HOUGHTON RECTORY PARK
April 2014 marks the 65th anniversary of the unveiling of St Michael's Rectory grounds in Houghton-le-Spring as a public park. Over 500 people attended that day on April 9th 1949, including civic dignitaries, members of the clergy and Houghton residents.
Here local historian and Houghton Heritage Society Chairman Paul Lanagan takes a walk around the Rectory and its grounds, taking in many of the much loved aspects, including the ancient Rectory building, the recently demolished Houghton Area Office and the long-since gone St Michael’s Church of England School, now a rose garden at the southern end of the park.
Download your copy of the free printable Rectory Park guide book below.
RECTORY PARK GUIDE BOOK
Houghton-le-Spring Rectory: A Walk Around the Grounds is an illustrated guide book to the former Rectory building and its grounds, now known as Rectory Park. Print a copy and take it with you when you visit.
[PARK GUIDE BOOK]
PARK TIME LINE
Houghton's Rectory was apparently built around a fortified tower, known as a pele. This time line starts with the earliest reference for the building is 1311 and looks at the Rectory's history right up to modern times.
[PARK TIME LINE]
The Churchyard archway in Houghton once formed the original entrance to the Rectory on the opposite side of the road to where it is now. It was accompanied by a gatehouse and St Michael's Church Hall.
ST MICHAEL'S HALL
The new church hall was opened on January 10th 1882 by the Lord Bishop of Durham and was named St Michael's Hall in 1884. In the 1950s it was demolished when HUDC acquired the Rectory and grounds.
Clergy House, on Dairy Lane, was used as a curatage for the curates of St Michael's Church. Between 1948 and 2005 it was used as a Rectory (Rev'ds Gwilliam, Brett, Fisher & Wallis) and is now a dental practice.
This building can be found at the rear of Clergy House and is referred to as the 'old tithe barn'. Tithe barns were used to store tithes – a tenth of a tenant farm’s produce, which was to be given to the parish church.
THE GILPIN THORN
Known as the Gilpin Thorn, this holy hawthorn is thought to have grown from a cutting taken from the legendary Glastonbury Thorn in the grounds of the Abbey by Bernard Gilpin, Rector of Houghton 1557 to 1583.
[THE GILPIN THORN] | [GLASTONBURY THORN]
Houghton Rectory Park has had many trickling water fountains over the years, from smaller ones when it was the private grounds of the Rector to the large travertine stone fountain we know and love today.
In the north wall of the Rectory grounds are several sunken holes, very similar in shape to a piscina. They were probably installed as a place to grow wall flowers but many suggestions exist as to what they are.
The oak panelled Council Chamber of Houghton Urban District Council is found on the first floor of the Old Rectory building was used by the Council from 1949 until 1974 when Sunderland Borough Council took over.
[HUDC COUNCIL CHAMBER]
HOUGHTON AREA OFFICE
On November 18th 1967, Cllr Mawston laid the foundation stone for the new Council Offices. Around a year later the building was opened by Cllr Edward Kelly. The offices were demolished in June 2011.
[HOUGHTON COUNCIL OFFICES]
JOHN MAWSTON SEAT
This John Mawston Bench was installed in 1987/88 in recognition of Cllr Mawston’s contributions to Houghton Feast. It was still in situ in early 2013 but is liable to be moved since the demolition of the Council Offices.
[JOHN MAWSTON SEAT]
The Park's public toilets, next to Vine Place, were boarded up and derelict for many years having gained an unsavourory reputation. They were finally demolished in 2010 and replaced with a stone wall.
Houghton Area Office was home to ten treasures/artefacts, many from WWII. These were nearly demolished with the building until Paul Lanagan brought their attention to the Council in 2011.
PET DOG GRAVE
Upon the sad occasion of the death of Rector Grey's pet dog, Bijou, in 1878, the Rector had his trusted dog buried in the Rectory grounds, in the corner next to the Church Street and Durham Road crossroads wall.
Houghton's newest Rector, Rev Canon Sue Pinnington, joined the long list of illustrious men responsible for Houghton's spiritual upkeep. The last to live in the Rectory was Rev Hugh Edward Ashdown (shown above).
INSURANCE FIRE MARK
A plaque featuring Britannia and the number 33014 adorns the front wall of the Rectory. It is a fire mark for London Assurance and was attached to confirm that the building was insured for fire risks.
An unusual arboretum of trees can be found in the north-east corner of the Rectory grounds, next to the Newbottle Street opening, a result of the landscaping following the building of Houghton Area Office in 1967.
You can join Houghton Heritage Society by becoming a member on Facebook - or Fyass Byuk as we call it. We have over 2,500 members and the group is very popular with residents, descendants and ex-pats.
VIDEOS OF HOUGHTON
Houghton Heritage Society's YouTube Channel features exclusive videos of Houghton-le-Spring as well as footage from our heritage events throughout the year - and of course Houghton's Rectory Park and grounds.
Houghton Heritage Society has over 5,000 images in its collections. Many can be found on our Flickr page while our Facebook group has thousands of exclusive photographs as uploaded by our many members.
[FLICKR] | [ARCHIVE CATALOGUE]