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As a result of some heavy-handed action by the then Bishop, Le Puiset, a second settlement of Elvet was created when he took without licence or authority some of the Priory lands at Elvet. He built a borough known as Elvethaugh, which was intended to hold 40 merchants’ houses. He did this in 1180, when he commissioned Elvet bridge at the same time. The Prior and Convent objected to this move and the land was finally returned in 1195. Today this area is known as Old Elvet and was laid out with two rows of houses facing one another across a broad street, much the same as today. The boundary between the borough and Elvet was on the line of a lane then known as Rotten Row, but more recently as Court's Lane. At the end of Old Elvet was a narrow lane formally used as a road to the ford across the river [21].

The Assize Courts and Gaol were built on a field bought from the Rev John Fawcett for £1,200. Three architects were involved with the design work, Sandys (1807), Moneypenny (1809) and then Bonomi (1811-1821). Sandys and Moneypenny were dismissed, and Sandys was to lose his professional reputation for faulty work that cost him £20,00 in damages. The Court was built in 1809-11 at a cost of £140,000. At its opening the Dean and Chapter gave a sum of money to free prisoners held for small debts, and a collection of £120 was distributed to more than 1000 families.


Old Elvet: Text
Old Elvet: Image

The prison originally had its west wing for Debtors, east wing for female felons, and south side for male felons. The prison was supplied with water pumped from a well 70' deep in the east yard.

Felons were employed in beating Flax, weaving blankets and cloth, and grinding corn by means of a tread mill erected in 1824. The average expenditure of the prison in 1827 was £2000 and the overall number of prisoners was 800 / year, with the greatest number at one time 230 [22]. (Compare this to April 1986 when the capacity was 669, but the number interned was 957)

Meals cost 2s 11d a week, and consisted of one pound of bread daily, a portion of oatmeal pottage for breakfast and supper. For Dinner on Sunday and Thursday was ¼ lb of dried fish and 1lb of potatoes, Tuesday and Friday was two red herring and 1lb of potatoes, on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday it was one quart of oatmeal pottage 22.

The rules for the Government of Durham Gaol in 1824 gave clear indication of the concern of cleanliness and order. Three times a year the prisoners had to scrape and limewash the walls and ceilings of the wards, cells, rooms, and passages. Each room and ward had to be swept daily and washed once a week from Michaelmas to Lady Day, and twice a week or oftener if needed from Lady Day to Michaelmas. Every morning the windows and doors of sleeping cells were opened, and bed clothed hung up and dried. Before attending chapel every morning, every prisoner had to wash his hands and face and comb his hair, they could not have breakfast before this was done. A sufficient supply of soap, towels and combs were provided. While there was clean linen every week, blankets and rugs were washed in the week after every Quarter Session, presumably a necessity since the Rules made no mention of sheets.

In 1902, 91% of all prison sentences were due to drunkenness.

No 14, 15 and 16 are probably 16th or 17th century. They have what seems to be a thick outer wall between what are now the front and back rooms, suggesting that they were originally only one room onto the street. Repairs to 15A revealed quill pens, pages from copybooks and receipts, etc, showing a school was kept here between about 1790 and 1816. The names listed in these items suggest Presbyterians. By 1848 the house was used as the New Methodist New Connection Chapel.

No. 16 was reputed to be a public house in the 16th century. Later it was part of the Londonderry's New Durham estate.

No. 17 was probably a stable. Wood's map of 1820 suggests that either No. 18 or 19 was the home of James Brown, a Durham Poet, famed for his eccentricity.

Inside No 21, there are inscriptions dated from 1777. The lamp standard outside is the only one to remain of several that were erected in 1824 to contend with disorder, and they used to burn whale oil from Hull [19].

No 24 like No 44 & 45 is interesting for the wood door piece under decorative elliptical arches.

No 25 was leased from 1785 to John Bowes Grey. In 1848, it was the home of J.H. Forster, Mayor of Durham.

No 27 was the home of Joseph S.V.F. Bouet from 1827 to 1856, artist and teacher of French, and sometimes Master at Durham.

No 28 like many houses in Elvet has a section which suggests it began as a single room to the street.

In the vennel leading to the Racecourse, between No 29 & 30, a stone doorway is inscribed TM 1717.


Old Elvet: Text
Old Elvet: Image

No 30 has an early 19th century decorative iron baloney facing the prison, which overlooked the site of the Old Elvet public well (amongst trees) [1], it was also a useful vantage point to see the executions carried out on the green in front of the prison until 1869.

