Tudhoe & Spennymor Local History Society Tudhoe & Spennymor Local History Society
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Crossing the Jordan to Jerusalem Project Fact Sheet 1

Project Background, September 2005

Tudhoe & Spennymoor Local History Society was formed in 1989 and has the following aims:
  • to provide a forum for the discussion of the local history of Tudhoe and Spennymoor and surrounding areas by organising regular, open evening meetings;
  • to ensure that a record of these discussions is kept and made available for public use;
  • to encourage research into the local history of Tudhoe and Spennymoor and surrounding areas;
  • to provide a service to record and copy local records - family photographs, documents etc.
The implementation of these aims is the responsibility of a committee elected by the members of the society attending the annual general meeting held in October each year. Since 1989 the society has developed a significant body of knowledge about the area’s heritage. Features of our heritage studied by the society are :
  • Brancepeth Parish – in medieval times Tudhoe and Spennymoor were part of lands controlled by the Nevilles of Brancepeth Castle and were linked by a ford across the River Wear;
  • Tudhoe as a Catholic village during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries when priests were banned and “recusants” persecuted;
  • Local landowners – the Catholic Salvins of Croxdale and the Shaftos of Whitworth, descended from Bonny Bobbie Shafto;
  • The Clarence Railway built in the 1830s as a competitor to the Stockton and Darlington Railway;
  • Tudhoe ironworks, part of Charles Attwood’s Weardale Iron and Coal Company empire in the 1850s, where the Bessemer process was perfected.

Spennymoor is fortunate in having a history written by James J. Dodd at the end of the nineteenth century (A History of Spennymoor published in 1897 and reprinted by ARB Publications in 1992). The title of this project is inspired by this history, which tells us that the Tudhoe Burn, North of the town, was known as the “Jordan” and that the area South of Spennymoor was known as “Jerusalem”. Ironically, Dodd refers to Jerusalem as “a small edition of hell”, where there “were no schools for the children, no churches, no chapels, no police to keep order” and where the “men used to run donkey races along Weardale Street …”

In 1994, the Society published The Beginnings of Spennymoor, an analysis of the 1851 Census returns for Tudhoe, Old Park and Whitworth townships. This current project builds on this publication by analysing the 1841 Census for the area, comparing 1841 and 1851 and using other historical information to interpret the lives of some of the people who founded the town.

The crossing the Jordan to Jerusalem project is being funded by the Local Heritage Initiative and consists of the following stages :

  • A series of ten evening classes at Spennymoor Settlement led by David Butler, a former Durham County Archivist. Here members of the Society and the wider community will analyse the 1841 Census returns, compare this analysis with 1851 information and start the research needed to interpret the lives of some of the people who lived in the town during that period.
  • Research by individuals and groups into selected individuals from the 1840s and 1850s. In addition to the two census returns information from the Tithe Maps of the area will also be used to start this analysis as well as other sources such as Dodd’s History and the Salvin Papers and Fleming Papers (held in Durham County Record Office).
  • Preparation of a booklet explaining the findings of the research together with the publication of a summary on an appropriate website.
  • Organisation of an exhibition and day conference on the development of Spennymoor in the mid nineteenth century. This will also provide half-day National Curriculum teaching sessions for local schools using Victorian Spennymoor as a theme.
  • Further events linked to drama and art activities at Spennymoor Settlement to reinforce what has been learned about the nineteenth century history of the town and interpret for today’s residents how life has changed since 1841.

The link between Tudhoe & Spennymoor Local History Society and Spennymoor Settlement provides the opportunity to put what can be seen as an unremarkable northern mining town in its true historical context. Our aim is to help the current community understand its history and ensure greater local pride and interest in the future of the town.

Spennymoor Settlement is, of course, part of the town’s history. It was formed in 1931 as one of the projects encouraged by the British Association of Residential Settlements, which started at Toynbee Hall in London in the 1890s. Led by Bill and Betty Farrell the project’s aim was to “encourage tolerant neighbourliness and voluntary social services and give its members opportunities for increasing their knowledge, widening their interests, and cultivating their creative powers in a friendly atmosphere". Bill Farrell (1895-1971) was a Liverpudlian trained at Toynbee Hall and was instrumental in choosing Spennymoor as a location for the project because of its unemployment rate of 35%. Funding was raised from the Pilgrim Trust for premises at 58 King Street, Spennymoor and, with the success of the project, Government funding was given for a theatre, opened in 1939. This is the building now known as Spennymoor Settlement and which has recently been listed as of architectural and historical importance. Sid Chaplin, the novelist, learnt his trade writing plays for the Everyman Players at the Settlement. Similarly, three pitmen artists, Norman Cornish, Robert Heslop and Tom McGuiness, were products of the Settlement Sketching Club. Through them the Settlement became known in the national press as the “Pitmen’s Academy”.

Bill and Betty Farrell left the project in 1954 when funding was lost and Spennymoor Settlement has been run on a voluntary basis for the last fifty years. It is the only Settlement project in the country to have been in continuous existence since it was founded. Spennymoor Settlement still puts on plays and is a venue for an art class.

Further Reading

J. J. DoddThe History of the Urban District of Spennymoor with occasional references to Kirk Merrington, Middlestone, Westerton, Byers Green, Page Bank, Croxdale and Ferryhill. Spennymoor, 1897 [2nd Edition 1899]. Reprinted 1992 by Abley Rare Books, 98 Durham Road, Spennymoor, Co. Durham DL 16 6SQ.
Spennymoor SettlementThe First Seven Years at the Spennymoor Settlement, a Historical Sketch and an Appeal. June 1938
Spennymoor SettlementThe Spennymoor Settlement, 21st Birthday Commemorative Magazine. 1951
R. AbleyThe Byers Green Branch of the Clarence Railway, Durham, 1975
D. J. Butler (ed)The Beginnings of Spennymoor : the 1851 Census of Whitworth and Tudhoe, Spennymoor, 1994.
J. HutsonThe History of Tudhoe Village (incomplete)