphanage (1870-1897) by Mrs Mary Pease as a home for eleven girls who were educated at the school on The Green and were found good employment afterwards.
Methodist meetings had taken place in the village since 1813, and Mary and Henry Pease of nearby Pierremont, laid the first stone for a chapel on the south side of The Green which is still used for worship and many community activities. There were several attempts to have a church built in Cockerton as villagers, wanting to attend services, had to go to St Cuthbert’s in Darlington. This continued until 1838 when Holy Trinity church was opened for worship in Woodland Road which was closer to Cockerton. However, in 1897, Edward T Pease bequeathed £4,000 for improving Holy Trinity parish and some of this was used to purchase a site on The Green for St Mary’s. The foundation stones were laid by Mrs Mitchell and Mrs Gatey, daughters of the late Mr Pease in 1900.
Holy Family Presbytery, the home of the very popular Father McClusky, was built in 1936 on The Hill beside an already established school. This was on the site of what had been a small Elizabethan manor. A great deal of hard work was done by the parishioners to raise funds for a church which was eventually opened in 1960.
The village is also home to the historic Cockerton Prize Silver Band. The band was established in 1863 when James Hoggett, a local music teacher, brought a number of young Cockerton men together to form a small band and funds were raised for instruments. The band still rehearse twice a week and continue performing at many events.
The original village layout, known still as “Cockerton Village”, remains recognisable. This is mainly due to the village green and surrounding houses and cottages being well preserved, with most rebuilding having been carried out with sympathy to the adjacent surroundings. The village is also largely covered by the Cockerton Conservation Area which is managed by Darlington Borough Council.
Carol McLee, Member 461
Acknowledgements to Centre for Local Studies at Darlington Library for illustration.
Visit images on their website, www2.darlington.gov.uk on the Local and Family History pages
The Durham Village Book: Durham Federation of Women’s Institutes
1800s Trade Directories for Durham
History & Antiquities of Darlington: Hylton D Longstaffe
Durham Southern – Cockerton Poll Book
Bygone Cockerton: Sylvia Curran & Kate Singlehurst