The Places
Durham, England: 1200s-2000
Birthplace of Mary Wilson Smiles (1801)
Marriage place of Nicholas Otterson and Jane Middlemas (1812)
“The open space in the center of the village is what remains of the mediaeval village green. The green is the heart of the village and has long been used as a place to play, to be punished and even to find a job. At one time there were stocks on the green and the twice-yearly hiring fairs of agricultural workers  took place there. The fairs were banned from 1866 because of drunkenness, noise and fighting. The Market Cross was erected in 1795, and renewed in 1951, probably replacing a much older mediaeval structure.”

- Text from a panel produced by Gateshead local government council in 2002, and which stands just inside the long drive that leads to Holy Cross Church.

There are really two Rytons today. The old village rests quietly within a half mile or so of the B6317 road. There is a distinctly different “feel” between the old village and the newer Ryton that has developed more recently and sits on the B road itself. This minor road takes traffic east towards nearby Newcastle or west along roads that roughly parallel Hadrian’s Wall - that remarkable and ancient structure whose remains have spanned the breadth of England since Roman times. Nearby towns with names like Wallsend or Heddon-on-the-Wall reflect their proximity to the great wall that once marked the northern extremity of the Roman Empire. 

Ryton once lay closer to the Scottish border than it does today, and its location near to the point on the Tyne River which is most easily fordable made it a target for attack by Scottish armies during the many years of conflict between Scotland and England. William Wallace - “Braveheart” - burned the village to the ground in 1297.

Two centuries ago, when the Otterson and Smiles families were associated with it, there was only one Ryton, nestled into the side of a richly wooded bank that rose steeply from the River Tyne dividing the counties of Durham and Northumberland. The Holy Cross parish church is perhaps the most significant part of the old village. It dates back to the 1200s, and was modernized in the 18th and 19th centuries.  A mediaeval castle once stood on the site, and the church stood within the castle walls. The parish itself is ancient (the first written mention of a church in Ryton is in 1112) and once covered an extensive area that is now split between several parishes. Today, many restored cottages line the quiet roads of Old Ryton village, and an old Market Cross stands where the village green once marked the center of village life.

Old Ryton Village as it appears today.

Top: The old Market Cross.

Top right: St. Mary’s Terrace, lined with stone cottages, winds through the village.

Right and above: Holy Cross Church, including part of a plaque which commemorates the rectors of the church since 1220.