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.
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.
Gilpin, a member of an important Westmorland family, was indeed the great nephew of Cuthbert Tunstall (1530-1559), Bishop of Durham.
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.
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.
** For much more information about the history of coal mining in the Wearside area, click here.