History Of The Houghall Campus

The history of the 476-acre Houghall Campus site can be traced back through many centuries.

Though the opening of the main buildings of the college was in 1938, Houghall farm has actually been the centre of agricultural education in the county for a much longer period.

Reference to a farm at Houghall can be found in records of the early part of the 12th Century when, it is noted, Bishop Flambard gave Houghall to one William Fitz Ranulf whose great grandson - Thomas de Herrington - donated the estate to Prior Richard de Hoton towards the end of the 13th Century.

Although some of the land was leased, most of the area was farmed by the monks themselves. Sheep were a very important part of the farm at this time and also crops, such as oats and barley were grown. The land was very marshy so fish farming took place in the many ponds and the rushes, which grew abundantly, were harvested for use in the Cathedral, Cloisters and Castle.

The Priory let the farm in 1464 to Richard Rackett, and the tenancy remained with the Rackett family until the dissolution of the monasteries. Houghall was then sold to Viscount Lisle, the tenant at that time being Clement Farrowe. The farm was returned to the Church (Dean and Chapter) in 1660.

A survey of the farm was carried out in 1794 and it is interesting to note that many of the fields had the same shape and the same name as they have today. The crops grown at this time were oats, barley, wheat, grass, clover and rape.

The course of the River Wear has changed many times over the centuries, both through natural means and by design. A large area, which is now part of the farm, was once the river bed. The silt deposits left by the river have contributed greatly to the fertility of the farm.

Houghall Hall, plus the attached lands, remained in the possession of the Convent Church of Durham until the founding of the University in the early part of the 19th Century; In 1836 Houghall and other land in the area was endowed to Durham University.

By 1919 the need for a farm to be the centre of agricultural education in the county had become pressing and, accordingly Durham County Council purchased Houghall from the University to provide the site for an agricultural experimental school and training farm.

The minutes from a meeting of the Durham County Agriculture (Education) Sub-Committee held on Wednesday 19th November 1919, report:

"That the County Education Authority be recommended to purchase from the University of Durham Houghall Farm, including Hallgarth Farm and Ryish Field, as now in the occupation of Mr. George Morgan, and containing 460 acres or thereabouts at the price of £18,000 [equivalent to approximately £650,000 today], subject to such conditions as may be considered suitable after further negotiations, and subject also to the approval of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries under the provision of that Board's current regulations fro grants in aid of Agriculture Education and Research 1919."

The provision of a School of Agriculture was conceived by Mr. Peter Lee soon after the County Authority set up the experimental Farm at Houghall. It was intended to erect a new block of buildings with the aid of a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, but for reasons of national economy this was not possible until 1936-38. As a temporary measure the old farmhouse and farm buildings were overhauled and sufficiently well repaired to meet the immediate requirements.

The County Durham School of Agriculture was official opened on 20th October 1938 and the college, as we know and love it today, was born.

The Name Houghall

The name Houghall is thought to originate in Anglo-Saxon times. The first known historic reference to the site was Hochale in c. 1115 AD in the Durham Episcopal Charters. In 1292, the name Howhale was recorded in the 'Records of Antony Bek, 1283-1322.' The Durham Episcopal Charters referred to the site again in the 15th Century as Houghale.

Watts, V. 2002, in A Dictionary of County Durham Place-Names (Nottingham. English Place-Names Society) defines the name as 'water-meadow by the hill-spur', where the elements of the name are defined as Old English for hoh (hill-spur) and halh (low-lying land). Other old spellings include Hocchale and Houhal and the define name as 'nook on the hill-spur'.

Houghall House/Hall

The farmhouse dated back to the early 14th Century (said to have been built 1290-1308 by Prior Hoton and a new house build in 1373). In the 16th Century it was occupied by the family Booth, lessees of the Dean and Chapter.

The house was extensively rebuilt as a moated stone manor house in the 17th Century by the then owners, the well-known Parliamentarian family of Marshall, who are reputed to have entertained Oliver Cromwell as guest in the house.

