George Washington, the first President of America has his ancestral roots back here in England and the small North East town of Washington, which gave him his surname, and after which, ultimately, the capital of the US – Washington DC is named.
After falling into disrepair in the 19th century, Washington Old Hall was restored and now in the capable hands of the National Trust, this important piece of history is preserved.
19th century life at the Hall
Although George himself was born in Viginia in 1732, the son of an American tobacco planter, the story of the Washington family began centuries ago in the village of Washington, in the ancient County Palatine of Durham.
The name Washington dates back to Anglo Saxon times and had various spellings Wessynton, Whessingtun or Wassington, in fact the locals still pronounce the word as ‘Weshintun’ but it is spelt Washington.
People were often called after the jobs that they did or the places that they lived. The Anglo Saxon meaning of the word Washington is Hwassa= a saxon chief, Inga = the family of , and Tun = the estate.’The estate of the Hwassa Family. When William de Hertburn moved from Stockton to Washington to become the estate’s tenant he assumed the name “de Wassyngton” as his surname, in the custom of the times.
The eagle has landed
The grand house we see today is largely the remains of medieval manor house that was the home of the Washington family in the mid 13th century.
The property is a charming building set among delightful grounds and gardens.The Great Hall still boasts some impressive stone arches which lead from the dining room into the kitchen.
The family was a prominent one, illustrated by the visit of Edward I on his way back from Scotland in 1304 and they had their own coat of arms. The senior branch of the family continued to live there until the death of William in 1399. George Washington was the son of Robert Washington, William’s great, great grandson.
Times got tough at the Hall
It appears that subsequently the hall became let to a series of tenants and gradually slid down the social scale. Later in the 19th century it was being used as tenement for numerous working class families, living in the poorest conditions. It is thought that up to nine large families may have lived in the different parts of the Hall altogether at one point. In 1932 the Old Hall was closed and declared unfit for human habitation.
Exploring the nuttery
A restoration committee was formed in 1951 (the war got in the way a bit) and the house was finally opened to the public in 1955 by the US ambassador. It was given to the National Trust in 1956.
I have lived in the North East most of my life and I had never been here! It is so true that often you don’t appreciate what is on your doorstep. Washington Old Hall has a tangible warm friendly feel as soon as you walk through the door, and is set in beautiful gardens including a small orchard and the Nuttery, a sort of semi wild secret garden, with a little stream running through it. There is some top topiary too!
Washington village itself is equally surprising with a quaint village green, and some lovely little shops and restaurants. There’s even a BnB made from converting the old Police Station called ‘Ye Old Cop Shop.’
Every year Washing Old Hall celebrates 4th July along with their American cousins and is actually twinned with Washington DC itself.
Where to put the baby
Visitors from the US come in from their cruise ships which dock at North Shields and make the trip to see the ancient family home of the very first President of the United States.
Washing Old Hall is a delightful place for an afternoon out. Full of history, it has a lovely peaceful feel, gorgeous gardens to explore,and a cute coffee shop too. Throughout the summer there are lots of event and activities for visitors and families check out their website at Washington Old Hall for more details.