Keys to the Past

Local History

Lanchester (County Durham)

Lanchester © DCC 1601
Lanchester © DCC 1601

The village of Lanchester lies in the valley of the River Browney approximately eight miles west of Durham. This ancient parish was formerly very extensive, comprising no less than fifteen townships, and four chapelries; all the latter are now entirely independent parishes, whilst of the townships there remain only Lanchester, Langley, parts of Greencroft, and Burnhope and Hamsteels.

The earliest remains in this area are of prehistoric date. A number of flint tools were found at Red House, though their precise age is not clear. Nearby, at Holly Bush, a leaf-shaped stone arrowhead made from flint was found. It probably dates to the Neolithic and may have been used by an early hunter at a time when farming was only just beginning.

During the Roman period Lanchester became the site of the Roman fort known as Longovicium. It was rectangular in shape and had four gates. A ditch surrounded it; in some places a second ditch was also dug. Archaeologists have found the remains of the headquarters buildings, a bathhouse and some barrack buildings. It was built in the mid 1st century AD and was in use through the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The remains of the large stone walls can still be seen in places.

The remains of the vicus for Lanchester Roman fort can be seen on a geophysical survey of this area. The plan clearly shows a rectangular street grid and house foundations to the east of the the fort. Possible foundations may also be seen to the south of the fort, although the findings are more ambiguous. Other unclear earthworks to the north of the fort may also be a continuation of the site. There is a large scatter of Roman pottery to the north and south of the fort that may show how far the vicus spread.

An archaeological excavation found the remains of a [Roman cemetery D2179]. It was used from the mid 2nd century to the late 3rd century. The remains of at least 12 stone lined burials and 29 cremations were found here. It was probably where the civilians who lived near the Roman fort were buried.

In the Anglo-Saxon period it is possible that the Roman fort was re-used. The name of the village included part of the name of the fort 'Longovicium' as well as the word 'ceastre', which is the Old English for 'Roman Fort'. In 1861 a {hoard D1833} of eighteen iron objects was found here, dating to the Viking period (9th-11th centuries). Objects found include two swords, four axes, four scythes, a pickaxe and parts of a buckle.

The church of All Saint's in Lanchester was built in the 12th century, but by the early 15th century the church was ruined. However, it has since been restored. Archaeologists found the foundations of some seats in the porch and at least two burials inside the church. The 19th century lead roof of the church has pictures of shoes carved into it.

As well as at Lanchester, there may have been a medieval settlement at Tanfield. This originally had two rows of houses with a green between them. Other villages probably stood at Newbiggin and Colepike Hall.

At nearby Burnhopeside Hall lived William Hedley, the inventor of the locomotives 'Puffing Billy' and 'Wylam Dilly'. The former of the two is now housed in the Science Museum in London where it is said to be the oldest locomotive in the world. A memorial to William Hedley can be seen in the Church.

Doctor William Greenwell of Greenwell Ford, a noted historian, archaeologist and author, was made Canon of Durham Cathedral in 1854, before becoming librarian to the Dean and Chapter in 1862. A keen fisherman, he will be mostly remembered for his famous trout fly 'The Greenwell Glory', still used by many anglers today. Canon Greenwell died at the age of 97 in 1918 and is buried in the village churchyard. The poet, Dora Greenwell, William's sister, was born at Greenwell Ford in 1821. She was aquainted with Christina Rossetti, another great poet of this time. They both shared an interest in theology. Dora was an advocate of better education for women and supported the right for women to be allowed the vote. Two of her poems are included in the Methodist hymnbook although she was in fact an Anglican herself.

Lanchester boasts a number of memorial sites dedicated to the commemoration of inhabitants of the parish who contributed to the war effort during the First World War, WW2 and other conflicts. All Saints Church has a WW1 plaque and a Book of Remembrance dedicated to WW2 and the Falklands conflict. A memorial hall was built after the Great War as a meeting place and was subsequently used as a cinema, Labour exchange and warehouse before being demolished. Memorials in public spaces include the churchyard gates, a memorial wall on the Village Green and a Calvary cross in the churchyard of the Roman Catholic Church.

Reference number:D6851
Event(s):The identification of Historic Landscapes in Durham Project; Chris Blandford Associates

To find out more about a particular site, please click the Identify button (i) on the toolbar, then click the site on the map.
The Historic maps option is only available when the map scale is between 2500 and 10000.






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.