Visitors flocking to historic hall after revamp

Crook Hall is one of the best-preserved structures of its kind in the country.

Crook Hall is one of the best-preserved structures of its kind in the country.

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One of Wearside’s most historically important gems has undergone its largest-scale development since Georgian times.

Crook Hall, a 13th century Grade I listed medieval hall in Durham City, is one of the best preserved structures of its kind in the country.

It was an under-used bit of the garden so it hasn’t affected the look of the hall and gardens. It’s the first significant development here since the 1800’s

Maggie Bell, Crook Hall owner

Over the centuries, it’s seen many changes including a Jacobean addition to the original hall and the creation of a Georgian home.

Now its quintessentially English gardens, which attract visitors from across the globe, house a stand-alone cafe and a self-contained holiday apartment.

The new structure has seen an influx of visitors to the site in Sidegate, including cyclists and dog walkers who use it as a stop off point.

Maggie Bell, who has owned Crook Hall for 20 years with husband Keith, says the development is a breath of fresh air.

“We started off wanting to add some heating to our entrance shed, and ended up building a cafe,” said Maggie.

Work began on the structure, which stands at the base of the gardens, last September with it opening in time for this year’s summer season creating 20 jobs.

It offers a separate menu of snacks and cakes to that served in Crook Hall and operates aside from the admission cost to the hall.

Maggie said: “It was an under-used bit of the garden so it hasn’t affected the look of the hall and gardens. It’s the first significant development here since the 1800’s. Planning permission was relatively easy, which we were surprised about with the hall being Grade I-listed. But Durham County Council want to encourage tourism, so they were very supportive.

“Our first brief to the architect was very much a Hansel and Gretel-style structure, this isn’t actually what we envisaged initially. But the architects explained that they didn’t want a pastiche of the hall, it needed to be something that would contrast and complement, and they were right.

“We had to take a loan out for the building and we have no money for advertising, but word of mouth has been excellent.”

General manager Nicola Sutcliffe said: “Local businesses and suppliers have been really supportive and all our produce is fresh and home-made.”

Maggie says she hopes the new cafe will help to draw in visitors from nearby.

“Nicola was very confident about it. It was a very big thing for us to take on, but it’s really taken us forward.

“We have people from Australia who come to the hall and gardens, I think because Visit County Durham have done a big push over there, yet there are still people from Durham and Sunderland who don’t even know we’re here.

“It’s one of the only places in England where you can see a structure like this. A lot of the small, modest medieval halls didn’t survive, but this one did, I think maybe they were scared of the ghosts.

“Also to have that mix of three eras of English domestic architecture is very unusual.”