Inside the stunning luxury homes at Lambton Park taking shape at the historic Lambton Estate

One of the region’s most colourful estates, which had been closed to the public for 40 years, is entering a new chapter as it welcomes new, luxury homes to its grounds.

The sprawling 1,200 acre Lambton Estate, the historic seat of the Earls of Durham, has a rich history and was shaped by the wealth of the coal industry, housing impressive structures such as the gothic Lambton Castle and Biddick Hall, which date back to the early 19th century

In the 1970s it was given a new lease of life as Lambton Lion Park and became hugely popular with visitors who would come to marvel at the lions, giraffes, elephants, zebra, camels and more.

Since the park’s closure, the estate was rarely used for decades, apart from charity runs, special events, clay pigeon shoots and filming projects.

Phase 1 of Miller Homes at Lambton Park

However, it’s now been given new life by a housing development, which lies almost exactly on the 200 acre footprint of the lion park.

Phase 1 of the Miller Homes development is now almost complete, with phase 2 and a community hub called Bowes Gate with leisure and retail space soon to start.

Money from the development has helped fund major restorations on the remaining 1,000 acres, including a stud farm which now houses Northumbria Police’s mounted section, restoring the Lamb Bridge and the creation of 15km of public footpaths currently open to the public on Sundays.

The new homes frame the entrance to the estate and, with such a rich history to the site, architect Craig Van Bedaf from Pod Architects, who worked in conjunction with renowned architect and interior designer Ben Pentreath on the design, says it was important to create homes that would suit and complement the site.

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Craig Van Bedaf, who is the architect on the estate, in front of one of the splendid rows of houses.

Much of the design stage was informed by existing buildings on the estate, as well as nearby buildings such as Burnmoor Cricket Club.

The result is Lambton Park, 110 new build properties, a mix of two-bedroom apartments and three, four and five bedroom homes, which have all the convenient fittings and lower running costs of a modern home with an aesthetic that harks back to the golden age of Victorian home building, such as higher ceilings, wide front doors, bay windows, sliding sash windows, eaves, decorative brickwork and chimneys.

Craig said: "It’s been a very exciting project to work on. Fundamentally, we had a responsibility to be a producer of architectural quality. The nearby buildings were very much a starting point and we’ve hung our hat on that historical precedent. A lot of standard house builds are a pastiche, but this is an honest translation of Victorian architecture.

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"Lord Lambton had quite a lot of say in the finished development. As the entrance to the estate, it was pivotal. The estate is so incredible, it’s such a hidden gem.”

The large lounge that leads out onto the garden area.

The design of the estate means that there’s no parking on the main avenue-style entrance, with parking at the rear instead, to maintain the processional feel of the development.

Thirty seven of the homes in the first phase are now occupied with foundations set to be laid for phase 2. Whilst the first phase of 70 homes doff their cap to Victorian design, the second phase of 40 homes leans more towards the Arts and Crafts style, with features such as fishscale roofs, curved headers on the doorways and Georgian-style windows.

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Stacey Banfield, regional marketing manager for Miller Homes, said: “It’s been fantastic to work on, and to see it come together, and people now living here.

"We’ve noticed people moving here from London, Glasgow and Manchester, as well as locally, from Chester-le-Street, Sunderland and Durham. It’s been a real mix of people downsizing from period properties to first time buyers.”

The brickwork around the chimney is superb.

While the new walking routes on the estate are only open to the public on Sundays at the minute, residents of the estate have access to them at all times, which has been particularly appealing for homeowners with a penchant for walking.

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Aisling Ramshaw, sales director at Miller Homes, said: "The pandemic was unpredictable, but the sale of homes by the sea and countryside shot up as people began to appreciate the outdoors more.

"The feedback has been so positive, people love the walking element of the development, as well as the architecture. A lot of the buyers wouldn’t usually have gone for a new build, but they love the period feel of these properties.”

:: Prices for Lambton Park range from £199,950 – £619,950 with part exchange available on some of the larger properties in phase one.

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History of Lambton Estate

One of the wide avenues on the estate.

Durham MP Major General John Lambton first decided to build a new family home on the site of the former Harraton Hall on the north side of the River Wear, and it was his son William who hired Italian architect Joseph Bonomi to design a new house in neo-classical style in the 1820s.

The first Lambton Hall, on the south side of the river, was demolished and its name transferred to the new house – but William never saw the project completed, dying of consumption aged just 33.

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The property passed to John George Lambton, later known as ‘Radical Jack’, who would become the 1st Earl of Durham, and inherited when he was just five-years-old.

During his ownership the building was transformed with a grand Gothic style by Joseph Bonomis’ son Ignatius, as the pair set about turning Lambton Hall into a castle. Jack and Ignatius took their inspiration from Ravensworth Castle, near Gateshead, and Brancepeth, near Durham.

Ignatius added a new entrance lodge and outbuildings, new private apartments, a new exterior and an new east wing, complete with an octagonal tower based on Guy’s Tower at Warwick Castle.

The building was extended with the addition of ornate Gothic features including turrets and a new entrance was created, with seven stone arches.

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Ironically, given how much of the family’s wealth was dependent on coal, much of Ignatius’ work would later have to be demolished due to mining subsidence.

The North East’s best-known architect, John Dobson carried out rebuilding work by adding a half-octagonal bay to the east gallery and a new service wing to the North, practically doubling the building’s size.

Dobson’s son-in-law, Sydney Smirke, continued his work but a combination of subsidence and the sheer cost of running such a huge property led to some of the building having to be demolished.

The grounds became well known across the North East in the early 1970s, with the opening of Lambton Lion Park. Spread across over 200 acres, the safari park also featured elephants, giraffes, monkeys and camels.

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Opened in 1972, it was rebranded as Lambton Pleasure Park three years later, when additions included a Magic Castle and miniature railway.

Apart from the annual Lambton run to raise money for the Foundation of Light, the grounds have been closed to the public since the park shut its gates in 1980.

The castle’s stunning exterior underwent complete restoration in 2008/09, restoring the beauty of the stonework. It’s used for filming and events with the earl having a residence at Biddick Hall, which is also part of the estate.

This room in the show home is inspired by the old Lambton Lion Park

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A police horse in the stables at Lambton Estate. Picture by Frank Reid
Lamb Bridge, which has suffered from subsidence, is one of the structures on the estate which will be restored.
A walking route at Lambton Estate. Picture by Frank Reid
The main bedroom.

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A fine row of houses on the Lambton Estate.
The kitchen and dining room is a great family area.