Investigations into the historic buildings and structures of the Wallington estate, Northumberland (Part 1)

In early 2023, Archaeological Research Services Ltd had the fantastic opportunity to undertake a Historic Buildings and Structures Assessment Survey for the National Trust, on fifteen farmsteads on the Wallington estate, Northumberland. A total of 227 buildings have been surveyed for this project, with the aim to enhance our understanding of these important heritage assets, with the survey works uploaded to the National Trust’s Historic Buildings, Sites and Monuments Record (HBSMR). These blog posts will discuss the main findings of the work from these fascinating historic farmsteads.

Wallington Hall and its estate

The site of the present Wallington Hall is thought to have originated as a Norman moorland castle. The castle then became the home of the Fenwicks, a dominant family dynasty and major landholders in Northumberland. A survey of 1542 had described the site as a ‘strong tower and stone house in good reparations’, likely referring to a pele-tower. These structures reflected the need for fortification in the border counties, with the Fenwicks representing a clan who regularly clashed with the Scots. In the medieval period, the land now comprising the Wallington estate is thought to have been made up of nucleated settlements, with irregular fields farmed by collectives. Sir John Fenwick, a landowner and politician known for his excessive extravagance, was forced to sell Wallington to Sir William Blackett in 1688 due to financial difficulties, whose family fortune was generated from collieries, lead mining and shipping.

Upon purchase of Wallington, the castle and tower were replaced by a new square plan house with four ranges around a central courtyard, though the medieval cellars were retained. Following Sir Walter Calverley Blackett’s inheritance of the house in 1727, an extensive phase of improvements took place from 1735. Daniel Garrett, a prominent 18th century Palladian architect, is thought to have been responsible for the new design.

Medieval vaulted cellars with drainage channel at Wallington Hall © ARS Ltd 2023
The northern elevation of Wallington Hall, predominantly formed of the 1735 Palladian improvements © ARS Ltd 2023
The ‘U’ plan courtyard formation of the model Greenleighton Farm © ARS Ltd 2023

Calverley Blackett was also responsible for a vast wave of improvements to the wider estate, including the creation and enclosure of field systems, and the construction of new “great lines” (the long straight roads predominantly found within the northern extent of the estate) and bridges. He is also likely to have been responsible for the inception of a number of the Wallington farmsteads.

From the 18th century, the Wallington estate had been largely shaped by shifting estate management and waves of improvements. These continued after the death of Walter Calverley Blackett in 1777, when the house and estate were inherited by Sir John Trevelyan, the son of Walter’s sister Julia. Under the management of the Trevelyan family, there were various programmes of improvements to the Wallington farmsteads, such as the construction of a range of Wallington farmhouses, including at Prior Hall Farm in 1784, and at Fairnley Farm in 1840.

In 1846, the estate passed to the naturalist Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan, who again made great improvements to the farmsteads. In 1879, after his death, the estate then passed to his cousin Charles Edward Trevelyan, a civil servant, who worked to improve it further. Sir Charles Phillip Trevelyan inherited in 1928, from his father Sir George Otto Trevelyan. Charles, a socialist MP, donated the Hall and its farmland to the National Trust in 1942, the first gift of its kind. The estate is now separated into fifteen distinct farm holdings, and the Hall is a popular tourist site.

Farmstead Origins and Plan Formations

The 2023 survey identified that the 15 farmsteads assessed had predominantly originated in the 18th century, with several comprised of former medieval and post-medieval settlements. The 18th century farmsteads had likely developed as part of Sir Walter Blackett’s improvements to the estate, with the dominant farmstead plan formation comprising loose courtyard and linear plan formations. In the 19th century, these were drastically altered and ‘U’ plan regular courtyard formations now dominated. These changes are associated with the Trevelyan family, with John and Walter Calverley Trevelyan instigating large-scale improvements to the farms in the later 18th to mid-19th centuries – as shown through the presence of date stones throughout the farms. Two of the ‘U’ plan farmsteads were found to represent model farms, representing fluid and thoughtful developments, designed to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural processes taking place within the farmsteads at the time. The changing plan forms are evidence of significant efforts by the Trevelyans to enhance agricultural practices and processes on these farms, and also indicate their importance to the estate. Of the buildings surveyed, 67% comprised traditional buildings—with 18th century buildings often surviving, and a clear wave of construction in the early-mid 19th century, associated with the Trevelyan works.

Watch this space for Part 2 of our work on Wallington, where we will showcase more from this exciting project, looking at building typologies, setting, landscape, and significance.

The linear plan formation at Rothely West Shield Farm © ARS Ltd 2023
Site plan produced for the ‘U’ plan model farm at Dyke Head Farm © ARS Ltd 2023
Date stones of the Wallington Farmhouses and Cottages © ARS Ltd 2023
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