Plague, war and Scottish raids – Cleadon’s survivor spirit

General Beckett at Cleadon March 1945 - photo taken during World War Two.

General Beckett at Cleadon March 1945 - photo taken during World War Two.

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THE unique story of a village which has survived war, famine, plague and Scottish raiders is the focus of a new book.

Cleadon residents joined forces with archaeology, ecology, geology and history experts last year as part of a Limestone Landscapes Partnership project to explore the area’s origins.

Cleadon Village February 1952.

Cleadon Village February 1952.

Now the information gathered from 18 months of research, including archaeological digs, building surveys and archive investigations, is being used to produce a village atlas.

But, before the book is launched, a celebration of Cleadon’s unique history is to be held tomorrow – with a World War One-themed boot camp, tearoom and heritage exhibition.

“Cleadon’s war memorial is one of the few in the country to honour not just those who died, but also those who served,” said Penny Middleton, of Northern Archaeological Associates.

“Including the names of all those who fought during that terrible time reflects the generosity of spirit and the real sense of pride that the people of Cleadon have in their heritage.

GONE: Demolition in progresson one of Cleadon's oldest and best known buildings in 1950. The building, believed by residents to be haunted, was pulled down because of the danger of sections collapsing.

GONE: Demolition in progresson one of Cleadon's oldest and best known buildings in 1950. The building, believed by residents to be haunted, was pulled down because of the danger of sections collapsing.

“After working on the atlas for the past 18 months, I can safely say this spirit is as true today as it was in 1918. That is why we chose the wartime theme to mark the end of the project.”

The earliest references to Cleadon can be found in the Boldon Buke of 1183 – known as the Domesday Book of the North – detailing taxable land held by the Bishop of Durham.

Archaeological evidence suggests, however, that Cleadon was occupied for thousands of years before scribes ever put pen to paper on the Boldon Buke.

Even the original name of the village, Clifdun, is Anglo-Saxon in origin and carries the meaning “a hill with cliffs” – similar in form to Cleveland, which meant “hilly district”.

Cleadon Village 1950s.

Cleadon Village 1950s.

“This rural community suffered through agricultural reform, industrial expansion and civil war over hundreds of years, as well as the threat of plague, raids and famine,” said Penny. “Echoes of these times have been left in the landscape, but the true story of Cleadon lies with its residents – who have mapped out the history of the area through the generations.

“It is a story which deserved to be told, and now it will be through our atlas.

“The final preparations for publication are being made, and much of it will be on show on Saturday.”

The Cleadon Atlas Project, which was co-ordinated by Northern Archaeological Associates, saw villagers search out forgotten pieces of village history, including wartime information.

Training grounds at Cleadon Meadows and Cleadon Hills were found to have played an important military role, while an army camp thrived in the grounds of the Cottage Homes.

“Cleadon would have been a hive of activity during the war. Not only did villagers sign up to fight in the conflict, but hundreds of soldiers were trained in the area too,” said Penny.

“Indeed, being so close to both South Shields and Sunderland, Cleadon was actually the last point of call for many troops before being shipped out to the front.

“Officers were billeted at Undercliffe and the old village hall provided R&R facilities. The 36 Squadron Royal Flying Corp also has a landing ground just east of Cleadon Hills Farm.”

Further details on Cleadon’s wartime past will be revealed at tomorrow’s event, which will also include drill and wound dressing sessions with The Time Bandits 
re-enactment team.

A display of weapons – including a machine gun position – field clothing, trench art and items from the home front is planned as well, together with an exhibition of vintage photos.

Other event highlights will include help with tracing wartime ancestors, courtesy of Durham Record Office, and a World War One tea room experience provided by Cleadon WI.

“We are hoping there will be something for everyone,” said John Robinson, one of the villagers organising the event.

“We are also really keen to collect new information, so if you have any old photos of the village then please bring them along. We are hoping to be able to scan things on site.”

Displays featuring the lost buildings of Cleadon, as well as panoramic views of the area and work carried out on the atlas project by local children, will also be on show.

An invitation to all has been issued and Penny added: “The atlas project has been a unique opportunity for people to gain ‘hands-on’ experience in a wide range of skills.

“We wanted as many villagers to get involved as possible and it has been a wonderful opportunity to build up a comprehensive picture of the history of Cleadon.”

•The Village Atlas celebration will be held at Cleadon Village CofE Academy on Boldon Lane from 1pm-4pm tomorrow. The atlas will be available to download soon, for free, at cleadon-village.co.uk.