History of Pelaw Wood

Origins of  the Wood’s Name

Pellow 1420, Pella 1733, Pelloe 1776, Pellow 1838.  Pelaw is of uncertain meaning.  Possibly a hill or hill-spur.  Old English hlaw is a hill and hoh is a hill-spur.  Middle English pele is a shovel-shaped piece of land or a watchtower.

History    Revised 18 Feb 2014

Pelaw Wood was part of the manor or estate of Old Durham.  In 1268 this was glebe belonging to the Rectory of St Nicholas, when permission to build an oratory at Old Durham was granted by Hugh of Darlington, Prior of Durham.  In 1293 William of Colevile released one and a half acres of land in the field of Old Durham to Adam Cuper and his wife Cecilia.  In 1324 Thomas of Hett demised one acre of land in Old Durham to William son of Walter of Durham, butcher.  In 1331 Ralph of Whitwell agreed to surrender the manor of Ferryhill to William of Cowton, Prior of Durham, and in return he was assigned the corn tithes of Shincliffe and Old Durham for three years from harvest 1331. In 1356 Joan daughter and sole heir of John of Old Durham, granted all her lands in Durham, Old Durham and Middleton in Teesdale to Richard of Barnard Castle, cleric.  In 1382 John Neville, Lord of Raby, conveyed all his lands in Durham, Old Durham, Ebchester and Hartlepool, for £200 to the Prior of Durham and John of Berrington, cleric, together with other lands (by an indenture executed in London on 10th June 1382).  These miscellaneous events appear from documents among the muniments of Durham Cathedral.   

In 1443 Bishop Neville appropriated the estate to Kepier Hospital.  Kepier Hospital and its chapel St Giles’ Church had been founded by Bishop Flambard in 1112.  In 1479 Ralph Booth, Master of Kepier Hospital and nephew of Bishop Lawrence Booth, granted a lease of Old Durham for 99 years to his brother Richard but he reserved the timber of Pelaw Wood.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus 1535 shows among the assets of Kepier Hospital “the lands and tenements pertaining to the manor of Old Durham at farm to Richard Booth esquire per annum – £10”.  The net annual value of Kepier Hospital was shown as £167 2s 11d.  In 1545 the possessions of Kepier Hospital were surrendered to the crown by the last Master, William Frankleyn.  Henry VIII granted the property to Sir William Paget, but upon his attainder it reverted to the crown.  In 1552 Edward VI granted the property to John Cockburne, Lord of Ormiston.  He sold the property in 1569 to John Heath, Warden of the Fleet.

Although in 1578 the lease to the Booths fell in, Robert Booth continued to live at Old Durham until he died in 1592; his will and inventory described the chambers and hall of a modest medieval manor.

John Heath I d1591 St Giles' ChurchJohn Heath died in 1591 and his tomb is in St Giles’ Church; he was succeeded by his son John Heath II, who was succeeded in 1618 by his son John Heath III.  The latter’s brother Thomas succeeded.  An Indenture of Settlement dated 18th January 1629 secured a jointure for Dorothea Heath, wife of Thomas Heath on several manors including Old Durham.  She died in 1642 and was buried at St Giles’ Church.  In 1630 Thomas Heath sold Kepier to Ralph Cole of Gateshead but retaining Old Durham.  Old Durham was settled on Thomas’s son John Heath IV and his wife Margaret. They resided at first in North Bailey but were established at Old Durham in 1648.  John Heath IV built the mansion and gardens at Old Durham in the period 1640-1660.  He died in 1665.

In 1642 Elizabeth Heath, only daughter and heir of John Heath IV married John Tempest of the Isle (died 1697) at St Giles’ Church and they lived at Old Durham.  Their son William died in 1700.  His son John Tempest II moved to Ramside in 1719.

John Tempest II had judgment for debt entered against him and as a result of this the Sheriff of Durham conducted an Inquisition into his properties and their value, dated 19th May 1733.  Among these was the estate of Old Durham whose net annual income was £300 and the undertenant was John Huberthorne.  The fields were individually named and their area given including the “close there called Pella Wood containing by estimation thirty nine acres of arable ground and pasture.”  In addition “the Orchard, the Garden and the Batts” were given as seven acres.

John Tempest married Jane Wharton, heir of Richard Wharton of Durham, and died in 1738.  Their son John Tempest married Frances Shuttleworth in 1738 and the marriage settlement included the estate of Old Durham.  John Tempest purchased Wynyard in 1742.  His son died in 1794 and the entire inheritance passed to Frances Tempest, wife of Sir Henry Vane. Their daughter Frances Anne Vane Tempest was an heiress with an annual income of £60,000. She married the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. The property became part of the Vane Tempest Settled Estate.

A plan of Old Durham Estate belonging to John Tempest in the Parish of Elvet dated 23rd September 1776 shows Pelloe Wood as pasture containing of 16 acres 2 roods 34 perches of wood, and 9 acres 2 roods of clear pasture [The Glades].  Hill Field of 14 acres 1 rood 28 perches of meadow comprises the Rabbit Banks and the football field.  Crow Orchard, 6 acres 3 roods 28 perches of meadow, comprises the Old Hockey Ground and the small field to its east.  Part of the area by the River Wear called the Batts is a field of 3 acres 2 roods [Bottom Field] whose use is not specified but was probably meadow.  Pelaw Wood House is shown but not the mansion house of Old Durham which had been demolished.  The undertenant of these fields was a Mr Richardson except for the Bottom Field which was occupied by a Mr Holme.  The 1776 plan also shows a ford through the River Wear (close to the later railway bridge) connecting Green Lane with a bridle road to Old Durham and Pelaw Wood House.

