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Old Rectory, Houghton-le-Spring

A view in ink of an old house at Houghton-le-Spring in Durham (now in Tyne and Wear), drawn by S.H. Grimm.

Houghton le Spring sits at the foot of the magnesium limestone escarpment north-east of Durham. Although the old town is now cut in two by a dual carriageway, it has managed to retain a cluster of historic buildings, among them its parish church, old rectory and 17th-century hall.

Houghton’s most famous son was Bernard Gilpin, the ’Apostle of the North’, so-called for his evangelising expeditions in the borderlands of Northumberland. Gilpin was rector here for twenty-five years from 1558, a time when Houghton le Spring was then one of the largest parishes in England. Despite the status this gave him, Gilpin was a generous champion of the poor, a brave and principled man unafraid of the religious establishment even in those dangerous days.

Gilpin lived in the Old Rectory, just across the road from the church. When Grimm drew it, the rectory was still very much a medieval building. The tower, seen through the arch of the gatehouse range, was probably the solar block – the owner’s private chamber – attached to its hall. A licence to crenellate, that is, make it a defensible structure, was granted in 1483.

The battlemented building that remains today, now local council offices, was much altered during the 19th century. The tower is no longer recognisable and the gatehouse has gone too, though its echo survives in a Victorian archway, just across the road, giving access to the churchyard.

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