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Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland

54.842056, -1.470885

15th Century

Pele Tower

In situ

Building partly remains and has been in use as council offices

Last Updated:

3 Oct 2020

Old Rectory, Houghton-le-Spring

Founded in 

This is a

Current status is

'A three-storey pele tower was constructed with external stairs by Rector Kelyng, who was responsible for the fortification of the building in the 15th century. The tower was demolished in the late 18th century as part of Thurlow's alterations. It was described by Thurlow in 1792 as a stone tower covered in slate to the south west of the house. 40ft by 20ft [12.2 x 6.1m] containing a cellar floored in stone, a lodging room with deal floor, plain ceiling and paper hangings. It also contained a servants' garret with deal floor, plain ceiling and bare walls. The tower is shown on the 1774 Glebe Map by Dixon.'

- Sitelines

'Houghton’s most famous son was Bernard Gilpin, the ’Apostle of the North’, so-called for his evangelising expeditions in the borderlands of Northumberland. Gilpin was rector here for twenty-five years from 1558, a time when Houghton le Spring was then one of the largest parishes in England. Despite the status this gave him, Gilpin was a generous champion of the poor, a brave and principled man unafraid of the religious establishment even in those dangerous days.

Gilpin lived in the Old Rectory, just across the road from the church. When Grimm drew it, the rectory was still very much a medieval building. The tower, seen through the arch of the gatehouse range, was probably the solar block – the owner’s private chamber – attached to its hall. A licence to crenellate, that is, make it a defensible structure, was granted in 1483.

The battlemented building that remains today, now local council offices, was much altered during the 19th century. The tower is no longer recognisable and the gatehouse has gone too, though its echo survives in a Victorian archway, just across the road, giving access to the churchyard.'

- British Library

The two maps above illustrate Houghton le Spring in the latter half of the 19th century, much later than the original construction date of the rectory. The first map was surveyed in 1857, and shows the Rectory just south of Houghton Burn in the main centre of the village. Houghton was a considerable settlement even at this time, being a major stopping point between Sunderland, Durham and southwards.

The rectory is visible on the 1898 map, and had built up considerably since decades prior. Houghton Pit had expanded and the miners terraces sprawled to Sunderland Street. Reservoirs seem to have been constructed to provide fresh water to the local populace also.

The 1921 Ordnance Survey shows Houghton as a similar size, though the Grasswell area has significantly increased since. The splendour of Rectory Park is still pride in place the centre of the village.

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Undated illustration of the Rectory and the Pele Tower. Its medieval appearance is striking. Sadly the features of this image are now unrecognisable and have been substantially altered or demolished. This is the case for the gate house in the foreground.

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