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Evolution from hangman's spot to new hospital

News article from the Durham Times in reference to William Lloyd Wharton of Dryburn Hall and his ancestry.

Evolution from hangman's spot to new hospital

Friday 21 September 2007 - Durham Times

Mention Dryburn to anyone in Durham City today and people immediately think of the University Hospital of North Durham.  If you'd mentioned the same place to people 200 or 300 years ago, the subject of conversation would inevitably have come round to public hangings that took place in the neighbourhood. But in the 19th century, Dryburn was synonymous with the name of Wharton.

The Whartons originated from Kirby Thore, in Westmorland, but acquired property in County Durham at Old Park, west of Spennymoor, in the 1600s. They were certainly men of influence in the Durham City area.

Robert Wharton (1690-1752), of Old Park, was a mayor of Durham City, as was one of his sons, while a grandson was an MP for Durham City between 1802 and 1812. The Whartons purchased Dryburn from the Hutchinsons in about 1760, but it was not until 1824 that Dryburn Hall, now part of the hospital, was built as the family seat by Robert's great-grandson, William Lloyd Wharton (1789-1869).

William was High Sheriff of Durham, a director of the North-Eastern Railway and a coalmine owner at Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, where the main street is still called Wharton Street. Wharton was keen to impose his mark on the landscape around Dryburn and developed a large garden on a hill at the southern extremity of his property.

Durham railway station opened below this hill in 1857 and at about the same time William constructed a mock military battery resembling a castle above the station. It was not built for military purposes but merely highlighted the wonderful panoramic view of Durham Cathedral and the castle below. The opening of the railway station might have easily set in motion the growth of Durham as a city and there were already signs of growth by the 1850s with the recent emergence of housing at Western Hill. Wharton ensured that the neighbouring hill occupied by his garden was protected as open land for posterity and presented it to the City of Durham as a public park, which is still called Wharton Park.

It is possible that Wharton was also responsible for the construction of another castle-like structure that lies alongside North Road near the northern fringe of the park. This is the enigmatic Grey Tower, which has the appearance of a medieval tower house. It was certainly within Wharton's land and was referred to as Wharton's Tower at the time of the 1851 census, when it was the home of Edward Greatorex, the Sacrist of Durham. In the 1880s, it was inhabited by the editor of the Durham Chronicle whose wife, Mrs Linneaus Banks, wrote a novel called Stung to the Quick or The Waif of the Wear, which gave rise to the tradition that the tower was haunted.

Local people often refer to the tower as the haunted house and a ghostly face is said to occasionally appear in an upstairs window. In the mid-20th century, the tower was the home to Frank H Rushford, editor of the Durham County Advertiser and husband of the first lady mayor of Durham. He was also the author of three local history books about the city.Despite its apparent antiquity, most experts believe the Grey Tower is most likely of early to mid-19th century origin or possibly late 18th century. Most experts agree with this conclusion but admit that the building's true origins are something of a mystery.

Rushford mentioned that the eminent antiquarian, Canon William Greenwell, had suggested the building was of some antiquity. Greenwell said it had been built to guard against a band of brigands who apparently inhabited a cave on the opposite side of the road. The cave is more of a hollow and is, in fact, a redundant gravel pit.

While Wharton's connection to the Grey Tower is not certain, there are definite links with another towering structure that stands on land above the old gravel pit across the road. I am referring here to the Durham Obelisk, built in 1850 on Wharton's land and presented by him to the Durham University Observatory, which opened a little further to the south, near Durham School, in 1840. The obelisk was designed to assist with astronomical observations by allowing the observatory to pinpoint the location of the meridian. It stands close to Princes Street and Obelisk Lane in the city's Western Hill suburb.

William's brother, John Thomas Wharton, inherited Dryburn in 1869 but died two years later and it passed to John's son, John Lloyd Wharton (1837-1912). This particular Wharton was a JP, deputy lieutenant and MP for Durham City in 1871 and 1874, and was MP for Ripon, North Yorkshire, from 1886 to 1906. Although Dryburn was described as his family seat, he usually resided at Boston Spa. John was chairman of the North-Eastern Railway from 1906 until his death in 1912.

In the early 20th century, Dryburn was the home of John's daughter, Mary Dorothea, and her husband, Col Charles Waring Darwin (1855-1928), who was somehow related to the famous naturalist Charles Darwin. The Waring Darwins lived at Dryburn until during or just after the First World War when Colonel Cuthbert Vaux, of Vaux Breweries fame, acquired the property.

During the inter-war years, Dryburn was acquired by Durham County Council to be utilised as a public assistance hospital, but during the Second World War it became an emergency hospital for wounded servicemen, when German prisoners numbered among its patients. Part of the hospital was also used for young people suffering orthopaedic difficulties who had been evacuated from a London hospital during the Blitz.

In recent years, Dryburn Hospital was rebuilt on an adjacent site and renamed the University Hospital of North Durham, but it still incorporates Dryburn Hall, the former home of the Whartons.


Owner/SourceDurham Times
Date1 Jul 2015
Linked toWilliam Lloyd Wharton

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