Keys to the Past

Local History

Brancepeth (County Durham)

The village of Brancepeth lies to the south-west of Durham. The parish was once very large, including the villages of Brandon, Byshottles, Helmington Row, Tudhoe Stockley and Willington, as well as Brancepeth.

The earliest evidence of settlement in the area appears to date to the Neolithic period- the remains of a flintknapping site have been found. This is where the simple stone tools of the time would have been made. A number of flint tools have been found elsewhere in the parish through fieldwalking. This has included extensive evidence for Mesolithic activity, including flint knapping and arrow production. Apart from these flint objects, there is very little evidence for prehistoric settlement in the area. The one exception is the presence of a probable Bronze Age burial mound near Stockley Beck.

There is equally slight evidence for Roman occupation- a probable Roman road runs through the parish. Although there is likely to have been some settlements all that has been found are a fragment of Roman pottery and a probable Roman bead.

Brancepeth is said to have taken its name from being the Brawn's (Wild Boar) Peth- the site where an infamous wild boar once lived. However, 'Peth' means path and Brance- comes either from the Old English name 'Brant' or it refers to nearby Brandon.

It is really in the Middle Ages that we begin to see extensive archaeological and historical remains. The most notable monument is Brancepeth Castle, which was first built in 12th century by the Bulmer family who handed it to the Neville family, the Earls of Westmoreland. The present castle was mainly built in the late 14th century, though it was heavily altered in the 19th century. It became a hospital during World War I and was later the headquarters of the Durham Light Infantry. The castle stayed in this family until 1569 when it was confiscated after their involvement in the Rising of the North, a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I, which had been partly planned in the castle.

The large church of {St Brandon's D2564} stands in the grounds of Brancepeth Castle. It used to contain some of the most remarkable wooden carving to be found in any church in Britain. It was of 17th century date, however it was destroyed when the church was tragically gutted by fire in September 1998. Although this fire destroyed many important remains, a number of important discoveries have been made during its restoration. Traces of Anglo-Saxon building were recorded - previously it was thought that the church was of 12th century date. A number of 11th-12th century stone grave covers were also found built into the church walls.

The castle and church are not the only medieval remains to be found in Brancepeth. A range of earthworks at Stockley are in fact all that survives of a {deserted medieval village D1372}. The Old Rectory was also of medieval origin - the earliest part of the building was a 13th century stone hall. Holywell Hall was probably also of a similar or slightly later date.

In the post-medieval period Brancepeth remained an agricultural area. The village was known for its attractiveness. The poet William Wordsworth, who knew the village, mentioned it in his long poem 'The White Doe of Rylston' and the Poet Laureate Lord Tennyson wrote his famous poem 'Come into the Garden Maud' here. Although much of the surrounding area was dominated by coal mines, there were no actual coal mines in Brancepeth itself.

During the First World War Brancepeth Castle was used, in part, as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) Hospital providing care for injured soldiers returning home from the war effort. Inhabitants of Brancepeth who served and died in the conflict, and in the Second World War, are commemorated on the village memorial cross. The settlement of New Brancepeth also has a war memorial located in front of the Village Hall.

Reference number:D6750
Event(s):Archaeological recording at St Brandon's Church, Brancepeth 1998-2002; Peter Ryder Historic Building Consultant
The identification of Historic Landscapes in Durham Project; Chris Blandford Associates

Disclaimer -

Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.