Visit the Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Centre
[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Rectory Park Menu > Houghton Rectory Time Line ]
[ RELATED PAGE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Parish Church ]


Houghton-le-Spring Rectory (now Rectory Park): A History

Houghton Rectory in 1841
The Rectory in around 1841. Click to enlarge

April 2009 marked the 60th anniversary since the unveiling of the Rectory grounds as a public park. The Park was opened to much celebration and has remained a favourite place to visit for many Houghtonians.

Here Paul Lanagan looks back at the history of the Rectory and its grounds. Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2008.

???? – The Rectory was built around a fortified Pele (tower). Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.

1311 – Stephen de Manley became rector of Houghton but was locked out of the Rectory by his predecessor’s wife, the widow of William de Sancta Botolpho [tbc]. Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.

1483 – Henry Keeling (aka John Kelyng) fortified part of the Rectory; he embattled the house above the lower porch with a wall of lime and stone, and built a hexagonal tower at the east. This was a time of unsettlement, with raids from across the English/Scottish border. A year later a Durham pardon licence to crenelate was issued by the Bishop of Durham to John Kelyng, Rector. The document read: “Has pardon for having without licence begun to fortify a house within his rectory; and licence to continue the works.”
In 1484?, John Kelyng, clerk, rector of the parish church of Houghton was granted, by Bishop Dudley, (In year 8 of his reign) a Durham Pardon licence to crenellate (Houghton le Spring Rectory)

1528 – William Franklyn (or Frankeleyn), was Rector. He held numerous positions in the Church but never lived in Houghton. The Rectory, which would have had the appearance of a fortified manor house, fell into disrepair during his incumbency. One local historian has suggested that men-at-arms would have been stationed at the Rectory during this time.

1664 – George Davenport became Rector. He rebuilt the Rectory from the ground, making alteration and additions, such as a chapel to the west.

1710 - Sir George Wheler was appointed as Rector, and he went on to establish a charity school for girls, which was housed in the Rectory gatehouse.

Copyright © Houghton Heritage Society 2000-2012
If you are reading this on a website other than Houghton Heritage Society's please check to see that the Society has been referenced - and not plagiarised.

Houghton Rectory Gatehouse in around 1780

c1780 – A drawing by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, a Swiss artist, shows the Rectory as having a tower known as a ‘solar block’, the Rector’s private withdrawing chamber, which was attached to a hall. Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.

1789 – Edward South Thurlow became Rector, and had the longest incumbency upon his death in 1847 at the age of 82 years. He removed the embattlements of the Rectory, demolished Keeling’s tower and Davenport’s chapel, and built two wings which projected to the east of the older part.

1794 – This date is embossed on the metal rainwater heads.

The Rectory archway
The Rectory archway before it was relocated

1800s – A Victorian archway and gatehouse was erected at the entrance to the Rectory grounds, opposite St Michael’s church. Find out more about this archway and its shields by clicking HERE. Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.

1847 - Rev John Grey succeeded Rev Edward Thurlow as rector of Houghton-le-Spring, when Rev Thurlow died at the age of 82. John would have been aged 35 years old when he moved into the Rectory with his wife, Georgiana, 46 years, and their 9 year old daughter, Mary, and two sons, Charles, 5 years, and Frederick, 3 years. Copyright © Houghton Heritage Society 2000-2012
If you are reading this on a website other than Houghton Heritage Society's please check to see that the Society has been referenced - and not plagiarised.

August 1854 – Sixteen members of the clergy were buried in a mass grave within the Rectory grounds (the churchyard was full) following an outbreak of cholera.

1855 – Rector John Grey allowed St Michael’s National School to be erected on land belonging to the Rectory on Dairy Lane. The school was a merger of Rector Wheler’s charity school from within the Rectory Gatehouse and the Barrington School from behind Newbottle Street. The School was built on the site of the old Glebe Farm buildings. In 1914 the Master was Joseph J Longstaff. The site is now the Park’s Rose Garden.

1870 – The Gilpin Thorn was measured at 11 ¼ feet at 2 feet from the ground.

