About The Friends

The Friends of Old Durham Gardens were formed in 2010. Since November 2015, the group has existed as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), with the registration number 1164516.



To promote for the benefit of the public generally, without distinction of sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, nationality, race or political, religious or other opinions, any charitable purpose, within the area known as Old Durham Gardens in Durham City (herein after known as the area of benefit), connected with the enhancement and improvement, maintenance and protection of the environment and landscape.

Nothing in this constitution shall authorise an application of the property of the CIO for the purposes which are not charitable in accordance with [section 7 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005] and [section 2 of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008]

Past events

Over the past years, Old Durham has taken part in annual Heritage Open Days, public walks and music concerts. We have recorded past events below, and hope to continue in a similar vein into the future.


Heritage Open Days

As part of the annual national Heritage Open Days in mid-September, the upper garden is open for extended hours.

Saturday 10th – Sunday 11th September 2016

Thursday 12th – Sunday 15th September 2013


Music in the Gardens

An afternoon of refreshments and free music within the walled gardens, often the last Sunday of Heritage Open Days.

Sunday 11th September 2016

Attended by over 730 people throughout the afternoon, we had six groups featuring Appalachian, classical, jazz, folk, popular, blues and baroque/renaissance music.

Sunday 13th September 2015

Sunday 14th September 2014

Sunday 15th September 2013

Sunday 9th September 2012


Music events

In addition to our annual Music in the Gardens event.

Sunday 8th June 2016. Durham Scratch Choir played a set in the gardens.


Walks Programme

Our trustee, Martin Roberts, leads walks of historic gardens around Durham.

Sunday 15th June 2014. Durham Peninsula Gardens and Riverbanks, Part 2.

Garden walk led by Martin Roberts, with focus on the historic landscapes on the peninsula.

Sunday 4th May 2014. Durham Peninsula Gardens and Riverbanks, Part 1.

Garden walk led by Martin Roberts, with focus on the historic landscapes on the peninsula.

Sunday 14 April 2013. Durham Colleges.

The college gardens of Durham University are a hidden delight, rarely open to public view. But thanks to the kindness of the college heads, they are exclusively open to the Friends. This all day event will take us through landscapes that date back to the medieval city, through seventeenth and eighteenth century gardens laid out by the gentry on the Bailey, to the modern gardens of the South Road colleges. We visited gardens at St Chad’s, St John’s, St Mary’s, Trevelyan and St Aidan’s colleges.

Sunday 16 June 2013. Cocken and Finchale

In the mid-eighteenth century the young Ralph Carr of Cocken Hall married well and spent much of his new wealth laying out the grounds of his estate. It became one of the most visited County Durham landscapes, such was the fame of its dramatic walks and panoramas. Despite the loss of the hall, the remains of that landscape, and the evidence of earlier, formal parkland can still be traced on the estate today. Carr’s landscape ended with the perfect, tree-framed view of the medieval ruins of Finchale Priory.

Sunday 12 May 2013. Newton Hall.

An afternoon walk through the modern landscape of Newton Hall housing estate in search of the evidence for the eighteenth century landscape of the great house that once stood there. You will be surprised just what evidence can still be found. Armed with old photographs and maps we shall investigate just how the twentieth century house builder could not totally eradicate the historic landscape he inherited.

Saturday 23 June 2012. Ceddesfield Hall, Sedgefield.

A recently discovered mid C18 garden designed by Cathedral canon and influential landscape designer, Joseph Spence. Subsequently altered and part municipalised, but a fascinating site with much good detective work. The Hall is the former rectory in the middle of the village, now a community centre.

Saturday 26 May 2012. Kepier Hospital, Old Durham Gardens, Durham Peninsula Gardens.

A day-long event, held jointly with Northumbria Gardens Trust. Trace the green-fingered Heath family from their origins at Kepier Hospital with its late C16/early C17 walled garden and classical loggia, via present day Hatfield College,out to Old Durham, finishing in the later C17. Castle and College gardens influenced by Old Durham.

