IN 1953, the renowned architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner wrote: “The sight of Brancepeth Castle from a distance, especially from the south, is one of the greatest thrills one can experience in the county.”

This weekend, people have the chance to experience that thrill for themselves as the castle, five miles south-west of Durham City, throws its doors open for a craft fair with 50 craftspeople offering a wide range or handmade products.

The fair runs from 10am to 5pm on Saturday (Nov 27), and midday to 5pm on Sunday (Nov 28). Admission is £4 (concessions available), and although you can just turn up, it is best to book an entry time on the castle's website - - to ensure a smooth flow of visitors.

The craft fair, of course, presents an opportunity to have a nosey a real piece of County Durham history – particularly with the restored St Brandon’s church nearby...

The Northern Echo:

Brancepeth castle in the 1880s

Pre-Norman Conquest: The area was owned by the Bulmer family who probably had a fortified manor house on the site.

It gets its name because, once upon a time, a “horride brawn”, a fearsome wild boar, terrorised the south Durham countryside. It made its den at Brandon – the “brawn’s den” – and it rampaged on tracks and paths – the “brawn’s peth”, hence Brancepeth – as far away as Ferryhill where it pleasured itself by rolling in the mud in the marshy Gap.

Knights far from and wide tried to catch the vicious animal in "the luxurious pleasure of volutation", but it was too quick for them.

But Hodge, or Roger, of Ferryhill studied the movements of the porcine purveyor of panic. He knew it liked to come crashing through the trees on the cliff at Ferryhill, and so there he dug a deep hole which he lightly with boughs and turf.

And brave, brave Sir Roger spread bait about and then stood on the far side of the pit, armed with his trusty sword, waiting for the greedy creature to reveal itself.

Soon it did, and having devoured all the tasty morsels Sir Roger had left for it, it turned its attention to him, for he appeared to be blocking its favourite peth. It charged; Sir Roger, “with hope and fear” in his heart, bravely stood his ground, and the poor old porker plopped into the pit.

Then Sir Roger ran it through with his blade.

Amid great cheering, local people filled in the pit and marked the historic spot on the clifftop with a stone cross – Cleve’s Cross, as it is known today – so that future generations would never forget the heroism of Sir Roger de Ferry.

This story seems to have been invented by a Victorian historian, Robert Surtees, and Brandon and Brancepeth probably get their names because of the broom which grew there.

The Northern Echo: REMEMBERED: The war memorial in the grounds of St Brandon's Church in Brancepeth. Picture: DAVID WOOD.

1085: The rector of the Anglo-Saxon church at Brancepeth was a Durham monk called Haeming. The church is one of only two in the country dedicated to St Brandon – who is probably St Brendon the Voyager, an Irish saint who travelled to England on his seven year walk in search of paradise. According to this story, Brancepeth is the peth on which Brendon walkled. The other Brendon is in a village in Devon.

Late 12th Century: Emma Bulmer, the owner of Brancepeth, married Geoffrey Neville

The Northern Echo: A view of Brancepeth Castle before the major rebuilding in the early 19th Century

A view of Brancepeth Castle before the major rebuilding in the early 19th Century

14th Century: The Nevilles built Brancepeth Castle as they became one of the most powerful families in England, playing a major role in defeating the Scots at the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. From 1397, the Nevilles, who also acquired Raby Castle by marriage, were titled the Earls of Westmorland.

1415: At Agincourt, the Neville retinue included 30 horses and 80 archers from Brancepeth.

1569: The Nevilles colluded with the other great family of the north, the Percys of Alnwick, to lead the pro-Catholic Rising of the North. Thousands of fighters mustered at Brancepeth and marched on Durham. The rising, though, failed, and the Earl of Westmorland fled to safety Flanders. Scores of his men, from every town from Wetherby to Newcastle, were hanged, and Elizabeth I seized Brancepeth.

1603: James I gave the castle to his favourite Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset. However, he was implicated in a poisoning scandal and was sent to the Tower of London, so Brancepeth was confiscated for a second time.

17th Century: The Crown sold the castle to its supporters, including Sir Henry Bellasis, the MP for Durham. Next door at the church, in 1626, John Cosin became rector of Brancepeth, on his rise to becoming Bishop of Durham, and introduced the most exquisitely carved woodwork.

