Old Seaham and Seaham Hall

Today the old Saxon Church of St. Mary the Virgin, crouching low on the cliffs near the edge of Seaham Dene is the only surviving building of the original Saxon Village granted to the Church by King Athelston in 930AD. It is one of the most interesting churches in the Country, having both Saxon and early Norman masonry in its nave, a 13th century chancel and west tower. Over the 16th century porch door is a late 18th century sundial with an unusual verse, now illegible which begins:

"The natural clockwork by the mighty one wound up at first and ever since has gone....."

Other features include the late Norman font, Elizabethan pulpit and Georgian pews.

In 1155 Seaham and its neighbour Dalden to the south became freehold Manors. Closely linked down the centuries they were both controlled by the Lords of Dalden, the Bowes, Collingwood and Milbanke families, until 1600 from Dalden Tower, thereafter from Dalden Hall. But in 1776 Sir Ralph and Lady Judith Milbanke preferred to live in the Old Seaham Manor house, known as “The Cottage”, which they demolished and rebuilt in 1792. Known as "the house that Judith built" it forms the central part of the present hall. It was fronted by the village green, Home Farm and Pack Horse Bridge across the dene. Adjoining the Hall to the east was the village inn, roses clustering around its lattices. A few cottages, the vicarage and Glebe Farm straggled down past the Church.

Seaham Hall in the WinterThe great English poet Lord Byron arrived in 1814 to woo and win the Milbanke’s talented daughter, Anne Isabella. The villagers disliked the morose and moody Byron, too much given to silent walks along the beach to the Featherbed Rock, or westward along the village road later called “Byron's Walk”. Perhaps he was thinking of phrases for his "Hebrew Melodies" seven of which were written in Seaham. The doomed marriage took place not in the Church, but in the upstairs drawing room of Seaham Hall on 2nd February, 1815. Within a year the couple had parted.

In 1821 the Milbankes sold the twin Estates of Dalden and Seaham to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and his coal heiress wife, Frances Anne Vane Tempest. Soon they were to found and develop Seaham Harbour. But in the next thirty years the Londonderrys would demolish the old village, add two wings to the Hall, extend and enclose the grounds and have their own private station. From 1837 onwards, royalty, the rich and the humble were all entertained there.

Seaham Townsfolk were allowed to walk freely on its paths and pleasure grounds between sunrise and sunset. Around the turn of the century the annual flower show and fair, the Cyclists Meet, reviews of the famous Volunteers Brigade, Londonderry Schools Battalions, scouts and guides were all great occasions. In 1919 the 7th Marquess entertained 10,000 of his workers and their wives at a huge garden fete.

Three years later, however, the Londonderrys deserted the Hall and, in 1927, presented it to Durham County Council for use as a sanatorium. For fifty years invaluable work was done in the field of chest diseases and cardio-thoracic surgery until its unfortunate closure in 1978. A hotel venture then failed. This was followed by a private nursing home which closed in 1995. By appointment visitors may still inspect the Byron Room which remains largely unaltered with its pretty fireplace and large south facing bay window where Byron and his bride knelt to say their vows.

Within the last few years Seaham Hall has been transformed into one of the highest quality hotels in the country with a leisure and spa complex. It has achieved five star status and many awards.

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