Photo taken in April 1956 and shows Houghall manor house slightly to the left of centreIn 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Houghall Hall like this: "HOUGHALL, an ancient moated seat in Durhamshire; on the river Wear, 1 mile SE of Durham. It was built by Prior Hotoun; was occupied, for a time, by Cromwell; and belongs to the Dean and Chapter of Durham."

In July 1958 a report by Chartered Architect Donald W. Insall described the house as constructed of rubble stonework in the magnesian limestone of the district, together with some brickwork of various dates, with a local green slated roof.

An extract from The Lost Houses of County Durham, written by Edward Waterson and published in 1993, describes: 'The front was a typical farmhouse, but the back was a taller 17th Century wing with mullioned and transomed windows under square moulds. Inside was a Jacobean well staircase with bold balusters, a fine Tudor arched fireplace, and a secret chamber in the main chimney.' Insall also noted the quality of the staircase noting: 'From the hall rises an interesting 17th Century staircase, which in fact is the best feature of the house.'

The photo below was taken in April 1956 and shows the manor house slightly to the left of centre.

The Durham County Advertiser reported on 7th February 1964 that Durham County Education Committee had sanctioned the demolition of the old farmhouse at Houghall, as a result of Durham City Council deciding not to raise any objection to the proposal. The house was demolished in 1966.

Houghall Colliery

Houghall Colliery miners houses In 1840, coal was discovered on the lands of Houghall through a trial boring. The pit was sunk in 1841 and the first coal extracted in 1842.

The owners of the colliery in the 1840s were Elvet Coal Co, then in the 1860s Joseph H. Love & Partners and finally in 1947 the National Coal Board (N.C.B.).

During the first 20 years, the pit workers lived across the Wear on the western edge of Shincliffe village. Soon after 1860, 62 houses were built in three streets at Houghall village. The streets were known as Cross Street (shown in the photo), Garden Street and John Street. There is some suggestion that 153 houses were built housing up to 241 men, however the only available photographic evidence suggests a lower number. See image below. There was also a school and chapel built on the northern edge of the village.

Houghall Colliery creased working in 1884.

Initially, the miners continued to live in the village and commuted to mines in the vicinity. The houses were then used as an 'Aged Miners' Colony'. In 1932, there were 56 people living in Houghall.

Sometime before about 1930, the houses of John Street were demolished as they are not shown in the photo below. Finally, the village was abandoned in 1955 and the remaining houses were demolished.

Houghall Isolation Hospital

In April 1893 the school was converted and reopened as an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases (such as smallpox, typhoid, measles and scarlet fever). The hospital can be seen in the image below nestled in Great High Wood in the top left.

The isolation hospital had a life of a little over 50 years. In 1949 the Durham Hospital Management Committee decided the hospital was no longer required nor suitable for use as a hospital. In June that year it passed into the hands of Durham County Council for use as a men's hostel for students at the Durham County School of Agriculture. It was named 'Sergeant House' after local councillor, Alderman Peter Sergeant, Chairman of the Agricultural Education Committee that ran the school.

It, along with the miners' old chapel, was demolished in 1965 and today there is no trace of the existence of the hospital. The field where it once stood is used today for grazing and is called Hospital Field.

Photo showing Houghall Farm and Colliery Village, c. 1930

The photo shows Houghall Farm and Colliery Village, c. 1930.

Centre: 17th Century manor house (Houghall House/Hall). Left centre: farm workers houses (Farm Road) built by Durham City Council 1920s. Right centre: Farm buildings. Centre rear (behind the manor house): The colliery houses of Cross Street and Garden Street, with the spoil heap behind them. Top right: The chimney of the pumping station, which pumped Durham's water supply from 1849 from the River Wear to Mt. Joy Reservoir. Top left (behind 1920s houses): Nestling in Houghall High Wood the Isolation Hospital and Chapel.

The Birth Of The College

Durham County Council Agricultural Experimental Station

In 1920 Durham County Council bought Houghall Farm from Durham University to provide the site for a much needed agricultural experimental school and training farm.

