St Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale

Available Parish Registers at Durham Record Office
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Baptisms 1653-1917
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Marriages 1653-1971
St. Andrew’s, Dalton-le-Dale, Burials 1653-1893

Population changes in the 19th Century were:

1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Dalton-le-Dale 40 52 49 73 88 83 102 128 118 134 339

All of the above census returns 1841-1901 are transcribed and available on this site.

The ancient parish of St. Andrew included the four constabularies or townships of Dalton-le-Dale, Morton-in-the-Whins, Cold Hesledon, Dalden (or Dawdon) and outlying farms. The largest of these and the parish seat was Dalton-le-Dale, described in c. AD700 by the Venerable Bede as a cluster of ‘ten households round the Guildhall of Witmar, Saxon thegn and Soldier of Christ’. In 1155 the boundaries between the possessions of the Church of Dalden and those of the Lords of Dalden were decided by arbitration.

St. Andrew’s at Dalton-le-Dale has been tentatively dated at c.1150, but this was in the turbulent reign of King Stephen, 84 years after the Conquest, when a civil war over the throne was in progress and the Scots had taken the opportunity of English disunity to seize most of the north of England, including County Durham. An earlier or later date, when normality prevailed, seems more likely. The doorway is definitely Norman in style. The church contains a unique internal sundial and also the ancestral tombs of some of the Lords of Dalden. The ruins of their ancient stronghold, Dalden Tower, still stand in the dene. Nearby was their home at Dalden Hall. Dalden Tower was needed when Robert the Bruce laid waste much of East Durham as far as Hartlepool in the years after Bannockburn. In 1337 Robert de Herrington, vicar of Dalton, complained to his superiors in Durham that his parish had again been wasted and depopulated by the Scots who had taken advantage of the English war with France. Previously 15 husbandmen and 15 cottagers paid tithes and now there were only five husbandmen and six cottagers – all in a state of near beggary and unable to pay him anything. He was then granted 40s. annually for life.

Down the centuries the Tower, Hall and Manor of Dalden passed through the hands of the de Dalden, Bowes and Collingwood families. The latter, staunchly Catholic, are believed to have abandoned the Tower and Hall in c. 1600 for their more comfortable home in the adjacent manor of Seaham which they also owned. Their surname features heavily in the early registers from Seaham St. Mary the Virgin which began in the Commonwealth era. The Collingwoods sold out the twin estates of Seaham and Dalden to the Milbankes in c. 1676/78 and they in turn sold out to the Londonderrys in 1821. By then Dalden Hall had been converted to a farmhouse and the Tower had long been in ruins.

From its origin in c. AD1150 to c. 1575 St. Andrew’s was a Catholic church in a completely Catholic country, a Catholic known world. At some point in the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) it became Anglican. The parish records survive from a century later by which time both England and Scotland were united under one King and Catholics were a small, feared, despised and persecuted minority.

The town and port of Seaham Harbour was founded at Dawdon in 1828 and a new parish was created out of old St. Andrew’s in 1845 to cater for the great increase in population. Seaham Harbour’s records for the period 1828-45 therefore are included in the registers of St. Andrews. Murton Colliery, originally called Dalton New Winning, was sunk between 1838 and 1843 but the new community which evolved did not receive its own Anglican church chapel until 1875. Murton’s records before that year are included in the St. Andrew’s registers. Since 1875 St. Andrew’s has been the parish church for only the two small communities of Dalton-le-Dale and Cold Hesledon. Today ‘events’ (baptisms, banns, marriages and burials) at St. Andrew’s are exceedingly rare and it has the status of a chapel-of-ease (i.e., a part-time church) for its ‘parent’ church at Murton. The vicar of Murton is also the vicar of Dalton-le-Dale.

One entry in the baptismal registers in April 1857 is worthy of particular notice. A Margaret Jane Mowbray was christened whose parents were given as William and Mary Ann of Murton. The mother is better known to history as Mary Ann Cotton (her fourth and bigamous husband was Frederick Cotton), Great Britain’s alleged most prolific murderer, who is credited by some authorities with some 21 killings, one of whom was the child Margaret Jane Mowbray. Mary Ann Cotton was executed at Durham Gaol in March 1873 for one murder she definitely did do – that of her stepson Charles Edward Cotton at West Auckland.

By 1911 the population of Dalton-le-Dale had risen to 472. It has remained more or less stable ever since. There is little left of the old village. Most of the older housing was swept away in the 1950s and 60s. One of the most distinguished Dalton-le-Dale residents was the late Tom MacNee, co-author (with David Angus) of ‘Seaham – the First 100 Years’ and ‘The Changing Face of Seaham’. See those two books for more information about the village.

— by Tony Whitehead