To begin with, Houghton-le-Spring became part of Sunderland in 1974. Of course, this occurred under the final extension of Sunderland under the 1974 reorganisation of local government.
Houghton-le-Spring town centre - City of Sunderland - Wearside Online
Moreover, at the same time, Hetton-le-Hole and Washington Urban Districts became part of Sunderland. In essence, this was to form a new borough within the Tyne and Wear Metropolitan County.

Naming Of Houghton

In the Boldon Book of 1183, the name of the town was Hoctona, but at other times it was Hoeton. Furthermore, the ‘Hough’ part of the name is probably a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon word Hogh. Indeed, this meant a point of land projected into a plain. The suffix ‘ton’ is most likely a variation of the tun in both Old English and Old Norse. It meant simply an enclosure, settlement or town of course.

Houghton-le-Spring - Newbottle Street - Sunderland City - Wearside Online

Generally speaking, there are two theories for the addition of ‘le-Spring’. Firstly, a ‘Le Spring’ was a Lord of the Manor. Secondly, and a more likely explanation, points to the numerous limestone springs in the area. Indeed, at one time, many believed they were of great medicinal value. To clarify, the history of Houghton-le-Spring is mainly around the Norman church of St Michael and All Angels.

Bernard Gilpin

To begin with, the tomb of Bernard Gilpin (1517-1583) is in St Michael and All Angels Church. Of course he had the name of the ‘Apostle of the North’.

Gilpin, a member of an important Westmorland family, was indeed the great nephew of Cuthbert Tunstall (1530-1559), Bishop of Durham.

Bernard Gilpin - St Michael and All Angels Houghton-le-Spring

Here we see the Gilpin depicted on the east window of St Michael and All Angels church, Houghton.

Gilpin then gained the appointment of Archdeacon of Durham, and in 1557 he became the rector at Houghton-le-Spring. Then, Houghton-le-Spring was one of the largest parishes in England. Despite his important status, Gilpin was a generous man who always had the interests of his parishioners at heart. Indeed, on all Sundays between Michaelmas and Easter, he declared his rectory an open house. This entitled visitors free dinners, whether they were rich or poor.

Generally speaking, Gilpin was a scholarly man. In fact, he was keen to see that the humble and poor received a good education. Moreover, he even sent some of his brightest young parishioners to university at his own expense. Of course, Bernard Gilpin’s good works extended beyond his parish.

The best memories from his time were for his journeys into the rough border country of Northumberland. This is where he evangelized among the Northumbrian people in the same way as St Aidan and St Cuthbert many centuries before. By and large, spreading the word of God was not easy for Gilpin in the North East of England. This was due to a time when the local people were often ignorant and sometimes violent in nature.

Bernard Gilpin’s Death

Bernard’s long and adventurous life came to a tragic and rather unexpected end on the 4th of March 1583. This was when an oxen and cart ran over him in the Durham Market Place at the age of 66. Obviously, Gilpin lived in an age of religious controversy. However, his involvement in this was minimal. On balance, this Apostle of the North could well have had the respect as one of Northumbria’s most famous saints.

Houghton Workhouse

Firstly, Houghton-le-Spring Poor Law Union formally came into existence on 20th January 1837. In fact, the average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833 to 1835 had been £4,606. Indeed, this equates to 4 shillings and 4 pence per head of the population at the time.

Secondly, a new Houghton-le-Spring Union workhouse was built in 1864 at William Street in Houghton-le-Spring, designed by Matthew Thompson. In essence, his design for Houghton-le-Spring had a corridor-plan T-shaped main block. Furthermore, male accommodation was to be on the west side and female to the east. Obviously, rooms for the elderly were at the front of the building. In contrast, children and able bodied rooms were at the rear of the building.

The Master’s quarters were at the far western end of the building. This was adjacent to the workhouse’s main entrance which was located, somewhat unusually, at the rear. The kitchen and dining hall were in the rear wing of the main block and a new boardroom and offices were erected in 1891. The old boardroom being converted into lunatic wards including a padded room. The former workhouse buildings no longer exists, indeed Heath Grange stands on the old site now.

The population of Houghton-le-Spring in 1911 was 8,916, including the 138 persons living in the Houghton-le-Spring Union Workhouse.

** Much more information about life in the workhouses on Wearside is on this page.

Houghton Feast

Houghton-Le-Spring - Houghton Feast 2015 - Sunderland Blogs - Wearside Online
The Houghton Feast is the oldest and most traditional yearly festival in the City of Sunderland. In fact, the festival origins date back to the Tudor times. But the original Feast may date back to the times of Bernard Gilpin, with the roasting of the oxen.
However, there are some people who would dispute this. This is because the festival was important as both a religious and a community event. Nonetheless, the festival lasts around 10 days and usually includes, a fairground, carnival and fireworks.

Houghton-Le-Spring - Houghton Feast Lights - Sunderland Blogs - Wearside Online

Houghton Colliery

Houghton Colliery (right) was the property of the Earl of Durham and indeed come into existence in 1829. Of course it was a major employer in the area too.

Houghton-Le-Spring - Senderland Blogs - Wearside Online

Moreover, it was part of the local landscape for around 150 years. Then, on 26th September 1981 the colliery had to close as did many other collieries in the area.

** For much more information about the history of coal mining in the Wearside area, click here.

Copt Hill

Copt Hill and seven sisters - a neolithic burial mound
Copt Hill is a neolithic burial mound close to Seaham Road, Houghton-le-Spring. There are trees on the top which have the name of the Seven Sisters. Of course, you can see these from a long way off as they are so distinct and really stand out.
So, next time you drive past these mystical trees, you know that you are passing a whole lot of history.

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