In the minutes of the Agricultural Education Sub-Committee meeting on Monday 27th September 1920 it states: "Read letter, dated 22nd September, 1920, from the Clark of the County Council stating that the purchase of Houghall Farm was completed on the 21st September, 1920..."

A County Farm, with Dairy, Horticulture, and Poultry Sections was established and until September, 1932, was conducted under the auspices of the Education Committee as the centre of Agricultural Education. As from the 1st October, 1932, the County Council transferred their powers and duties to the Agricultural Education Sub-Committee of the County Agricultural Committee.

Picture of staff and students of the Agricultural Experimental Station dated 1935

Picture above: Staff and Students of the Agricultural Experimental Station dated 1935.

Durham County School Of Agriculture

This article is from the Northern Echo (26 November 1936) detailing the plans for County Durham's new agricultural college.

Picture of  article Northern Echo (26 November 1936) detailing the plans for County Durham's new agricultural college

School Of Agriculture Designer & Builder

The school was planned and designed by Mr. William Carter, A.R.I.B.A, the County Agricultural Committee's architect.

The contract to build the new School of Agriculture was awarded to Messrs. W. Pearson & Son, of Burn Road, West Hartlepool, for the cost of £57,988; as detailed in the minutes from the Agricultural Education Sub-Committee meeting held on Wednesday 18th November 1936.

Foundation Stones

The foundation stones were laid on Wednesday 7th July 1937 at a ceremony presided over by Alderman P. Sergeant. 

There are two stones, one with the inscription 'This stone was laid by Mr C Nathan ESQ, July 7th 1937' the other with 'This stone was laid by County Alderman J. M. Cape, July 7th 1937'.

Foundation stones ceremony Mr C Nathan was the then Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The stone-laying ceremony event was detailed in the Darlington and Stockton Times - Ripon and Richmond Chronicle, Saturday 10th July 1937.

Due to illness the committee wrote to Alderman Cape's wife inviting her to lay the main foundation stone. The newspaper article reveals the granddaughter of John Moordaff Cape, of Crook, and Chairman of the Agricultural Education Sub-Committee, and his wife Mary Ellen (nee Gilliland) together laid the stone.

Pictured below: The foundation stone as it is today.

Foundation stone

Official Opening

The Durham County School of Agriculture was opened on Thursday 20th October, 1938 by the Rt. Hon. William Shepherd Morrison, M.C, K.G., M.P., then Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, who later became Speaker of the House of Commons, Viscount Dunrossil of Valaquie and Governor General of Australia.

Rt. Hon. William Shepherd Morrison at Houghall Houghall student group photo 1939

Mr J.W. Cassels, pictured above in the centre of the second row, was Principal from 1938 to 1957.

The College's original crest is shown below. The motto, or strapline as we'd call it today in marketing speak, when the college opened in 1938 was Progress by Perseverance. This was later revised to Progress Through Perseverance as shown on this former student lapel badge shown below.

Houghall lapel badge

The First Courses

The prospectus of 1938-39 stated: 'Young men and young women, desirous of pursuing a career in any branch of Agriculture, may apply for admission to any one course selected from: General Agriculture, Horticulture, Dairying, Poultry-keeping, Dairying and Poultry-keeping Combined and Horticulture and Poultry-keeping (2 years).'

The fees for students resident in the Administrative County for tuition, board and lodging was 25/- per week, 30/- for those outside of the area.

The Agriculture Department: For dairying the college had well-bred pedigree Ayeshires and typical Shorthorns which were being 'graded up'. Shorthorn and cross-bred cows were mated to an Aberdeen Angus bull for some beef production.  The college also had a flock of 100 ewes, mainly Border Leicester-Cheviot half breeds and Border Leicester-Blackface mules. These were crossed with Down rams. There was a small herd of pedigree Large White pigs. The main arable crops were Wheat, Barley, Oats, Potatoes, Mangolds, Swedes, Kales, Cabbages and Clover.

