It was after the death of John Tempest that the estate was again sold in 1796 to William Russell a banker and colliery owner of Sunderland. The Russell, later Hamilton-Russell, family were to own the Brancepeth estate for one hundred and fifty years. William Russell was to become one of the richest men in the North of England by virtue of two lucky investments. His bank had foreclosed on a Colliery Company, who had been unable to find workable coal at Wallsend , however shortly after taking over the company, a large seam, of what was to become some of the best coal in County Durham, was discovered in the mine. His second bit of luck was in buying the Brancepeth estate which turned out to be sitting on huge deposits of the ‘black gold’.
The Russell family continued throughout its time at Brancepeth, to buy up land in County Durham and were by the end of the nineteenth century in possession of about 18,000 acres including the Hardwick estate at Sedgefield.
William Russell’s granddaughter, Emma Maria inherited the estates on the death of her unmarried brother in 1850. She had married in 1828, Gustavus Frederick John James Hamilton who inherited the title 7th Viscount Boyne in 1855 and changed his name to Hamilton-Russell.
A great visitor to Brancepeth at this time was the poet Tennyson, the cousin of Emma Maria, who wrote “Come into the garden Maud” in the castle gardens.
By the end of the nineteenth century, collieries and coke ovens surrounded the village, and although coal was actually mined from under the castle, Brancepeth became a rather smoky oasis in a grimy industrial landscape. The family at the castle spent less and less time here, the very source of their great wealth having created an atmosphere in which they did not care to live.
As the population of the surrounding area grew, townships, like Brandon, Crook, Willington, Helmington Row and Tudhoe, which had once been part of the parish of Brancepeth, one of the largest in County Durham, were formed into their own parishes with their own churches, leaving Brancepeth parish to encompass only the village and a few outlying farms.
At the outbreak of the first World War the 9th Viscount offered the use of the castle as an army hospital, this was accepted and during the war years over 4,000 soldiers from the British, Canadian, Australian, South African and Belgian armies, and a few sailors from the British Royal Navy, passed through this hospital. After the war the cost of maintaining the castle building became prohibitive and the family moved out, never to return, to their home in Shropshire. In 1924 the deer parks were converted into the now famous and difficult, Brancepeth Castle Golf Course.
The castle stood empty for many years, until, at the commencement of the Second World War, it was taken over by the Durham Light Infantry as their depot and training facility. After the war, the Brancepeth estate was broken up and sold by the 10th Viscount Boyne, and for the first time in its history, new houses were built in the village for private owners. In 1962 the D.L.I. also departed and after a brief spell as a research establishment for ‘Pyrex’, the castle once again became a private home in the 1970’s.
The other great influence on the village over the years has been that little church, dedicated to St. Brandon, which shyly peeps out from amongst the trees, overshadowed by the huge walls of the castle.
The earliest recorded Rector of the parish was Haeming in 1085 who was also Provost of Hexham. Other Rectors have included Anthony Bellasis, one of the commissioners responsible for the dissolution of the monasteries in the North; John de Walwayn, who was also Constable of Bordeaux, and whose body was brought back from France to be buried at Brancepeth, at the expense of Edward III; Roger Lupton, who was Provost of Eton College and one of the founders of Sedbergh School; John Cosin, who became one of the most well known bishops of Durham and who filled the church at Brancepeth with the most amazing woodwork; George Wiseheart, who took part in the defence of Newcastle in 1644 and later became bishop of Edinburgh; William Nesfield, whose son William Andrews Nesfield found fame as an artist and landscape gardener, and whose son-in-law, Anthony Salvin was one of the most highly regarded architects of his time. Four Rectors were Chaplains to the King or Queen of England and one a Cabinet minister, two were Abbots of Jervaux Abbey and five have been bishops.
In 1998, the church , along with its unique woodwork and its other treasures, was destroyed by fire, but now, through the generosity of various charities, residents and friends it has been restored to carry on the work it has done for over a thousand years. During the reconstruction, about 70 medieval stone monuments or cross slabs dating from the period c.1100 to c.1350 were discovered built into the walls of the church. One of the largest numbers ever found in the north of England.
Today, the marching of Scottish, Roundhead, rebel and even the British Army have passed into village history and this trim, gentle, little township has become a haven of quiet and peace. We have lovely country lanes to stroll down, many and varied social activities, a Championship golf course and a beautifully restored church for moments of quiet contemplation, also the castle welcomes members of the public to a variety of publicised events.. Please visit some time – you will be most welcome.