THE oldest domestic non-religious building in Darlington has this week been put up for sale for the first time in 45 years.

Hill Close House, buried deep in the West End, is on the market for £650,000, but however do you put a price on a property that is so unique?

Today, it is hemmed in by the modern housing estates of Hummersknott and Mowden, and it is located somewhere in a maze of back lanes, tall walls and even taller trees.

The Northern Echo: Hill Close House, Darlington. Picture courtesy of Anthony Jones PropertiesAll pictures of Hill Close House courtesy of Anthony Jones Properties

Yet whoever first created it seems to have deliberately chosen the highest rise in town. It is 200ft above sea level on the top of what was once called Bushel Hill and which had a spectacular, and perhaps strategic, outlook towards Teesdale.


“The situation is passing beautiful,” wrote William Longstaff, the great Darlington historian, in 1854. “A glorious view of the west imparts to the mind’s eye the impressions produced by the charming peeps in some Yorkshire Dales.”

It is one of the borough of Darlington’s 32 Grade II* listed buildings, putting it in the top six per cent of buildings in the country.

The Northern Echo: Hill Close House, Darlington. Picture courtesy of Anthony Jones PropertiesInside Hill Close House, Darlington

But how old it is, no one really knows. The listed building schedule describes it as a “building of C17 appearance”, but Longstaff takes it back further, calling it “the only Tudor house of stone in the parish”, which would make it getting on for 500.

When he was writing about it, it was half the size it had been in its prime – but he was still impressed by what he saw: “Enormous thickness of wall, deep-splayed mullioned windows and picturesque gables are there and the ancient pond close by is oddly placed on the top of the hill.

“The sturdy owners perhaps scarcely appreciate all this and their comforts may seem strange when I remark that within a recent period one of the rooms was paved with blue flints.”

The Northern Echo: Hill Close House, Darlington. Picture courtesy of Anthony Jones PropertiesHill Close House has five bedrooms, including two amid the beams of the second floor

Longstaff says that for centuries, the Emerson family farmed at Hill Close. They were followed by the Richardsons who, in 1725, sold to George Allan of Blackwell Grange. He was probably the wealthiest man in town and so could afford this “elegant stone Tudor house which overlooks a parkland of beautiful scenery”.

The Allans had tenant farmers in Hill Close. In the 1810s, it was the home of Hannah and Walter Johnson who, as Memories told in 2019, are the great-great-great-great-grandparents of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This may, or may not, be a selling point.

In 1833, the Allans put the 150-acre farm on the market. Its 17 fields stretched from the A67 Barnard Castle road at Baydale Beck in the south through to the B6279 Staindrop road at Mowden in the north.

Each field had a name. Some were predictable – Calf Close or East Ox Pasture, for example – but others raise questions.

The Northern Echo: A strawskep in one a bee bole - is this what was going on in Hill Close House's Skepper Close? Regular readers will know from 2021 that the largest surviving bee bole in the country is at Glaisdale on the North York Moors where there are recesses forA strawskep in one a bee bole - is this what was going on in Hill Close House's Skepper Close? Regular readers will know from 2021 that the largest surviving bee bole in the country is at Glaisdale on the North York Moors where there are recesses for 77 skeps

There’s south, middle and north Skepper Close, which were roughly where the parade of shops in Fulthorpe Avenue is today. “Skep” is an ancient word for a basket, and a “skepful” used to refer to a specific amount of grain or charcoal – a “basketful” today.

More specifically, before the beehive was invented, bees were encouraged to live in “skeps”, dome-shaped baskets that might have been placed on Skepper Close near Hill Close’s orchards.


Alternatively, these fields could once have been rented to the Skepper family of Cockerton, who must have got their name from their basket-making activities. In 1627, Christopher Skepper was ordered to pay off his father’s debts and “to keep harmless his two brothers” before he was allowed to rent land in the district.

Two other field names stand out: east and west Bottle Hall, which must have been roughly where Mowden junior and infant schools are today.