The deeds of No 31 go back to 1717.

No 32 was the home of Colonel White in 1848. He was the Chief Constable whose name has been adopted for No 40.

The site of No 33 and No 33 ½ was formerly the Roman Catholic Free school built in 1848 and the precursor of St Cuthbert’s RC Church.

No 34 is reputed to be the home of Lady Elizabeth Milbanke, a relation of Byron's ill-fated wife. In the 1854 directory it lists the same house as the home of Rev J.B. Dykes, precentor, and author of well-known hymns.

No 35 and 36 form the Old Elvet Masonic Hall which was built in 1868 and designed by T.C. Eddy who was a local architect and noted angler. The date over the doorway is A.D. 5869, and is the Masons own system of dating. The deeds of the site go back to 1738 [37]. The Granby Lodge of Freemasons is mentioned in 1810 as being near the Methodist chapel when it met at the Lodge Room, Chapel Passage. The Granby Lodge first met at the Bird and Bush public house in Saddler St in 1738 [34].

No 37 is the Dun Cow Inn kept in 1820 by Anne Hopper.

No 38 is dated 1747 and has two cellars, one of which has stone and brick walls, with a brick vaulted roof. From 1854, it was the nominal home of William Hamilton Williamson, Master of the Durham Foxhounds.

No 41 the deeds of which begin in 1725 has an interesting kitchen with covered beams a foot wide and a fireplace between 4’ & 5’ wide. No 41 is one of the few private houses along Old Elvet.

The site of No 48 was the home of Mayor General Salvin, father of the architect Anthony Salvin.

No 44 was formerly a Roman Catholic presbytery, deeds going back to 1724. It is reputed that the two houses on the site were bought in the reign of James II. The chapel in the presbytery is said to have been burnt at the time of William of Orange landing in England. The present houses were rebuilt about 1707 [37].

No 45 has a Jesuit chapel in use on the ground floor until 1827. A recess in the back room of No 45 is all that remains of the alter, and graves found beneath the floor of No 44 is an indication of secret burial rites.

The intensity of priest hunting seems to have been relaxed when James I came to the throne, following the period of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Instead, the members of the Church were required to pay their fines for non-attendance at the Parish Church. This system produced considerable revenue but was open to abuse. In 1627, Catholics were able to compound for their annual fines and it is from this income that Durham formed one of three centres of Catholicism in the Country.

At No 44 & No 45 Old Elvet were once a Roman Catholic Chapel and a Priests house. When William of Orange landed, there were riots in Elvet, the Chapel was destroyed, and a woman was burnt to death in the streets [5].

St Cuthbert’s Roman Catholic Church was opened on 31st May 1827 with the celebration of High Mass by the Right Rev Dr Smith in the presence of 400 persons who had given £49 to the Church. This church was also designed by Bononi 21 who designed the Courts. Before this time, two small Roman Catholic chapels existed in the houses of the Right Rev John Scott and the Rev William Croskell in Old Elvet.


Old Elvet: Text
Old Elvet: Image

In 1856 Miss Salvin occupied No 44, and No 45 was a school run by Miss Lonsdale in 1848. No 46 was used as a boarding school by Mrs Gainsforth in 1853. A school was held in No 56 in 1848 by Miss Walker, and in 1874 by Mr James Hall. Another school occupied No 49 in 1848, presided over by Miss E Willis.

No 46 Old Elvet was the office of the architect Ignatius Bonomi, son of Giuseppe Bonomi, an architect mentioned in Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility. Active in the north between 1809 - 1855, Bonomi was one of only two professional architects between York and Edinburgh. Burn Hall, parts of Lambton Castle, Stanhope old Rectory, Oxenhope Church, and the “first ever railway bridge” are amongst his many works.

No 52 was the home of Anthony Wilkinson in 1856. He was a County Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant.

No 53 and 54 is one building belonging to the Territorial Army. It is early 19th century with a central pediment and ground floor windows set in an arcade. The projecting wings at the back are unusually long and may have been cottages or stables.

A Wesleyan Methodist Society was formed in Durham about 1743. It was not until 1770 that it converted a building in Rotten Row (Court Lane) for use as a chapel. When membership grew a new chapel was needed and one was built behind part of the County Hotel in 1808. This chapel was hardly distinguishable as a chapel. It was rebuilt on Old Elvet at the beginning of the 20th century in the formal church style and opened in 1903.

