Sunniside Local History Society

The History of Old Sunniside



Pictured from the main road showing what became known as 'The Store Bank' because the old Co-op store was located at the junction prior to its demolition.

This photograph was taken c1910 prior to the demolition of the old houses.

All that remains of 'Old Sunniside' is the Farmhouse, and for this welcome survivor, we have to be thankful, for it seems that it too was in danger of being swept away, during the development of 'Old Farm Court' in 1991.

It stands on the old boundary of Whickham Parish, overlooking the Black Burn, with a Southerly aspect towards Blackburn Fell. Historians link 'Old Sunniside' with Gellesriding, later known as Gellesfield, and it seems this formed part of a larger stretch of land called 'The Riding', which included Riding Barns.

In 1522 the Marleys of Gibside, had control over Gellesriding later it was owned by the Blakistons of Gibside and Hedley until around 1670. Gellesfield then became the property of the Brignall family and it formed a buffer zone between the two power blocks of Gibside and Ravensworth.

In 1654 Thomas Brignall was granted a small parcel of land in the Southfield, Whickham (near Washingwell Primary School), with the right to work the coalmines therein, as a sub-tenant of the owners of the 'Grand Lease'. In 1684 he owned Gellesfield and was one of the Freeholders in Fellside Ward of Whickham Parish. The others being:- Richard Harding of Hollinside, Sir James Clavering of Axwell and Sir William Blakiston of Gibside. Tom Brignall's 'last will and testament' of 1685, mentions his wife Florence, grandsons John and Brignall Grainge and grand-daughters Isobel and Elizabeth.

29th January, 1701. The will of Brignall Grainge of Sunniside

To my mother Jane, wife of Henry Liddell of Whickham, gent.Half a guinea, to buy a ring. To my brothers, John and James and my sisters, Florence, Eleanor, and Alice the wife of John Ladler, of the City of Durham, a barber:- five shillings each. To my uncle Philip Grainge:- ten shillings. To my mother-in-law Elizabeth Smith, and my aunt, Mary Jackson:- a guinea to buy rings. To my son Henry, two gold rings, one, with the inscription "The remembrance of W.T." To my wife Margaret:- my executor. To my brother-in-law John Smith, of Lousen Hill, my copyhold lands in Whickham Manor, also my freehold messuage in Sunderland, to the use of John Smith of Durham College, until all the monies in mortgage be paid.

Brignall's son Henry Grainge, married Ann, daughter and co- heir of Francis Middleton of Seaton, near Seaham.

On the Chancel floor in Whickham Church, is the grave-stone for some of the Grainge family:- Henry Grainge of Sunniside died 1729 age 33. Brignall Grainge, (his son). died 1781 age 6l. Eleanor, (wife of Brignall) died 1826 age 94. Middleton Grainge, (their son) died 1845 age 79. Ann, (their eldest daughter) died 1857 age 99. Dorothy Taylor, (their Daughter) died 1849 age 89.

In 1753, Brignall owned land at Howdon Pans. He had two other daughters, Mary, (1766-1856), married Tom Fenwick of Dipton in 1794, and Joanna, who married Robert Fenwick of Hamsterley near Medomsley in 1804.

Ann and Elizabeth Fenwick owned the Old Sunniside estate from 1860 to 1890.

In the east part of the farmhouse, in a room known as 'the dairy', is a table tomb, to the memory of Cuthbert Grainge, died 1731.

Another family associated with Old Sunniside, are the Browns, some of whom are buried on the south side of Whickham Churchyard. The headstone stands just over six feet high, near the top is written "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" and at the base is written "Death is swallowed up in victory".

Rebeckah, wife of Martin Brown died, deservedly lamented in 1784 age 30 years. “Now she is gone, in vain we mourn and cry, let us rather learn like her, to live and die”.

Martin Brown, her son died 1784 age unknown. Luke Brown of Loosing Hill died 1808 aged 81. Elizabeth Brown, relict of the above Luke died 1826 aged 100. Martin Brown, their son of Sunniside. died 1844 aged 92. Thomas Walton Brown, gt.grandson of Martin. died 1874 aged 14. Luke Brown, grandson of the above Martin died 1875 aged 47. The reverse of the headstone reads:- Mary Ann Brown, wife of Luke died 1893 aged 60.

