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Thoughts Along the Highway Home and Beyond

problematicallyawareJan 27, 2018, 8:14:36 AM

Where Romans Once Trod?

JAN 30, 2018, 11:24:36 AM

Walking along the now long since dismantled Witton Park Colliery to West Auckland section of the Stockton and Darlington Mineral Railway, one could easily mistake this now largely forgotten testament to Britain’s mighty industrial past for a traditional Ancient British Trackway: reminiscent of Alfred Watkins’s ‘Old Straight Track’. Unlike the smarter section of the railway which picked up carriages of passengers further along the line, this stretch of the line, generally referred to as ‘The Etherley Branch Incline’, was largely used for the transportation of coal from the now redundant Witton Park Colliery. Interestingly enough, old nineteenth century maps show the railway line terminating at a straight section of road claimed by some to have been a Roman Lane. And, the fact that a major Roman thoroughfare passed close by, in the form of the Binchester to Chester-le-Street section of Dere Street, means that this is in no ways impossible.

Watkins’s assertion, in his critically acclaimed work on ‘Early British Trackways’, that many of these so called ‘Roman Roads’ were in use long before the arrival of the Romans, who merely adapted and resurfaced the network of Prehistoric Trackways that were already here, may well provide clues as to the reasoning behind the siting of a number of key features in the local landscape. The ancient Saxon Church at Escomb for example, described by the author David Wilson as ‘one of the most complete ‘Anglo-Saxon Churches’, appears to have been constructed over a much earlier cemetery or place of worship; definitely Roman, possibly even earlier; as the presence of Roman coins from the Tetrachate of Diocletian in the Church Yard clearly attest. The long straight road that runs down hill from Three Lane Ends, past the old vicarage, and on to the church itself appears directly aligned to this section of Dere Street; which originally linked the now vanished civil military settlement at Vinovium, as Binchester was known to the Romans, with the old Constantinian regional capital at York. This considered, the fact that Constantine appears to have passed his name on to a local farm and another equally Roman looking stretch of nearby road may well be something more than coincidental.

Section of the Stockton and Darlington Mineral Railway  near Witton Park 

The Forgotten Legacy of Thomas Wright

JAN 27, 2018, 8:14:36 AM

One of County Durham’s most accomplished historical characters is the Bishop Auckland astronomer, mathematician, architect and instrument maker, Thomas Wright. A contemporary of the Scottish Philosopher and man of letters David Hume, Wright was born in 1711 and, like Hume and his Caledonian contemporaries, was in every way the archetypal Enlightenment scholar and innovator. After an education under the Bishop Auckland astronomer and mathematician Thomas Munday at King James’s School Bishop Auckland, Wright was apprenticed to the Bishop Auckland clock and watch maker Bryan Stobart. After further studies in mathematics and navigation at Gateshead, he removed to London where he joined the firm of Heath and Sisson, Instrument Makers.

His close involvement with the sciences of Navigation and Astronomy, as well as his work as an Instrument Maker, brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and gained for him the patronage of Richard Lumley, Earl of Scarborough, in whose circles he was thenceforth to move. As a result of these associations he was to be brought into contact with such noted Enlightenment Aristocrats as Frederick Prince of Wales and the Earl of Pembroke. Other persons of note with whom he also appears to have been involved were the eminent Dr. Desaguliers and Lord Anson. The latter, it has been claimed by some, was one of his secret patrons. And, it was through this last mentioned association that some scholars have sought to connect him with a number of curious monuments that still stand in the grounds of Shugborough Hall in Derbyshire, most notably ‘The Shepherd’s Monument’, which is supposed to have been constructed by James Athenian Stuart from a design created by Wright.

Closer to home Wright’s most enduring legacy manifests itself in the Deer Shelter in the Prince Bishop’s former Deer Park at Auckland Castle, and Wright’s very own and equally curious Astronomical Observatory atop of the hill overlooking Coundon at nearby Westerton. The decorative cruciform motifs that adorn both structures have been seen by some to connect Wright’s influences to Jacobite Freemasonry and Templarism, and the fact that the monument at Shugborough Hall with which he has been most directly associated has links to a painting by Nicholas Poussin, which has been linked to the mysterious French Secret Society, L'Ordre de Sion, itself at the heart of the 'Da Vinci Code Controversy’, makes this a subject for further and more detailed scrutiny.

The Deer Shelter at Auckland Castle