Today’s Object of the Week is one of the North-East’s most impressive monuments.

PENSHAW Monument, within the City of Sunderland, is an imposing reminder of the Lambton family.

It is a copy of the temple of Theseum in Athens, though half its size and can be seen clearly from parts of west Durham, Tynemouth, North Tyneside and as far south as the Stang Forest in Teesdale.

Penshaw, pronounced Pencher, with its church of 1754, stands at the foot of Penshaw Hill. The village is named from the hill with its fantastic views across the surrounding land.

It was possibly an Iron Age hill fort occupied by Welsh speaking Britons in ancient times. “Pen” is Welsh for head or hill and shaw is possibly Anglo-Saxon for woodland that can still be seen at the base of the hill.

The summit is crowned by the 70ft tall,100ft long Greek-style monument.

The Northern Echo: The monument is often illuminated mark events or campaigns. Here it is lit in green as part of a National NSPCC campaign Picture: STUART BOULTONThe monument is often illuminated mark events or campaigns. Here it is lit in green as part of a National NSPCC campaign Picture: STUART BOULTON

Erected in 1848, it honours John George Lambton, the first Earl of Durham (1792-1840).

He was called “Radical Jack”, for his democratic views and was author of the 1832 Reform Bill that abolished the’”Rotten Boroughs’.

The monument’s designer was Benjamin Green, who also designed Grey’s monument in Newcastle. Grey, the Prime Minister in 1832 was Lambton’s father-in-law.

Green also designed Whorlton Bridge – now closed – which is one of the oldest surviving suspension bridges in the country, Witham Hall in Barnard Castle, plus Blackwell Bridge in Darlington and Harewood Terrace in Darlington

Penshaw monument has 18 columns. One has a staircase but it permanently closed in 1926 after a 13-year-old boy called Temperley Scott accidentally fell to his death.

Radical Jack was one of the greatest statesmen County Durham ever produced.

As well as being the author of the famous Reform Bill, he was the man who set in motion the establishment of Canada as an independent nation.

Reform was the driving force of his political life and it was probably the Durham miners–- many of whom were his employees – who gave him the nickname by which he is fondly remembered.

Radical Jack was born John George Lambton on April 12, 1792. His birthplace, Berkeley Square, London, was merely the family’s London home. The family seat was County Durham, where generations of Lambtons resided since the Norman era.

During the 18th Century, they moved from the subsequently demolished Lambton Hall, south of the Wear, near Chester-le-Street, to Harraton Hall, on the opposite bank.

It was around 1792 that John’s father, William, a County Durham MP, employed the architect Ignatius Bonomi to convert Harraton Hall into Lambton Castle.

Sadly, William did not live to see the castle’s completion and died in 1797, aged 33. His son, John, then five years old, became the Lambton heir and was raised without a father. In 1812, a year before officially inheriting the estate, John eloped to Gretna Green and married Henrietta, daughter of Lord Cholmondley and a French “actress”.

Young Lambton, who became a Durham MP, had a happy marriage, but it was short. Henrietta died ofconsumption in 1815, leaving behind three daughters, none of whom lived beyond their twenties.

In the following year, Lambton was in love again.

In December 1816, he married Louisa, daughter of the Northumbrian Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey.

Grey, who later became Prime Minister, was a close family friend and, like Lambton, was a Whig - an old name for Liberals.

Both longed for reform, but Lambton had a fiery reputation.

In 1826, while assisting his brother-in-law in a Northumberland election, a rival accused him of being a liar. To settle the matter Lambton and the opponent fought a pistol duel on Bamburgh beach. Both he and the opponent were unscathed.

In 1830, Grey became Prime Minister and appointed Lambton to the cabinet, giving him the job of drafting the long awaited Reform Bill.

The Bill addressed the problem of rotten boroughs. These included Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, where the residents of three houses had an elected MP, while towns like Manchester and Birmingham did not.

Tories staunchly opposed the Bill and it was only through negotiation and fear of revolution that the Bill was eventually passed by parliament in 1832.

Throughout the land, Lambton was a hero – Glasgow made him a freeman of the city and Durham miners cheered him as he made his way to the Lambton home.

Lambton always respected his miners and cared for their safety. In 1831, Lambton’s miners alone refused to support a strike in the Durham coalfield.

Sadly, Lambton’s political triumphs were accompanied by personal tragedy. In 1831, his eldest son, Charles, died aged 13.

Lambton and Louisa’s lasting memory was a portrait of the boy painted in 1826 by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Popularly known as the Red Boy, the painting shows Charles dressed in red.

Judging from his father’s praise of the work, it was a good likeness.

“Most beautiful, most beautiful” uttered the stunned Lambton on first seeing the portrait.

In 1832, there was talk Lambton might succeed his father-in-law as Prime Minister, but Grey was yet to resign. Instead, Lambton’s talents were tested on the international stage.

There were political tensions in Europe and Russia was a key factor in maintaining stability.

Lambton was appointed special envoy to Russia and, with his family, became a guest of the Russian court in St Petersburg, where they resided for many months.

Though initially suspicious of Lambton’s radical reputation, the Russian Emperor Nicholas quickly warmed to Lambton.

On his return to England in 1834, Lambton resigned from the cabinet through ill-health and Grey persuaded King William IV to bestow upon Lambton the title Earl of Durham. In the same year, Viscount Melbourne succeeded Grey as Prime Minister.

Melbourne appointed the recovered Lambton as Captain’s General and Governor in Chief of the Canadian provinces in 1837.

Rebellion against British rule in Canada was a serious threat at this time. Sailing from Britain on April 24, 1838, it took Lambton and his family a month to arrive in Canada.

As in Russia, he endeared himself to the populace and gained an understanding of their needs.

In November, crowds gathered at Plymouth to welcome Lambton’s return. Many saw him as the popular choice for Prime Minister and cared little for his Canadian successes.

However, ill-health and parliamentary enemies would have conspired against him and, in any case, Lambton wanted to concentrate his efforts on the Canadian question.

Lambton formulated what came to be known as the Durham Report. It became a blueprint for Canadian independence and ensured Canada’s government was based upon a British model. It was the first stage in the development of what became the Commonwealth of Nations.

In his later days, Lambton retired in illness to the Isle of Wight where on July 23, 1840, he barely comprehended the news of his Canada Bill receiving the Royal Assent. Five days later he was dead.

His body was shipped north to Sunderland on board his yacht and transported inland to Lambton Castle. About 50,000 people, ranging from members of the aristocracy to humble miners, joined the funeral procession to the church of St Mary and St Cuthbert at Chester-leStreet, where his body still lies.

Today, Radical Jack is largely forgotten and it might be asked why there is no monument to his honour.

Well, in fact, there is. Four years after his death, the people of Durham saw the completion of a very impressive Grecian-style monument to his memory. We know it as Penshaw Monument.

l Thanks to David Simpson of England's North East – – for his help in compiling this feature