Greenwood’s map of 1820 shows Pelaw Wood House with a track connecting it to Sherburn Road.

The Tithe Map and Book of 1838 for St Oswald’s Parish, Elvet Township, includes the description of the following fields:

  • Field no 241 “Pellow Wood  17 acres 2 roods 11 perches – wood” [The main wood including Elm Bank]
  • Field no 242 “Wood Field   7 acres 2 roods 6 perches – arable” [The Glades]
  • Field no 247 “Pelaw Wood House  1 rood 25 perches”
  • Field no 248 “Well Field  6 acres 3 roods 27 perches – grass” [Rabbit Banks]
  • Field no 249 “Crow Orchard  6 acres 2 roods 32 perches – arable” [Old Hockey Ground and the small field to the east]
  • Field nos 251 & 253 “The Batts  4 acres 1 rood 4 perches – grass” [Bottom Field]

The main wood of 13 acres, 1 rood and 27 perches was conveyed for the sum of £550 by the Trustees to the 7th Marquis on 6th June 1918 who (by Conveyance dated 1st August 1918) presented it to Durham City Council on 15th August 1918 in memory of his father the 6th Marquis who was Mayor of Durham in 1910-1911.  Also in 1918 Lord Londonderry sold the parts of the Wood which we call the Glades and Elm Bank to Victor Mazzini Walton (an artist from Scarborough) together with the Pine Apple Inn and Old Durham Gardens for £1625.  In the Conveyance dated 4th July 1918 the Glades are shown as a pasture field of 7.071 acres and Elm Bank as part of Pelaw Wood comprising 2.02 acres.

In 1949 Mr Walton sold the whole property for £4000 to Adam and Margaret Black who sold it for the same sum to St Hild’s College in 1964.  In 1946 William Hopps conveyed a field (the western half of Crow Orchard) to St Hild’s College which was made into a hockey ground.  The conveyance included the right to lay a six inch drain from the north-west corner of the land to the River Wear.  The hockey ground was also used as a cricket pitch by North Durham Cricket Club.  In 1984 the old hockey ground was transferred by the Durham Diocesan Board of Finance to Richard Hopps.

In the Londonderry archive at the County Record Office (D/Lo/F661) is a photograph of twin brick piers (now no longer extant) forming part of the small bridge over Pelaw Wood Beck as it enters the River Wear, guarding the entrance to the Wood.  Each pier bears an inscription.  The right hand pier records the River Wall constructed by the City of Durham in 1938.  The left hand pier has a separate closer photograph.  The inscription reads: “The Pelaw Woods were presented to the City of Durham on 15th August 1918 by ..the 7th Marquis of Londonderry in memory of his father ..the 6th Marquis of Londonderry, Mayor of Durham  1910-1911”

The Silverlink footbridge was opened on 12 April 1938. Constructed by the Cleveland Bridge Company of Darlington, the cost of the steel work being £805.  Designed by Mr J.W.Green, City Surveyor and Engineer, it was based on one which spans the Zambezi River.

The woods have been used by the public from at least the early 18th Century.  In 1888 on the occasion of the Durham Regatta a firework display was staged in Pelaw Wood by permission of Lord Londonderry.

Ancient Woodbank In Pelaw Wood

Pelaw Wood is an ancient mixed deciduous woodland on the steep little remains alongside that we are just upstream of Durham city.

The 13 ha site is owned by the County and will shortly be declared as a Local Nature Reserve. It is roughly triangular site with the Pelaw Wood Beck ‘ravine’ separating it from Hild & Bede College to the north / north-west, the Wear to the south / south-east and Laurel Avenue playing fields to the West. The Wear originally flowed north through the site before it was diverted to its present course in the last ice age by the deposits on which Gilesgate stands.

In addition to improving its public footpaths and woodland the Friends of Pelaw Wood have looked for archaeological features. We found no evidence of people living there nor using timber from the world – however there is an interesting woodbank which is something of a mystery.


The woodbank is a continuous earthen bank topped by the remains of old hawthorn hedging. It surrounds the 2.8 ha ‘Wood Field’ shown on old maps, with a ditch on the outside suggesting that it was to keep animals out not in.

Although the Wood Field now contains a mixture of ash, sycamore, beech and other species these became established the last century.

Woodbank based on 1st ed. Ordnance Survey 1857

Woodbank based on 1st ed. Ordnance Survey 1857

The eighteenth and nineteenth century maps all show the Field as pasture with the ancient woodland clinging to the steep banks above the Wear and the Beck – too steep for timber extraction. Apart from a path from the long demolished Pelaw Wood House.
The bank and its remnants of hedge can be followed throughout its circuit of the Wood Field with parts still a metre or more high and a couple of metres wide, it is invaded by sycamore and other species.


An interesting feature and its purpose?

One hypothesis is that valuable crops were grown in the Wood Field requiring protection from animals. It is clearly not defensive — it is often below adjacent hillsides. The Field slopes to the south-west and so catches the sun; and there are three areas of ridge and furrow within it.

Is an early vineyard just wishful thinking? Or do you have some other suggestions?

This article was originally published in January 2013 in the Wild Life Trust’s Wild Woods newsletter.

Revised 18 Feb 2014

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