123-124 High Street
Currently a single building covers the two earlier building plots of 123 & 124 High Street. The building is a prominent feature of the west side of the High Street opposite the Town Hall. Built in 1874 (1) as a branch of the National Provincial Bank of England, it is now a branch of the NatWest Bank. The building was listed (Grade II) in 1985 for reasons of historical and architectural importance. The architect was John Gibson, who was the architect for the National Provincial Bank of England.
Built in the Classical Revival style (2), as evident from the dentilled cornices, the first floor window architraves and the columns on the ground floor of the facade, which echo the style of the nearby Market Column and Town Hall, the building continues to be a noteworthy part of Stockton’s High Street.
The 1881 census recorded 123 & 124 High Street as the National Provincial Bank of England, however there were also two resident families in the buildings. Earlier census records show that the two buildings were separate. 123 High Street was occupied by a variety of residents. According to the 1841 census, Anthony Dobing, a cabinet maker, was based at the property; by 1851 Francis Thompson, a wine merchant, was an occupant, whilst in 1861, William Adamson, a chemist and druggist, and five other people were recorded. By 1871, Hannah Bell was running a Temperance Hotel at 123 High Street before the site became part of the bank by 1881.
124 High Street had a more continuous occupation. According to the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census records, the site was occupied by William Skinner, a banker or magistrate, and his family. William Skinner was born in Whitby (baptised 1799). His father, also William Skinner, had formed a private bank in 1815 known as Skinner, Atty and Holt, which changed to William Skinner and Co., then to the Stockton and Darlington Commercial Bank and eventually in 1836, it became part of the National Provincial Bank of England, all possibly in the same premises of 124 High Street. William Skinner, the elder died in 1846. The early part of the 19th century was a period of important change in banking with the development of joint-stock banks and clarification of the role of the Bank of England. Such bank developments clearly merit further study of their own.
William Skinner Jnr. became prominent in Stockton and would have been known to many people within the town and surrounding area as a banker, as Mayor and as a magistrate. He was also involved in a wide range of activities including acting as vice-chairman of the Stockton, Northallerton and Leeds Railway (3) and treasurer of the Guisborough Poor Law Union (4). In 1827 William Skinner Jnr. had the honour as Mayor of welcoming the Duke of Wellington to Stockton (5).
According to Sowler (6), William Skinner Jnr. served as Mayor on five occasions between 1825 and 1853 and his father on three occasions between 1820 and 1844. From the early existence of the borough until the Whig reforms of the 1830s, the Mayor of Stockton was elected by the burgesses. The burgesses had long established rights by virtue of holding a burgage plot. The Mayor was elected annually from amongst the burgesses. In 1699 the rules regarding the election of the Mayor were reaffirmed (7). At the time of the 1835 reform, there were seventy-one burgage tenements, but only fifty-three burgesses. Burgesses who had served as Mayor became, ipso facto, Aldermen. It seems very likely that both William Skinner Snr. and Jnr. qualified as burgesses, and thereby became eligible for election as Mayor, by possessing 124 High Street, a burgage plot.
For the period 1601–1835, Sowler lists some 225 holders of the office of Mayor. This list shows only fifty-one different family names. Even more telling, nine names account for more than one hundred appointments, whilst the names Burdon, Cooke, Raisbeck and Sutton alone, total more than sixty. Hardly surprising then that the 19th century reformers sought nationally to broaden the franchise in terms of the election of Mayors and other borough officials, as Stockton was a fairly typical example. The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 and subsequent measures changed long established procedures into those more like that of the present. Interestingly, the Municipal Reform Act recognised Stockton as a ‘borough by prescription’ that is it had existed ‘by custom from time immemorial without a charter or other formal document of incorporation’.
So what is a burgage plot? The details varied across different boroughs but in simple terms a burgage plot is a parcel of land held in a recognised borough. Holders of a burgage plot became known as burgesses. In Stockton’s case burgesses can be traced at least to the survey of Bishop Hatfield in the 14th century (about 1382). And if you accept the view of Sowler that the borough stems from the time of Bishop Pudsey in the reign of Richard I, burgesses may date from the 12th century, though the first recorded name as Mayor, Richard Maunce, is from about 1380. It seems that in current terms, the burgage plots were each side of the High Street, between approximately the area of Dovecot Street and Yarm Lane and between West Row and the river. This is the area shown as the borough in Sowler’s book.
A brief study of recent maps suggests that a typical burgage plot in Stockton might have been in the order of 20 feet wide and 180-200 feet long e.g. the area either side of 123/124 High Street, between Ramsgate and Dovecot Street. This compares closely to the shape and size of burgage plots found elsewhere e.g. Alnwick , Beverley and Yarm. This area also shows the presence of narrow access routes to rear yards another characteristic of the burgage plot arrangement. Nationally, it is thought that burgage tenure may go back to Saxon times and it is recognised as a key element in the development of the medieval borough. In some places burgage tenure was freehold, but in Stockton it appears that the arrangement was different. A tenure of a burgage within the borough required an entry and annual payment to the lord of the manor, i.e. the Bishop of Durham, not the King and this granted freedom from all tolls in the Liberty of Durham as well as the ability to pass on the right to their burgage to whomsoever they wished. More detailed examination of burgage plots in Stockton, is unfortunately, beyond the scope of this account at the present time.
(3) Durham County Advertiser, October 1845
(4) Yorkshire Gazette, March 1837
(5) Sowler, Tom: A History of the Town and Borough of Stockton-on-Tees
Stories from the High Street participant: Keith Pratt.
The ‘Stories…’ project is part of the Council’s wider “Grants for Heritage Buildings’ programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Council, to help promote awareness and understanding of the town’s heritage.
Visit www.stockton.gov.uk/grantsforheritagebuildings for further information on the project.