The Horticulture Department: The Gardens covered about 20 acres. There were 8 acres carrying fruit trees and fruit bushes. All the main vegetables and salads are grown as market crops. A range of four glasshouses is used for the cultivation and production of tomatoes, cucumbers, chrysanthemums. There was also a gold greenhouse of the Dutch type, covering approximately half an acre. Annuals, roses, herbaceous plants, flowering and evergreen shrubs are also well represented. A Weather Station was been established and general weather conditions were supplied to the Air Ministry.

The Dairy Department: The Dairy was well equipped to deal efficiently with the high grade of milk production for which the Tuberculin Tested Licence was held. The Dairy comprised of office, butter room, ripening room, cheese room and cheese store, cooling room and cold store, scullery, and steam supply plant. The cheese types principally made were Cheshire, Wenslets and Cream cheese.

The Poultry Department: It was laid out to demonstrate intensive, semi-intensive, free range, fold unit and laying battery practices. The breeds kept were cross and pure stock Rhode Island Red, Light Sussex, White Leghorn and White Wyandotte. Aylesbury ducks, Embden-Toulouse geese, White Austrian turkeys were also bred, reared and fattened.

British Pathé News Film

This amazing film was produced by British Pathé and released in 1939.

Earliest Known Aerial Photo (23 June 1946)

Earliest Known Aerial Photo of Houghall (23 June 1946)

Harold Macmillan PM Visit (15 January 1959)

Harold Macmillan PM, the then British Prime Minister (1957-63), visited on Thursday 15th January 1959 for a 40-minute tour of the college.

Harold Macmillan PM at Houghall Durham Harold Macmillan PM with Charles Percy

1966 World Cup - Houghall Hosts The Italians

It's a little known fact that the 'ill-fated' 1966 Italian World Cup squad were based at the college during their Group 4 games against Chile (won 2:0), Russia (lost 1:0) and most notably North Korea (lost 1:0). The team flew back in disgrace to Genoa under the cover of darkness but the fans were waiting for them and pelted the team with rotten vegetables.

Durham Agricultural College

Durham College of Agriculture and Horticulture crestIn 1967-68 the college then become know as Durham Agricultural College. The college crest was amended as shown below.

The prospectus of that year detailed courses in Agriculture (Crop Husbandry, Animal Husbandry and Machinery), Experimental Husbandry, Dairying, Horticulture, Veterinary Hygiene, Extra-Mural Courses including evening classes for Amateur and Professional Gardeners.

Residential fees were £240 for 36-weeks and £50 Tuition (students under the age of 18 years at the beginning of the academic year were not required to pay Tuition Fees. £290 equates to just under £5,000 in 2016.

Mr Charles Percy, pictured below in the centre of the first row and above with Harold Macmillan PM, was Principal from 1957 to 1982.

Houghall student and staff group photo

Durham College of Agriculture and Horticulture

The college then become know as Durham College of Agriculture and Horticulture (Date TBC)

Mr Alan Hetherington was Principal from 1982 to 1999.

Students and staff photo

Houghall College

Houghall College Durham old logo

Although the college was still operating as Durham College of Agriculture and Horticulture, the college officially branded itself as Houghall College in 1989. The new corporate image was designed by New College , Durham, second year design student David Semple - as reported in The Northern Echo on Thursday 15th June 1989. A selection of designs by New College students were displayed before the staff and marketing team, who voted for their choice.

In April 1993, Houghall College became independent of Durham County Council - as reported in The Journal, Saturday 3rd April 1993. The report also details that visitors to Hortico 93 will have their first glimpse of the new French style parterre garden, designed by college lecturer Steve Desmond. The centrepiece is the Raby Pond, based on the original at Raby Castle gardens.

During 1994 the word 'Durham' was added to the Houghall College logo.

East Durham and Houghall Community College

On 1 June 1999 East Durham and Houghall Community College was formed by statutory instrument and represented a merger between the former East Durham Community College (formerly known as Peterlee Tertiary College in the 1980s and Peterlee College since 1989) and Durham College of Agriculture and Horticulture (also known as Houghall College).

Developments in the 90's and 2000's included a new estate workshop, new machinery workshops, the rapid development of the horticultural department and upgrading of the small animal care unit and dog grooming parlour.