Martin Brown (1752-1844), was a grocer at Old Sunniside for many years and was the eldest son of Luke Brown, Blacksmith at loosing Hill. In 1798, Martin was Churchwarden for the Fellside quarter, Whickham Parish. In 1820, he owned 5 houses at Old Sunniside and his brother Edward owned 3 houses. Both were awarded small plots of land on the enclosure of Black - burn Fell, due to their right of grazing their livestock on the Fell. The rest of the houses at Old Sunniside were owned by Middleton Grainge.

By 1911, David Magnus Spence, Architect at Newcastle, owned the Old Sunniside estate. His son James, was knighted in 1950 for his work in the medical profession. In 1919, Old Sunniside was put up for sale at auction, but was withdrawn due to lack of realistic cash offers. The rent for the farm was £206 per annum, the rents from the 13 cottages amounted to œ184. The Spence family however, were later to sell the land gradually, the last parcel of 28 acres being sold to Ron Curry in 1985. This is now known as High Park Farm.

Middleton Grainge was the last owner to live at Old Sunniside and after he died in 1845, the place was run by tenant farmers. The estate covered 98 acres and after the enclosures 31 acres were added from Blackburn Fell, (between Grove Terrace and Lingyfine), and a 5 acre strip from Whickham Fell, (from Prospect Terrace to Riding Barns Lane), bordering the Black Burn.


Until around 1892, the Shotton family ran the farm,(pictured above with Fernville Avenue in the background and prior to the demolition of the farm out buildings) then the Routledges took over, until around 1940, and finally Mr.Tate until his retirement in 1989. Robert Shotton sometimes drove cattle from Sunniside to Satley, where his kinsmen, Anthony and George Shotton had a farm. His nephew Tom Head, assisted him on the farm in the 1860's and he married Mr.Shotton's housekeeper, Mary Ann Dobson, daughter of Tom Dobson of Bracken house. In 1891, Edward Harrison, Curate for St. Cuthbert's Church, Marley Hill, lodged at the farm which was occupied at this time by Edward and Mary Shotton and their 8 children. In the early 1920's Jack and Watson Routledge were responsible for collecting the Old Sunniside rents each week for James Spence. Their sister Mary, was later given the job and later still a Jewish gentleman from Newcastle, named Mr. Cohen, became the collector.


Reuben Noel Tate, born 1912, took over Sunniside Farm on May 13th, 1940. His father Joseph, farmed Marshall Lands. Noel, being young and enthusiastic, was able to build up the farm - so increasing food production for the war effort. In 1941, he married Jessie M. Reed, of Whickham Lodge, daughter of Robert Michael Reed. The farm was owned by Dr. James Spence. Pictured above on the left is Noel Tate and on the right Jesse with children Joe and Kathleen.

The farmhouse has a double ridged roof and has at some time been refurbished with blue slate and the chimney stacks rebuilt. It seems that the house front was rebuilt, with brick, around the middle of the 18th century and there is a 'blind' window on the first floor. The rear and side walls are part of the original stone building. The front has four bays, which is unusual, three or five being the norm. The house may have once had an attic storey, as the wooden staircase rises from the ground floor in a series of flights and continues right up against the ceiling on the upper storey. At the front of the house, was a small room with a domed ceiling and known as the 'Prayer Cupboard'.

Just to the west of the farm buildings there was a pond but this was filled in before Noel came here. High Green was just a ruin in 1940. To the east, near the front of the farmhouse, was the entrance gate to the estate, separating it from the rest of Old Sunniside. Here there was a lodge and another stood at the end of the cart track leading to the Fell, below Riding Barns, until around 1840. A cottage stood just to the southwest of the farm 'till around 1830, and this was occupied by a Mr.T.Chapman in 1811.

About 150 yards west of the farm, was a cottage called Low Green, 140 yards further west, beside Riding Barns Lane, was a row of three cottages called High Green. The latter was part of the Gibside Estate, Riding Barns Lane being a private carriage road for the owners of Gibside. Both High and Low Green were known as 'High Sunniside', in 1841 the abode of 14 people. Will Young, a Wagon Wheelwright, lived at High Green in the 1860's. By 1914 the premises were unoccupied.

The land is fairly light and workable, especially if turned over in late Autumn, for the frost to break and crumble the soil, then ideally, all the ploughing should be completed before Christmas.

It used to take a whole day for a man and horse team to plough an acre of land, at the end of which, both horses and ploughman had walked about 18 miles. Noel began with three and sometimes four Clydesdale horses, but after he got his first tractor in 1944, the horses gradually gave way. A horse-drawn reaper/binder, made in 1908, was used until 1947.

