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Houghton le Spring, Durham

Historical Description

Houghton-le-Spring, a town and a parish in Durham The town stands near a system of local railways, connected with the Hartlepool and Snnderland and the Durham and Sunderiand lines, If mile E of Fence Houses station of the N.E.B., and 6½ miles NE of Durham. It got the latter part of its name either from its abundant springs, or more probably from the family of Le Spring, who in the 13th century held the manor. It possesses celebrity from the scene of the labours of Bernard Gilpin, commonly called the Apostle of the North, who was long the parish rector, and died in 1583, and it has been much visited on his account. It is approached from the railway station by Rainton Hill, now covered with colliery works. It stands at the head of a beautiful vale opening to the W, and is sheltered from northerly and easterly winds by Houghton and Wardenlaw Hills. It has undergone great improvement and contains many large and handsome houses, yet presents in a general view the appearance of a large and scattered village. Its parish church is an interesting cruciform edifice of the period of Transition from Early English to Decorated, stands in the centre of a square area in the lower part of the town, is approached through an avenue of fine sycamores, was restored about 1860, measures 93 feet by 46 in the nave, 48 by 20 in the chancel, and 87 in the transept; has a central tower, the upper storey of which is modern, and superseded a low leaden spire, had formerly attached to it a chantry and two guilds, and contains a cinque-cento altar-tomb of Bernard Gilpin, a tomb and brass of Mrs Margery Bellasys, of 1587, and the effigies of a knight, said by some to be that of Sir R. Bellasys of the time of Henry III., but always referred by tradition to Sir John le Spring, who was murdered in his own manor house here in the time of Edward III. The rectory was partially rebuilt in 1664-67, stands embosomed in sycamores, and is an embattled edifice of venerable appearance. A tower connected with it, built in 1483, and forming part of the rectory inhabited by Gilpin, has since been destroyed. But a thorn tree said to have been planted by Gilpin, and commonly called Gilpin's Thom, is still in the garden, and measures 11½ feet in girth at 2 feet from the ground. The rectory has been inhabited by Archbishop Sancroft, George Davenport, Dr Peter Heylin, and the Oriental traveller, Sir George Wheler. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1837, and is a neat edifice in the Pointed style. There are places of worship also for Presbyterians, Wesleyans, and Primitive and Free Methodists. The mechanics' institute, now the church institute, was built in 1851, has a tower over the entrance, and contains a library and reading-room. The building was bought by the rector in 1888. The Royal Kepyer grammar school stands near the parish church, was founded by Bernard Gilpin and by Heath of Kepyer in 1574, and has an endowed income of £180 besides several scholarships. There are also a town-hall and market-house erected in 1872, a police station, almshouses founded by George Lilburne in 1668 and enlarged by George Davenport, various charities, a workhouse, a miners' hall, and a social club founded in 1893. The town has a post, money order, and telegraph office (R.S.O.), and is a seat of petty sessions. There is a large brewery, but the chief trade arises from numerous and extensive coal mines in the vicinity, yielding coal of superior quality, and sending it off by railways to the ports. There are also in the neighbourhood extensive quarries of limestone and freestone and several chalybeate springs. An ancient church or religious house stood on the S side of the town in a field called Kirk Lee, but has completely disappeared. Ancient coins, carved stones, and other vestiges of antiquity have been found. Houghton Hall, at the head of the town, is a massive, oblong, mullioned structure of 1589-1623, was built by Robert Hutton, rector of Houghton, and is one of the seats of the Elliott family.

The parish comprises 1551 acres; population, 6476; of the ecclesiastical parish, 5622. The town is governed by a board of health of nine members. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Durham; gross value, £1373 with residence. Patron, the Bishop of Durham. The rectories of Hetton-le-Hole, Penshaw, and Rainton, were erected out of the parish under an Act. of 16 George III., and were endowed out of the revenues of the mother rectory, which previously was one of the richest livings in England. The ecclesiastical parish of Chilton Moor, St Andrews, was formed in 1872 out of Houghton-le-Spring, E and W Rainton, and St Matthew's, Newbottle. The church was erected in 1884. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Durham; net value, £290. Patron, the Crown and Bishop alternately.

Houghton-le-Spring Parliamentary Division of Durham, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 60, 047. The division includes the following:- Easington Ward (Sunderiand Division)-Bishopwearmouth (part), Burdon, Ford, Fulwell, Hylton, Ryhope (part), South-wick, Tunstal; Easington Ward (Houghton-le-Spring Division)-Biddick (South), Bourn Moor, Cocken, Eppleton (Great), Eppleton (Little), Herrington (East and Middle), HOUGH-TON, Herrington (West), Hetton-le-Hole, Houghton-Ie-Spring, Lambton, Lumley (Great), Lumley (Little), Moersley, Moor-house (the whole parish), Morton Grange, Newbottle, Offerton, Painshaw, Eainton (East), Eainton (West), Silksworth, Warden Law; Easington Ward (Seaham Harbour Division -part of)-Seaham, DaIton-le-Dale, East Mnrton, Seaton and Slingley; Sunderland, municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCounty Durham 
Ecclesiastical parishHoughton-Le-Spring St. Michael 
Poor Law unionHoughton-Le-Spring 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Houghton le Spring from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for County Durham is available to browse.


Online maps of Houghton le Spring are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering county Durham online: