Today's Object of the Week is a peculiar street name which reveals links to the North East's ancient past.

For today's object we venture to the outskirts of Sunderland and the colliery town of Hetton.

There are actually two Hettons - Hetton-le-Hole and Hetton-le-Hill - and it is to the former where our object, a street sign, is located.

In Hetton-le-Hole, there is a row of brick-built colliery houses constructed in the 1920s to house miners and their families which has a curious name - Fairy Street.

The hills of Hetton and its surrounds were known to ancient man and the name of the colliery terrace is a peculiar vestige of this.

The street name recalls an ancient tumulus, long since lost, that was known locally as ‘Fairies Cradle’ because of its supposed habitation by those mythical beings.

It was described as a small oblong hollow on the summit of an artificial grassy tumulus - a man-made hill or mound often raised over a grave - created by stones that had been gathered together.

Before Hetton’s colliery terraces were built, when this was farmland, ploughs always avoided the Fairies Cradle for superstitious or sacred reasons.

It is said that if you visited at the right time, on the right night, of the right month, every third year, you could have called on the fairy king, and he would have called back to you, and told you things that you wanted to know - and also things that you did not.

It's a reminder of the ancient history of the North East and its neolithic past, which is all around us.

The Fairies Cradle tumulus no doubt had some link to the enigmatic Copt Hill ancient barrow site, known locally as the ‘Seven Sisters’, which is less than a mile to the north towards Houghton.

Copt Hill is a prominent neolithic burial site where traces have been found going back to mesolithic times.

The Northern Echo: Faries Cradle is long gone, but the site of Copt Hill neolithic site near Houghton-le-Spring, with which is was probaby linked, can still be identifiedFaries Cradle is long gone, but the site of Copt Hill neolithic site near Houghton-le-Spring, with which is was probaby linked, can still be identified (Image: DAVID SIMPSON)

It may have some kind of link to another important neolithic site at Hastings Hill on the edge of Sunderland, which was likely the most important neolithic site between the Tyne and Tees.

The hilly country of this district with the sea to the east and the vale of the Wear below in the Penshaw, Fatfield and Lambton Park areas may have had a particular appeal to ancient man.

Read about previous Objects of the Week here:

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Perhaps place-names such as Herrington, Washington and Hastings Hill, though Anglo-Saxon in origin may allude to earlier tribal groups or ‘ingas’ kinships of the district, perhaps during the Iron Age when Penshaw Hill seems to have been an Iron Age hill fort.

* Thanks to local historian David Simpson for his help in compiling this feature.

For more on the history and culture of the North East - including its neolithic past - visit his website at