Stockton Mysteries

Stockton Mysteries

Like many other long established towns, there are elements of Stockton where important details of development seem to be lost, supposing they ever existed.

It maybe that it is not possible to verify beyond doubt the origin or nature of some things, but rather we have to accept the situation as we know it. A lot of time could be spent debating theories which it may be impossible to confirm. This article considers three topics in brief.


Given the long history of Stockton Borough, it may seem odd to begin consideration of a borough charter by looking at 1835.  However, in that year, three years after the Great Reform Act, and as part of a series of Whig Reforms, there was the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.  This legislation 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. There are plenty of references to support this and these have appeared in well documented  research by others.  Here are three:

c1382 – a survey for Bishop Hatfield makes reference to the ‘burrough’ and names some holders of burgage plots.

1647 – a survey by Colston and Daile states that ‘the towne of Stockton is an ancient burrough and market towne by ancient charters’.

1662 – a letter was written on behalf of the Bishop of Durham addressed to the ‘Burrough of Stockton’ and others.

Sowler believes that indirect evidence of the borough’s origin can be traced to the latter part of the 12th century and the reign of King Richard though some authorities place it in the reign of King John which began in 1199. Sowler attributes the establishment of the borough to Bishop Pudsey.

Since 1835  there have been several other pieces of legislation which have amended aspects of the Borough including its area, administrative structure and electoral arrangements.


This is certainly a  problematic topic.  Considering the location of the castle, it is generally accepted that it lay within the boundary of the moat as shown in Sowler (there is still a Moat Street and a Tower Street). For something which many regard as a significant part of Stockton’s heritage there is little verifiable information about what actually lay within the moat. This is largely because:

1 – There is very little in the way of “actual remains” despite an archaeological dig prior to the construction of the current Castlegate Centre. Some items relating to buildings are on display at Preston Hall. There are also claims that materials from the castle can be found in buildings around Finkle Street and Green Dragon Yard.

2 – There is also very little in the way of written material. The ‘Boldon Buke’ of 1183 refers to a hall in Stockton and there is evidence that King John stayed at the Manor House and later Edward I. In the 1570s a survey of the Manor House was taken. This survey referred to the Manor House as “commonly called Stockton Castle”and  lists a barn, a hall, a chamber, a chapel, a north tower, a west tower, a kitchen and several other buildings. The survey makes references to walls, buttresses  and battlements being in a  state of decay and ruinous, lacking pointing and  with rotten timber. This is probably the most detail we have about the ‘castle’ as it also gives measurements and estimates of the cost of repairs.

With thorough analysis perhaps using computer technology, unfortunately outside the scope of this article, it may be possible to compile a more accurate representation. The survey suggests the towers were 36 feet high while the hall is given as 66 feet long, 33 feet broad and 27 feet high.  This hall may have been the ‘beautiful chamber’ constructed for Bishop Kellaw who died in 1316.

Coat of ArmsIt is also worth noting that Bishop Morton refers to Stockton Castle in 1640 on more than one occasion, as does Thomas Conyers. However, by 1647 the survey by Colston and Daile clearly describes the Bishop’s Castle as ruinous and in great decay with the moat partly filled up…..perhaps this was after Parliament decided that ‘Stockton Castle be made untenable and the garrison disgarrisoned’ (Feb.1647).

3 – There is even less in the way of visual information.  Such drawings as exist which claim to show Stockton Castle probably all have the same difficulty regarding authenticity. They date from a time long after 1647 when Parliament authorised the dismantling and the survey by Colston and Daile described the castle as ruinous and in great decay.

So we may well have to continue to make do with idealised or symbolic castle images such as those on the various coat of arms used by Stockton Borough.


Fortunately, the market is much less of a mystery.  Bishop Bek’s grant of a market charter on the 11th April 1310 is well documented.

On the 4th June 1602 Bishop Matthew granted a renewal of Bek’s charter for a weekly market following a petition by the Mayor, Nicholas Fleatham , and burgesses. It seems that the holding of a market had been allowed to lapse, possibly following a period of economic decline in the late 14th century.

On the 24th April 1662, Bishop Cosin renewed Stockton’s market charter in the same terms as those of the Bishops Bek and Matthew. This confirmed:

1 – a weekly Wednesday market.

2 – an annual fair or mart starting the 7th July (the feast Thomas the Martyr) and last 8 days. This fair became the Cherry Fair and later the Hirings according to Sowler).

For those interested it is possible to obtain details of the arrangements for the market. In 1674 selling began on the ringing of the Toll Bell and those who jumped the gun were liable to a fine of 6s. In 1699 there is a record of some paving in the market area. Sowler has a list of Market Tolls as in 1707 and another for 1852.  The former shows for example that butchers paid 6d for a covered stall and that the market was held around the Covered Cross and the Toll Booth. In 1768 it was agreed to replace the Covered Cross with a Market Column ( now a Grade II* listed building). In 1823 it was agreed to erect a new Shambles. In 1838 amendments were made to the Market Bye Laws including fines for selling unwholesome products and regulations on weights.

In 1852 the ‘right of holding markets in the said borough and of taking Market Tolls therein, is vested in the said Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses’. Butchers had to pay 2s per stall for a Wednesday  and 1s on a Saturday , while other covered stalls of  8 feet long and 4 feet wide were charged  9d.


A History of the Town and Borough of Stockton-on-Tees by Tom Sowler

The Parochial History and Antiquities of Stockton-on-Tees by J. Brewster

Local records of Stockton and the neighbourhood by  T. Richmond

Victoria County History, Durham Vol.3,  British History Online

Surtees Society,  various volumes of the proceedings.

Image Source: Picture Stockton Archive


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 for further information on the project.