Whitehill Hall

The Whitehill Estate first appears in documents around 1310 and one of its earliest owners was a gentleman called Roger De Aula De Cestria. The Whitehill Estate covered quite a large area to the west of the town and today it is still referred to as the Whitehill Park Estate, which includes housing estates such as Lingholme, Cragside, Wynyard, Gibside( which are in themselves named after Grand Houses) and the more aptly named Whitehill Hall Gardens.

In the 1400s the “Melote” family, later to be known as the “Millot’s” were the owners until around the mid-1700s, when the Wastell family became the residents of Whitehill in 1747. This change of ownership appears to have occurred due to the death of John Millot who seems to have been a bit of a character. Seemingly an illustrated screen belonging to him was retained for quite a while at Whitehill Hall on which he was depicted as a huntsman, a gambler and in another section shown drinking and smoking.

The Hall stood in wooded parkland near the banks that lead down to the Cong Burn and may have been built on the site of an earlier manor. The Wastell’s then sold the grand mansion of Whitehill to the Cookson family, when John Cookson remodelled, extended and altered the building in a style typical of the 1830s. The architect is unknown, but the old centre was fronted by a colonnade and flanked by two wings with shallow bay windows. There was blank panelling between the storeys with a low-pitched roof and deeply overhanging eaves.

Sketch of Whitehill Forge

Isaac Cookson developed and worked the Whitehill Furnace and Forge, which was located nearby where Furnace Farm is situated today. This was the first blast furnace in the world to use coaling coke rather than charcoal and was known to be in operation in 1745. The forge was used to produce Canons and Canon Balls for the Napoleonic Wars and seemingly they used to test these by firing them across the Burn, so there must be still a number of Cannon Balls embedded in the opposite bank of the Burn. In this respect, a few years ago when the remains of the Roman bridge supports located further downstream were being investigated, a pyramid of old Cannon Balls was discovered which hadn’t been used. They are now held in various collections.

The Whitehill Forge appears to have had only a limited operational life due to problems in obtaining suitable iron ore (which was brought up the River Wear to Chester-le-Street on barges from as far away as Ravenscar on the North Yorkshire coast) and technical difficulties with the operation of the furnace.

In 1858 Mrs Cookson was the owner and the Cookson’s lived at Whitehill Hall until the 1894 when it was sold to Charles Rollo Barrett a mining engineer who in 1892 had come to assist his brother-in-law, Sir Lindsay Wood, in connection with the colliery interests of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the North.  However, Pelton Colliery Company acquired the land at Whitehill and in 1917 Charles Rollo died. In the same year the Hall became the victim of mining subsidence, probably due to the workings of nearby Pelton Fell Collieries and the building had to be demolished. The Great War of 1914 /1918 cut across society; the Earl of Durham lost one of his brothers and his nephew, Sir Lindsay Wood lost his son Collingwood. Charles Rollo Barrett’s son Lindsay, who had been awarded the Military Cross, was killed on the 17th March 1916 and this could have been coincidental to Charles Rollo’s death in the following year. A window in the Parish Church is dedicated to the memory of Charles Rollo Barrett and his son Lindsay

Whitehill Hall c.1910

The Chester -le-Street Chronicle newspaper dated 15th November 1918 reads: ‘Tidings of Peace – the whole town was soon decked with flags and streamers across the Front Street, but much sorrow tinged the gladness. Many people have lost loved ones.’

Whitehill Hall was demolished in 1920 with a smaller building erected on a site a little further to the North, but this too had to be pulled down due to serious vandalism in the later years of the 1960s.

The only known photograph of Whitehill Hall shows the frontage and is dated c1910. There is also a photo of the interior of the front hall, which gives some indication of the grandeur that once existed in this Grand House.

All that remains today to remind us of this once impressive building is the Whitehill Gatehouse or Lodge and the Gateway Entrance located on the Pelton Fell Road and several references in the naming of various roads such as Whitehill Way, which is the link road leading from Pelton Fell Road up towards the ‘Waldridge Road’, the much more modern’ Whitehill Hall Gardens’ and of course there is ‘The Whitehill’s Public House’.

Gatehouse c.1910
Whitehill Public House

Whitehill Hall – Timeline.

  • Roman Coal and iron ore extracted on Pelton Fell. Bloomeries making pig‐iron.
  • c.1330 Manor house at Whitehill (or Whithall)
  • c.1690 Other ironworks in the region, e.g., Shotley Bridge, Allensford Mill, Winlaton Mill
  • 1721 – Whitehill Furnace (on the Pelton Fell Road). Others at Lumley and Tow Law.
  • 1745 – Refinements to iron process include use of coke rather than charcoal. Forging of cast iron.
  • 1745 – John Cookson purchases Whitehill Manor.
  • 1786 – Furnace on the Cong Burn and at Beamish (3 miles west of   Chester-le-Street). With Whitehill the only furnace making cannon. The iron now being brought in from Yorkshire.                       
  • c.1799 Active manufacture of cannon and cannonballs at Whitehill, delivered by sea to Woolwich Arsenal.
  • 1820 – Whitehill Hall rebuilt.
  • 1920 – Whitehill Hall demolished and rebuilt due to subsidence problems.
  • 1960 – Whitehill Hall demolished due to severe vandalism.
  • 1973 – Lingholme, Cragside, Wynyard and Gibside estates built.