East Durham College, Houghall Campus

HOUGHALL_DOT_LOGO_MONO.jpgIn 2008/09 the college rebranded and become known as East Durham College, with Houghall being branded as East Durham College, Houghall Campus.

Campus Redevelopment 2014/2016

Following Durham County Council’s County Planning Committee meeting (Tuesday 1st April 2014), Durham County Councillors gave East Durham College’s Houghall Campus redevelopment planning application unanimous approval.

On Monday 7th July 2014 it was announced that the College would receive £10m capital investment, from funding The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has secured from the Government’s Local Growth Fund to redevelop parts of the Houghall Campus.

Follow enabling works on the summer of 2015, on Tuesday 22nd September 2015 the £12.75 million re-development project officially started.

The development was completed in September 2016 and included refurbishment and extension work to the iconic main entrance building, creating a glass lobby and double-heighted atrium, the construction of a purpose-built small animal care centre, a new agricultural centre and a new equine centre.

The small animal care centre is home to a snake house, lizard house, tortoise house, aquatics, small mammal house, an aviary, a commercial dog grooming studio and 22-bay dog kennels - complete with a dog agility and exercise area.

The agriculture centre includes a cattle unit, including pens for 80 cows and forage store and a large pig unit.

The stunning Houghall Equine Centre boasts a 28-stable block accommodation, training workshops, tack room, automatic horse-walker and an international-standard 40m x 40m indoor arena to complement an existing 60m x 40m all-weather menage.

East Durham College, Houghall Campus Video December 2016

Campus Redevelopment Official Opening

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal official opened East Durham College’s redeveloped Houghall Campus, Durham, during a visit on Friday 13th January 2017.

You can see all the photos from this historic day in an album on our Flickr account.


Mr John W. Cassels, O.B.E., 1938 to 1957
Mr Charles Percy, 1957 to 1982
Mr Alan Hetherington, 1983 to 1997
Mr Ian Prescott, June 1999 to April 2010
Mr Stuart Wesselby, 5th April 2010 to December 2011
Mr Eugene McCrossan (Interim), 2012
Mrs Suzanne Duncan, 3rd Sept 2012 to present day

Other Historic Events Of Note:

Bronze Age Sword Found 

A late Bronze Age sword was found by engineers from the University of Sunderland on 17th September 1996. It is ¾ complete with the hilt and two thirds of the leaf shaped blade present. The sword was sent to Durham University’s Archaeological Department who identified it as a Bronze Age Ewart Park type sword - dated as 900 – 700 BC.

It is possible that the sword was deposited ritually into a wet place, maybe an ox-bow lake of the river Wear, away from contemporary settlements. The sword was deliberately broken prior to deposition and it may be part of a hoard. Further excavation of the site may reveal other remains.

Alternatively, it may be a possibility that the sword was owned by an antiquarian collector who lived in Houghall Manor. The ox-bow lake being, perhaps part of the moat of Houghall Manor.

The sword is still at the University, who are storing it correctly to prevent further deterioration. It may be displayed at Fulling Mill Museum in the future. The legal ownership is yet to be established.

The Durham Canyon 

Durham Canyon at HoughallOn 19th July 2009 an enormous gully was formed in one of the fields. It was so big that locals and the media have called it ‘the Grand Canyon of Durham’. The feature was formed in a matter of minutes when millions of gallons of floodwater from surrounding farmland suddenly tore through the soil towards the River Wear. The area had experienced 80mm of rain in 24 hours, ten times the average, helping to create the new feature.

It is estimated that the water carried into the river up to 12,000 cubic metres of soil, weighing 15,000 tons. Fortunately no buildings were near enough to be directly affected. However, the general flooding caused 100s of thousands of pounds worth of damage to the College buildings and farm.

There was speculation that the flood had exposed an original course of the Wear, which was altered by monks back in the 13th or 14th century. But Durham University geomorphologist, Jeff Warburton, said it was not an ancient river bed, simply a new gully formed by the vast amount of flood water.