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Sockburn


Sockburn village now comprises of a ruined church, a farmhouse and a mansion called Sockburn Hall (built in 1834) all positioned within a loop in the River Tees known locally as Sockburn Peninsula. Sockburn has an amazing secret history though, as it is a place where bishops were crowned, a dragon was killed and some of our greatest writers fell in love. The tale of the dragon slaying also inspired the writing of some iconic pieces.

The Bishop of Lindisfarne, Higbald was crowned in Sockburn circa 780AD. Though not much is known about Higbald, he did write a graphic account of the 8 June 793AD Viking raid on Lindisfarne, in which many of his monks perished. In 796AD Eanwald, Archbishop of York is said to have also been crowned in Sockburn.

According to legend, around the time of the Norman Conquest, a huge man-eating dragon with poisonous breath, sometimes described as a worm, wyvern or flying serpent was terrorising the Sockburn area (known before 1066 as Storkburn). Sir John Conyers took up the challenge to slay the beast. Before heading out he visited a church in his full armour and offered the life of his only son to the Holy Ghost. After killing the dragon he buried under a large stone which is supposed to still be visible today.

"Sr Jo Conyers of Storkburn Knt who slew ye monstrous venoms and poysons wiverms Ask or worme which overthrew and Devourd many people in fight, for the scent of poyson was soo strong, that no person was able to abide it, yet he by the providence of god overthrew it and lyes buried at Storkburn before the Conquest, but before he did enterprise it (having but one sonne) he went to the Church in compleat armour and offered up his sonne to the holy ghost, which monument is yet to see, and the place where the serpent lay is called Graystone."
(From British Museum MS Harleian No. 2118, fo. 39, circa 1625-49)

The Conyers family, which may have come over to England from France during the Conquest was granted the manor of Sockburn in the 12th Century, which according to legend was due to the heroism of Sir John.

The sword which Sir John used to kill the Dragon was a type known as a falchion. This weapon, the Conyers Falchion would be ceremonially presented by the Lord of the Manor to each newly elected Bishop of Durham, in the middle of the River Tees as they entered the diocese at Croft-on-Tees Bridge or a nearby ford for the first time.

"My Lord Bishop. I hereby 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 the falchion should be presented."

The tradition stopped around the start of the 19th century (1771 or 1826 depending upon which source you use), though it was rekindled in 1984 for Bishop David Edward Jenkins. The Mayor of Darlington played the role of the Lord of the Manor in this ceremony.

The sword itself was kept at Sockburn Hall until 1947. Arthur Edward Blackett then presented it to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral where it is kept to this day on display in their treasury.

The Conyers Falchion has a total length of 89cm long and weighs 2.86lbs. The blade itself is 73.4cm long. The bronze pommel is decorated with three lions on one side a black eagle on the other, which helps to date the sword. The three lions first appeared on the Royal English crest in 1194, so it is assumed that the sword could not have been decorated earlier than the 13th Century and given its design it is speculated that it dates from around 1260. Though the sword is very, very old, the Conyers Falchion is 200 years too young to have been used by Sir John Conyers.

The Blackett family who were industrialists from Newcastle took over the Sockburn estate when the Conyers moved their family seat in the 16th century with the marriage of Richard Conyers and the heiress of the Horden estate near Peterlee, Durham. (On 14 July 1628 for John Conyers of Horden, The Baronetcy of Conyers of Horden was created and the family died out in 1810). Henry Collingwood Blackett (son of Sir William Blackett, 5th Baronet) built Sockburn Hall (Grade II listed building) in 1834 and Sockburn Church of All Saints (Grade I listed building) was closed left to go to ruin.

In 1799 a farmhouse was built and occupied by Tom Hutchinson and his two sisters, Mary Hutchinson and Sara Hutchinson. They were distantly related to William Wordsworth who visted them with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. William fell in love with Mary and they eventually married in 1802. The already married Coleridge fell in love with Sara and this became an inspiration for his poem entitled ‘Love’ in which makes reference to both the church and the story of the dragon.

Apparently Tom Hutchinson once bred a seventeen and a half stone sheep.

Lewis Carroll’s father was the rector at Croft-on-Tees and it is likely that the Sockburn worm legend inspired his famous poem Jabberwocky.


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Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Bishop Jenkins is an

Bishop Jenkins is an interesting figure.  On 6 July 1984, three days after Bishop Jenkins was consecrated, York Minster was hit by a lightening strike and set on fire. Apparently some people thought this was God showing his displeasure with the appointment. He remained in office until 1994. He was the first Church of England clergyman to bless the civil partnership of a homosexual couple and in 2006 was banned from preaching in some churches after swearing in a sermon.

Red Don's picture
Red Don
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A group of volunteers are

A group of volunteers are attempting to help save Sockburn Hall falling into disrepair.  Please visit their website http://sockburn.blogspot.com/.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Sockburn

The river Tees, separating Yorkshire from Durham, is crossed at Croft by one of the principal bridges which connect the two counties.   The owner of the manor of Sockburn, held under the bishopric of Durham, is said to be required, by the terms of his feudal tenure, to meet every new bishop of that see upon the centre of this bridge, and there present before him an ancient sword, at the same time repeating these words: “My Lord Bishop, I here present before you 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 of Durham into the county, this falchion should be presented.” Upon which the bishop is supposed to take the weapon into his hand, and then immediately return it, wishing the Lord of Sockburn health and long enjoyment of his manor. For the above, the writer is entirely indebted to a paper, entitled ‘Serpent Legends of Yorkshire’, in the Leisure Hour for May, 1878.
[‘Yorkshire Legends and Traditions’ by Rev Thomas Parkinson (1888)]



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