The Northern Echo: Hummersknott Allotments and Hill Close House, Darlington, by Ted LickrishHummersknott Allotments and Hill Close House, Darlington, by Ted Lickrish

Longstaff says: “Part of the estate is called Bottle Hull or Hall. I've heard a tradition of some very extensive foundations being found there, which were considered to be the remains of another old manor house in the field. ‘Bottle’ Is a Saxon name for a mansion.”

The Allans didn’t sell Hill Close House in 1833, but continued to let it to tenant farmers who, in the 1850s and 1860s, grew in rotation in the fields wheat and barley, potatoes and turnips, peas and beans as well as having some pasture.

The Northern Echo: Hummersknott and Uplands were Pease mansions built in the early 1860s, and they had a mural fountain in the boundary wallThe matching mid-Victorian mansions of Hummersknott, which was owned by the Pease family, and Uplands, owned by the Backhouses. Hummersknott is now at the centre of Carmel School but Uplands has been demolished

However, in Victorian times, this elevated west end ridge became popular with industrialists from the Pease and Backhouse families who bought the old farms and turned their fields into parkland for their new mansions of Hummersknott and Uplands, which were completed in 1864.

The Northern Echo: Hill Close House, Darlington. Picture courtesy of Anthony Jones PropertiesInside the beamed rooms of Hill Close House

Hill Close’s orchard, directly in front of the old farmhouse, seems to have become the walled garden which supplied the mansions.

Early in the 20th Century, the Peases faded away. In 1917, the Hummersknott Allotments Association was formed to take on the walled garden and to this day, Hill Close overlooks the green industry of Darlington’s finest growers.

In 1927, the huge tract of Pease land was sold and the housing estates began creeping across Hill Close’s fields.

By the 1970s, the farmhouse, with a tumbledown collection of outbuildings but without any fields, was owned by the council and had fallen was derelict.

In 1975, the Evening Despatch, the Echo’s sister paper, reported: “Some of the oldest buildings in Darlington may be demolished – because no one wants to foot an £18,000 repair bill.”

Borough architect Gabriel Lowes told the paper: “The buildings are in a very bad state of repair. The authority may think it is more expedient to demolish rather than spend a lot of money to hold them up.”

Fortunately, the council did not go down that route.

“They reroofed, dampproofed and rewired our place and then put it up for tender,” says Mike Riley, who, with his wife Sharon, is now moving on. “We were successful and bridge-loaned till the house became mortgageable.

“A lifetime and many updates later, we our hoping to downsize but we’ll miss our neighbours of 40-plus years and the house which we love.”

It is on the market with Anthony Jones Properties, who have excelled themselves in summing up this historic home in the brochure: “Hill Close House, with its blend of cosy interiors, unique architecture, and an air of seclusion, is a rare find. Though it may call for a brush of modernity here and there, its essence is irreplaceable – a home that has nurtured generations, ready to welcome new custodians with open arms.

“This is not just a house; it’s a canvas for creativity, a cosy nook of history, and a place to call your own.”

The Northern Echo: Butler House in Haughton-le-Skerne, which dates from at least the mid 15th Century, is said to be Darlington's oldest domestic building

HILL CLOSE HOUSE is the oldest non-religious building in the town of Darlington (unless you know different). St Andrew’s Church, Haughton, and St Cuthbert’s Church, which date from the 12th Century, are the oldest buildings in the town, and Butler House (above) in Haughton is the oldest domestic building. It was the home of the rector of Haughton, perhaps as far back as Rector Reginald in 1131, although its most obvious oldest parts are mid 15th Century.

In the villages that make up the wider borough of Darlington, there are older churches, like St Edwin’s at High Coniscliffe which is from 1170, and there are older buildings: Walworth Castle is 1600, Thornton Hall is 1550, The Old Parsonage at Hurworth is 1450 and the Manor House at Low Dinsdale is “late Medieval”, which is sometime before 1500.


  • The property is for sale with or Call 01325-776424

The Northern Echo: Hill Close House, Darlington. Picture courtesy of Anthony Jones Properties