|Post town:||Houghton Le Spring|
|Houghton and Sunderland South|
Houghton-le-Spring is a town in County Durham, in the industrialised north of the county, halfway between the City of Durham and Sunderland. The town was first recorded in Norman times, though its name suggests an earlier origin. It is a former mining town.
The A690, the road from Durham to Sunderland, meets the A182 in Houghton at an unusual interchange. The town of Seaham on the coast of the North Sea lies about 5 miles due east. The towns of Newbottle, Fencehouses and Hetton-le-Hole lie nearby.
Houghton-Le-Spring's main shopping area is located in Newbottle Street which includes a supermarket, a library, the Post Office, and various other shops, and several pubs. The Golden Lion which reportedly has stood for almost 300 years; the earliest records for it date from 1827 and show that it was owned by the Rector.
The earliest mention of the town's name is in the Boldon Book in 1183 as 'Hoctona'. An English transcription states:
- In Houghton are thirteen cottagers, whose tenures, works and payments are like those of Newbotill; and three other half cottagers, who also work like the three half cottagers of Newbotill. Henry the greeve, holds two oxgangs of 24 acres for his service. The smith - 12 acres for his service. The carpenter holds a toft and 4 acres for his service. The punder has 20 acres and the thraves of Houghton, Wardon and Morton; he renders 60 hens and 300 eggs. The mills of Newbotill and Bidic, with half of Raynton Mill, pay XV marks. The demesne, consisting of four carucates, and the sheep pastures are in the hands of the lord.
An ancient document dated 1220 describes the town as 'Houghton Sprynges'. The name Houghton comes from the Old English hoh (a “heel” or hill with a scarp).
During excavations under the church of St Michael and All Angels in 2008-9 as part of the church's refurbishment, not only were Roman remains discovered but some very ancient stones which suggest that the area has been settled since prehistoric times and that the site of the church has had some religious significance for thousands rather than hundreds of years. Glass inserts in the new floor of the church enable some of these to be seen.
In 1311, the village was owned by Albreda, widow of Lord Henry Spring, hence the addition of 'le spring'. That explanation of the addition of 'le Spring' is debatable and there are alternatives. One opinion is that it is derived from the Le Spring family, Lords of Houghton in ancient times. Another explanation, which is backed up by a "Regester Booke belonginge to the Paryshe of Houghton in the Springe" from 1598, is based around the medicinal springs which flow from the surrounding limestone rocks. This latter explanation ties in with the Roman names in the area in which "le" is taken to be "in the" as in Chester-le-Street, Witton-le-Wear, Dalton-le-Dale, Hetton-le-Hole. Credence is added to this consideration by the area of the town formerly known as the Lake and the stream/spring that nowadays still runs through the centre of the town, although this has long since been directed to run through a culvert.
The parish church of St Michael and All Angels dates back to Norman times and contains the tomb of Bernard Gilpin, known as 'the Apostle of the North'. Gilpin was Archdeacon of Durham and in 1557 became the rector at Houghton-le-Spring, which at that time was one of the largest parishes in England.
In the modern age, Houghton became an active coal-mining town. The local mine began to sink its first shaft in 1823 and was active until its closure in 1981. At its peak in the early 20th century, the mine employed over 2,000 workers.
During Second World War, Houghton was relatively unscathed from the bombing raids on nearby Sunderland.
Houghton Feast is an ancient festival held every October in the town. It has its origins in the 12th century as the dedication festival to the Parish Church of St Michael & All Angels. Nowadays the festival lasts ten days and typically features a fairground, carnival, fireworks and ox roasting event, in commemoration of Rector Bernard Gilpin's feeding of the poor.
The Feast was expanded in the 16th century by Gilpin and furthermore in the late 18th century when it became connected with horse racing. The 19th century saw the introduction of steam-powered rides and all the fun of the fair, however events were downscaled as a result of Second World War. Rector Noel Gwilliam was responsible for initiating the Feast format as we know it today and encouraging an emphasis on the religious aspects.
Leisure and sport
Houghton Dance & Performing Arts Academy (originally Anne Thompson School of Dancing) announced a new name "ZAZZ" in January 2010. The Academy is housed in Empire House which was the original Empire Cinema in Houghton le Spring. Nowadays Zazz hosts many theatrical productions throughout the year (including Annie in 2009 and Little Shop of Horrors in 2008). Fame the Musical will be staged in August 2010 and for the annual Houghton Feast celebrations in October 2010.
Speedway racing was staged at the racecourse. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate the sport was staged in 1930 but it may have operated at other times. Horse racing last featured at the site in 1938 owing to the outbreak of Second World War the following year, and was replaced with Greyhound racing.
- Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Centre Online
- Houghton Feast: The Ancient Festival of Houghton-le-Spring
- ZAZZ - Houghton Dance & Performing Arts Academy
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