Crook Hall and Garden’s Weekly Blog


11th April 2017

James is as laid back as they come. Even on the busiest of days I have never seen him lose his cool. He is the Crook Hall ‘Cheeky Chappy’ and we wouldn’t have him any other way. We still have at least a year of keeping him here to entertain the masses but we know he will be a success at whatever he goes on to after leaving Durham. (But we can’t imagine it will be more fun!)

Hello my name is James! I am from the mighty West Country, Plymouth, and studying ancient history here at Durham. I generally work all of the events that happen around Crook Hall. As a student studying I had worked a couple of jobs before finding this place, originally applied just to work in the café but my role quickly advanced into multiple characters and outfits. You could possibly find me at the café, in a pirate costume or just working behind the bar. My first event was working a pirate and princesses week, performing various activities throughout the day such as parachute games and my favourite past time – a treasure hunt. When we do not run events here there is always something else going on! Weddings run most weekends and I have had the pleasure of serving beer to numerous newlyweds and nervous best men.

It is a wonderful place to work and is almost a gem hidden within the city, the vast gardens make for a good working environment. Crook Hall really does help me with my studying, not only offering an amazing place to revise if I needed, but also with the shifts I am given. We have quite a large staff list here with around half being students, who all require the same flexibility as I do when it comes to mid-week shifts. When my mum and dad come to visit Durham I will be sure to bring them here, the gardens are pretty decent and they love their flowers and what not. A cheeky afternoon tea with a view of the cathedral is sure to be a winner for them! 




4th April 2017

Peter is one of the most positive people I have ever come across. From the day he and Susan (now his Wife) walked into Crook Hall & Gardens he has been a beacon of sunlight. Even through the wintery cold, stormy days, a smile from Peter and your day will be brighter. I can’t think of a nicer person to be welcoming our guests and giving them the best first impression of Crook Hall and Gardens possible.

I have been a volunteer here at Crook Hall & Gardens since October and I can honestly say its a great place to work. My role as a volunteer is to meet and greet each person as they arrive at Crook Hall & Gardens. I want to  make sure that everyone has the best experience whether its a coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or a visit around the gardens and hall. I enjoy chatting to everyone and finding out what they enjoyed and if they are tourists where they are visiting next. Often I find myself being a tour guide for Durham City or further a field.

Crook Hall holds very fond memories for us as Susan and I got married here in June and has the most amazing day. Also as a landscape and wildlife photographer I also get to spend time in the gardens whenever possible and just love photographing the variety of scenes, flowers and colours that abound and change from week to week for the website and Facebook pages. If you are looking for a place to come and volunteer I can recommend Crook Hall & Gardens



29th March 2017

Beth, Beth, Beth. Where do I start!? Beth is our Crook Hall veteran, our 2nd longest serving members of staff, she epitomises everything that Crook Hall stands for. She has the most amazing heart and that shines through in the way that she talks to both customers and staff alike. Beth has grown so much over the years and Crook Hall is proud to be a apart of her journey.

My journey at Crook Hall & Gardens began a long time ago (7 years and 4 months to be exact). It started as my first little part time Sunday job, when I was just a naive, sweet, little 16 years old and had just started at college. It was a cold December when the Christmas event was on and I was the elf who handed out the mulled wine – a sure favourite of every adult on the day. It obviously went well as I continued my part time job throughout university, where I studied Advertising and Media. Then onto my full time job, when I had completed my degree and since then I’ve been promoted and I am now Deputy General Manager of the place.

On a daily basis I am mainly located in the Garden Gate Cafe, flitting between our many different roles from service to drinks to food and the occasional shift of solid washing up. Although for the first few years of working here, before the cafe was built, I was forever in the tea rooms, making mountains of scones and toasties and getting some serious amounts of washing up done up there as well with Keith, the owner, also known as the king of washing up.

Other than that I run the beautiful apartment located above the cafe. I help run the many social media pages we have. My favourite job however, is when I get out to take photos of the hall and gardens, for advertising, booklets and our social media pages. It’s so nice to see the gardens change all year round and if I didn’t get out to take the photos, I probably wouldn’t get a chance to appreciate the gardens in the different seasons. I’d have to say that as beautiful as the summer is, autumn is the one I look forward to most, just to see the big beach tree turn every shade of yellow, red and orange.

