What Lies Beneath Darlington Town Hall?

Watchers wondered what might lie under the car park in Darlington. Image Source: Private Collection
Watchers wondered what might lie under the car park in Darlington. Image Source: Private Collection

For days, the people of Darlington, County Durham have been wondering what the archaeological team excavating the car park at the rear of the Town Hall have uncovered. There have been many ideas put forward from observers including the remains of a Roman palace and a palace of the Bishops of Durham.

 

The 1856 Ordnance Survey map of the area, showing the work house. The building marked ‘Old Hall’ is part of the medieval Palace, and the buildings to the left are the early 19th century workhouse, the walls of which are visible in the excavation. Image Courtesy of ASDU
1856 Ordnance Survey map of the area, showing the work house, the walls of which are visible in the excavation. Image Courtesy of ASDU

Findings so far by the team from Archaeological Services, Durham University, seem to suggest that a series of walls, uncovered on the site, form the footprint of a building thought to be an early 19th century poor house.

It seems likely that the poor house was built using material from the Bishop’s Palace, a big medieval manor house belonging to the Bishops of Durham. As well as the manor house there were several other buildings including a brew-house, the barn and stables. The manor house was surrounded by parkland and was originally built in the 12th century.

 

The ‘Prince’ Bishops of Durham had several houses like this throughout the County, and they were used as centres from which to administer their local estates. At the beginning of the 19th century the buildings were sold by the Bishop for use as a work house for the poor.

A painting of the Bishop’s Palace from 1764, showing its east side, with the chapel to the right. Image Courtesy of ASDU
A painting of the Bishop’s Palace from 1764, showing its east side, with the chapel to the right. Image Courtesy of ASDU

The main part of the building and a chapel were retained, but some of the buildings were demolished and replaced by a purpose-built structure. This reused some of the stone from the medieval building, and may have reused some of the foundations. By the end of the 19th century, all the buildings had been demolished and terraced houses were built over the site. These were later also demolished and the Town Hall built.

As well as some of the remaining foundations of the poor house, the team has found fragments of cooking pots and animal bones. The remains of a series of columns can also be seen. These are the pile drives from the 1960s extension to the Town Hall that did not materialize.

Excavations will continue for the next three to four weeks. It is hoped that a series of open days and a website will be set up to give more information.

The Northern Echo visited the site today to take pictures and interview the team. This should feature in tomorrow’s paper.

We hope to bring you updates in the near future.

 

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