Pre-Conquest and post-Conquest church and graveyard and medieval and post-medieval manors at Sockburn


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Pre and post-Conquest remains south of Sockburn Hall, Neasham, County Durham


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Pre and post-Conquest remains south of Sockburn Hall, Neasham, County Durham
Darlington (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The buried and standing remains of a pre-conquest and post-conquest church and graveyard, the earthwork and buried remains of a medieval and a post-medieval manor with associated gardens and the buried and earthwork remains of a C19 house. The complex is situated on a low terrace within the confines of a narrow peninsula formed by a loop of the River Tees.

Reasons for Designation

The remains of this pre-conquest and post-conquest church and graveyard and medieval and post-medieval manors with associated garden earthworks are scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Rarity: pre-conquest ecclesiastical sites are rare nationally and this example, with Anglo-Scandinavian connections, is a key place in our understanding of this period; * Survival: archaeological survey and limited excavation has demonstrated that it survives well and retains significant earthworks and earlier buried archaeological deposits, along with the standing remains of the pre and post-conquest church. Additionally, it retains on site a collection of late-C9 and C10 Viking sculptured stones from within and around the church, which is unrivalled in the country; * Potential: this is a key site which will inform our knowledge and understanding of the forces of change affecting a significant estate centre between the C8 and C11; its possession during the post-conquest period by the powerful Conyers family is a reflection of the estates medieval and post-medieval importance; * Documentation: the wealth of historic documentation, the knowledge gained from a variety of archaeological investigations and the archaeological record surviving at the site enhances our understanding of the site's archaeological potential to inform; * Diversity: the presence of key features including a post-conquest church and graveyard with pre-conquest origins and successive medieval and post-medieval houses with extensive and associated gardens will add to our understanding of the origin and evolution of this important estate.


Documentary references have long identified the Sockburn peninsula as the site of a pre-conquest ecclesiastical centre; there are references to a church of such importance that it was suitable for the consecrations of two bishops in the mid and late C8. It is also recognised for its unique assemblage of late C9 and C10 Viking sculptured stones collected, during the C19, from within and around the present church; it is clear that a high status cemetery extended around the site of the church at this time. It has also been suggested that the existence of the stones at Sockburn might represent the highly skilled work of an on site workshop. The church has pre-conquest origins and at least two of the sculptured stones (dated to the C10) were found in the foundations of its pre-conquest chancel. The chancel of the church was rebuilt in the C13 and a side chapel added in the C14. The latter was reconstructed and re-roofed in 1900 at Sir Edward Blackett's request specifically 'for the reception and preservation of the ancient stones lying among the ruins'.

After the Norman Conquest, the estate became the seat of the Conyers one of the most powerful baronial families in the County Palatine of Durham. The Conyers constructed successive houses and associated gardens in the area to the south and west of the church. The first house is described in documents most notably in 1431 where it is described as a hall and a chamber, granary, stable and dovecote; the location of this house is uncertain and survey work conducted by English Heritage in 2007 tentatively identified its earthwork remains in the field to the west of the church. Recent artefacts collected from mole hills within the building platform to the south of the church, including a small quantity of late C15 pottery and medieval vessel glass, support the suggestion that this may indeed be the site of the medieval house. Documents also confirm that the medieval manor house was superseded by a Tudor mansion described by John Leland in 1538. The position of this house to the south of the church and its associated gardens and enclosures to the south and west of the church was confirmed by survey work in 2007. A documentary reference to this house being attacked and burnt in c. 1641 is lent some support by the discovery, in mole hills within the building platform to the south of the church, of a piece of lead musket shot and evidence of burning in the form of vitrified glass and metal.

In 1682 the manor was purchased by Sir William Blackett and by 1823 when Surtees wrote his county history, the Tudor mansion was no more; Surtees describes in disparaging terms the presence of only a 'modern brick house’ lying to the west of the church built as the residence of a younger Blackett son. In 1834 the new residence for Henry Collingwood Blackett was constructed to the north of the church (Listed Grade II*) with a coach house (Listed Grade II). Various landscaping works were undertaken at this time to enhance the hall's riverside setting. The bridge across the river was constructed in 1837-8 and a carriageway approach was constructed from the new Sockburn Hall. At the same time All Saint's Church became unused and it is understood to have been selectively dismantled to create a picturesque ruin in the grounds of Sockburn Hall. In 1998, the church was closed under the provisions of the Pastoral Measure, 1983.