Before the 2nd World War, oat was widely grown, because it had a ready sale, for feeding horses, especially pit ponies. During the War, wheat was the main crop and three fields, which had for many years, been pasture, were ploughed up. They produced decent yields for two years, then lost their fertility and needed manuring. After the War, the farmland consisted of one third pasture and two thirds arable. Barley became more in favour and sold for use in compound animal feed. Rotation of crops:- oats or barley, undersown with a grass/clover ley; grass; potatoes or turnips; barley or wheat.

In the 1940's Noel contracted various steam threshing teams - David Rome and Mr. Dodds from Ebchester, Thompsons of Lanchester, and Gibsons of Bushblades. They usually brought their own man to feed the sheaves into the thresher. It took a day to thrash ten to twelve tons of corn. The threshing machines had their own names, e.g. 'Alice'.

Noel grew on average ten acres of potatoes, sometimes as much as sixteen acres. In later years the acreage depended on the amount he was able to sell off to the Potato Marketing Board. He also grew around six acres of turnip each year. These were graded, so that the smallest and largest were kept for feeding his livestock, while the medium sized were cleaned and the best sold to the Wholesalers. Hay was cut at the end of June. Ash was the favoured hedgerow tree at Sunniside.

At first, Noel kept around a dozen Shorthorn Cows, and had a door to door milk delivery in the locality. In this way he soon became aquainted with many of the villagers. He decided to part with the dairy cows, in the early 1950's, partly due to the Milk Marketing Board bringing in new hygiene standards for milking parlours. Noel was not prepared to invest in this so instead concentrated on more arable farming. He also kept some sheep, but in the early 1960's, he reluctantly gave them up, due to frequent bouts of sheep worrying by dogs.

During the winter of 1947, Noel remembers having 15 feet high snow drifts, across the lane, between his farm and Riding Barns. The snow lingered here until June. At this time, he kept no sheep but what livestock he had was over-wintered in the byre.

In his younger days, when he lived at Marshall Lands, Noel led his father's fat store cattle to Redheugh Mart, walking them along the road. Steve Atkinson, of Andrews House, was one of the first farmers in the district to hire out his cattle lorry.

The rest of 'Old Sunniside' stood where No’s 39 - 51 Kingsway now stands. In 1929, 'The Square' consisted of four flats, the occupants sharing the only tap in a wash-house in the back yard and the two toilets. The Square stood nearest the farmhouse, separated by a wall (still standing). To the east were two semi-detached stone houses, one of which was occupied by Tom Strong. Further east, there was a row of about 7 stone houses, with slate roofs.

Tom Strong's house had a kitchen, sitting room, two bedrooms (one of which was on the ground floor). Some of the houses had only a ladder to gain access to the upstairs bedroom. The house had gas lighting ( with a penny slot-meter), but no electricity, there was a mains water tap but no sink. There was a garden strip of quarter of an acre to his house where he kept hens, a pig, and a horse and cart. Hay and oats for the horse, were obtained from his uncle, Jack Routledge, at the farm.

The 1858 Ordnance Survey Map shows an open area (partitioned off by 1894), in front of the street of houses, a cobbly lane leading up to the farm and garden strips on the bankside, now occupied by Nos 34 - 52 Kingsway. In 1841, 45 people lived here. The breadwinners of most households earned a living from agriculture. However, by the late 1850's most were employed in connection with Marley Hill Colliery. In 1861, 77 people lived here, i.e. an average of 6 or 7 per house. In 1887, the overcrowding had lessened somewhat, to 68 souls.

A few of the families who lived here may be mentioned. The Pescods, from 1840 - 1920, John was a Colliery Cartman in the 1870's and his son John, was a Gasman at the pit. Joe Hope, Shoemaker from the 1850's to the 1870's, went to live at No. 24, Sunniside Road. In the bottom end house, Ridley Bewick and his son John, Colliery blacksmiths, lived from 1860 - 1890. (John was born at Highfield near Hexham in 1856 and came with his parents to Old Sunniside in 1860. At the age of 12yrs he began work in the engine sheds at Andrews House colliery where he stayed for 6 months before serving his apprenticeship as a blacksmith.He subsequently worked for 57yrs in this trade for J.Bowes & Partners. He was one of the first members of Marley Hill Silver Prize Band when it was formed in 1890. He was also in his younger days in the 1st Newcastle Regiment Engineers led by Sir Charles Mark Palmer). Tom Eltringham, Plate Layer on the Railway in the 1850's. The Holmes family. Will Best, Coke drawer, in the 1860's. Timothy Todd, a Pitman in 1851, had become a Master Shifter by 1881. Before the Vicarage was built, Sam White, the first Vicar of Marley Hill Church, lived as a Curate at 'Old Sunniside' in 1871 and as Vicar in 1881.

