SOCKBURN: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1890.


Wapentake of Allertonshire - Electoral Division of Croft - Petty Sessional Division of Yarm - Poor Law Union of Darlington - County Court District and Rural Deanery of Stockton - Archdeaconry and Diocese of Durham.

This parish, comprising 2,507 acres, is unequally intersected by the Tees, the smaller portion lying on the Durham side of that river, and the larger on the Yorkshire side, but the whole parish is within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durham. It is divided into three townships, viz., Sockburn, Girsby, and Over Dinsdale, the latter two belonging to the North Riding of Yorkshire.

SOCKBURN township has an area of 601 acres, and is intersected by the Tees, which here flows in a very winding course. The portion situated on the north side of the river contains Sockburn Hall, one farm, and the old parish church; and that on the south side one farm and the church and parsonage. But, though thus divided, the whole township is included in the county of Durham. The gross estimated rental is £886, and rateable value, £802. Sole owner, Sir Edward William Blackett, Bart., who is also lord of the manor.

Sockburn is supposed to be the Saxon Soccabyrig, where Higbald was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne, in the year 780. If the supposition be correct, Sockburn must have had a church at that early period, In the time of the Danish King Canute, Snaculf, the son of Cykell, gave to the Prior and Monks of Durham, Socceburg, Grisbi, and other places. Some time after the Conquest, Sockburn came into the possession of the Conyers, a distinguished Norman family, to whom William de St. Barbara, Bishop of Durham, granted the hereditary constableship of Durham Castle. The manor continued in the possession of this family until the reign of Charles I., when William Conyers, of Sockburn, Esq., died leaving two daughters co-heiresses. The younger, Anne, who eventually became possessed of the whole manor by the death of her sister, conveyed it in marriage to Francis Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, by whom it was sold to Sir William Blackett, a wealthy merchant of Newcastle, from whom it has descended to the present proprietor.

Every trace of the ancient home of the Conyers has disappeared, and in its place Sockburn Hall, a modern mansion, in the domestic Gothic style, was erected in 1835. This is now unoccupied. Near the hall are still standing a few of the ruined arches of the old parish church, which was partially demolished in 1835, after the erection of the new church on the opposite side of the river.

Sockburn has its legend, one of those interesting dragon stories which enrich our northen folk lore. It is thus told in the Bowes MSS., p. 57 "Sir John Conyers, Knt., slew yt monstrous and poysonous vermine or wyverne, and aske or werme, wh overthrew and devoured many people in fight, for yt ye sent of yt poison was so strong yt no person might abyde it. But before he made this enterprise, having but one sonne, he went to the church of Sockburn in complete armour, and offered up yt his onely sonne to ye Holy Ghost. Yt place where this great serpent laye was called Graystane; and this John lieth buried in Sockburn church, in complete armour, before the Conquest." This story differs but little from those of the Lambton Worm and the Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh. It is said to have preyed on man and beast, and to have devoured, nightly, the milk of a certain number of cows; the slayer of the horrid creature, too, like the hero of the Lambton encounter, is said, by tradition, to have been covered with razors.

This story, as handed down by tradition, is very much out of harmony with the recorded facts of chronology. The ancestors of the Conyers came to England in the train of William I., at the time of the Conquest, and an effigy, said to be that of Sir John Conyers, the hero of the Worm story, now in Sockburn Hall, whither it was removed at the demolition of the old church, represents a crosslegged knight of the 13th century, clad in chain armour, with his feet resting on a lion engaged in a deadly conflict with a winged worm or griffin. But the exploit, according to the tradition, occurred before the Conquest. The Grey Stone beneath which the monster was buried, is still pointed out in a field near the ruins of the church.

These Worm stories have long excited the curiosity of antiquaries, and various explanations of their origin and signification have been offered. Some writers, drawing an inference from the huge extinct animal forms which geology has made known to us, believe that the monsters - variously described as dragons, worms, askes, &c. - were once a reality, and may have taxed the prowess of many a champion. By others they are supposed to be allegorical references to the triumphs of Christianity over Saxon paganism, or the conflicts between the English and the Danes. But be their meaning what it may, the memory of the Sockburn exploit was perpetuated by an ancient custom or service, by which the manor of Sockburn was held. It is mentioned in the inquest held on the death of Sir John Conyers, in 1396. The custom consisted in the presentation of a falchion to the Bishop of Durham, on his first entrance into the diocese, by the Lord of Sockburn, who met the Bishop in the middle of the Tees, at Neasham, where the river was fordable, or if not, on Croft Bridge. Presenting the weapon, he said: "My Lord Bishop, I here present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon, or fiery flying serpent, which destroyed man, woman, and child; in memory of which, the King then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn, to hold by this tenure, that upon the first entrance of every bishop into the county, this falchion should be presented." The Bishop took the falchion into his hand, and immediately returning it, wished the lord of Sockburn health and the long enjoyment of his manor. This ceremony was regularly observed from the time of Bishop Pudsey (1194-1208), it is said, until the extinction of the Palatinate power by Act of Parliament. The last performance took place in April, 1826, when the steward of Sir Edward Blackett, then lord of Sockburn manor, presented the falchion on Croft Bridge to Dr. Van Mildert, the last Prince Bishop of Durham. This redoubtable falchion, on the possession of which the claim to the lordship of Sockburn depended, is still preserved at Sockburn Hall, The blade measures 29 inches from hilt to point.

