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THE OLD RECTORY GATE
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.
© Books of the North 2000 - 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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
Joan Lambton recollects the time that the plaques were being commissioned:
Joan’s recollections also go back to when the arch was at its original location:
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!
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.
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:: 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
PAGE UPDATED: 06/11/2011