Keys to the Past

Local History

Crook (County Durham)

The town of Crook lies about 10 miles to the south west of Durham, and the bottom end of Weardale

The earliest evidence for settlement in this area are the remains of prehistoric flints; some from Rumby Hill are probably of Neolithic date. Although no actual settlements have been found, it is likely that early hunters and farmers living in the area used these objects. In the summer they may have followed their flocks up to higher pastures in upper Weardale, and come back to this area during the winter.

Although few remains from the Iron Age and Roman period have been found, there were undoubtedly people living in the area at this time. A Roman coin made in the 2nd century AD has been found here, and is a sure sign that there must have been some kind of settlement nearby.

Again little evidence from the Anglo-Saxon period has survived, though it is clear that there must have been a settlement on the site of the village before the Norman Conquest as the name Crook comes from the Old Norse word 'krokr', which means ' a bend'. The bend referred to is one either on the River Wear or the Crook Beck, which runs through the town.

By the Middle Ages Crook had developed into a small agricultural settlement. There may have been another village at nearby Woody Field, and also possibly at Billy Row. However, these were all little more than hamlets, and Crook was part of the parish of Brancepeth. This meant that it did not have its own church. It is possible, though, that there was a holy well, though the evidence for this is not clear.

The village continued to an agricultural settlement until the early 1800s, when the population was just under 200. At this period there were over fifteen farms. It is also known that there was also a mill and an inn 'The Horse Shoe'.

It was with the growth of the coal industry that Crook expanded, particularly once the Stockton to Darlington railway was opened in 1843. By 1854 the population had risen to over 3,000. This rapid expansion caused major problems -there was overcrowding. A report written in 1854 recorded examples of 17 people sharing two small houses. In some houses people working on the day and night shift shared beds. There was also a problem with water supply. The water in the wells was heavily polluted and there were no drains.

However, there were some advances, a new church was built in 1841 and a new cemetery was built in 1855, when the churchyard became full. In 1850 a school was built and in 1851 a Police Station was built, although this was replaced in1897. By 1865 the 'Horse Shoe Inn' had been joined by another 14 hotels and pubs.

Many other industries grew up around the pits, although like coke production, they all revolved around coal. These provided many jobs and by 1890 the population was over 12,000. However, although the collieries survived an attempt to bomb them during World War II, they were closed down by the 1960s and the railway closed down. This means the population has declined to only 8,000 and most people travel elsewhere for work.

During the First World War many inhabitants of Crook and the surrounding area enlisted in the war effort. In the present parish of Crook, which encompasses a number of settlements, the contributions of those who served have been commemorated on a variety of different memorials including: Crook cenotaph, Billy Row statue, Stanley Crook statue, Fir Tree drinking fountain, Helmington Row roadside memorial, Howden-le-Wear obelisk, Hunwick cross and Sunnyside headstone. Many of the local churches and public buildings including working men's clubs also contain war memorials in the form of Rolls of Honour, books of remembrance and plaques dedicated to individuals from the local area who fought and died in world conflicts. Various types of housing can also be found in the parish that were built as an alternative style of memorial after WW1, i.e. memorial cottages at Crook.

Reference number:D6774
Event(s):The identification of Historic Landscapes in Durham Project; Chris Blandford Associates

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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.