Cocken Hall

Nothing is known of the Anglo Saxon owner, Cocca, but in 1133 a priest called Ellafus gave Cocken to the Priory of Durham. In agreement with Roger of Kibblesworth, the Priory exchanged it for lands at Wolviston. Roger’s daughter and heir, then sold it to Finchale Priory. After the dissolution of the monasteries, King Henry VIII gave Cocken to John Hilton of Newcastle, whose wife, Isabel had previously been married to Newcastle Mayor Ralph Carr. After Hilton’s death, she married another Newcastle man, John Frankleyn. Her grandson from her first marriage, also called Ralph Carr inherited Cocken in the late 16th Century.

Cocken Hall in the 18th century

The nuns had been expelled from England and took refuge at Lierre, in Belgium, but in 1795 the French Revolution forced them to return to England, by now a country more tolerant of Catholicism. They found accommodation in St. Helen’s Hall, in St. Helen’s Auckland, then in 1804 the Carrs took the Nuns to Cocken Hall. The convent consisted of 16 Choir Nuns, 6 lay sisters and a prioress called Dame Jessop.

They remained at Cocken hall until 1830, when the opening of a nearby coal mine forced them to seek a new site. The Nuns moved to Field House in what was then open countryside near Darlington and the convent still exists in the town’s Nunnery Lane.

Cocken passed through this line until 1642, when another branch of the Carr family purchased the estate. A later member of the family was yet another Ralph Carr, who was Mayor of Newcastle in 1676, 1693 and 1705. He was also an MP.

In about 1671, the Carrs of Cocken, acquired additional land at High Grange, near Gilesgate, an estate that stretched as far as the North Side of what is now Carrville High Street. Although the Carrs remained owners of the property, the hall became a convent for a group of Teresian (Carmelite) Nuns in the early 19th Century.

Cocken Hall (date not known)
John Gully

Cocken had remained in the Carr family then in 1812, William Carr inherited some Cheshire land and a title, making him William Standish-Standish of Duxbury Hall. He spent his later years at Cocken Hall, where he died on 21st February 1878 aged 42 years.

Sometime after the departure of William, although the exact date is uncertain, a champion pugilist turned coal owner, John Gully went to live at the Hall. Gully, who was originally from Bath, once competed – and lost – in a 59 round bare-knuckle boxing bout against Henry (the game chicken) Pearce. Later he would become a champion, investing his winnings in racehorses and mines in Durham, including Thornley, Ludworth and Wingate. From Cocken Hall, Gully moved to North Bailey in Durham City, where he died in 1863. He left 24 children from 2 marriages.

At the end of the 19th Century, Cocken Hall was the home of the Sunderland Shipbuilder, Samuel Austin (of Austin & Pickersgill). However in July 1914, the Northern Echo reported that the Hall had been without a tenant for eight years.

The last occupant was a ship owner called Ralph Milbanke Hudson, but in succeeding years the house, by then a property of the Earl of Durham, remained empty and was looked after by a caretaker called Herdman.

Herdman on arriving at the house on 14th July 1914, found literature plastered with the words “Votes for Women” and “This is the work of militants” strewn around its exterior. The caretaker also found a drawing room window open and inside much evidence of elaborate preparations to start a fire. The staircase had been saturated with oil, but was only smouldering when Herdman arrived on the scene, and he was able to prevent a fire. Among other items that were found was an alarm clock, which had been fitted with a fuse and had stopped at 12.25 and a bag of oil and resin. Farmers had seen a car in the area at about midnight, which then returned half an hour later. The Northern Echo newspaper concluded that the hall had been singled out because of its uninhabited and isolated situation.

Ralph Milbanke Jr.
D.L.I Soldiers at Cocken Hall c.1914

Later in 1914, a service battalion of the Durham Light Infantry occupied the house where training took place.

Sometime after the end of the First World War, Cocken Hall was demolished, and nothing has been built in its place.

Today, Cocken, although undoubtedly a beautiful place, exists only as a collection of scattered farmhouses and a nine-hole golf course.