The remnant of Bijou's tombstone in Houghton Park
The remnant of Bijou's tombstone in Houghton Park

1878 – Bijou, Rector John Grey’s favourite pet dog, died in March 1878 and was buried in the Rectory grounds. A small tombstone was erected on the grave and read: DEAR LITTLE BIJOU | THY CHERISHED MEMORY WILL BE | A BEATUTIFUL EXAMPLE OF AFFECTION | AND GENTLENESS | AND TRUSTING LOVE. | MARCH 13 1878. | J. AND H.M. G.

1882 – A new Church 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. The hall was referred to as ‘the New Room at Rectory Gate’ but was re-named as ‘St Michael’s Hall’ in 1884.

1886 – The hosting of Sunday School Treats in the Rectory grounds was common at this time. On Saturday August 7th 1886, day two of the treat for children commenced at 2:30pm from the Rectory Fountain. After the tea, the two-hundred and sixty children had the full run of the Rectory grounds (around three-hundred and twenty older children had visited the day before).

1887 – May – Rector John Grey commissioned Mr Thomas Todd to replace the collars and supports on the Gilpin Thorn. Mr Todd’s father and grandfather had been employed many years earlier in the same capacity.

1887 – Towards the end of the year, Newbottle Street was widened and the Rectory Garden wall had to be rebuilt, following the sale of land from the Church to the Local Board of Health.

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

c1890 – Rector John Grey employed Alice Hamilton as a lady gardener to tend to the flowerbeds in the Rectory grounds.

1891 - The 1891 census tells us that Rector John Grey (79 years), his wife Helen Mary (54) [she was actually 59], were accompanied by Lady Elizabeth Grey (74, a widow), plus Charles Allen the butler, Sarah Ann Norman (ladies maid - visiting), another ladies maid (name unreadable), Ellen Abbey (ladies maid), Mary Jane Charlton (housekeeper), Mary Ann Holmes (laundry maid), Margaret Chris (housemaid), and Elvina Simmons (kitchenmaid) - all at the Rectory.

1894 - Rev Charles Edward Osborne Griffith M.A., curate of St Michael’s Church, resided in Clergy House on Dairy Lane.

Copyright © Houghton Heritage Society 2000-2012
If you are reading this on a website other than Houghton Heritage Society's please check to see that the Society has been referenced - and not plagiarised.

1895 - November 11th – The 83 year old Rector, Rev John Grey, died at the Rectory. While on his deathbed, he could hear the mean blasting rock at Hillside Cemetery in preparation of the grave he was soon to occupy. Find out more HERE.

1905 - 30 square yards from the Rectory Glebe Farm were sold for £15 on November 27th 1905 to Sunderland District Electric Tramways Co Ltd, for use in the tramway extension to Fencehouses via the Lindens, Winter’s Bank and Dubmire.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

1938 – Rev John Wylie resided in Clergy House, Dairy Lane.

c1940s – It is thought that soldiers returning to Houghton after the War brought with them a piece of travertine rock, a form of limestone usually formed at the mouth of a hot spring, for use as a fountain in the Rectory garden. The rock, which is still in use as a fountain, is thought to have come from Tivoli (Tibur), Italy.

c1946 – The last people to occupy the Victorian gatehouse were Arthur Box and his wife, Peggy. Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.

1947 – St Michael’s School, on Dairy Lane, closed, and the site was developed into the Park’s rose garden. In June, 1947, plans were drawn up showing the proposed division of Kepier Hall into two houses, with one possibly used as a new Rectory.

Clergy House on Dairy Lane became the new Rectory in 1948.  It was in use as such until 2005 and is now a dental practice

1948 – Rev Oswald Noel Gwilliam became Rector and took up temporary residence in Clergy House on Dairy Lane. This building was originally used as a curatage, however financial issues with the sale of the old Rectory and grounds, led to Rector Gwilliam remaining in the building, which eventually became the new Rectory following a series of costly renovations. Gwilliam’s predecessor, Rev Hugh Ashdown was the last incumbent to reside in the original Rectory building.

