Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Washington Old Hall

We did something last weekend I've been meaning to do for ages: Visit Washington Old Hall. And of course I have pictures to show you.

Washington is a town about 13 miles south of us. I first heard of it when some of the guys from the running club wore t-shirts saying they had run from Washington to New York. Of course they loved it when I was totally amazed and then explained that it was the village of New York and the town of Washington right here around the Tyne, only about 14 miles. (Good t-shirt, though.)

Sometime soon after that, I learned that Washington was in fact the place of George Washington's family home. I misinterpreted this to mean that he or his immediate family had lived there and this didn't turn out to be the case at all. In this, I was a bit disappointed, but it was a good day out and full of interesting things all the same.

I made some notes on the way home of things that grabbed me:

The first Washington was French (a Norman): William de Hertburn and he was 'de Hertburn' sometime before 1180. Funny enough, Hartburn (the same) is the little village just outside Stockton where Bill works just now. Anyhow, he had property that the Bishop of Durham wanted. One didn't argue with the Bishop and so he traded his Hertburn home for a manor in Washington.

Only it was probably called something like Wassington, Weshington, Wessyngton or something, that being roughly the Anglo-Saxon name of the area at the time (the original owners apparently having been named Wass) and evolved over time into Washington. Anyhow, he became William de Washington. In fact, another relative of our George from that sort of era immigrated to Germany and called himself VonWashington.

The property will have extended all the way to the Wear River, about a mile away, as the family had hunting rights to the river. The Washingtons were well up on the social ladder, and in 1304, Edward I (you know, the one from the film, Braveheart?) visited them. They adopted their family crest in 1346. Now, I thought this was too much of a coincidence, but apparently there are those who say this is not the source of the American flag's design. Who knows?

There were Washingtons at Old Hall until 1399 when descendants of a different name resided there. It was sold out of the Washington family altogether in 1613, which is thought to be about the time when the hall was rebuilt to resemble its present form. It was a private home until as late as 1933, but apparently suffered the dreadful abuses of being turned to several uses including a tenement for working class occupation, which saw as many as 35 people living there in 1831, ie one family per room.

The main branch of the Washington family had by then moved to Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire. According to the video at the Old Hall, it was a John Washington who moved to Virginia in 1655. His grandfather, Lawrence, had been a prosperous wool merchant and a Mayor of Northampton during the rule of Henry VIII. John's father, also Lawrence, was cleric and a scholar. The Washingtons were Royalists. This was not a good thing to be when the Roundheads won the English Civil War. They were forced to leave their home, John's education and promising future stopped. His father died a poor man. John left for American with his brother-in-law. And so on and so forth... Ironic that George Washington's forebears were Royalists rather than Parliamentarians, but I guess they needed a few generations as colonials to help them see the light.

On our way to Washington Old Hall, I was amazed to see signs for places near there called Albany and Concord, but Bill tells me this was part of the tourist-minded people who were involved in Washington becoming a New Town (something to do with regeneration) in 1964. Not only that, but there is a John F. Kennedy Estate and JFK Primary School near by. There are pictures and memorabilia from Jimmy Carter's visit in 1977; Bill tells me he was very well regarded over here.

It was a smaller world back in history. There are ornate family trees indicating that, given enough digging, they were able to find that George Washington, Winston Churchill, Princes William and Harry and Robert E Lee are all related. Turns out that the Roddam family also hails from this vicinity, and this is supposed to be the ancestors of Hillary Rodham Clinton...

Of course, the furnishings and decor were all of the 17th Century period but, with a few exceptions, there are no items directly related to

George Washington himself. That said, one of the displays was of a fan presented to Martha Washington by Lafayette. In looking for

more information about that, I stumbled on this website, from which I must go back and read more sometime.

I wondered if there was any American money involved in

maintaining Washington Old House and sure enough, there was a

sign that the bedroom is maintained by someone in Texas...well,

they can afford stuff like that, can't they?

The grounds were quite pinched, I thought, so much so that it was difficult to get a good picture of the Hall itself. All those hunting grounds have obviously been sold off over the centuries. However, the National Trust has just bought a small field beside the Hall and has called it the Nuttery. The house and grounds are used for educational

purposes apparently. The Jacobean garden was nice enough, but on the whole I was a bit disappointed by Washington Old Hall.

Still, it was good to finally have seen this place that's been on my mind for so long.

1 comment:

Travel With Lulu said...

I've got to get myself one of those TShirts! XOL