Keys to the Past

Local History

Esh (County Durham)

The village of Esh lies to the north of Durham City, just to the south of Witton Gilbert. It was once part of the parish of Lanchester.

The earliest recorded archaeological remains from the parish date as far back as the Neolithic - a stone axe was discovered here in 1987. This may have been used by early settlers to cut down trees and clear fields to allow early farming. However, it may also have been used as a weapon, though we know little about warfare in this period. By the time the person found in a Bronze Age burial in the parish had died, most of the surrounding area was probably being farmed. Other axes have been found at Eshwood and at Esh Winning.

Little is known about the area in the Roman period though a fort stood nearby at Lanchester. It is likely that life for the local farming communities continued much as normal, though some of their crops and animals must have been destined to feed the nearby army garrison. An important Roman road, Dere Street, probably run through Esh Winning

We also know little about the area in the Anglo-Saxon period though the name of the village comes from the Old English for 'Ash tree'. This tells us that there must have been a settlement here by the Norman Conquest, and that there were also probably stands of woodland in the area, containing many ash trees.

The village became a typical small medieval village. Life was dominated by agriculture. None of the simple buildings built at this time survive, though the stone church of St Michael can still be seen. Inside are two stone effigies, which may have been built to commemorate members of the local ruling family.

As well as the village of Esh itself, there were several other medieval settlements nearby. A manor house stood at Castle Steads and settlements are also known at West Rowley and Ivesley. Both these villages had their own church or chapel, though only the remains of the one at Rowley are still visible.

Interestingly by the 17th century the Smithsons, the family who lived in Esh Hall retained their Catholic faith in the face of the rise of the Protestant Church. It was probably they who were responsible for erecting a decorated stone cross, probably in 1687. They rebuilt their manor house at about the same time.

In the 19th century, as in much of County Durham, coal mining became increasingly important. Hamsteels Colliery was founded between 1850 and 1880 on the site of a smaller, early colliery. Much of the coal was burnt in nearby coke ovens. The colliery village of Esh Winning grew up in the 1860s after the construction of a nearby colliery in 1859. It had a miner's institute and a small stone chapel. The houses all had large gardens, which was unusual at this period.

During the First World War and later conflicts men of many of the small villages of the parish went to serve and many of them died. They are commemorated on numerous memorials at sites around the parish. In Esh itself, the parish church of St. Michael and All Angels has a number of features dedicated to the remembrance of fallen members of the church including a memorial stained glass window and a plaque listing those who served. The church organ is also dedicated as a memorial with an attributed plaque. A multitude of similar memorials can be found in St. John the Baptist's Church at Quebec, whist at Esh Laude a memorial calvary cross can be found in the grounds of St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church. All Saints Church at Langley Park also contains a number of memorials whilst a freestanding memorial sits in a prominent position to the side of the main road through the village.

Reference number:D6786
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.