The name Washington goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. It has undergone a number of spelling changes that include Wessynton, Whessingtun, and Wassington. The Norman knight, William de Hertburn, settled on the manorial land here before 1183. The manorial land reached as far as the river Wear. He then changed his name to William de Wessynton after the name of the manor. Another house was on the site at the time, and over the years the family improved it and added a hall. Parts of the original hall are still in existence, notably the west end arches of the great hall.
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By 1346 the family had a new coat of arms: two stripes and three stars in red with a white background. It can be seen carved in stone at Hylton castle which is three miles away. Until 1399 the Washingtons lived at the manor, at which time it was inherited by Eleanor Washington. When she died it was left to her daughter Dionisia who married a Sir William Mallory. The Washington family had scattered and it was the Lancashire branch that were the ancestors of George Washington, first president of the United States. (Sulgrave Manor was purchased, in 1539, by Lawrence Washington who moved from Lancashire to Northamptonshire. His grandson John immigrated to America, and 80 years later George Washington was born, the son of Johnís grandson).
In 1613 Washington manor was sold by the Washington descendants to the bishop of Durham, William James (note his portrait in the great hall). It is thought the hall was rebuilt in 1623 when the bishopís son, Francis James, inherited. The house, built in an H plan, has an exterior of local honey-coloured sandstone. Jamesís son William lived in the house until 1662 when he died. After this the hall was let to tenants and became less a hall than a rooming house, especially when in was turned into a tenement for the working class in the late 1800s. Up to 35 people lived in it at the same time. By 1932 the hall was closed as too unsafe for habitation. The local people raised money to save it but restoration was delayed until 1951. In 1956 it was given to the National Trust.
The great hall was the main living and eating area in medieval times. There is a fireplace at the eastern end of the room. The roomís furniture is from the Jacobean period. It is of oak, heavy, and carved. Chairs date from 1660 while the table is early 1600s. The panelled room was the private family room. The oak panelling came from an old manor house at Abbots Langley. There is an English longcase clock with marquetry inlay dating from c1688 and Holland Delftware.
The staircase is not original but is from the same period as it came from the White Hart Hotel in Guildford. There is a collection of Washington memorabilia on the landing. A room named the Liberty contains the Old Hallís collection of Washington portraits and pictures connected with the American Revolution. Visitors can watch two short films about the Old Hall and Washington.
Originally the Old Hall had five bedrooms and a linen closet but with all the remodelling over the centuries these have mostly been lost. The bedroom on view has an oak bed with cupboards at both ends to conceal valuable and weapons. The two chairs are 17th century Dutch ones.
Surviving from the medieval building are the kitchen walls. Dishes dating from the period are shown on the table. These would have included pigeon, apple tansy, and almond pudding. Ingredients on display include ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
The tenement room displays the history of the house during the 1860-1936 time period when it served as a tenement house.
The garden in the grounds reflects that of the formal 17th century style with parterres. The lower walled garden parterres encompass old English flowers and herbs. There is a small knot garden near the main gate.
Washington Old Hall
Tyne and Wear (Tyneside)
The Avenue, Washington Village, Washington
Tel. 0 191 4166 879
Open: mid March-end Oct, Sun-Wed, 11am-5pm; garden same as house
National Trust property; stone 17th century manor house, part of which is home of ancestors of first US president, George Washington; displays on George Washington and hall history; collections of delftware, oil paintings, and carved oak furniture; tea-room; Jacobean garden; nuttery; small car park beside hall or park on street