1948 – July – Newton Jealous, a sign writer (est 1909) of 37 Edwin Street, vacated the garage at the rear of Clergy House (later the new Rectory) and moved his business into the smaller part which was formerly stables (now referred to as the ‘old tithe barn’ in Rectory Park).

Houghton Rectory Park in the days after its unveiling, 1949
Rectory Park in the days after its unveiling, 1949

1949 – April 9th - The grounds were unveiled as a public park on April 9th 1949. Over 500 people attended, including civic dignitaries, members of the clergy and Houghton residents. The local press reported that Julie Alloses, a visitor to the town, was the first person to visit the Park.

Houghton Rectory Park's official opening in 1949
Houghton Rectory Park's official opening in 1949
Houghton Rectory Park's official opening in 1949

1949 – July 30th – The Rectory building and gardens were purchased by Houghton Urban District Council for £10,000 on July 30th 1949.

1949 – The first park keeper was Charles Barratt. Charles had been badly injured during World War I and lost an arm but he didn’t let this stop him; he was a popular park keeper, particularly with the children during conker time, and was described as a “lovely person”. He was there until around 1955/56.

Houghton Rectory Park around 1950

1950 – On the 26th April 1950, the Rectory became a listed building; the listing is as follows:

List Entry Number: 456/7/20
Date Listed: 26.04.50
Address: Broadway, Houghton-le-Spring
Building Type: Rectory now Offices
Building Name: Houghton-le-Spring Area Offices of Sunderland City Council
Conservation Area: No. 8
Occupied: Yes 3
Ownership: Local Authority 4
Grade: II*
Description: Rectory, now Council Offices. Early C17, altered C18 (date of 1794 on rainwater head behind) C19 and C20.
Exterior: 2-storey, 6-bay south front in Tudor style: some windows 3-light stone-mullioned with label moulds; fifth bay,
a canted projection, contains three sashes with glazing bars; third bay has flattened Tudor arch to modern door in stop-chamfered surround between slender pilasters supporting raised panel. Massive stone chimney stack, having 5 set-backs, at rear. East elevation re-built c.1950. Crenellated parapet conceals roof.
Interior: Closed-string well staircase has 7 fat turned balusters to 5 treads; half balusters abut square, panelled newel posts with low pyramidal tops; high moulded handrail.
Source: "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne" series 3, volume v, 45-62.
Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.

1950/51 – The Rectory was redeveloped and large portions were demolished (along with St Michael’s Hall) during the conversion to council offices for Houghton Urban District Council. The archway entrance to the Rectory grounds was dismantled and rebuilt opposite as the entrance to the churchyard.

1951 - June – The expected sum of £1000 (from the sale of the Rectory and grounds) for use on improvements to Clergy House on Dairy Lane was not made available and Rector Gwilliam faced the prospect of living there longer and not in a newly built Rectory as expected. Gwilliam wrote to the Church Commissioners, asking for assistance, and suggested that the home “might quite possibly be considered as suitable for subsequent treatment as a permanent Rectory.” The building was subsequently renovated by Isaac Berriman, Woodlands Joinery, Fencehouses, and became the new Rectory.

Copyright © Houghton Heritage Society 2000-2012
If you are reading this on a website other than Houghton Heritage Society's please check to see that the Society has been referenced - and not plagiarised.

1951 – December 22nd – The Council offices in the Rectory building were officially opened by Councillor J Lowery on December 22nd 1951.

Joe, Tom and Jack Campbell alongside the Rectory building in the new Rectory Park, circa 1950.

1967 - The foundation stone for the new Council Offices was laid on land belonging to the Rectory Park. The foundation stone reads:

1968 – The new Council offices were opened on November 1st 1968 by Councillor E. Kelly, J.P., Chairman of Houghton UDC.

Houghton Rectory Park covered in snow in 1973

1985 – Seeds were taken from the Gilpin Thorn by Peter Tate, a forestry officer for Sunderland City Council. A couple of seedlings grew!

The John Mawston bench in Houghton Rectory Park, 2008

1987 – A bench was installed in the park grounds, next to the Council Offices, in commemoration of local Councillor, John Mawston, being Mayor of Sunderland. The plaque on the bench read:

1992 – The Gilpin Thorn died at the hands of vandals. Two of its seedlings were planted in its place.