INVESTIGATIVE HISTORY The church ruins were planned by the historian and architect Charles Hodges in 1891 and analysed in further detail by W H Knowles in 1900; the latter work included a minor excavation within the footprint of the church that revealed the foundations of an earlier chapel. The collection of pre-Conquest stones was catalogued by Hodges in 1905. In the late 1950s OS field surveyors reported the existence of earthworks in the pasture field south of the church, later interpreted as a deserted medieval village or moated site. In 1984 the collection of pre-Conquest sculptured stones was included in the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture (Cramp 1984). In 1990 the field immediately to the west and south of the church was subject to a rapid archaeological survey by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England (RCHME) who identified building platforms, cultivation remains and garden features. In 2007 the earthworks were surveyed by English Heritage and a geophysical survey and churchyard survey was also undertaken.

In 2011 Durham University carried out a ground penetrating radar survey in the environs of the church revealing a series of complex sub-surface deposits; this was followed by small-scale excavation in 2012 intended to sample some of these features close to the chapel where well-preserved early medieval archaeology might survive. A range of features were uncovered and preliminary results identified a curving ditch-like feature between the chapel and the earthworks to the west; although no datable artefacts were recovered from the feature itself, it was sealed beneath a later feature firmly dated by pottery evidence to the C12 and is therefore pre-C12 in date. Field walking of mole hills within the building platform to the south of the church has recently been undertaken, leading to the recovery of a variety of medieval to mid-C17 artefacts (Erik Matthews pers comm).


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The buried and standing remains of a pre-conquest and post-conquest church and graveyard, the earthwork and buried remains of a medieval and a post-medieval manor with associated gardens and the buried and earthwork remains of a C19 house. The complex is situated on a low terrace within the confines of a narrow peninsula formed by a loop of the River Tees.

ALL SAINTS CHURCH The remains of a church constructed of squared, red sandstone stands at the north end of the complex. The un-roofed, two-bay nave with its narrow and lofty proportions (7.32m long, 4.26m wide and over 7.5m high), thin walls (0.7m) and massive alternating quoins at the north west and south angles is characteristic of pre-Conquest construction; it lacks diagnostic door or window openings however and its exact origin is uncertain. A two-bay arcade in Early English style remains of the south aisle with double-chamfered pointed arches on a central pier with a square plinth, chamfered base and moulded octagonal capital. The north and south walls of what has been positively identified as the pre-Conquest chancel survive as foundations and the standing remains of the present chancel are visible as a double-chamfered Early English chancel arch on mid-wall corbels; the flat-buttressed east end stands to almost full height and has a chamfered plinth and 3 stepped lancets with chamfered reveals, linked hoodmoulds and deeply-splayed rear-arches.

CONYERS CHAPEL A standing and roofed two-bay chapel, reconstructed from a C14 side chapel. It has a chamfered plinth on the north and west sides and a largely-rebuilt, diagonally-buttressed north wall. There is a wide double-chamfered pointed arch in the south wall and restored two-and three-light square-headed windows with Perpendicular tracery. It has a steeply-pitched roof with sandstone flags and moulded coped gables and shaped footstones. The Conyers chapel was specifically reconstructed and roofed to house a nationally important collection of twenty five Anglo-Scandanavian memorial stones comprising nine hog-backs, thirteen crosses and two grave covers and one architectural item spanning the period from the late C9 to the second half of the C11. This important collection remains in the chapel and is described in Cramp 1984. The chapel also contains a number of memorials and architectural pieces from later periods including medieval grave covers, some with C14 and C15 inlaid brasses to members of the Conyers family, a circular font bowl, two carved panels thought to be from an altar tomb and a mid C13 effigy of a cross-legged knight.

