WINDLESTONE HALL has been sold for less than £1m, which may mark the opening of a new chapter headed “rescue”. By all accounts, the 30-bedroom Grade II* listed building – one of "the most historically significant buildings in the North-East", according to English Heritage – is in a very poor condition and is in need of rescuing. Memories has never had the good fortune to look beyond its forbidding walls, but we have peered into the Windlestone Hall picture packet in The Northern Echo’s archive...


13th Century: Robert de Eden owned land at Windlestone.

1835: Durham architect Ignatius Bonomi completed Windlestone Hall for Sir Robert Johnson Eden, of West Auckland. Bonomi incorporated the Edens’ existing Elizabethan mansion into the hall. The construction cost of £40,000 – about £4.5m in today’s values – although Sir Robert is believed to have spent twice that by the time he completed his project.

1868: Sir William Eden added a mausoleum, and the family’s dead were transferred from St Helen’s Auckland.

1897: Robert Anthony Eden born at the hall. He would succeed Winston Churchill in 1955 as Prime Minister.

1920: The hall became the headquarters of the Wayfarers Benevolent Association, which helped “men of the road”, or tramps.

1936: The Eden family sold Windlestone by auction at the King’s Head Hotel, Darlington. The lots included 20 farms and 53 cottages.

1940-45: The hall was used as a Prisoner of War camp, a satellite of Harperley. Female prisoners are believed to have been held there, as might the Nazis’ fugitive deputy fuhrer, Rudolf Hess, on his way from Scotland to London in 1941.

1954: Two youths, aged 16 and 21, broke into the mausoleum and, in a misplaced “spirit of adventure”, opened the walnut coffin of a nine-year-old member of the Eden family who had been dead for 100 years. They then prised open the lead inner shell and when an “almost perfectly preserved body emerged”, they fled in terror. They pleaded guilty to removing a corpse from a grave in a burial ground – a charge that had last been put in County Durham in 1788 – and to doing £8 of damage to the walnut coffin.

1958: Durham County Council turned the hall into a school for children with chronic illnesses. It provided residential care for 120 young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and was also used as a respite centre for disabled people.

1984: After further vandalism, the mausoleum was demolished and the Edens were returned to St Helen’s.

1998: A child protection investigation called Operation Eden was launched into the special school. After three years, £1m and allegations of abuse by 86 former pupils, a "compelling picture" of likely child abuse emerged, but there was not enough evidence for any prosecutions.

2006: The school closed and the hall lay empty.

2013: The hall and 25 acres of parkland was sold by the council to a developer for £241,000.

2015: A consortium buys the hall for less than £1m.

The Northern Echo:

Windlestone Hall in 1954, when it was lying empty before Durham County Council took over


ONE hundred years ago (FEBRUARY 20, 1915), Sir William Eden, 65, died at the Cavendish Hotel in London, where he had been undergoing treatment for a serious illness. He was the 7th Baronet of West Auckland and the 5th Baronet of Maryland, US. He had inherited Windlestone in 1873 from his father, and his third son would become Prime Minister in the 1950s.

Sir William’s body was carried by train to Windlestone and rested overnight on a catafalque in the east hall, surrounded by lighted candles which had been sent from London by a friendly vicar. Estate staff kept a vigil.

Early next morning, the vicar of Coundon celebrated Holy Communion, and the coffin was available for viewing. Then a procession of the very great and the very good of County Durham followed the coffin to the private mausoleum where Sir William was laid to rest. Coundon Parish Church choir, assisted by choristers from Durham Cathedral, sang O, Lord, how happy we should be, and Now the labourer’s task is o’er.

“At the conclusion of the service,” said the Darlington and Stockton Times, “three volleys were fired over the grave by a party of the 6th Durhams, and the Last Post was sounded by the buglers.”