1769: Sir Henry’s granddaughter, Bridget, inherited Brancepeth. She fell in love with the Durham MP Robert Shafto of Whitworth Hall two miles away. However, the love was unrequited, and when Bobby went to sea with silver buckles on his knee, she died of a broken heart in 1774 and a folk song was born. Around this time, the estate was emparked and houses around the castle were demolished, with the inhabitants moved to a model village outside the castle’s gates.

The Northern Echo: An early 19th Century view of Brancepeth Castle

An early 19th Century view of Brancepeth Castle

Late 18th Century: Brancepeth sold for £75,000 to William Russell, a Sunderland coal owner and broker. He is one of the “grand allies” of coalowners who dominated the region’s 18th Century coal trade.

1817: Russell’s son Matthew, the MP for Saltash, was the richest commoner in the country, and began lavishing up to £80,000-a-year on rebuilding the castle. He was married to Elizabeth Tennyson, aunt of the poet who regularly visited. Indeed, it is said that Alfred Lord Tennyson composed one of his most famous poems, Come into the garden, Maud at the castle gates. It begins:

"Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone"

The Northern Echo: Echo Memories - Brancepeth Castle.

1828: Matthew’s grand daughter Emma married Gustavus Frederick John James Hamilton, the son and heir of Viscount Boyne. The Hamilton-Russells allowed their estate to be mined with four collieries being sunk within a few miles of its gates and mining communities, like Willington, springing up.

The Northern Echo: Brancepeth Station was on the line from Bishop Auckland to Durham

Brancepeth Station was on the line from Bishop Auckland to Durham

1857: Brancepeth station was opened on the Durham to Bishop Auckland line. It closed in 1965.

The Northern Echo:

Brancepeth Castle served as an army hospital during the First World War 

First World War: Gustavus William Hamilton Russell, the 9th Viscount Boyne and Baron Brancepeth, moved his family to Hardwick Hall at Sedgefield so the castle could became a military hospital with room for 126 patients.

The Northern Echo: Beautiful: The view above the tenth green at Brancepeth Castle

1924: Brancepeth Castle golf club was formed on part of the estate

The Northern Echo: The DLI huts at Brancepeth shortly before they were auction ined 1971

Second World War: The castle was the regimental headquarters of Durham Light Infantry with 100 large huts (above) being built on the estate, including a gym and a cinema.

1948: The Hamilton Russells sold Brancepeth and it entered a period of great uncertainty. Businesses were based there, and during the 1960s, there were controversial plans to turn the huts into a prison. In the end, the Government built at Frankland on the edge of Durham, enabling Frank Atkinson to store his growing collection of artefacts in the huts until he could open Beamish.

1971: The huts were auctioned, with social clubs and football teams buying them – does any club still meet or change in a DLI hut?

The Northern Echo: Telly Savalas as Kojak: who loves ya, Brancepeth?

Telly Savalas as Kojak: who loves ya, Brancepeth?

1978: Telly Savalas’ limo was apparently seen at the castle gates as the Kojak actor was said to fancy living in an English castle. However, the castle was sold to Margaret and Dennis Dobson, who ran a book company in London and needed somewhere to store their volumes. However, Dennis died the following year and Margaret began to restore the castle. In 1982, the first craft fair was held there.

The Northern Echo: St Brandon's Church was devastated by a fire on September 16, 1998

1998: At 4.10am on September 16, a routine police patrol spotted that the church was ablaze. The fire reached 1,200 degrees, the oak-beamed roof was destroyed along with Cosin’s intricate woodwork, and the Frosterley marble font exploded. The new edition of Pevsner says it was “probably the greatest single loss of the North East’s cultural heritage in the 20th Century”.

The Northern Echo: Inside St Brandon's church, Brancepeth, by Steve Moore.

Inside St Brandon's church, Brancepeth, by Steve Moore

2005: After a £3.2m restoration, the church was rededicated on October 23 by the Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, and so once again, with a tearoom in the castle gatehouse, this quiet and historic part of the world makes a fascinating visit.