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A Brief History of Shincliffe

Looking at the pleasant village, sheltered as it is by hills on every side except to the West, where it opens to the Wear revealing a distant view to Houghall Woods and the curve of the river towards Croxdale; one can hardly imagine the Anglo-Saxon origin of its name means 'steep hill of evil spirits'.

There is reputed to have been a roman house in the vicinity of Maiden Castle, which lies across Shincliffe Bridge to the North West. There is also a road running almost due North across fields called 'Strawberry Lane', which might have been a roman road, and meets the A1777. This suggests there was a ford near the area of the present bridge.

Whatever is hidden in the mists of Roman and angle-Saxon times, we come to firm ground in the 11th and 12th centuries. During these centuries the lands of Shincliffe were given to the Convent of Durham by Bishop Carileph (1081-1096) and confirmed by charter of Henry II (1154-1189). From these two centuries there has been a community of people living in and around the village of Shincliffe.

There is nothing remarkable in its history, nor has any outstanding personality come out of it. It is said, however, that William Sever Abbot of St. Mary in York 1485 and later Bishop of Durham 1502-1505 was born in Shincliffe; likewise a Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1510.

More recently the former Prime Minister Tony Blair spent some of his early years in High Shincliffe. However, it has been generally, as it is now a community of people who lived ordinary and quiet lives in their various callings.

Up to the beginning of the 19th century the population was small, mostly engaged in farming with tradesmen necessary to support this work. In 1801 the population was 204 people; and a tithe map of 1839 reveals only the village with scattered farms mostly on what today is known as High Shincliffe (frequently called ‘the Bank Top’). But like many places in the County of Durham the Industrial Revolution made its impact. In 1839 borings for coal had begun on the Bank Top, a shaft was sunk and coal mined, with the consequent upsurge of population. (The 1871 census tells that the population had risen to 2183, with housing development, shops and chapels; but the village remained largely untouched.

This sudden and rapid expansion was short-lived. The Colliery finally closed down in 1879. The population steadily declined to 883 in 1901, where it remained more or less until the re-development commencing in 1961 both in the village and on the Bank Top. In 2009 the population of Shincliffe parish was about 2000. Thus Shincliffe has known rise and fall, fall and rise over nine centuries.

Shincliffe did not escape the building of railways. In 1839 a station was opened at the north entrance to the village and remained until 1893. The lone of the track can be traced along the ‘Battery’ just north of the former Railway Tavern and through the woods on the south side of the Hartlepool road. In 1844 another station was opened on the Bank Top and functioned as such until 28th September 1941; the line was ‘mothballed’ in the 1970’s.

There has been no continuity of any one family to the present day in Shincliffe. Although it is known that the Hopper family were leaseholders from 1580 to 1835 probably making their home at Shincliffe Grange.

In the mid 18th century another family settled in Shincliffe. William Rudd (1731-1795) “built his villa seated in a delighted retirement, commanding a solemn view of the sequestered vale with its hanging woods which form a beautiful amphitheatre, a scene excellently adapted to study and retirement” This ‘villa’ is known as Shincliffe Hall.

With Rudd’s death it looks as if it passed through many hands and is now in private ownership. Additions have been made to it but Rudd’s building can be seen still “seated in a delighted retirement, commanding a solemn view of the sequestered vale”. It is well worth the walk to it and into Shincliffe Woods.

Originally the Durham/Stockton road ran through the village, entering at the rose Tree Inn and leaving two houses beyond the Seven Stars Inn. Between these two inns, on the east side of the village was a leafy dell; but in 1934 this dell was uprooted and a road constructed as it is today. The older inhabitants of Shincliffe still call it the ‘Bye-pass’. You can still see where the old road ran after leaving the village, if you notice a lay-by at the foot of the old school now a dwelling house.

About a half a mile along the Hartlepool road (A181) can be seen a cluster of houses. This is the site of the Shincliffe Mill, which is known to have functioned from the 14th century until early in the 19th century. No trace of it remains, though a sunken and semi-circular field on the north of the road might suggest the run of the mill stream.

In the fifties of the 19th century there was a school on the Bank Top, but it became necessary to have larger premises to meet the needs of the rising population. The Dean and Chapter in 1861 gave land at the side of the Bank Foot for a new church school to be built and it continued in use until July 1968 when it was transferred to a new building on what was originally the site of the colliery. In 1962 there was a dire threat that Shincliffe would lose its school, but the people fought a hard battle and won; and wisdom prevailed. There is conjecture about another school on the Bank Top built by the colliery owner; if there was, no trace of it can be found today.

A fascinating tale is told about Shincliffe Bridge, which is the fourth to span the river since 1200 AD. Mention has already been made that it was probably a ford to that time but in 1200 a bridge was erected and money provided for its upkeep. By the time of Bishop Fordham (1381-1388) it had fallen into decay and money was set aside for its repair: but the money was either embezzled or misapplied. The Bishop set up a Commission of enquiry but nothing came of it. Bishop Skirlaw (1385-1405) at his own expense had erected a “notable bridge of three arches”; and this stood until a violent flood on Saturday, February 17th 1753 swept away one of the piers leading to the fall of the two northern arches. It was repaired in the summer of 1753. (In the Cathedral Library there is an engraving of the bridge showing the destruction wrought by the flood).

This bridge later proved too narrow, it was in need of repair, and was too dangerous to widen because of the weakened state of its foundations lying on shifting gravel and sand. In January 1824 a new bridge was commenced and opened in September 1826 at a cost of £7,056. To make a more direct approach to the village the line was moved more to the East; and it is this bridge which is used today.

Shincliffe until 1826 was part of the big and ancient Parish of St. Oswald in Durham. It would seem just prior to this year the inhabitants of Shincliffe saw the need for a church in the village. In 1826 the Dean and Chapter gave the old tithe barn to be consecrated into a Chapel of Ease for the Christian community. The Bishop consecrated it on the 23rd September 1826 and the first services were held in it the next day. In 1831 Shincliffe was constituted a Parish in its own rights; and in 1866 the benefice became a Rectory. Apparently the tithe barn proved cold and draughty and the population of the parish was steadily increasing. The Reverend Isaac Todd and the churchwardens with other inhabitants set about building a parish church, which was commended in 1850 and ready for use in 1851. The spire was added in 1870 as a testimonial to Reverend Todd who served first as a Perpetual Curate then as Rector over 46 years.

Updated from an original source “A Brief History of Shincliffe”
by Mr Reg Brown circa 1975

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