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 hall was passed on to Peter Del Croke and it was this 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 citizen 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 stated 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 mansion, with it’s typically symmetrical façade, to the west of the medieval hall in around 1671. They carved their initials above the main door leading into the screens passage, reading
16 I F 71
You can still faintly see these marking today, along with various carvings on and around the door which are believed to be symbols to keep away evil spirits.
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 book 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 the most part of the 19th century to 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 for him, his wife Mary and his children Hannah, Anne, Elizabeth, James, John and Matthew.
In 1862 John’s wife Mary dies 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.
During his successful ale and porter business, John used this medieval hall as the hub of 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 age 62 at Crook Hall 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 (about £60,000 in today’s currency) 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 (over £40,000 today). 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 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, who 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. It was then Colin and Susan Redpath in 1976 who modernized the Georgian Wing and in 1979 the Hawgoods bought Crook Hall.
John and Mary Hawgood moved into Crook Hall, and used their time here to restore the House to its original glory, and created much of gardens. The medieval and Jacobean parts of the hall 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 main hall, restoring it to its medieval state. The windows were restored and the north wall was rebuilt where John Fowler had knocked a hole in it to use as a cart entrance. The flagstones were replaced and the chimney brought down to reveal the roof. The adjoining ‘kitchen area’ was returned to its traditional Jacobean arrangement that you see today. The main difference to this was the new stairway that was constructed as an extension, to allow the old wooden stairs to be exhibited as a feature. The new staircase however, 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. This is now used as our office. 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.
The current owners Keith and Maggie Bell bought Crook Hall in 1995 and fell in love with the place. In 1996 they renovated the coach house, which is now used as our office and also that year they purchased the meadow in order to open to the public. It was the meadow that they cleared up and planted the maze which is a central feature to the gardens.