Although taking the photographs is my favourite JOB to do at the hall, by far my favourite THING about this place is all of the people I work with – past and present. Every day is a treat as I get to spend my day with all of the different team members, some of which are from all over the country and even all over the world. It certainly makes a hard days work pleasurable knowing I’m stuck with this lot.


21st March 2017

Anna Kidd is a jack of all trades. From baking to artwork and written history, she has mastered it all! Along with this she is also the nicest person to work with and we would be lost with out her. We love you Anna!!!

Since I started working here at Crook Hall, I have had the opportunity to work in all sort of different areas within the business. You can find me baking cakes in our Garden Gate Café, making canapes for weddings but I also work a lot with the art and cultural side of things.

Being the exhibition manager, I get the pleasure of meeting some amazing artists, who allow me to display their wonderful artwork in our exhibition room. But the other side of my job, more involves the historical and cultural displays on offer.

Crook Hall has such a rich history and so many fascinating stories from the past. When I first started working here I was blown away at just how much history there was. There was so much to discover about what had previously happened here, and who had been around to witness it. The numerous artefacts that have been discovered in the gardens allow these ghostly figures of history to be recognised as real people, who lived real lives right here where I come to work every day. It is amazing to work in a building that has stood for 800 years. That’s what I love about this place. It’s history. It’s depth. It’s beauty. The building’s timeline is glittered with amazing characters; from medieval knights and romantic poets to infamous ghosts and ale merchants. And that is only part of the story. It’s amazing to think that every day spent here is an addition to that history. Every wedding that takes place adds another beautiful chapter to the Crook Hall tale. Every staff member leaves their own marks on the pages, and every visitor who walks through the door will become part of a story that I hope will continue for many years to come.


10th February 2017

Brittany White is Crook Hall’s favourite Canadian import. Since her first day working in the café both staff and customers alike love Brittany and her contagious positive attitude to life. Nothing is too much trouble for Brittany and, most importantly, the customer always comes first!

I’ve had the pleasure of working at Crook Hall & Gardens for a little over a year. I’ve moved here to Durham from Toronto, Canada while my hubby works on his PhD here. In between our travelling adventures and my visits home to Canada to work, I can be found baking cakes and scrambling eggs at the Garden Gate Café!   

My background is in women & infants’ healthcare, so naturally a favourite aspect of my work here is welcoming families with little ones to our cafe with some stickle brick toys and a smile, and doting over the babies who enter!  

I’ve also relished the opportunity to hone some British baking skills! Back home we use measuring cups but I have become a big fan of your weigh-scales! When I take trips home to Canada I can’t help but think, in the hustle and bustle of the big city, “where can a girl get a cream tea in this town?!” 

It’s been such a blessing to work in this beautiful environment surrounded by lush gardens, friendly co-workers, and so much history. Crook Hall has earned a special place in my heart during my time in Durham, & is always the first place I bring visiting family and friends!


22nd February 2017

Ellie Parkinson is one of the loveliest people you will ever get to meet and we have the privilege of getting to work with her week in, week out.  Whether it is looking after the Bride or serving afternoon teas in the Georgian Drawing Room, Ellie will always give it her all and always with the biggest smile!

Hi I’m Ellie and I’ve worked at Crook Hall for around 18 months now. When joining the team at the age of sixteen, I had no idea what to expect – but nothing could have prepared me for the daily craziness of Crook Hall! I work at the Hall alongside attending sixth form where I study English Literature, English Language and Economics.

There is no ‘standard day’ at Crook Hall; from our Tipsy Tea hen parties and busy children’s events to helping make someone’s big day special, each day is extremely rewarding and far different to the next. Out of all the aspects of my job, wedding days are definitely my favourite. I love to see how each couple can make the Hall and Gardens their own and allow their personalities to shine through. As each season brings a new look to the gardens, they provide the perfect backdrop no matter what time of year it is.

