Rockliffe Hall in Hurworth, County Durham has recently welcomed two very important visitors.
Brian and Freda Rockliffe came across the 5* resort whilst researching their family tree and decided to book a short break at the resort to find out more about the name and their family’s links to the North East.
Whilst at Rockliffe Hall, the couple, from London, met with Chris Lloyd, author of the book ‘The Road to Rockliffe’ which details the history of the 365 acre estate.
Mr and Mrs Rockliffe, who live in Kingston-upon-Thames, were the first namesakes to stay at Rockliffe Hall since it opened almost five years ago.
During their stay in the North East, the couple also visited Dunstanburgh Castle and Cragside in Northumberland.
Mr Rockliffe, an overseas charity worker, said: “We were really fascinated by the ‘Rockliffe’ name and the fact that the hotel was so stunning. We were keen to explore any potential family connections. However, we found out that Rockliffe does indeed take its name from a cliff by the River Tees which is a ‘raw cliff’ because in times past the soil constantly tumbled down so no plants could grow. So we’re not connected at all. Only by name.”
Mr Rockliffe is himself a keen Sunderland FC supporter. His grandfather was a ship’s plater called Wycliffe Zerubabel Whitcliffe Rockliffe whose own father was involved with the Baptist chapel on the north bank of the River Wear, hence the religious name.
Mrs Rockliffe added: “It was wonderful to visit such a beautiful area and stay at Rockliffe Hall. However, it turns out all the Rockliffe family were involved in the maritime industry in the Sunderland area, rather than a 5* hotel!”
Resort manager, Simon Roberts, said: “This was the very first time that we’ve had a ‘Mr and Mrs Rockliffe’ stay at the hotel and it was a real pleasure to welcome them. Their enthusiasm for our history was fantastic and it was great to be able to help them in their quest to find out more about their family tree.”
Rockliffe Hall History: -
Original plans for Rockliffe Hall date back to 1774, but it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that the hall and the estate started taking shape.
Records from the 1820’s list it as being known as Pilmore House with the Pilmore Estate belonging to Robert Surtees of Redworth, the County Durham historian, and was habited – around 1836 – by his more famous cousin, landscape painter Thomas Surtees Raine.
It was in 1851 that the current site, now known as Rockliffe Hall, came under the ownership of Alfred Backhouse and major developments began.
The estate consisted of three separate buildings: - the mansion house (Pilmore House), Pilmore Farm (immediately to the West) and Hurworth Grange (immediately to the West of the farm)
Soon after gaining ownership, Backhouse swiftly commissioned fellow Quaker, and relative by marriage, Alfred Waterhouse to rebuild and re-landscape much of the main building and the estate. It was during this period that Pilmore House first became recognised as the Rockliffe Hall estate.
Whilst much of the surrounding landscape was neglected in the latter part of the 20th Century, the work of previous owners – with most thanks surely going to the 20 years of intensive work Backhouse and Waterhouse put into landscaping the grounds in the late 1800s – has helped the golf course to benefit from many historic and natural contours and features.
In 1918, Lord Southampton bought the estate and lived there on and off until 1948. A keen cricketer and sportsman, he formed the Rockliffe Park Cricket Club and played on a pitch which still exists in the same site today, on neighbouring land.
In 1950, the Rockliffe Park estate was bought by the Brothers of St John of God and converted into a hospital. Some 18 years later, it came under compulsory purchase by Durham County Council and was used as a community centre.
Sadly, it stood empty for several years and fell victim to vandals until, in 1996, Rockliffe Park was bought by Middlesbrough Football Club.
The estate has not been without incident. In 1903 and again in 1974, buildings were badly damaged by fire. In 1944 a light aircraft crashed into the grounds, luckily missing any buildings and causing only damage to trees and the landscape. It has even had its brush with stardom and parts of the grounds were used as backdrop for some scenes from the Michael Caine hit ‘Get Carter’ in 1971.