Crook Hall & Gardens, Durham
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 14th century great hall and screen passage
The medieval manor of Crook Hall is set in a rural landscape, yet it is less than a mile from the centre of Durham. The original Crook Hall was built around 1286 on lands belonging to Sydgate Manor. The property was eventually named after Peter de Croke, owner in the early years of the 14th century.
Only the great hall and a screen passage remain from that early medieval building, but they are enough to give a good impression of the first Crook Hall. You can easily see where the old medieval doorways have been filled in. The screen passage leads to a Jacobean addition.
Near the screen passage is an odd-looking set of wooden stairs, which ascend to the ceiling where they come to a sudden stop. The upper floors are now gained by an outside tower staircase. The stairs are associated with the legend of a ghost, or "White Lady" who, it is rumoured, glides down the stairway on St. Thomas' Eve (December 20), and on other occasions.
Surrounding the hall are 4 acres of gardens, including a special Shakespeare Garden, a secret Walled Garden, Cathedral Garden, and Silver and White Garden, as well as a grass maze.
Visiting - the House
Crook Hall is very well signposted from central Durham. There are pedestrian signs throughout the historic core of the city, and it takes about 10 minutes to walk from the cathedral quarter to the Hall. If you prefer to drive directly there a small parking area immediately beside the Hall and a paid parking lot a hundred yards away.
You enter the house by way of the medieval screens passage. To one side is the original hall, which is left unfurnished save for a single trestle table and a few chairs. This is actually rather a plus, for it allows you to easily make out the medieval architecture of the building. At one end of the hall is a large fireplace, above which rises a minstrel gallery. To one side of the table is a small round-headed niche, set into the end wall.
Ghostly legends cling to this area; one story goes that a medieval soldier was murdered here in a fight over a woman, and some guests report an odd chill, or cold breeze when standing in the niche. I tried it, and didn't feel anything beyond the chill from the stones, but perhaps the ghost wasn't putting in an appearance just then!
Outside in the screens passage is a peculiar opening in the wall, like a long, narrow tunnel. Apparently strange noises are sometimes heard at the end of this opening.
The other side of the screens passage leads to a more comfortably furnished sitting room, with mementoes from the history of Crook Hall. A stair leads up from this sitting room to the minstrel gallery, where you can peer down into the medieval hall and have another quick look for ghosts! Carry on up one more flight of stairs to a chamber under the eaves where you can see the massive wooden beams that support the roof.
Crook Hall is a wonderful, quirky, eccentric house, full of charm, and redolent of history. The interior is not large, but it is a fascinating structure and a wonderful example of a medieval hall house.
Visiting - the Gardens
If you come to Crook Hall just to see the house itself you will be more than satisfied; if you come for the gardens you will be in heaven, especially in summer when the 4 acres surrounding the Hall are awash with lush colour. This is a garden to savour and move through slowly!
There is so much to see and enjoy that it is hard to know where to start! The silver and white garden is a delicious experiment in using shades of bright colour. It was established in 1983 by Dr and Mrs Hawgood to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. My favourite parts of the garden are the secret walled garden and the Georgian garden beside it.
The secret garden is over 700 years old and was visited by John Ruskin and William Wordsworth, among others. I hope they were as impressed as I was! Narrow paths lead through closely planted masses of flowers and shrubs so that you feel like an Amazon explorer discovering strange new worlds at each bend in the path.
From the secret garden you move to the Georgian walled garden, known to have been used for formal plantings in the 18th century. This area is consciously planted on a cottage garden theme, creating what writer Alan Titchmarsh called 'a tapestry of colourful blooms'.
To say that I enjoyed Crook Hall is a masterful understatement; it was an absolute delight to visit. It is rare to find such an enjoyable combination of an historic house, and a superb heritage garden, located so close to the centre of a city. If you visit Durham, Crook Hall deserves a visit just as much as the castle and cathedral!
About Crook Hall
Address: Frankland Lane, Sidegate, Durham, County Durham, England, DH1 5SZ
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: off the A691, within walking distance of Durham city centre
Website: Crook Hall
Phone: 0191 384 8028
Fax: 0191 386 4521
OS: NZ274 432
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Durham Castle - 0.5 miles (Castle)
Durham Cathedral - 0.5 miles (Cathedral)
Finchale Priory - 2.8 miles (Abbey)
Houghton-le-Spring, St Michael and All Angels - 5.9 miles (Historic Church)
Binchester Roman Fort - 8.4 miles (Roman Site)
Washington Old Hall - 8.6 miles (Historic Building)
Auckland Castle - 8.9 miles (Castle)
Escomb Saxon Church - 9.7 miles (Historic Church)
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