Those of us who live and work in the Tees Valley are aware of the presence of various castles, military fortifications and manor houses (including those that are a little further out of our area), such as those in Piercebridge, Walworth, Raby, Winkies Castle, amongst others. Few, however, are aware of those that have since been lost, including at Yarm and Stockton.
Stockton Castle is long gone, but King John is thought to have stayed here and it played a key part in the Bishops Wars and the Great Civil War. It was situated right in the heart of the town, where the Swallow Hotel which closed in 2009, but a legacy still remains. It is no accident that the main shopping centre is called ‘Castlegate’!
A theatre was originally built on the site of Stockton Castle and was named the Castle Theatre although this name changed as early as 1911 to the Empire. It soon became to be used principally as a music hall rather than staging plays before becoming a 'palace of varieties'. However, most people will remember the building as the Empire cinema and children at the time believed because it was built on an old castle that there might be a secret tunnel through which they could enter for free!
“Stockton-on-Tees began as an Anglo-Saxon settlement on high ground close to the northern bank of the River Tees. In later times this area became the site of a Norman castle belonging to the Prince-Bishops of Durham. Dating from at least the 12th century this castle was originally a hall belonging to Hugh Pudsey a famous Bishop of Durham. At what date the hall was fortified we do not know although it is first referred to as a castle in 1376. During the Civil War Stockton castle was a Royalist stronghold and in 1640 when a treaty was signed making the Tees a boundary between the forces of Scotland and the King, this castle stayed in Royalist hands.
The Scottish forces finally captured Stockton castle in 1644 and it was garrisoned by them until 1646. Some say that at the end of the Civil War the castle was destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell and only the castle barn was left standing but there is evidence that according to the parliament commissioners, it was never knocked down by Cromwell, it was in a ruined state by then.
Sadly this barn was demolished in the nineteenth century and today nothing remains of the old castle of Stockton on Tees.”
While we do not have any evidence to show what the castle actually looked like, there are artist depictions, which show the castle to look similar in appearance to Danby Castle or Bolton Castle. It is this sort of ‘hidden’ heritage that can get lost in our day-to-day comings and goings. We tend to forget what we can’t see, and Stockton Castle is a fine example of something that played an important role in an era that changed the country forever. It is for that reason that we want to try and remember them, and encourage as many of you to share your memories of what once was, before it all gets lost. Whether they are of physical things such as buildings, the river, the landscape, or more subtle shifts such as folk tales, stories, food, we need to remember them. Nothing is off limits, let’s celebrate them while we can!