The Church. - The old church, as we have before stated, was on the Durham side of the Tees, and, in the absence of a bridge, was only accessible to the great bulk of the parishioners either by boat or fording the river. Thus inconveniently situated, and in a dilapidated condition, it was resolved to build a new edifice on the Yorkshire side. This was done chiefly at the expense of the late Mr. Blackett, and the Master and Brethren of Sherburn Hospital, to which the advowson and impropriation had been granted by Robert de Conyers. The old edifice was demolished, a piece of Vandalism much to be regretted, if only for the sake of its venerable antiquity. "But it has been removed," says the Rev. James Raine, "because, by no fault of its own, it stood in the front of a newly-erected mansion house; and the various old monuments in brass or stone in commemoration of its lords, which it contained within its walls, have disappeared. Thus has been desecrated, and converted to common and profane uses, that holy place, in which had been offered up to the throne of grace, from generation to generation, the prayers and praise of a pious people; in which had been administered for centuries the blessed sacrament of the body and blood of Christ; in which the children of this little district had been suffered to come to their Saviour by the regenerating layer of baptism; in which had been plighted the marriage vow; and which had received into its protecting bosom the remains of the dead, the seeds of immortality. What a strange fatality attaches itself to the house of Conyers! The name is gone and so are its memorials. The effigy of 'the knight that killed the worm reposes, it is said, as an ornament in the new mansion house; fragments of two Saxon or early Norman gravestones, rich with interlacements, decorate its doorway. Portions of the sacred fabric, the very fragments of a shell, have been permitted to remain, probably to perform the part of a ruin."

The new church stands in the village of Girsby, and is a plain oblong building, with round-headed windows, utterly devoid of any claim to architectural taste. The living is a discharged vicarage, rated in the King's books at £3 18s. 1½d., and now worth £227. Present vicar, the Rev. John Clegg, B.A.

The parish registers date from 1588. The great tithes of the parish are the property of Sherburn Hospital, which for this township are rated at £50 14s. Od, and the vicarial tithe at £40.

OVER DINSDALE township, comprising 816 acres, occupies a beautiful situation on the Yorkshire side of the Tees, in a peninsula formed by a bend of the river. It is distant about three miles W. S.W. of Yarm, and about the same from Fighting Cocks station. The gross estimated rental is £1,322; rateable value, £215; and population, 101. A branch of the Conyers was anciently located here, the Girlingtons also possessed lands in the township, and in later times the Wards of Hurworth were the owners. The greater part of the township subsequently came into the possession of the Rev. W. S. Temple, rector of Low Dinsdale, on the opposite side of the river, who, in 1839, connected the two Dinsdales by a wooden bridge, built on stone piers, and in 1856 he replaced the timber work by an arch of brick. This subsequently collapsed, killing two men in its fall; and J. Emerson, Esq., who had purchased Mr. Temple's property, erected the present light iron structure. Mr. Emerson, in 1871, sold his estate to the late C. Pease, Esq., whose trustees are now the owners. The Hall is an old mansion, at present occupied by William Slingsby Hunter, Esq.

There are two salmon fisheries in the Tees here. The rectorial tithes are rated at £95, and the vicarial at £21 15s. 0d.

GIRSBY township, containing 1,228 acres, is also on the Yorshire side of the Tees, and possesses a small village of the same name. There was anciently a chapel here. The parish church, as before noticed, is in this village, which also extends into the township of Sockburn. The principal landowners are Sir Henry Havelock-Allan, Mrs. Shaunks, Miss Newburn, and Mrs. E. Wilson, The rateable value is £1,086, and the population, 68. For Sockburn Township Directory see Girsby.

[Description(s) from Bulmer's History and Directory of North Yorkshire (1890)]


  • Transcript of the entry for the Post Office, professions and trades in Bulmer's Directory of 1890.

Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.