Keys to the Past

Local History

Pittington (County Durham)

The village of Pittington lies to the north-east of Durham city. There is evidence of settlement in the area from over 4000 years ago. A number of simple flint tools of the type used by Mesolithic people have been discovered in the parish. These belong to a time before the idea of farming had reached this part of the world, and these early groups would have got their food through the hunting of wild animals and collecting wild plants, fruit and nuts. It is thought that they had no permanent settlements and instead moved through the landscape to find the best source of food according to the season.

Despite these very early discoveries we know little else about Pittington in prehistory. Although the first farmers started clearing their fields in the Neolithic period, we have no remains of these early farms. Indeed, we have no evidence from the following Bronze Age and Iron Age either. This does not mean that no-one lived in Pittington at this period, just that we have not found any of their settlements or burials.

The Romans arrived in County Durham in the 1st century AD. A series of forts was built along the Roman road known as Dere Street which ran northwards towards Hadrian's Wall. This ran far to the west of Pittington. However, other Roman roads did run nearby, joining Durham with the fort at Chester-le-Street. Despite the nearness of this important Roman routeway there are no remains of Roman date from the parish of Pittington itself.

It is only in the Anglo-Saxon period that we start to have better evidence for settlement and occupation actually in the village itself. The name Pittington is the Old English for the 'farm of Pitta's people'. Pitta may have been the name of the Anglo-Saxon leader who founded the village. A name such as this is unlikely to be much later than 8th or 9th century in date. Another sign of early medieval activity is the presence of an Anglo-Saxon sundial in the church. This may have been used by early Christian monks to tell what time they were meant to pray. This suggests that although the current church is of 11th century date and later, there must have been an earlier church at the site.

Much of the church of St. Laurence was heavily restored in the 19th century, but a Norman arcade is still visible. Inside the building a mid-13th century stone effigy can also still be seen. It is probably that of a knight of the Fitz-Marmaduke family.

The most important medieval building in the parish was Prior's House, the manor house belonging to the Prior of the monastery at Durham. It was first built in the mid-13th century or possibly earlier. It is known from historic records that there was once a mill, a hall, a barn, a bakehouse, stables, a kitchen and other buildings around the main manor house. After the Dissolution of the monasteries the building was dismantled. All that can be seen now are a number of low earthworks.

Archaeological work at nearby Hallgarth House has also revealed evidence for medieval occupation, including traces of earlier buildings and a number of possible early animal pens. These remains are dated to the mid-11th to early 13th century. The earthwork remains of the medieval buildings can still be seen in the surrounding area.

As in many parishes in this area coal mining became increasingly important in the 19th century. A colliery was established at Littletown in 1834 and another colliery at Pittington itself was laid out in 1891. Littletown was once called South Pittington and later Little Pittington. It became known as Littletown in about 1613, probably taking the name from a nearby farm. The present village of Littletown grew up near to the colliery worked by the Earl of Durham. It lies on rising ground less than a mile south of the church, and had a school, reading room, and a Wesleyan chapel.

The churchyard of St. Laurence's Church, Hallgarth, contains a First World War memorial Calvary cross that was unveiled in 1920. After the end of WW2 some of the dedications were modified to include those of the parish who fought and died in the later conflict. As for remains of the physical impact of war on the parish, there is a WW2 Hurricane crash site in the north west of the parish at Low Pittington.

Reference number:D6863
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.