Keys to the Past

Local History

Witton Gilbert (County Durham)

The village of Witton Gilbert lies to the north-west of Durham City on the road to Lanchester. Now bypassed by the main road, the village lies on a hillside. To the south the edge of the parish is marked by the River Browney.

The Witton is first mentioned as Wyton in 1195 in the Charter rolls. It is a fairly common name throughout England - Northumberland and North Yorkshire have at least a further two each. Unfortunately, the precise Old English derivation of the names is often - as here - uncertain. Amongst the possibilities are 'farmstead by a dairy', 'white farmstead', 'wide farmstead', 'Wite's farmstead' and 'farmstead by a wood'. The fact the village is further named Gilbert indicates it was named after its medieval French landlord Gilbert de la Ley.. Local folk memory recalls this fact by pronouncing the name as Jilbert.

The earliest evidence for occupation in the parish dates to the prehistoric] period. Unusually for an area outside the uplands of the North Pennines in Durham Witton Gilbert has provided several interesting fragments of prehistoric rock art. The remains of two probable Bronze Age stone-lined graves were found in 1995 when ploughing a field. The large covering stones were found to have simple cup and ring marks carved onto them. Other remains from this period include two stone axes. They may have been used to clear trees from the surrounding land in preparation for growing crops on the land. These simple stone axes may also have had some kind of religious importance. One was found near the River Browney, and may originally have been placed in the river bed as a gift to the gods.

Sadly, there are few remains from the Roman or Anglo-Saxon period from the parish, though the Old English origin of the village name suggests that there was some kind of occupation here by the Norman Conquest. There are a number of medieval buildings in the village. Witton Hall, although mainly of later 18th century date, includes some masonry fragments of 12th or 13th century date which are believed to be taken from a leper hospital that once stood in the village. A small chapel, dedicated to Saint John, also once stood in the parish, close to the river, near the modern sewage works. This was not the only place of worship in the village though, as the main parish church of St Michael and All Angels is of Norman origin, though altered in the 14th century.

The parish church is known to contain a number of First World War memorial features, from dedicated hymn boards and a roll of honour to a memorial Rosewalk (floral covered path) through the churchyard. The lych gate at the entrance to the churchyard is also a war memorial bearing dedications to those who served in WW1. Elsewhere in the village a freestanding cross commemorates 43 men of the village killed in WW1 and 10 from WW2.

Reference number:D6804
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.