Keys to the Past

Local History

Willington (County Durham)

Willington is a small town seven miles south west of Durham City and four miles north of Bishop Auckland.

The earliest evidence for occupation in the area dates to the Bronze Age; a bronze axe of this date was found at Nackshivan. However, it is possible that the flint tools found elsewhere in the parish may have been of earlier, Mesolithic date, belonging to the earliest hunter-gatherer groups who may have lived in this area. Farming developed in the Neolithic and Bronze Age period and by the end of the Iron Age there was probably a landscape of small fields amongst which stood farmsteads surrounded by a palisade and a ditch.

The Romans arrived in the 1st century AD. It is known that the Roman road known as Dere Street ran through the area. Indeed a Roman milestone of 3rd century date was found here in 1910.
We know little about the area during the Anglo-Saxon period, although the village name comes from the Old English for the 'settlement of the family of Wiel'. It was not an important village and was included within the parish of Brancepeth. There was a small medieval chapel in the village, but most people were buried in Brancepeth.

In 1831 a plague of cholera killed about 30 people who were buried at Brancepeth. The population increased from 258 in 1841 to 965 in 1851. This was because of the rise of the coal mining industry in the area. New facilities were required for the miners and their families. The old chapel was rebuilt as a parish church in 1857 and enlarged in 1869 and 1873. A Wesleyan and a Methodist chapel were both also built, as well as Presbyterian and a Catholic church. When Willington Methodist Church was demolished in 1971 a bottle with a newspaper article and 19th century coins were found. It had been placed here as a time capsule when an extension was added to the church in 1866.

Life was not all peaceful in Willington and there were several tragic events in the area during the 19th and early centuries. For example, in 1908 a miner named Thomas Barton was hailed a hero was rescued for saving a child from a burning house, but was tragically killed himself in a mining accident six weeks later. A monument which was erected to him can still be seen in the east end of St Stephen's cemetery.

A railway accident occurred in Willington on October 23rd 1869 at nearby Hunwick Station. A number of wagons escaped during shunting operations and after speeding through Willington Station smashed into a stationary passenger train at Hunwick, just as passengers were alighting. The engine driver and the stoker were killed and several others were horrifically injured.

The wider parish of Greater Willington encompasses a number of smaller villages incluing Oakenshaw to the north, Sunnybrow to the southwest and Page Bank in the east. Various war memorials can be found within these villages of the parish and in Willington itself that chart the sacrifices made by inhabitants of the area in the First World War and during other conflicts. Memorials range in type and frequency, from numerous plaques and dedicated items within churches such as in St. Stephen's Church in Willington and St. John's Church at Sunnybrow; to places like Oakenshaw Working Men's Club where a single plaque once provided details of the efforts made by members of the club during the war. Other public memorial sites in Willington itself include the cross at the entrance to Jubilee Park and the memorial homes of Hall Terrace.

Reference number:D6904
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.