23rd March, 1935. Whickham Council issued clearance orders on Old Sunniside, for which there was no objection. February 1936, the tender of McLaren and Co.of Belford, at £3,729, was accepted by Whickham Council, to construct roads and sewers, in connection with building 74 houses at Old Sunniside. The Ministry of Health sanctioned the borrowing of £23,475, for the building of the houses and the Council employed men who had been out of work in the area, to help in the project. 106 houses came to be built on the 7 acre site, and the streets were named to coincide with the Coronation of George the sixth, on May 12th, 1937. April 1936, the foundations of the first batch of houses were laid. In December 1936, the 16 houses at Old Sunniside were demolished. It was thought some were about 300 years old and many had walls three feet thick, and low ceilings crossed with rough hewn beams. At one time there was a Brewery, Public House and Smithy here. January 1937, tenants from Front Row and Back Row (Cinderburners Row) Marley Hill, were moved into the new Council Houses.

In May 1937, a hearing was held in connection with an application by Whickham Council to the Ministry of Health, for confirmation of clearance orders in respect of Workshop Row, Bowes Terrace, 4 Cottages at Fellside Village Row, Railway Cottages and Ivy Cottages at Streetgate. Joseph Buggle, Clerk to the Whickham Council, asked for total clearance, because the houses were beyond repair, badly drained and ventilated, inadequate washing accommodation and facilities for preparing food, or conveniences and dampness. Mr.J.Armitage, Architect for J.Bowes and Partners Ltd., the owners of the houses at Bowes Terrace, stated that Bowes Terrace had been converted from back-to-back houses, into through houses, the last one being converted 3 years earlier, the cost for each house being £70 - £100. Messrs.Bowes asked for the two houses in Workshop Row to be used as workshops, the occupants having already been found other homes. Messrs. Bowes agreed that two houses at Fellside should be condemned, but the other two, the Company were prepared to carry out the necessary improvements. Septimus Rutherford owned one of the pair of Railway Cottages. It was roofed with pantiles and suffered from dampness. He had recently spent £50 on repairs. He also owned the three defective Ivy Cottages. The Surveyor for Whickham Council, Tom Fenbow, considered this property worn out. The result was, that some folk from Bowes Terrace were moved to Fernville Avenue in 1938 and the Cottages at Fellside and Streetgate were condemned and those tenants moved to the Council Houses.


Fernville Avenue, pictured from the rear prior to the building of the Clover Hill Estate. On the night of May 12th, 1941, a German bomber plane dropped a stick of five bombs, in line with the Council Houses. One landed in the front garden of Nos 16 - 17 Fernville Avenue and destroyed the houses. One of the occupants, George Shanks, aged 23 years, was killed and Tom and Jeannie Ann Shanks were injured. The roofs and windows of nearby houses were damaged and even as far away as Elm Street, some of the back doors were ripped open, by the effects of the bomb blast.

Whickham Council built a further 22 houses in the late 1940's to fill up the gaps in the pre-war site. They acquired land from Old Sunniside Farm, to build more houses, i.e. roughly in 1959, 47 houses were built at Neill Drive, 24 Flats at Prinn Place (named after Councillors J. O'Neill and T.W. Prinn), also an extension of 21 houses at Coronation Road.

Carlton Contractors Ltd. of Pontefract, built 216 houses for Whickham Council, at a cost of £750,000 from March 1968 to September 1969, the houses being heated by gas, instead of coal fires. Folk from Byermoor Colliery Row moved into the new Council houses in 1969. From 1975 - 7 a larger number of Private Houses were built (about 304), on the Estate.


Although much of Old Sunniside is long gone, the old farm house still stands as a reminder of bygone days.


I recently added some photographs believing them to be of our Sunniside, unfortunately it has been pointed out to me that the photographs are of the Sunniside, Crook Co Durham.

My apologies for the error.