Saturday 21 April 2012. Sherburn Hospital

A rich garden history, with medieval origins, a C17 terrace, an unusual mid C18 “outgarden”, with later gardens continuing right into C19 and C20.


Apple Day

Saturday 23 October. Local historian David Butler led a guided tour to Old Durham.

Visitors on Apple Day (2010)

Places nearby

Old Durham is only one of a number of gardens, parks and woodlands open to the public in Durham.


Pelaw Woods

A woodland adjoining Old Durham, and historically part of the same estate. The woods, which contain a number of habitats and many footpaths, are today managed by the Friends of Pelaw Woods.


Durham Riverbanks

The Durham Riverbanks provide a natural corridor running through the city of Durham, and provide access to Old Durham from the city centre.


Durham Botanic Gardens

Managed by Durham University, the Botanic Gardens have a range of plants and trees from across the world.


Crook Hall

Crook Hall is a 13th century medieval hall with gardens, which is open to the public.


Flass Vale

A local nature reserve, this woodland is managed by the Friends of Flass Vale.


Wharton Park

Currently undergoing a major renovation, Wharton Park has provided a public green space in the middle of the city since the 19th century.


Lying at the foot of the lower gardens, the orchard provides a harvest of damsons each autumn, which are picked by visitors, or cooked into jams by a local seller.

The trees planted here are of two old varieties, dating from before the 1650s – Shropshire Old Prune, and Old Greengauge (also known as Quetsche d’Alsace).


Back to the map.

Upper Gardens

The Walled Gardens have had a mixed history, serving as a ornamental formal garden, a commercial nursery, and a bowling green.


By 1776 the upper garden was fully enclosed with the stone wall to the north being particularly high to enable the cultivation of south facing fruit trees. It is interesting that there is no direct access between the upper gardens and the terrace below. The 19th Century brickwork suggests that there may have been railings to allow views of Shincliffe from the gardens.

By 1857 the gardens had been levelled to form a bowling green. During the early part of the 20th Century they were used as a market garden before finally falling into complete disuse.

Archaeological excavations were able to show the location of paths, flower beds and planting holes and even some of the types of plants that were grown from the analysis of pollen. Using this information along with a study of the horticultural publications of the time, it has been possible to restore the gardens to something resembling their appearance in the 18th Century.

Planned Works

We intend to restore the walled garden to approximately 1720, the date at which the gardens were last known to be modernised by the Tempest family.

This will involved planting formal beds, and espaliering fruit trees to the walls.

We will also leave space at either end for events.

Photographs of the upper gardens

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Work To Date

Since beginning in 2010, we have been busy working on many aspects of the gardens. We have been helped in these works by many organisations, to whom we are very grateful.


Maintenance of walled garden

Volunteers have helped us trim the ornamental yew trees, clear the formal runnels, and mow the grass. We have planted fruit trees along the walls, growing on newly-installed trellises.  Thanks to Cllrs Dennis Southwell and Les Thompson for providing funding for a lawn mower.

Thanks to volunteers from Durham University Business School.


Maintenance of orchard

With the help of volunteers and donations, we have pruned the fruit trees, and replaced any which were dead or diseased.

Thanks to the Durham AAP for funding for the replacement trees.

Thanks to volunteers from Durham University Business School, Northumbria Water, Durham University Conservation Group, King’s Church and Durham Countryside Rangers.


Replaced missing border plants

As well as the fruit trees, we have replaced some of the plants missing from the formal borders.

Thanks to volunteers from Barclay’s Bank.


New benches

Following redevelopment works, we were given four benches from the market place in Durham.

Thanks to Carillion for donating and installing the benches.



We now have electricity, water and a toilet for volunteers.


Branding, and new entrance signs

Despite lying alongside a footpath, the gardens are easily missed by passing walkers and cyclists. We have installed two new entrance signs to make the gardens more prominent.

Thanks to Cllrs Dennis Southwell and Les Thompson for providing funding for these signs. These signs make the most of our new branding, designed by students from New College Durham.


Regular opening

Although the orchard has always been, and will remain to be, open to the public at all times, the walled garden lay closed for many years. We now regularly open this garden to the public.