MEDIEVAL AND POST-MEDIEVAL MANORS The field immediately west and south of the church, separated from the latter by a later brick-faced ha-ha contains the earthwork and buried remains of various of the Conyers mansion houses and their associated garden features and enclosures, along with a fragment of the formerly more extensive medieval field system. The earthworks are visible as scarps, ditches and hollows of varying heights and depths from very prominent and more than 1m high to low banks of about 0.1m high.

The remains of broad ridge and furrow cultivation is visible along the south side of this field, representing the remains of a formerly more extensive medieval field system associated with the medieval manor. The remains of the medieval house have not been positively identified and may survive as buried deposits beneath later features. A substantial rectangular enclosure described by ditches and banks (possibly open towards the church) and measuring about 50m north to south by about 30m east to west , is situated to the west of the church. While clearly having formed part of the post-medieval garden scheme, this feature has been tentatively suggested as the site of the documented medieval hall. Slight scarps and banks within the interior are interpreted as the remains of later, internal garden arrangements. This enclosure also contains the foundations of a house and associated buildings constructed in the early C19 for a younger son of the Blackett family; they are visible as slight earthworks situated in the north west corner and form a range of buildings set around three sides of a narrow open space interpreted as a courtyard.

Some 50m south of the church on a natural rise are the earthwork remains of a substantial building visible as scarps, hollows and mounds; they describe the site of an L-shaped building arranged around the south and east sides of a courtyard, with fragments of ancillary buildings along its north side, the whole about 40m square; the courtyard is divided into an upper and lower half by a broad, shallow scarp. These remains have been interpreted as the site of the late C17 house described in documents. Artefacts including medieval vessel glass and C15 pottery recovered from mole hills within these earthworks, support a suggestion that this building platform could represent the site of the medieval house.

The house site is surrounded, to the south west and east by a number of large enclosures arranged in a regular, geometric pattern and interpreted as the remains of associated gardens of later C16 or C17 date. Immediately to the south of the house, a largely featureless terraced garden compartment, some 60m long is defined on the east by a pronounced scarp falling 1.4m towards the river and on the west by a hollow 7m wide flanked by low banks. In the south west corner there is a large, rectangular mound about 1m high with a flattened summit is interpreted as a prospect mound, and other slight features are interpreted as flights of steps. To the west lies a second, larger but less well-defined garden compartment defined by low and narrow banks; a broad causeway visible as slight earthwork banks links this compartment with a third large compartment to the north, described above as the enclosure containing the early C19 Blackett house. To the east of the house site and its main south terraced garden compartment, a continuous series of prominent scarps separate the house and gardens from the lower ground adjacent to the river; this area is divided into a number of irregularly banked enclosures interpreted as further pleasure grounds and a track way; a later but substantial and prominent ramp access to the former bridge across the River Tees partially overlies this area. A small sub-divided enclosure with elaborate formal terraces thought to be a private garden lies to the north of the later bridge ramp, and to its north a less formal arrangement of minor terraces and partial enclosures are interpreted as kitchen gardens; the latter incorporate a spring issuing from a low vaulted brick archway.

Extent of scheduling: this is defined to include the full extent of the unploughed field containing the extensive buried and earthwork remains of the medieval and post-medieval manors and All Saints Church and graveyard.

Exclusions: the C19 farm buildings near the western boundary of the site, all fence posts and metal tanks, stock feeders and the C18 and C19 gravestones within the church yard are excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath all these features is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
DA 40
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture in England, Volume 1: County Durham and Northumberland, (1984)
Knowles, W H, 'Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Northumberland and Durham Vol 5' in Sockburn Church, (1905)
Laing, J T , 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4 Vol 50' in Illustrative carvings of the Viking period at Sockburn on Tees, (1972)
D Went & Jecock, M, Sockburn Hall, Darlington: An Archaeological Investigation Of The Medieval And Post-Medieval Manors And The Setting Of The Pre-Conquest Church, 2007,
Semple, S & Petts, D , Interim Report on Excavations at Sockburn Hall in 2012, 2013,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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