Our Object of the Week today helps to explain the unusual name of a County Durham village - and it's got nothing to do with bears.

FROM Langley Park and Witton Gilbert the River Browney flows south eastward through what were once the lands of the medieval parkland called Beaurepaire Park - or Bearpark as it has come to be known.

On the east side of the river on a slightly raised bluff are the medieval stone ruins of the manor house of Beaurepaire itself - today's Object of the week.

The Old French name means ‘beautiful retreat’ and this manor house and its adjoining park was used by the priors and monks of Durham Cathedral. It may have housed up to 40 monks.

Bertram of Middleton - Prior of Durham between 1244 and 1258 - established a lodge and a chapel here and dedicated it to St Edmund.

Monks could reach Beaurepaire from Durham via the Prior’s Path that ran up from somewhere near Redhills Lane in Durham City.

The Northern Echo: Nineteenth century illustration of the Beaurepaire ruinsNineteenth century illustration of the Beaurepaire ruins

Hugh of Darlington, who was the Prior of Durham from 1285, enclosed the surrounding land with a wall and palisade to create a hunting park for the retreat.

In 1289 Hugh was succeeded by Prior Richard of Hoton who became involved in a quarrel with Anthony Bek the Bishop of Durham. Bek encouraged his men to tear down the fences of the prior’s park and drive out the deer.

In the 1300s Beaurepaire’s park included 14 farms and covered about 1,300 acres stretching as far to the west as where Ushaw College stands today and extending as far east as the outskirts of Neville’s Cross. In the north, the park reached as far as Wall Nook near the present village of Langley Park.

Read more: What's the story behind this haunting structure, and how has County Durham landscape been transformed?

The Beaurepaire manor once included a hall, a large kitchen, an oven, a back room, a dormitory, courts, gardens and a chapel.

In 1315 the Scots raided Beaurepaire Park, stealing the game and cattle and damaging the manor house. The prior, Geoffrey of Burdon escaped with the monks, but several servants who remained were taken by the Scots.

In 1346, a Scottish army returned again under King David II who camped here before the Battle of Neville’s Cross.

The manor must have provided accommodation fit for a king as Edward I, Edward II and Edward III all stayed at Beaurepaire with their armies during English campaigns against the Scots. Edward III visited Beaurepaire three times in 1330, 1333 and 1335. A survey undertaken in 1450 describes its rich furnishings.

Little is known of Bearpark’s history in later medieval times but it was closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.

In the 1640s during the English Civil War an occupying Scottish army caused severe destruction to Beaurepaire’s buildings and it never recovered, remaining in the ruined state we see today.

The Northern Echo: The ruins today. Picture: DAVID SIMPSONThe ruins today. Picture: DAVID SIMPSON

The ruins can still be reached by a footpath from the western edge of Durham or can be reached from the Lanchester Valley Walk by a footbridge across the river that links the railway walk to the ruins.

The former mining village of Bearpark across the Browney to the south, takes its name from the Beaurepaire Park and is a corruption of the old name.

As far as is known bears were never kept at Bearpark.

* Thanks to historian David Simpson for his help in compiling this feature. For more on the history and culture of the region, visit his website at englandsnortheast.co.uk/

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