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The Four Shields of Houghton on the Rectory archway

The reconstructed archway leads to St Michael's Church


Through the busy thoroughfare of the Broadway stream hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people a day on the many buses that serve Houghton-le-Spring. While waiting for passengers to board or disembark one can not be blamed for being tempted to take in the surrounds of St Michael & All Angels Church and its magnificent archway and colourful adornments, the four shields of Houghton.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.
Copyright © Books of the North 2008.

The archway, which became a Grade II listed building on July 15th 1985, once formed the original entrance to the Rectory on the opposite side of the road to where it is now. It backed onto two buildings at either side of the arch.

Houghton Rectory arch and gatehouses in around 1900
The Victorian archway in around 1900

On the left hand side was the gatehouse. Vintage photos from the 1920s show that the gatehouse had a small window within the arch structure which looked out onto the Broadway and one can only imagine what it must have been like when a tram rumbled past.

Houghton Rectory Gatehouse in around 1780
The original gatehouse was more substantial than the arched Victorian one

In 1710 Sir George Wheler was appointed as Rector of Houghton-le-Spring. During his time he founded a charity school for girls, which was housed in the gatehouse. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.

Local man Jack Jordison was a friend of the last residents of the gatehouse:

“The last people to live in the cottage were Arthur Box and his wife, Peggy. They’d been married in about 1946 and were looking for a house. The gatehouse was empty and somebody told them they might stand a chance. Arthur went to the Rectory and spoke to Rector Ashdown. He said ‘yes’ and they were able to move in. When the Cottage was pulled down they moved to a house in St Michael’s or St Andrew’s at Chilton Moor.”
Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.

On the right hand side was the Church Hall, which was originally known as ‘the New Room at Rectory Gate’. In the January 1884 edition of the Houghton-le-Spring Parish Magazine, Rector John Grey announced:

“In the Parish life, I desire to notice with thankfulness the use which is made of the New Hall at the Rectory Lodge. As our Church is dedicated to St Michael & All Angels, I think you will agree with me that this new Room may fitly be called St Michael’s Hall. I propose therefore in all future announcements to name it St Michael’s Hall.”

St Michael's Hall

St Michael’s Hall was formally opened by the Lord Bishop of Durham, Bishop Lightfoot, on Tuesday, January 10th, 1882, at 4:30pm. It was followed by a public tea in St Michael’s School, Dairy Lane, and a special service in church at 8 o’clock that evening. Copyright © Books of the North 2008.

In the 1940s, Houghton Urban District Council took over the Rectory and surrounds. The grounds eventually became Houghton Park, and St Michael’s Hall was demolished while the archway was carefully dismantled and re-erected on the opposite side of the road as the entrance to St Michael’s churchyard.

In September 1954, upon the 100th anniversary of local government in Houghton, the Rector, Rev Oswald Noel Gwilliam, reflected on the demolition of St Michael’s Hall:

“St Michael’s Hall catered for all kinds of meetings and gatherings of public importance since those days, and as a place of medium size, for social occasions, executive meetings and philanthropic and charitable organizations of every nature, it has served a very full and useful purpose in the centre of Houghton these 70 years. However, in the inevitable and welcome change which has come over Broadway, St Michael’s Hall had necessarily to go in the interest of progress and improvement…”

William Sancroft
See of Durham
Bernard Gilpin
George Davenport
See of Durham

In circa 1953 four shields were incorporated into the archway in its position as a stately entrance to St Michael’s Church. As one enters the churchyard, the shields are as follows (from left):
Copyright © Books of the North 2008.
A = Shield of Sancroft
B = Arms from the See of Durham
C = Shield of Gilpin
D = Shield of Davenport

These shields all, of course, pay homage to a select few of Houghton’s past Rectors. Bernard Gilpin (1558 – 1583), William Sancroft (1661 – 1663) and George Davenport (1664 – 1667), while the fourth shield represents the See of Durham. The arms of the See of Durham could also be found on the crest of Durham County Council before it changed to its present representation in 1961, while the Gilpin Crest has become the Houghton Coat of Arms and was featured on the old Urban District Council’s letterhead. Nowadays it can be found around the Broadway on the olde-style lighting columns (street lights to you and me) and as the centrepiece illumination during the October Houghton Feast. It can even be found on the neckers of Houghton 1st Scouts.
Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.

Houghton-le-Spring Rectory Gates, 1900

Joan Lambton recollects the time that the plaques were being commissioned:

“The shields were added during my early days at Houghton Secondary Modern School when John Forrester was headmaster. The shields were the same as the school houses, and I know that the bottom right one is Davenport as I was in that house and did not like the design of the shield. I don't know how all the money was raised but at school we had to contribute to the shield of our 'House'.”
Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.

Joan’s recollections also go back to when the arch was at its original location:

“There was a small building just inside and to the left of the gate. It was from this building that those of us born during the war were taken to collect our Victory mugs. I remember a queue which went outside the gate and onto the footpath.”

It’s well worth a visit to the archway for a closer look at the shields. While you are there look out for a piece of graffiti from the 1960s. On the left hand wall of the arch, on the sixth row up, seventh block along, you will see: JAK 1968

Who is this Jak? Is he still around in Houghton, perhaps an old pensioner with a secret graffiti past!

1960s graffiti on St Michael's Churchyard archway The reconstructed archway leads to St Michael's Church

With the reordering of St Michael & All Angels Church currently underway it would be a fitting tribute to Houghton’s other notable Rectors to have their coat of arms featured, such as Robert Hutton (1589 - 1623), Sir George Wheler (1710 - 1723), Edward Thurlow, Houghton’s longest reigning Rector (1789 – 1847) and John Grey (1847 – 1895). Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

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Paul Lanagan wishes to place on record his thanks to the following:
:: Thanks go to Joan Lambton for sharing photos, information and memories; Jack Jordison for memories; and to Virginia Skoyles of Fressingfield, the final resting place of Rector William Sancroft, for confirming the Arms of Sancroft.
:: As ever, I pay tribute to the late Ken Richardson for his inspiration.
:: And last but not least, a BIG THANK YOU to Heather Williams.
:: Sunderland Echo

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