THE despicable CCTV footage that has emerged this week showing a care worker at Newbus Grange physically abusing a vulnerable autistic man with fist, feet and a key marks a low point in the stately home’s 400-year history.

The care home is now in “special measures” but Newbus Grange has for centuries been an idyllic spot to live, approached by a tree-lined avenue down to the Tees – indeed, the company which runs the home, Cygnet Health Care, talks of it being “based in the beautiful countryside near Darlington”.

Newbus is in a little loop of the river between Hurworth and Neasham. The oldest part of the house is believed to date from 1610, made of boulders from the river.

Newbus’ first brush with the headlines was in 1812 when the Newbus Ox was at its peak. It was one of the mountains of beef that south Durham specialised in breeding 200 years ago. It wasn’t as big as other local shorthorn stars like the Ketton Ox, the Durham Ox, or Comet, but it was big enough to have its picture produced as a souvenir. Its breeding involved the Colling family of Ketton and William Hutchinson of Egglestone, but it lived on the fertile pastures of Newbus owned by Thomas Wilkinson of nearby Neasham Abbey.

In 1894, Captain Robert Allison Brown bought Newbus for £8,500 and spent £27,000 “remodelling the estate”, particularly the house adding the Gothic façade that makes it so impressive today. He also bought the Rock Colliery near Spennymoor and shares worth £40,000 in Middlesbrough engineers Harris, Thomas & Co.

Unfortunately, this was not his money he was splashing around – it belonged to a trust fund he was supposed to be administering.

And rather than being an investment, the colliery was virtually bankrupt and the engineering company was debt-ridden, with the captain liable. In 1904, he admitted he would never get back the money he had ploughed into Newbus and he was declared bankrupt. It is believed he finished his days in a debtors’ prison.

The Grange was then bought by Captain Charles Hylton Joliffe, a hunter, a shooter and a fisher - he planted a line of apple trees along the riverbank so he could have some sustenance while he angled for salmon. Apparently, those trees still stand.

Capt Joliffe sold Newbus in 1920 to Captain Sydney Riley-Lord, whose grandfather had made a fortune establishing the Prudential insurance company in the North-East and had twice been Lord Mayor of Newcastle. As the Riley-Lords moved south from Gosforth, they brought with them a large stone fireplace, which took pride of place in the entrance hall, bearing the family coat-of-arms and motto: “Virtue and work.” It is, we believe, still in situ.

This was the last hurrah of the upper-classes: there were hunts, there were racehorses (the most famous was Babur, which won the Lincoln in 1957 and 1958), and there was a swimming pool, tennis courts, a croquet lawn and a squash court. There was a nanny for the four children - Vivien, Scylla, Pauline and Lionel – and a lady's maid for the captain's wife Eva, three housemaids, a parlourmaid, a butler, a cook and a kitchen maid.

With the captain’s death in 1959, the hurrah was fading, and in 1962, the family sold the Grange and its 254 acre estate for £40,500. It stood empty until it was converted into a country house hotel in 1975 – a very comfortable hotel, full of panelling and creaky, wooden floors, reached by a crunchy gravel driveway, and always with a welcoming roaring fire in the Riley-Lords’ stonework.

The hotel closed in 2002. The building was sold for £890,000 and became a home the following year for 18 adults with autism and learning difficulties, with a separate caravan park taking over some of those idyllic grounds.

SCYLLA RILEY-LORD was a Darlington institution. She never married, and after Newbus was sold in 1962, she took up residence at the Old Rectory at Dinsdale with her six bulldogs and Owens the butler.

She was involved in many, many organisations, from the Aycliffe Development Corporation to the Darlington Dog Show.

In 1974, the Queen’s bodkin picked her name from a list and she became the first female High Sheriff of Durham in 903 years, following in her father’s footsteps in having a largely ceremonial role overseeing the operation of justice in the county.

Miss Riley-Lord herself was for many years the chair of Darlington magistrates. In 1984, she paid £8.50 so that a drunken Scot, imprisoned in Darlington after an incident on an East Coast train en route to Ediburgh, could get home by coach, and in 1985, she gave an absolute discharge to a man from Hurworth Place who was charged with “waiting in a restricted street” when he had stopped for ten minutes in Larchfield Street.

As it was his 82nd birthday, she let him off.

Miss Riley-Lord died in 1998, aged 83.