As well as working front-of-house I also take part in behind the scenes tasks too, as working at Crook Hall comes with one vital requirement- baking scones! This was a totally new challenge for me when I joined the team, but after lots of practice it has become an everyday task and something I love to do. Whether it is our traditional scone recipe or something a little quirkier for a wedding breakfast, they all taste amazing… if I do say so myself.

Above all, it is working alongside such lovely people makes each day enjoyable no matter what task we are faced with. It really is amazing to have a job with so much variety – even if it does feel crazy at times! Ellie x



14th February 2017

Siobhan McDermid, AKA Shivvy, is the life and soul of the office at Crook Hall and Gardens. She is an integral part of the team and we would be lost with out her and would miss being able to pick her brain and laugh at her ‘funny’ jokes!

Life as the Office Manager here at Crook Hall and Gardens is never boring, no two days are ever the same and I wear many hats!! One day I can be an ‘accountant’ (in the loosest sense of the word) and the next I’m a Christmas Elf; I’ve been known to be elbow deep in washing up and on very busy days I can be found manning our entrance till or taking food orders (not anywhere near as professionally as our fab café staff but I do try, in fact some would say I am very trying!!).

Prior to working here I worked in an office all by myself and the days could be very lonely, now I sometimes long for a day of peace and quiet where the phone might just stop ringing off the hook but taking the call from an excited bride and groom booking their wedding day always brings a smile to my face or telling a parent what one of our children’s events entails is lovely, listening to how enthusiastic they are about what we do here is a joy.

Detailing the contents of our Sparkling Afternoon Teas to potential diners is also one of my favourite calls as it reminds me about the perks of my job, one of my other ‘hats’ sees me as unofficial scone / cake taster and one of my greatest pleasures comes when we are trialling a new recipe in the kitchen and an opinion is required (I’m very good at giving my opinion on most things!). Our chocolate brownie is amazing ~ just my opinion but you must try it!

Another perk of my job is being able to spend the boss’s money on leather handbags, gin, vodka, sweets and lovely smelling soaps and candles amongst other things, I only wish it was for me personally but I also stock our gift shop so I have to hope that my tastes are somewhere near to classy and our guests enjoy looking at my spoils! See another hat, ‘personal shopper’!

Home life sees me surrounded by dogs and grandsons, 3 of each and all of them my pride and joy and the recipients on my hard earned wages but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

7th February 2017

David Kennedy, Gardening Volunteer and an all round lovely chap. Crook Hall wouldn’t be the same without our amazing volunteers and David is a testament to this! His hard work, along side Ann and John in the Gardens, make Crook Hall’s gardens a beautiful place to visit.

‘My name is David Kennedy and I am currently a volunteer at Crook Hall and Gardens. I have always had an interest in gardening and gained knowledge from books and articles I would read in magazines. I followed my passion of gardening and started attending a horticulture course at East Durham Houghall College. This was the start for me as it was here that I learned my basic gardening skills from experienced horticultural tutors and lecturers. I learnt all about plants including their biology, how they grow, how they work and I also gained experience in working in the gardening environment for the first time.

After three years of education and training I proudly got my qualifications in gardening horticultural levels 1, 2 and 3. I loved being at Houghall so much that I volunteered to assist at the plant nursery there. Working side by side with horticultural staff showing me plant production. From seed sowing, potting up seedlings and shrubs, through to lining them out onto greenhouse benches, I did it all. But what was most satisfying was moving them out into plant frames ready to be sold to the public. Job done!

Volunteering at Crook Hall and Gardens for the last year has been educational too. Now I work with the gardening team, learning new skills every day and carrying out new projects all the time! I have learned how to lay a new path, complete a rockery at the entrance gate, how to shape topiary Yew trees in the Shakespeare garden. All of this was done by thorough research and identifying old varieties of plants and making sure it’s ‘in keeping’ with Crook Hall.

My favourite task would have to be the propagation in the green house.

We sow seeds for bedding and vegetable plants which we later acclimatise the plants outdoors. We do this by lining out in a cold frame then planting them out into the borders or garden allotment. They use the vegetables in the café &flowers from the bedding plants to garnish the Afternoon Teas.

I really enjoy spending time at Crook Hall and Gardens.’



