Keys to the Past

Local History

Wycliffe (County Durham)

The small village of Wycliffe, originally in Yorkshire, lies just to the south of the River Tees, around 5 miles south-east of Barnard Castle. The parish itself straddles both sides of the river.

There are few early remains recorded in this area. The only prehistoric find is a Bronze Age axe found in 1908. This may have been used by an early farmer to clear trees from the land in preparation for ploughing.

This area was almost certainly occupied during the Roman period; Roman forts stood at Greta Bridge to the west and Piercebridge to the east. However, no actual remains from this period have been found near Wycliffe itself.

Despite this lack of evidence for occupation in the Roman period, the village was certainly in existence by the mid-Anglo-Saxon period (c.700AD). The name 'Wycliffe' comes from the Old English for 'cliff by the water', and Thorpe is the Old Norse for 'farm'. The church was also of Anglo-Saxon date. A number of carved stone crosses of this date have been found nearby. One shows a warrior on horseback holding a spear. Another, possibly originally placed by the roadside between Greta Bridge and Wycliffe carried an Old English inscription, which in translation read ' Baeda (set this up) in memory of berehtwine, a monument in memory¬Ö'. The church also contains a Viking period hogback stone

By the medieval period there were several small settlements in this area, as well as Wyclffe itself. To the south is Girlington, the site of a deserted medieval village. Its name comes from Old English, and suggests that the village was probably of Anglo-Saxon origin. To the west is Thorpe, now just a hall and a few cottages. Although there was an Anglo-Saxon church here, the current building was built in the mid-13th century, and restored in the 19th century. It still contains some of the original 13th century stained glass.

The lords of the manor were the Wycliffe family, who lived there from the 12th century until 1611. They resided at Wycliffe Hall. Some of the medieval fortified house still survives, though it has been much altered, first in the 16th/17th century, then in the early 18th century, and most recently in the 1950s, following a fire. It is possible that the important 13th century church reformer John Wycliffe was a member of this family, and may have actually lived in the village. He criticised the Catholic church, and was responsible for the first complete translation of the bible into English. It is tempting to wonder whether John Wycliffe knew of the mysterious carved figure of a woman, probably the Virgin Mary. This 13th century object was found during restoration work at Wycliffe Hall in 1931.

Since the medieval period the area has remained a quiet rural backwater- it avoided the growth of the collieries found in East Durham and the rise of lead mining found in the uplands of West Durham. Ironically, considering John Wycliffe's opposition to the Catholic Church, Wycliffe contains an early example of a post-Reformation chapel, built in 14th century style.

Reference number:D6808
Event(s):Heart of Teesdale Project Heritage Audit; North of England Civic Trust

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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.