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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Sockburn Project, Co Durham

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Sockburn Hall lies in a loop of the River Tees at the very southern point of County Durham. It was built in 1834 and is surrounded by the earthworks of a post-Medieval mansion and gardens, including possible traces of an earlier, partly moated manor house. A ruined medieval church stands close to the hall and contains Anglo-Saxon features, a late 12th century aisle and a rebuilt chancel dating to the early 13th century. The 14th century chantry chapel now houses the substantial and important collection of pre- and post-Conquest sculpture, including cross shafts and heads and a significant number of hogbacks.

The Sockburn Project, directed by Sarah Semple and David Petts, is one of six regional projects dedicated to revealing and understanding the early medieval North East. This field project builds on extensive survey and investigation at Sockburn by English Heritage in 2007.

The name Sockburn OE ‘soccabyrig’ in AD 780 ‘could mean the manor or fortified place of ‘Socca’ (an old English personal name) which could refer to a vill of a large, early territory, or a Soke – and thus a place of assembly and central administration. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Higbald was consecrated bishop of Lindisfarne ‘aet Soccabyrig’ in the year 780-1, following the resignation of his predecessor Cynebald; whilst the chronicler Symeon of Durham, writing in the early 12th century, but drawing on earlier manuscripts which have not survived, states that Higbald was also involved in ceremonies after the death of archbishop Eanbald 1 of York in the year 796, when ‘…another Eanbald, a priest of the same church, was all at once elected to the episcopate; bishops Ethelbert, Hygbald and Badulf meeting at his consecration at a monastery called Sochasburg.’. These sources suggest the presence of a very early monastic community but point to the use of the site for major ecclesiastical assemblies before the later use of the site as place of central administration under Anglo-Scandinavian rule.

We are involved in conducting additional fieldwork geared to understanding the early origins and development of this unusual and important site. A season of work in 2012, involving GPR and then small-scale excavation, has produced results that indicate the possibility of extensive preserved remains of Anglo-Scandinavian date close to the church, sealing a much earlier large boundary or enclosure, perhaps relating to an earlier monastic site. A short interim report has been submitted to English Heritage and the results are being prepared for publication. A more extensive program of work is planned in 2014.


From the Department of Archaeology

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China