31st January 2017

Jack Goodchild is loved by everyone at Crook Hall & Gardens. His ‘can do’ attitude and dry sense of humour make working along side him not like work at all!

A typical day for me at Crook Hall involves a wide range of responsibilities. Over the past 2 years I have worked in both the café and the house assisting with weddings and other events. More recently I have been tasked with the role of team leader which is something I continue to enjoy. 

I love working on a wedding day at Crook Hall as the day is fast-paced with lots going on. I have two main responsibilities; waiter and barman.  Working behind the bar has allowed me to practice my cocktail making skills which came in very handy at home over Christmas – for my mam especially!  Another thing that makes working a wedding enjoyable, is the many speeches I have listened to.  The best man is always hilarious. 

When I was young I enjoyed visiting Crook Hall with my family, particularly at Easter time. Taking part in the treasure hunt around the gardens and meeting the Easter Bunny.  Now I am that Easter Bunny haha!’

26th January 2017

Jade Melling, the best way for you to go on reading this blog is with the best Wigan accent you can do, then you will really get to understand and know why we love our Jade.

Well, hello there! I’m Jade and funnily enough it is a year since I started my journey at Crook Hall and Gardens. I’m an English Student here at Durham University, but I have worked in hospitality and catering for six years and Crook Hall is undoubtedly the loveliest, most welcoming and craziest place yet! I feel truly at home in the Garden Gate Café, surrounded by like-minded people and an abundance of cakes. I especially love the summer months here as it means that I can rummage around in the greenhouse for edible flowers and create botanical masterpieces! When I’m not baking, I’m cuddling my favourite colleague Tamarind-the-cat or dancing around the kitchen. Apparently my nickname is ‘Cray Cray’, which I don’t mind as long I’m making people smile! In the words of Lewis Carroll, I’m entirely bonkers but ‘I’ll tell you a secret, all the best people are’. (Our ‘Alice in Wonderland’ event is my favourite, if you couldn’t tell).  Jade x

10th January 2017

Stephanie Hallam-Team Leader, has worked at Crook Hall and Gardens for almost 20 months and has become our ‘sandwich maker extraordinaire’.

20 months – seems to have flown over. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Crook Hall team since I started. I am based in The Garden Gate Cafe, where I love to bake and make all kinds of cakes and treats – chocolate brownies, gluten and dairy free muffins, quiche and soup (usually with some fresh veg from the garden). We are constantly kept going down there but it is still a pleasure as the staff are such a friendly bunch. We have our regular customers who it is a pleasure to see time and time again aswell. The view is beautiful from the cafe also. I particularly enjoy watching the maze change with the seasons; from green in the summer to red in the autumn and lately covered by a lovely white frost, which added to the ambience of our Christmas events. We are just a bit quieter now after the full-on Christmas events. Before we know it, It will be the start of the next events and we’ll be continuously stocking up the cakes and scones all over again. I’m taking note now of what I can restock in the gift shop, with unique and original gifts for all. The local Durham Gin and honey are always a popular choice. Steph x


 3rd January 2017

Kelly Musgrave-General Manager, has worked at Crook Hall and Gardens for almost 3 years. A loved member of the team who is well known for her sarcastic tendencies. 

‘As Christmas drew nearer and I piled through the rotas, Keith and Maggie came to me and said the dreaded words… ”We would like to open the cafe on new years day.” My thought was well there goes my holidays, but who else will want to work? It was only last New Years Day that I was sitting on a plane ready to go traveling for 3 months. Oh how things change! The thing that came from Keith and Maggie’s mouth was… ”Don’t worry, we are here to help serve!” The thought of me, Keith and Maggie serving in the café is hilarious. Good job David was free to help – at least there is now a chance for people to actually get served. Turns out new years day was quite busy and we had a really good shift with local people enjoying walks around Durham with there lovely dogs. Running Crook Hall & Gardens for the past 20 years, Keith and Maggie still know what they are doing and can muck in and help out. As the Christmas events are now at the back of my mind and we take the last tree down today we look towards the planning of our new children’s events and to celebrate our 800 years of standing. We look forward to the new year of 2017 at Crook Hall & Gardens – it can only go up from here!