Mourning two of Darlington’s most splendid halls demolished years ago


THE mature trees are tumbling down and soon new houses will be springing up. South-east and north-west, the mature trees that are now being felled are Darlington’s last connections to two lost mansions: Blackwell Hall and Red Hall.

Blackwell Hall was in the south-east corner of town. It was a secondary home of the Allan family, whose primary home was Blackwell Grange. Indeed, Blackwell Hall was such a secondary home that it had a dining room which could only seat 200 people!

“The views from the hall over Blackwell, through which the silvery Tees winds in a radiant line of light or dashes down in darkness and in thunder, are extensive, rich and exceedingly beautiful,” wrote William Longstaffe in 1854. “The varied grounds of the hall contain fine specimens of cypresses, cedar of Lebanon (one of the finest in the north) and the singular tulip-tree.”

The tulip tree is an American poplar, noted for its great height and its large greenish-yellow flowers which look a bit like those of a tulip. These trees disappeared long before the current “Butchers Gate” episode.

George Allan (1663-1744) was a salt dealer from Yarm who had made enough money by the age of 30 to buy Blackwell Grange. Through insider knowledge, he got out of the South Sea Company just before the bubble burst in 1720, which probably allowed him to buy, build or enlarge Blackwell Hall so that it was suitable for his eldest son, also George (1694-1753).

The hall’s heyday came when John Allan acquired it around 1810. He enlarged it, adding the rear wing which featured the modestly enormous dining room, and he beautified the gardens, which covered 40 acres and stretched south to the A66.

A couple of generations later, the Allans were struggling to maintain such an elaborate secondary property. They sold it in 1930 to auctioneer Stanley Robinson who wanted to build a £40,000, 40-bedroom mock-Georgian hotel in its grounds.

When that didn’t happen, he established a nine-hole golf course through the mature trees, and somehow acquired the wooden pavilion which had hosted British exhibits at the 1930 Antwerp World’s Fair. It was transported in pieces to Blackwell where it was re-assembled by about 1934.

In 1940, the hall was sold to property investor Alexander Dickson who converted it into a private residential hotel that also accepted guests – indeed, it was regarded as Darlington’s most exclusive hotel.

By the 1960s, the early 18th Century building needed restoration and it was sold, with 3,178 acres, to the Raine brothers, John and Reuben, for £20,100 in late 1963. It was to be converted into six flats, but they discovered a “worm infestation” and, after a national debate, it was demolished in 1965.

The Ministry of Housing said its disappearance was regrettable, and ordered the builders not to touch the fir and copper beech trees as the homes of Blackwell Grove, Briar Close and Briar Walk were built. However, when Memories had a walk around the other day, it was hard to see much evidence of them – and there was a stark and sorry sight where 21st Century progress has erased many of the last, living connections to the mansion’s past.

IN the north-west corner of town was Red Hall, a mansion built in 1830 and demolished in 1984, leaving behind only its footprint of foundations and the remains of its own treelined estate.

On one side of its parkland is the River Skerne, and on the other is the council estate that bears its name.

Now some of its perimeter trees lie prone, felled as the developers start to build 80 new homes on this mysteriously ancient part of Darlington.

This corner was once called Little Haughton, and tradition suggests that there was once a bloody battle here as one tribe tried to stop another tribe crossing the Skerne – one of the combatants was a tribe of giants as a skeleton 6ft 4ins tall with enormous teeth was discovered by the river 200 years ago.

The Ordnance Survey map gives us another hint. On the riverbank beside Red Hall Primary School, the map says there is the remains of an old moat. Once, the moat surrounded a manor house here and there appears to be an artificial mound – a manmade tumulus – where the dead were buried.

This manor of Little Haughton was once a place to be reckoned with: in 1264, a knight called Rauff de Middleton a Petit Haughton was fighting against King Henry III at the Battle of Lewes in Sussex.

In medieval times the famous families of the Scropes and the Pudseys owned Little Haughton, and in the mid 17th Century, the Lambtons were in control.

The Lambtons left two female heiresses. One of them married a Killinghall, of Middleton St George, and took the Firth Moor part of the estate as her dowry; the other married a Chaytor, of Croft-on-Tees, and took part the “Red House” part of the estate as her inheritance.

This Red House stood near the old moated manor, and it seems to have got its name because it was the first property in the district to be made of bright red brick. Everywhere else was built of grey stone so it stood out, and somewhere on the estate was a claypit that provided the raw material for this breakthrough brick.

(Red House may have got its colourful name because over the river in Haughton-le-Skerne there was White Hall, next to the rectory, and Blue Hall, where bungalows are today. Just to complete our colour chart, White Hall and Blue Hall were on either side of Haughton Green.)

In 1697, the Chaytors sold Red House to Robert Colling of Long Newton, and for a century, the Collings were content to live in their house of red bricks, until 1830 when another Robert Colling felt the need for a fashionable mansion.

Somehow he commissioned Philip Wyatt, from a family of renowned architects, to design it. Philip was the black sheep of his family. He was considered “brilliant but feckless”. He had rebuilt Wynyard Hall for Lord Londonderry in the 1820s, and he made one visit to Red House in 1830 where he conceived of a design and sketched it out on the spot.

Then he moved onto build Conishead Priory, near Ulverston. However, he was sacked from the priory in 1833 and went bankrupt. He ended up in a debtors’ prison where he died in 1835.

Still, his mansion at Red House rose – only now it was grand enough to be called Red Hall. It had countless gable ends and chimneypots, huge leaded windows, acres of glass conservatories, and shields all over the stonework.

The Colling family remained there until they sold it in the 1920s to the Haggie family, who in turn, after struggling to find a private buyer, sold it in a derelict state to Darlington council for £35,000 in 1966.

The council built the Red Hall estate, which featured “Darlington’s first factory-made houses”, on the farmland and a riding school was established at the hall which remained tucked away behind its treed perimeters.

It became increasingly derelict and dangerous – one day, a deep brick-lined well opened up in its grounds which made something interesting for local schoolchildren to peer down and potentially fall down – and was demolished in 1984, leaving only its foundations.

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