2005 – On the weekend of January 7th/8th, an old evergreen tree was blown down in Houghton Rectory Park.

2005 – On August 7th 2005, Rev Ian Wallis vacated the Clergy House Rectory and moved into a semi detached house just off Gillas Lane – 5 Lingfield – which was billed in the Church magazine as ‘a temporary replacement rectory’; it is still in use as the Rectory to this day. Clergy House Rectory was sold shortly afterwards and is now Dairylane Dental Practice.

2005 – In October 2005, rat catchers were called in to curb a large infestation of rats in Houghton Park. The local press reported that it was a “race against time” to clear the rats away before the start of Houghton Feast.

Copyright © Houghton Heritage Society 2000-2012
If you are reading this on a website other than Houghton Heritage Society's please check to see that the Society has been referenced - and not plagiarised.

2006 – In July 2006 work took place in the old Knot Garden to the west of Houghton Rectory. Three tons of new gravel and £500 worth of new plants were installed into the new sensory garden.

2009 – On the 22nd of January, 2009, a public meeting was held in the community room of Kepier Hall to discuss the future of Rectory Park. Over sixty members of the community attended, including Council officials, local ward councillors, a representative from Sunderland Open spaces Network Group (SONG) and representatives from schools and local Scouts. The inaugural general meeting was held on February 19th 2009 and a Constitution was adopted on April 28th 2009.

2010 – April – The derelict toilet block near the Vine Place entrance of the Park was demolished on April 13th 2010.

2010 – May – Newly planted white birch trees were vandalised in Houghton Rectory Park. It was reported in the local press that of the twelve, four were beyond saving.

2010 – October 29th 2010 - A Public Notice gave notice of the intention to demolish Houghton Area Office within the grounds of Rectory Park. Online planning documents stated:
"The Houghton Office is a 1950s system built property located in Rectory Park. The property is now surplus to the Council's requirements. Consideration has been given to marketing the property for sale, but owing to the need to completely renovate the property at a cost of in excess of £500k, a decision has been taken to demolish the building. This will allow the resultant space to be incorporated into the renovation programme for Rectory Park and landscaped accordingly."

2011 – c.February – The two Gilpin Thorn saplings, which had been planted in 1992, were removed from the grounds of the Council Offices.

2011 – Demolition work started on the Council Offices block in April and was completed by June 2011.


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

If you have enjoyed this article and would like to make a donation towards the website's costs please click below:


Paul Lanagan wishes to place on record his thanks to the following:
:: Thanks to Jack Jordison and Joan Lambton for memories of the gatehouse residents; and to Mrs Dixon for sharing memories of her Uncle Charles, the first park keeper.
:: Drawings by S.H.Grimm, c1780.
:: Houghton-le-Spring: A History by Frank H Rushford.
:: A Parish History: Episode 36 by Dick Toy.
:: Sunderland Echo, September 1954.
:: Imperial Gazeteer of England & Wales, 1870-1872
:: Other articles by P.Lanagan
:: Sarah Stoner
:: John Price



[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Rectory Park Menu > Houghton Rectory Time Line ]
[ RELATED PAGE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Parish Church ]


