ONE of the most enigmatic corners of County Durham, where a fire-breathing dragon was once heroically slain by a knight in razor-blade covered armour, is finally being restored.

But it looks likely to lose many of its 1,000-year-old treasures which connect it directly to the days when dragons roamed the land.

Sockburn is in a peaceful loop of the River Tees to the south of Darlington. In fact, it has a similar ambience to the peninsula that the River Wear forms around Durham City.

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Perhaps this is why at Sockburn in AD780 Higbald was consecrated as the Bishop of Lindisfarne – it must have been an important religious centre to have hosted such a ceremony.

Perhaps that is why a dragon once took up residence at Sockburn. It was the original anti-social neighbour – toasting virgins, that sort of thing – and so had to be killed by a brave knight, Sir John Conyers, who turned his whole body into a weapon by coating it in razors.

Two years ago, the Sockburn loop, which includes a tumbledown Anglo-Saxon church and an 1834 manor house, was put on the market for £500,000, after a brave band of volunteers had spent seven years battling to slow the decay of time.

The purchaser was a private individual, who has been working with Naru and Ross Architects of Yarm to transform the derelict hall into a family home.

“It was quite a challenge,” said Carl Ross of the firm this week. “Working closely with Darlington Borough Council, Historic England and specialist conservation consultants, we have overseen the preservation of the external skin of the Grade II* listed building, along with its three bays, attic spaces and shaped gables. High level repairs have also been carried out to the roof, building interior and outbuildings. A full-time specialist stonemason has been employed to restore the stone work, including window sills and chimneys.

“Painstaking preservation of the original oak panelling, regarded as one of the best examples of its type in the UK, is also being completed by a specialist restorer.”

The scheme has saved the historic hall from collapse, and has been put forward for a prestigious Historic England Angel Award. Good luck to it.

In a separate development, Memories has learned that many of the 9th and 10th Century carved stones in Sockburn’s ruined church are likely to be rehomed soon by the Durham diocese. The carvings were done by skilled stonemasons mixing Scandinavian mythology with Christian symbolism, and it may be that Sockburn was the centre of stone-carving excellence for the whole Northumbria region.

However, Sockburn’s remote location has left these treasures vulnerable – in March 2016, The Northern Echo reported how three of the most special stones had disappeared. Despite a police investigation, they have not been recovered.

And because of the private nature of Sockburn’s location, it has not been easy for the public to see the stones which form such a vivid part of local history.

It now seems likely that those stones that can be moved will go to three locations within County Durham. At two of the venues, they will be on display.

This means that the stone effigy of Sir John Conyers, the brave knight who killed the dragon, could be leaving the loop. After 1,000 years, the dragon could claim victory because its remains are said to lie in a neighbouring field beneath a stone which is so enormous, no one will ever be able to lift it.

SPEAKING of old stones, Darlington’s newest riverside park has acquired a 12th Century bench. Bishopsgate House, the £8m education offices at the rear of the town hall, has been built on the out-houses of the Bishop’s Palace, which dates from the time when Hugh de Puiset was Bishop of Durham.

The Northern Echo: NICE BENCH: Made of 12th Century stones from the Bishop's Palace in Darlington's newest riverside park

About 200 pieces of carved stone, some with the original pigment on them, were retrieved by archaeologists, and now a handful of them have been built into a bench overlooking the Skerne in the new pleasant park.

It is, though, something of a shame that not more of them could not have been found a home in the park – although perhaps the Sockburn experience suggests that if such things are left unguarded, they will disappear or become damaged.