Successful events

Over the past few years, we have organised and ran successful events, with the help of volunteers.




Running along a hedge-lined bank of apple trees, the terrace provides good views over the lower gardens and surrounding countryside.



By the 1980s, the bank had collapsed through time, and over the following decade the original profile was restored.

The steps up the bank were discovered during archaeological excavations in the 1990s.


Planned Works

We plan to restore the terrace to a late 17th century style.


Photographs of the terrace

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Helping Us

There is a lot of work to be done in the gardens, and as a voluntary organisation we rely on help in the form of time given, donations, or memories of Old Durham in the past.

If you would like to further discuss any of these opportunities, please contact us.


We have groups of volunteers who enjoy coming to the gardens weekly, fortnightly or monthly for a couple of hours to help with a wide range of tasks, including:

  • Weeding and planting in the herbaceous borders and walled garden
  • Pruning our collection of pyramid yews
  • Mowing and edging the lawns
  • Meeting and greeting visitors in our restored gazebo
  • Maintaining our benches
  • Maintaining the fruit trees in the orchard
  • Helping at our open day events
  • … plus a range of other seasonal tasks

We carry out garden works during our opening hours, 2-4pm Thursday and Sunday afternoons. If you are able to commit to regular volunteering, our core group meets fortnightly Thursday 10am to 12pm, finishing with a picnic lunch in the walled garden. If gardening work isn’t for you, we would welcome volunteers to greet visitors during these times.

If you’re interested in joining us to help maintain and develop these 17th century gardens, please contact us online or call in to see us when we’re working in the gardens.

Group Volunteering

We welcome corporate or community group volunteers. We have enjoyed the help of volunteers from:

  • Northumbria Water
  • Barclay’s Bank
  • King’s Church
  • Durham University
  • Durham University Business School

Contributing Your Memories

If you do have any interesting stories or photographs please get in touch using the contact us page so that they can be saved for posterity.


We depend on raising our own funds to support all of our work. The trustees are all unpaid volunteers from the local community. Any money raised goes directly to further the projects aims.

You can donate by sending a cheque (payable to Friends of Old Durham Gardens) to the address below.

Friends of Old Durham Gardens, 8, Hill Meadows, High Shincliffe, Durham, DH1 2PE.


Copies of our current and past newsletters are available for download.





An overview of 2019. Download.

Spring 2019

A review of 2018 and plans for 2019. Download.

January 2018

An overview of the events and progress in the garden through the last year. Download.

Spring 2017

An overview of works over the past year, and details of the upcoming AGM. Download.

Spring 2016

An overview of works over the past year, including composting toilet and electricity supply, our registering as a charity, and details of the upcoming AGM. Download.


Spring 2015

News of our current projects, including espaliered fruit trees in the walled garden, QR codes to get information on the gardens through your phone, and a composting toilet for volunteers. Also a look back over the events in 2014, such as our ‘Music in the Gardens’ of September. Download.


Spring 2014

A look back on the volunteer groups which have helped us throughout 2013, the Music in the Gardens event in September of that year, our plans for events through 2014, our work with National Trust gardener Kate Nicholl looking into espaliered trees, and progress on our bid to become a charity. Download.

Spring 2013

An overview of voluntary opportunities, our planned events for 2013, and news from the garden. Download.

Winter 2012

A look back over the voluntary work carried out in 2012, as well as our first ever AGM. Download.

Spring 2012

A look back over events, a call for more memories of Old Durham, some damson recipes, and an article on the historic gardens of Durham, by Martin Roberts. Download.

Spring 2011

Details of our early volunteer sessions, and a history of Black Worcester, a variety of pear present in the garden, and dating over 400 years. Download.

October 2010

Plans for some of our earliest events, plus our work on developing the structure of the group. Download.

September 2010

Our first newsletter, looking at the establishment of our group. Download.

Join Us

The benefits of becoming a friend are:

  • Receipt of the Newsletter and other communications
  • The ability to influence the future direction of the project
  • Become a trustee of the project

The annual donation to become a friend is £5. To join, please print out and fill a friends application form.