Crook Hall has a very rich history and so many fascinating stories from the past. 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. Numerous artifacts have been discovered in the gardens over the years that allow these ghostly figures of history to be recognized as real people, who lived their lives in this captivating building.
Origin and Peter Del Croke
The Medieval Hall is the oldest part of Crook Hall. It has a very rich history, and has been significant to a number of families who have lived here over the years. In 1217 the hall was passed on to Peter Del Croke and it is due to his ownership that Crook Hall got it’s name.
Peter Del Croke died in 1320, passing Crook Hall on to his son Peter. Peter Del Croke (the younger) lived there with his family until his death in 1343 and then passed it down to his son Richard. It was during his tenancy that John De Coupland visited.
John De Coupland
John De Coupland was the captor of the Scottish king at the battle of Neville’s Cross , and he slept at Crook Hall the night before the battle in 1346. It was presumably then that he met Richard Del Croke’s daughter Joan, whom he later married. From 1360 to 1372 he lived here himself.
In 1372 it was the Billinghams who owned Crook Hall. They were a highly influential family and add a lot of colour to the historical story of Crook Hall. Alan Billingham and his wife Agnes were the first of the Billinghams to live here after he was granted ownership of the property from John De Coxhoe (son of William De Coxhoe and nephew to the wife of John De Coupland). The property was passed down through the generations of Billinghams to Thomas Billingham who was the owner of the hall in 1425. Thomas was the man who first gave Durham its water supply from a well in Crook Hall to the Market Place.
However when the hall was passed down to Cuthbert Billingham, a highly temperamental character, things took a different turn. Cuthbert had quite a temper and would often quarrel with his mother and sister. However it was the citizens of Durham that he offended the most when he cut off the water supply that Thomas has set up and redirected it to service his own mill. Needless to say this caused uproar from the people of Durham and he was later forced to restore the pipes.
It is rumoured that our infamous ghost ‘The White Lady’ is the niece of Cuthbert Billingham. Some even say that it was he who killed her, in one of his fits of temper. She is said to have been seen floating down the old wooden staircase in the Jacobean room, a staircase that is no longer usable by the living. Strange noises and creaking and other sightings have been mentioned by owners and visitors alike.
In 1657 Crook Hall was bought by Christopher Mickleton, who then passed it to James and Francis as a wedding gift. It was the Mickletons who built the Jacobean manor house, with its typically symmetrical façade, to the west of the Medieval Hall in 1671. They carved their initials above the main door leading into the screens passage, reading
16 I F 71
These faint markings can still be seen today if you look very carefully. Other carvings on and around the door are believed to be symbols to keep evil spirits away.
In 1720 it was John Mickleton who had to sell Crook Hall to settle his debts, and he was buried in Durham Cathedral in 1721.
In 1736 Crook Hall was bought by the Hopper family of Shincliffe. It was the Hoppers who extended the hall further, adding the Georgian west wing to the house.
In 1793 the Hoppers of Shincliffe passed Crook Hall to Reverend Hopper Williamson, the recorder of Newcastle. Between 1834 and 1858 the Reverend leased the property to Canon James Raine, an antiquary and topographer. He married Margaret, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Thomas Peacock, in 1828 and they had three daughters (Anne, Margaret and Jane), and one son; a Reverend of the same name. James Raine was most famous for his controversial account of the excavations of 1827 of St. Cuthbert’s Shrine in Durham Cathedral (J. Raine, St. Cuthbert: with an account of the state in which his remains were found upon the opening of his tomb in Durham Cathedral, in the year 1827 (Durham, 1828)). He was also a good friend of Robert Surtees and a member of the Surtees Society.
It was during James Raine’s tenancy at Crook Hall that he was regularly visited by William Wordsworth and John Ruskin. Wordsworth was one of England’s most influential romantic poets. Ruskin was a leading art critic, patron, draughtsman, watercolourist and philanthropist. He wrote the following about the northern landscapes “I will conclude with observing that a happy proportion of component parts is generally noticeable among the landscapes of the North of England; and in this characteristic essential to a perfect picture, they surpass the scenes of Scotland, and in a still greater degree, those of Switzerland”. Ruskin is said to have loved Durham and claimed the ensemble of the river, the cathedral and the castle to be one of the great wonders of the world.
James Raine died here in Crook Hall in 1858 and was buried in Durham Cathedral. Many of his books were donated back to Crook Hall by Margot Johnson, and these can be found in the display cases of our Exhibition Room.
The Fowlers were the owners of Crook Hall for most of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century. At first John Fowler worked as a sales representative for his brother James and in 1859 he rented part of Crook Hall as a family home for him, his wife Mary and their children Hannah, Anne, Elizabeth, James, John and Matthew.
In 1862 John’s wife Mary died at Crook Hall and it may have been around this time that John began his own business as an ale and porter merchant. His beer bottling business seemed to flourish, as well as his additional venture selling animal feed from offices in the Market Place. The following advertisement appeared in the Durham Advertiser in 1867.