Old Elvet: Text
Old Elvet: Image

The Royal County Hotel consists of two houses, No. 59 & 60 [15]. Externally visible are the features of four Ionic pilasters, stucco work and the iron balcony. The buildings are mainly 17th century. No. 59 is wrongly dated as 1632. No. 60 has a fine staircase of circa 1660, brought from Loch Leven Castle. Lady Mary Radcliffe (sister-in-law to Mary Tudor) who owned the houses was a Roman Catholic, and Ferdinando Ashmole, a local priest, resided there. She was Aunt to James, Earl of Derwentwater, who was executed for his part in the 1715 Rebellion. Charles, his brother, was found guilty of treason, and imprisoned in Newgate but managed to escape. It is alleged that he hid for a time at his Aunt's house at No 60 Old Elvet before fleeing abroad. He was recaptured at the time of the 1745 Rebellion.

In 1758 both houses became the property of Miss Elizabeth Bowes whose niece Mary Eleanor Bowes married Lord Strathmore, who eventually inherited the property. Mary Eleanor Bowes was known as the 'Unhappy Countess' on her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney. In 1780 a Miss Sugget rented the houses as a boarding school. In 1848 the building became Ward's Hotel and Commercial Inn. In 1874 it changed its name to the County Hotel [15].

The Waterloo Hotel at No 61 was listed as a public house on John Wood's map of 1820. When Sir Stephen Glynne stayed there in 1825, he complimented the hotel, but said that Durham “general character of the streets, especially the main part, is very great steepness, narrowness and dirt. The houses are mostly mean and untidy, and the town full of very small filthy alleys and courts. Elvet is better” [6]. The Waterloo Hotel was demolished in the 1971 for the new inner-city bypass.

Chapel Passage contain the Old Masonic Hall with the foundation stone of 1811 and the site of the early Methodist Chapel, which was demolished after being used as a bakery and also the Salvation Army citadel. The site was chosen by John Wesley himself, and the chapel built at a cost of £1,000 [37]. It was opened on 13th November 1801 when Rev Jabery Bunting preached. The Manse of the Superintendent Minister of the district was attached to the chapel. Chapel passage used to 'cut through' where the Royal County Hotel is now.

Chapel Yard was the home of various traders, including boot and shoemakers, masons, plumbers, joiners, tailors and dressmakers. A Day Academy was conducted there in 1827 by William Mack and by 1850 J. Bradberry kept school, which was taken over a year later by C. Mac Nally.


Old Elvet: Text
Old Elvet: Image

The Old Shire Hall is often condemned for the style and setting especially when first built. But the attention paid to the acoustics, and the use of the Plenum system of heating were innovations. The building was designed by local architects, Harry Barnes and Frederick Coates. The hall was opened on 26th July 1898.

Green Lane is to the left of the Magistrates Courts which replaced Elvet Railway station. The railway depot was also used as a coal depot at one time. All that remains of the railway and station is a pair of buffers and the remains of the railway bridge across the Wear further along Green Lane. Green Lane is the remains of a road opened up for the visit of King Charles I in 1633. Also along here is Old Elvet Green, much diminished from what it used to be, as until the 1950's a bi-annual horse fair was held there.

Old Elvet: Text
elvet station.jpg
Old Elvet: Image

The Dunelm Hotel was owned and occupied by Alderman J.W. Pattinson. It was his bakery that was located in the old Wesleyan church in Chapel Passage.

About 1934, the Old Baths and Wash Houses were replaced. The old buildings had been there for over half a century. The cost of the new building was £25,000.

Details of coaches which used the Waterloo Hotel stable wings (was part of the County Surveyors Dept), in 1827 were:

  • The Royal Mail which travelled between London and Edinburgh

  • The Lord Exmouth between Newcastle & Lancaster

  • The Expedition to Leedsbetween Newcastle & Leeds

  • The True Britonto Newcastle

In 1847 the North Briton ran to Sunderland, and as late as 1850 the Highflyer was still running.

Public Houses and Hotel that are no longer functioning [33], and list of businesses as listed in 1924 [6]

Cycle Hotel

at 2 Old Elvet

Waterloo Hotel

at 61 Old Elvet

(next to the existing Royal County hotel)


Old Elvet: Text
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