[i] Situated on the outskirts of Hunwick, near Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham, it was described by Brigadier General H. Conyers Surtees in his “Parish Histories” 1923 as follows:
“Helmington Hall, which stands close to the village, is now in a ruinous condition. It occupies two sides of a yard, and over the doorway leading into the house is the inscription “IVNE MDCLXXXV1” [ii] (i.e. June 1686 – see below)
Neville Whittaker in his book “The Old Halls and Manor Houses of Durham" describes Helmington Hall, partly demolished, as having possessed elaborate ornamentation above the kitchen fireplace – four figures denoting the four quarters of the globe and animals. “Lost Houses of County Durham” states that the hall was "a substantial nine-bay house of c.1687. Entrance and windows had scrolled pediments”. [iii]
The first Blackett connection to Helmington Hall is found in 1684.
“Township of Hamsterley”[iv] "On 16-17th Feb 1684. Lease and release of Shipley by William Collingwood of Eslington Esq., and others to Thomas Blackett of Helmeden Hall and High Shipley Gent., Isabella his wife, Henry Blackett, Gent., his younger son and other parties to the marriage of Henry Blackett and Elizabeth Nicholson The marriage did not take place until 1723, and therefore this document was probably dated around that time, though making reference to the 1684 one.
The Blackett name is also mentioned in 1686. Thomas Blackett, (son and heir of Shipley, descendant of Hugh Blackett of East Shipley), purchased Helmington Hall and estate by Ind.of lease and release in 1686. The references to two different dates suggest that Thomas was probably leasing the property prior to buying it. The inscription over the door translates as “June 1686”. Perhaps that suggests that Thomas rebuilt or extended the hall after it came into his ownership that year. Thomas had come into substantial funds on his marriage to a wealthy widow in 1682.
Helmington passed down to Thomas's son Henry, then from him to his son William, in whose possession the Hall remained until the late 18th century. William Blackett sold Helmington to Ralph Spencer (1736-1805) in 1793. It was then considerably enlarged by the addition of two handsome Gothic rooms and gardens “were laid out with great taste.” The hall was destroyed by fire in 1895
Rev. Robert Spencer (1786-1836) is described as being of Helmington Hall, and the 1841, 1861 and 1871 censuses show Helmington Hall occupied by Margaret Spencer.
[i] Taken from the Flashback Collection, courtesy of Bishop Auckland Town Hall.
[ii] Surtees “Parish Histories, Hunwick and Helmington”, page 6.
[iii] “The Old Halls and Manor Houses of Durham” by Neville Whittaker, page 27.
[iv] John Burnell research, taken from Surtees “Parish History of Hamsterley”.