A house near Seaham that was bought at auction 80 years ago has been home to four generations of one family
PUBLISHED: 00:15 10 June 2013
Words and pictures by Helen Johnson.
Things could have worked out very differently for the Weightman family had Simon’s grandfather stuck to his original plan at an auction in 1933. He went there intending to buy shares in Binns, but came away with a farm and house near Seaham.
Simon’s father had to buy it too and when Simon took it on more than 20 years ago, he too had to pay into the estate. Since then Simon and his wife Carole have diversified from mainstream farming and have created fishing lakes, a livery yard, outdoor centre and a golf course in the land around Queen Anne House at Old Burdon.
‘Everybody warned us not to go into golf, but it worked out well,’ said Carole. ‘We do it differently, we don’t do membership, people can just come.
‘I ran an outdoor centre, with paintballing, archery and mud buggies. I’m retired now, so I passed the centre to my son – he has an animal adventure farm just along the road. Simon went into golf because he likes people.’ Simon agrees, commenting that in modern farming, with more machinery and fewer people, it’s easy to become insular, working alone all day.
The house, which stands high on a hill west of Seaham, was built towards the end of the 19th century but there are records of at least three former homes on the site.
‘The house is situated next to what would have been the Roman road connecting coastal East Durham with the Roman Garrison at South Shields, crossing the river Wear at Hylton,’ Simon said, adding that the duck pond in the garden was once used by travellers to water their animals.
Simon added: ‘On the farm, we have St Cuthbert’s Halt. In the year 995, the monks had travelled with St Cuthbert’s coffin. On their way from St Mary the Virgin’s church at Seaham, their cart got stuck on a hill at the back of the farm here. They were stuck for three days, and they saw it as a sign that St Cuthbert didn’t want to go to where they were heading.
‘We don’t know where they were heading, but then a monk received a vision for Cuthbert to go to Dunholme. They didn’t know where Dunholme was, but they met a dairymaid who showed them the way. So the monks settled at Dunholme, now Durham.’
Simon was struck by the legend, and when he created a fishing lake, he named it St Cuthbert’s Halt. And when St Aidan’s church at West Herrington was demolished, Simon rescued its Celtic Cross and it now stands over his lake.
As for Old Burdon, Simon says the hamlet was laid waste by William the Conqueror, then went to the Nevilles of Raby Castle. Following the Rising of the North, Queen Elizabeth I took it from the Nevilles and passed it to the Lawson family. Sir Gilford Lawson then sold it to Buddle Atkinson of Newcastle-on-Tyne who built the present house, in Queen Anne style.
Simon said: ‘He was nephew of ‘King Coal’. Family wealth helped create a well-equipped house with detailed brickwork and arched windows, and they built a waterwheel in Burdon Dene to pump water to the farm.
‘Buddle Atkinson’s sons were both killed in action and the estate was sold to Henry Wall Brough, followed by Charles Doxford, who used it as a sporting lodge to entertain his ship-owning clients.’
The farm was then bought by Simon’s grandfather, and Simon says: ‘When I was a teenager, it was empty. When we had a party, we brought in bales of straw to sit on, and painted murals on the walls. My father then divided it into three for farm workers to live in.’
So, added Carole: ‘We first lived in a bungalow across the way, as the big house had farm workers living in it. Then, when they retired, we brought it back into one house. It was in need of refurbishment and we tried to bring it back to its original Victorian style.
‘It used to have a pigeon loft, to have pigeons for the table, but now it’s bricked up, and is a bedroom inside. There are seven bedrooms and two staircases. We have five children, and they loved to play hide and seek.’
But with the children now grown up, the couple plan to downsize. ‘It’s not been an easy decision,’ Carole added: ‘It’s a friendly house with good vibes.’