The idea of creating a Village Centre came about during the consultation carried out by a group of residents with the help of the Parish Council when the Parish Plan was formulated and produced in 2012.
Residents agreed that there was a need to create a central point where people could meet on an informal basis as they carried out their daily lives. The place highlighted was the area on Sacriston Lane which was occupied by the White Tun public house which was closed and in a state of disrepair. Unbeknown to everyone RS McColls who owned the nearby shop were in the process of buying the White Tun and had plans to turn it into a large modern store. The Parish council began consultations with the local community to gauge support for the scheme and begin to collect ideas and issues put forward by residents. The Parish Council began negotiations with McColls to take a 99 year lease of the land around the new shop with a view to landscaping the area and creating a village square. The next process was to seek design consultants and after a rigorous selection process Southern Green Ltd were appointed. There were various public meetings until a suitable design was chosen and RHD Construction were chosen from a robust list of suitable contractors to carry out the work which began in March 2017.
Funding was sought through various bodies including the Durham City Area Action Partnership, the County Councillors Members Neighbourhood budgets and Section 106 money from the development at Wallnook Grange. Money has come from the Parish Council via a temporary (single year)increase to the Parish Precept and some borrowings. It was decided to incorporate some Witton Gilbert features within in the square.
Witton Gilbert Parish Council was formed in 1937 so the square is also a celebration of the 80 years that the council has been in existence. The Parish Council would like to thank Southern Green Ltd for designing the scheme and RHD Construction for carrying out the works. We hope that residents enjoy this space for many years to come.
Aims and objectives
- Create an opportunity for the community to meet in a safe environment
- Enhance the landscape value of the site
- Provide a small public open space and landscaped car park
- Provide a focus for the community, to bring people together and encourage those personal interactions which help bind a community together.
- Promote community spirit
- Provide better communication links, both physically and personally
The Parish Council invited tenders from local landscape design companies, 2 of whom responded and submitted designs according to the brief provided. The design is to carefully re-evaluate the site to make the best use for its new purpose. It is important that the design is unique to Witton Gilbert and which reflects the character and history.
A public consultation event took place on 19th December at which the basic principle of a landscaping scheme was well received. We encouraged the community to put forward their ideas and are currently evaluating all the comments ahead of appointing a design consultant. We wish to have a high quality scheme which meets the brief we can afford and is relatively inexpensive and undemanding to maintain.
SouthernGreen Landscape Architects were commissioned in February 2016 to act as Lead consultant on the Project together with Artis Quantity Surveyors and Taylor Design Electrical Engineers.
A large cup-and-ring-marked block of sandstone was unearthed by farm workers ploughing a field at Fulforth Farm, Witton Gilbert, in September 1995. Design elements within the village square are inspired by the stone and early inhabitants within the Parish. The sandstone block would have originally been rectangular, this inspired the arrangement of the large feature flagstones within the centre of the square. It is believed that the stone dates to the Late Neolithic – Early Bronze Age (c.2300B.C -1500B.C). The carvings are believed to have been buried soon after carving and therefore protected against the erosion of millennia of weathering. It was subsequently discovered that the stone was the lid of one of two circular cists, in which were found fragments of bone and charcoal, a flint knife and a polished stone axe. These two cists were at one time covered with what is thought to be a cairn of river cobbles, traces of which remained. Other fragments of carved stone were found nearby, and these are thought to be the remains of a curb around the cairn. This sounds very much like a Cumbrian-style ring cairn that has wandered to the east of Cumbria. The stone is an example of the prehistoric art. Nobody knows whether cup and rings were purely decorative or whether they had a ritual or astrological purpose.
The village centre square was connected to surrounding housing estates and tree management works were carried out to the rear of McColls as well as the introduction of a woodland path, screening planting and drifts of wildflowers.
Over the centuries farming has been a major way of life for the residents of Witton Gilbert.Improved farming methods and automation has seen a great rise in production but also a dramatic drop in those working in the industry. Now there are just 7 farms wholly or partly in the Parish and they average 300-400 acres. Four are mixed farms, one of which includes dairy cows, one arable, one only grazing and one a specialist poultry business.
Whilst Pescods Drift, Whitehouse Farm and Witton Pit which merge with Sacriston Colliery were all within the Parish boundary none were big and were never Nationaislised. However the nearby larger collieries of Sacriston, Langley Park and Bearpark provided employment for most of the male residents of the village in the 20th century and they enjoyed permanent employment until all of the collieries closed in the 1980s.
Mining was a hard way of life but the adverse conditions created a close bond between families within the village.
St. Michael and all Angels parish church
Hugh Pudsey, Bishop of Durham in the late 12th century, felt the need for a church in Witton because St. Oswalds in Durham was too far away. The church was built around 1175 AD and still retains some of its medieval features. It was later extended. Originally priests travelled to Witton church once a fortnight to hold services, however after the Reformation the church became independent and conducted its own services.The quartra-foil window featured on the stone plinth is contemporary with the church but is opposite the church and was part of a leper hospital the remains of which are in the wall of Witton Hall Farm.
Former Woodland in Witton Gilbert
Witton itself was the centre of an estate created out of thick woodland some time before the Conquest and by the end of the twelfth century it was owned together with Fulforth by the Bishop of Durham. His tenant and Lord of the Manor was Gilbert de la Ley, who gave his name to his village in the woods. It is thought that his Manor house and its buildings were at St. John’s Green down by the river.
A scaled 3D model was prepared for the site which gave Witton Gilbert Parish Council the opportunity to review different design details & the proposed palette of materials for the scheme. Materials Palette. The dark grey bricks were chosen to ensure the proposals blended in the dark grey brick McColls is built from. Corten and sandstone were selected as two other key materials. The sandstone relates to the up-and-ring marked block of sandstone found near the site & the use of Corten is inspired by the industrial heritage of the area. Brightly coloured planting represents the bright future for the village and the opportunities that the new square will provide for the community.
The village Centre was entered into this year’s County Durham Environment Awards. The prestigious annual awards, now in their 28th year, are organised by County Durham Environment Partnership to celebrate great design, environmental guardianship and community spirit.
Our scheme was a Highly Commended entry in the Places and Spaces category.