Estate In Washington, Tyne And Wear
One thousand acres of historic park and woodland set against the backdrop of Lambton Castle.
The area we now know as Lambton Park has its origins way back in the 12th Century when it was in fact three much smaller estates. The estates were known as Lambton Hall, owned by Sir William Lambton, Harraton Hall and Biddick Estate. The Lambton Family came to own Biddick Estate through its purchase in 1594 by Sir William and Harraton Hall through the marriage of Ralph Lambton to its heiress in 1696. The estates were combined to form the Lambton Estate.
John George Lambton, who was the first Earl of Durham, began the design of the estate in the Picturesque style, which was popular during the early 19th Century. This style is as its name suggests, one in which the landscape and buildings are of, in the words of artist and author William Gilpin (1724 - 1804), 'that peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture'.
The wonderfully named Joseph Bonomi, an Italian Architect, was tasked with creating a grand new family home for Sir William Lambton on the site of Harraton Hall, but sadly this never came to fruition after Sir William died in 1801. In 1813 William's son John George Lambton, came of age and the work restarted under the guidance of Joseph's even more wonderfully named son Ignatius.
The building was extended with new rooms, apartments and towers, while the surrounding landscape was developed as pleasure grounds and a deer park. Many trees were planted to help to mask the sound of the nearby coal mines. These nearby mines, which had helped provide the Lambton family with much of their wealth, proved damaging to the Castle itself when a number of mine shafts began to collapse under the park. Our old friend John Dobson was tasked with rebuilding the Castle along with his colleague Sydney Smirke (another great name!). This resulted in much of Bonomi's design being lost. One part of Bonomi's design that does remain is the Lamb Bridge which spans the River Wear and is decorated with carved Lambs.
The Castle underwent further remodelling in the 1930s, mainly due to the huge running costs and two sets of death duties in quick succession. This is the Castle we can see today. The family moved out to the nearby Biddick Hall during World War 2 when the Castle was requisitioned by the Army, and that is now their main home. Despite the prevalence of coal mines in the area there is very little evidence left of this formerly dominant industry. It is still possible to see remnants of the waggon ways and hard lined areas of the River Wear which allowed boats to dock and load the coal to take down to the ships waiting at Sunderland.
Perhaps the most famous part of the Lambton Estate's history, and the one most of us probably know it for, is the Lambton Lion Park which opened in 1972, latterly Lambton Pleasure Park after it was remodelled in 1975. The park covered 200 acres and allowed visitors to drive through enclosures full of Lions, Elephants, Zebra and Giraffes among others. There was also a funfair, miniature railway and a disused aeroplane that children and adults alike could play in. There are numerous tales, who knows how many are true, about escaped animals rampaging around the local area. Favourites of the Fabulous North Team being the ones about a troop of Baboons on the A1 and a Rhino spotted heading towards Fatfield! Sadly, spiralling costs and the difficult financial climate of the early 80's lead to the closure of the Lion Park.
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The various walks are signposted from the main car park, but in the main, head north out of the car park along a road that leads to the woodland.
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There is parking off Fence Road on the Estate itself which has easy access to the parkland walks.
Contributed by Andrew Gardner
I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.
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