Keys to the Past

Local History

Sedgefield (County Durham)

Sedgefield is a small market town to the south-east of Durham. It is surrounded by open country and has a racecourse.

Whilst there is likely to have been human occupation in and around the area since the end of the last ice-age (from around 8,000BC), the earliest known human occupation can be found in buried cropmark sites. Found both to the north and south of the village, such sites reveal enclosures with surrounding ditches which once contained the houses of small farming communities of the late Bronze and Iron Ages.

During the Roman period a major Roman Road running north from York towards Chester-le-Street and beyond was constructed immediately to the west of the village. This road is usually called "Cades Road" after the 18th century antiquarian who first identified it. A small number of archaeological finds and a series of enigmatic cropmarks, also to the west of the village, suggest that there may be a small Roman settlement alongside the road. Some of this site was excavated in 2002 by the television programme Time Team. They found the remains of a Roman village and pottery kilns, suggesting that the site provided pottery for the surrounding area. This was the first Roman pottery kiln to be found in the north-east of England.

Sedgefield is first recorded in documentary sources in the year 915 and again in 1050 when it was known as "Ceddesfeld", the name is Anglo-Saxon in origin and may have one of two origins. The more likely is that it reflects the name of the original landowner and simply means "Cedds' Field". Alternatively the name may reflect the nature of the surrounding area which was, in the 18th and 19th centuries and before considerable amounts of land improvement, damp and marshy - often referred to as "sedge".

St. Edmund's Church was built in the 13th century and overlooks the town centre. The tower was built in the 15th century as a gift by Robert Rhodes, a wealthy local merchant. It also contains an impressive font and several memorial brasses commemorating local families. A woodworker named Robert Barker did much to enhance the interior with magnificently executed woodwork in a classical style. The former Rectory is an interesting 18th century building and has now been converted, by the local Community Association, for community use and has been renamed Ceddesfield Hall. It is reputedly haunted by "THE PICKLED PARSON" who is said to reside in a lost tunnel leading from St. Edmunds Church to the Rectory.

The village of Sedgefield legally became a town in the year 1312, when Bishop Kellawe of Durham granted a charter allowing the holding of a market every Friday. An annual fair was also held that lasted five days and began on the eve of St. Edmund's Day, November 16th. By 1343 the market seems to have fallen into neglect with the Rector complaining that people were buying and trading even on Sundays! Both market and fair were still being held at the end of the 18th century, often in an area referred to as the Marketgate. The word "gate", as found in many northern English towns, is an Anglo-Scandinavian word that refers to a street or place rather than a physical gate. From 1828 the town began to flourish by manufacturing agricultural products like saddles and straw hats. The market enjoyed a short revival early in the 20th century at the instigation of the Women's Institute.

Other medieval buildings nearby included Embleton Old Hall - formerly the manor house of the Bulmer family. The manor house of High Embleton is mentioned in 1653, and again as Embleton Hall in 1667. The modern farmhouse on the site exhibits no trace of antiquity suggesting the old hall was demolished at some unknown point in the past. It would appear from old records that prior to ploughing in 1941, the site of the old hall was represented by a raised platform with stone foundations in the field to the west of the farmhouse.

The grounds of Hardwick Hall, a 16th century house with a fine 18th century front, were created in the mid-18th century. At its height the park covered a large area and contained a lake, temples and follies. Sadly in the later 19th and early 20th century the park fell into disrepair. Luckily the park is being restored to its former glory.

Sedgefield has many notable buildings including the medieval church of St. Edmund and the splendid former rectory of Ceddesfield Hall. Most buildings around the centre of the village are Georgian in date and reflect the prosperity of the village at this time. This can also be seen with the development of the important landscape at Hardwick just outside the village from the 1750's. In more recent times Sedgefield has seen the development of its racecourse and the opening of the County Durham Asylum hospital at Winterton which closed in the late 1990s.

A number of war memorials can be found around the town, most notably with the cross in the churchyard of St. Edmund's parish church whilst the church itself contains a plaque dedicated to the memory of parishioners who served in the war. The Wesleyan chapel contains a similar memorial along with a number of plaques commissioned by individual families in remembrance of fallen relatives. St. Luke's Chapel that once belonged to Winterton Hospital is known to have once contained a number of memorials but these were removed from the church and stored at Durham General Hospital when the asylum was demolished.

In WW2, Hardwick military camp was established to the north of the town and documentary sources suggest that a second camp was set up around the area now used by the racecourse but the exact location of this is unknown.

Reference number:D6877
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.