JOHN S. FOWLER
CROOK HALL, FRAMWELLGATE, AND MARKET BUILDINGS, DURHAM
In returning thanks to his Friends and the Public generally for the flattering support he has received since he commenced business as
DEALER IN GUINNESS AND CO.’S EXTRA STOUT,
BASS AND CO.’S MILD AND BITTER ALES
MANUFACTURER OF THE IMPROVED CATTLE SPICE FOR HORSES, COWS, PIGS, SHEEP AND POULTRY,
Hopes to be entrusted with a continuance of their favours.
All orders left at Crook Hall, or at J. S. Fowler’s Offices (late John Dickinson’s). Market Buildings, Durham, will be punctually attended to.
As J. S. F. deals in nothing but superior Article, at the lowest possible terms, Cash, the strictest confidence may be placed in all orders entrusted to his care.
GENUINE LINSEED, RAPE, AND OTHER CAKES
Crook Hall, Durham, Dec. 10, 1867
During his successful ale and porter business, John used the Medieval Hall as the hub for his beer bottling. The beer would be delivered in large barrels that were difficult to transport and so, for ease of access, John knocked a hole in the north wall of the Medieval Hall to allow the carts to deliver the beer straight into the room. In the Exhibition Room you can see a number of bottles that have been found around the gardens over the years printed with their family name.
John Fowler died aged 62 at Crook Hall on the 19th June 1888. He was described positively in his obituary, and was regarded as ‘esteemed for his straight forward character and geniality’. In his will he left Crook Hall and the rest of his possessions to Matthew, as he was the only child of his to remain at home.
Matthew was 28 and unmarried when he inherited the £953 estate and it seems he spent a large amount of it on drinking and lavish parties. He did take over his father’s business but his lack of business skills, and his love of drinking, meant that he lost more money than he earned. By 1890 Matthew was only 30 years old and had lost around £700. His unhealthy lifestyle could have been the reason for his early death on the 16th November later that same year.
James Fowler, John’s eldest son and Matthew’s other brother, moved back to Crook Hall after Matthew’s death. At some point in the following ten years, James Fowler seems to have given up the ale and porter business, and turned his hand to dealing milk and farming, potentially working with his brother John, who was also a farmer and milk vendor.
James and his family lived here at Crook Hall for a number of years until his death in 1922 at the age of 68. After his death, the family struggled to maintain the farm and so the Fowlers left Crook Hall.
After The Fowlers left Crook Hall, the hall was passed down through a number of families. In 1858 it was owned by the Peveralls, then in 1920 Alderman Pattison was the owner, he had a shop on Elvet Bridge. The Pereira family owned the hall in 1926 and levelled part of the garden to use as a tennis court (this is now our croquet lawn). The Hollidays had ownership in 1930 and they sold in to John Cassells and his wife, who developed a lot of the gardens. Colin and Susan Redpath modernized the Georgian Wing in 1976..
In 1979 John and Mary Hawgood bought Crook Hall and whilst living here spent most of their time restoring the House to it’s original glory. They also created much of gardens that remain today. The Medieval and Jacobean parts of the house were restored under the direction of Ian Curry, the Consultant Architect for Durham Cathedral, his associate Christopher Downs, and carried out by Brian Nelson.
The main renovation was to the Medieval Hall, restoring it to its original glory. The windows were restored and the north wall, where John Fowler had knocked a hole in it to use as a cart entrance, was rebuilt. The Jacobean Room was also returned to its traditional arrangement; this is still evident today. The turret was constructed to allow the old wooden stairs to be exhibited as a feature. The new staircase, was built in a sympathetic manner, in keeping with its medieval and Jacobean surroundings. The old Coach House was also restored and converted into a self-catering holiday flat in 1985. English Heritage contributed some of the funds for this restoration, and in ‘The Buildings of England’ Crook Hall was described as “a precious medieval relic”.
The Hawgoods lived here at Crook Hall for just over 15 years, when it was bought by, the current owners Keith and Maggie Bell.
Keith and Maggie Bell bought Crook Hall in 1995 and it is still their family home today. In 1996 they renovated the Coach House, which is now used as our office on the ground floor. The Coach House Apartment was privately let for many years but was renovated at the beginning of 2018 to be used as a self catering holiday apartment. Keith and Maggie’s love of Crook Hall meant they wanted to share their beautiful home and in 1996 they purchased the meadow in order to open to the public. The meadow was cleared and the maze was planted to create a central feature to the gardens.
Opening Crook Hall and Gardens proved a massive success, so much so that in 2015 we expanded it further by adding our new entrance and Garden Gate Café. Some of the original visitors from the early days may remember our entrance as a garden shed! Our staff don’t miss that shed but if you do it can still be found hidden in the woodland area.
And so to the present day, we hope that you will visit us and make your own memories of Crook Hall and Gardens.