Copyright © 2012 - All Rights Reserved | About this site

The Gilpin Crest as adopted by Houghton-le-Spring

PAGE UPDATED: 16/02/2012

Councillor WH Dinsley, Chairman of Houghton Urban District Council: “The opening of this park is a great day in the history of Houghton.” “When the council learned the ancient rectory and grounds were to be vacated, we immediately opened negotiations for their purchase.” “The outcome is a park natural in its ancient beauty and vastly superior to anything which could have been created artificially.”
Parsonage House at Houghton-le-Spring
Houghton-le-Spring Rectory Gate House Houghton Rectory, Houghton Urban District Council offices, Sunderland Council, Houghton Area Office, Hetton Area Office, Park keeping in Houghton-le-Spring, water fountain in Houghton Park, Houghton Park in Houghton-le-Spring
Sunderland Open Spaces Network Group, SONG
Old Council offices in the grounds of Houghton Park. Squirrels in Houghton Park
Doxford Park
Houghton Rectory gardens
Houghton Rose Garden
Old tithe barn in Houghton-le-Spring Hylton Dene
Mowbray Park
Roker Park
The Sunderland Openspaces Network Group was formed in late 2006 and became a fully constituted group on 5th February 2007. SONG is the umbrella organisation for all the ‘friends’ groups within the City of Sunderland, allowing each group to share information and best practice. The members meet every three months and currently have a rolling programme of visiting member parks to see each others problems and successes Barnes Park
Back House & Barley Mow
Doxford Park
Herrington Country Park
Hetton Lyons Country Park
Houghton Hillside Cemetery Hylton Dene
The inaugural general meeting was held on February 19th 2009 and a Constitution was adopted on April 28th 2009. Friends of Houghton Rectory Park. Houghton Kepier School Rose Garden is the new name for the Rose Garden. Houghton Rectory Park fountain. Is the Gilpin Thorn still alive. Where did the rock fountain in Rectory Park come from? Did it come from the Mediterranean? Houghton Rectory gardens
Houghton Rose Garden
Old tithe barn in Houghton-le-Spring
James Steel Park
Mowbray Park Princess Anne Park
Roker Park
Ryhope Park
Thompson Park
West Herrington Park

Sunderland Echo Date: 03 October 2005 PEST control teams are in a race against time to clear rats from the site of one of Wearside's most popular events. Rat catchers from Sunderland Council are working to get rid of the rodents in Rectory Park in Houghton before the opening of Houghton Feast this week. The park is the setting for the fairground that accompanies the Feast and is also where the tradit ional ox-roast will take place. But families nearby have complained to environmental health chiefs, who have now launched an operation to rid the park of the pests. Great-gran Jenny Blakey, who lives in Stevenson Street, overlooking the park, said food left by youngsters is contributing to an increasing problem. Mrs Blakey, 72, a former Cape Insulation worker, has lived in the street for 18 years, but has only noticed the rats in the past two years. She said: "I've got a little Yorkshire Terrier, Sophie, and when I was walking her in the park last week two rats ran straight past my feet. "Another time one ran past me and into a house that was being done up. "There was a great big dead one lying dead next to the children's playground as well. "I've spoken to people who work at the Broadway and they say the rats have run out from under their cars while they're parked." "I've been in touch with environmental health at Sunderland Council and they keep saying they're looking into it but it just seems to be getting worse to me." A council spokesman said: "We're aware of the problem and council officers are carrying out an appropriate pest control treatment of the area."

Residents slam park tree vandalsPremium Article Coun Sheil E Llis with members of the Friends of Rectory Park group in the park in Houghton where vandals have sawn down trees. Published Date: 12 May 2010 Residents have been left devastated by vandalism in a popular park. White birches have been sawn down at Houghton Rectory Park, in the town centre. Edith Corney, treasurer of the Friends of Houghton Rectory Park Committee, condemned the attack on the trees. "They have clearly been sawn off," said the 56-year-old, of Dairy Lane. "We are trying to do something good for Houghton, but this has really upset me. "The trees haven't even been in that long. It's really disheartening." It is thought that the damage was done last Wednesday evening. Sheil E Llis said: "We are trying to so hard to make progress in the park, but vandalism like this doesn't help." Sheil E Llis also said that Sunderland Council had not done enough to maintain the park. "It's one of the oldest gardens in the country and they have just left it to go to rack and ruin," she said. Les Clark, head of street scene at the council, said the 12 trees were planted in March and as larger than normal transplants they would have given a quicker display of coloured stems. "It was hoped these larger trees, four to five metres tall, would be less vulnerable to vandalism. "Of the 12, four were damaged beyond saving and have now been removed. They will be replanted at the earliest opportunity. "Every year the city council plants thousands of trees and bedding plants and vandalism is not tolerated." Anyone with information about antisocial behaviour is urged to call the Neighbourhood Helpline on 0300 1000 101. Last Updated: 12 May 2010 9:37 AM Source: Sunderland eCHO