17th Century Doorway

At the southern end of the path is the restored mid-late 17th century doorway. The original doorway survived right up to the City Council restoration, only to collapse once acquired. There would have been an identical doorway at the other end of the terrace. Turn left and walk up along the south wall of the Upper Walled Garden.

This narrow strip of land is described as a garden in 1838, though no details of its layout, if any, are known.

Arrive at the gates to the Upper Walled Garden, where our tour concludes.

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

Bee Boles & Steps

This recess, and the one you have just passed, are single recesses at different heights. They may have been for small bee hives or boles, or possibly even lamp niches. Bee boles usually appear in groups, rarely just one. So these recesses are something of a mystery. The gateway in the wall here has been largely rebuilt in the recent restoration. Now move round the square to the base of the stone steps.

The 1990 excavation of the area below the gazebo revealed a series of short flights of dressed stone steps and landings. It may have been planned to have more terraces coming off these landings – see the stepped garden walls at either end of the slope – but these were probably never executed. Most of the steps were taken for reuse after the gardens were abandoned but the lowest flights, by then covered by the collapsing slope, were hidden and so survived in place. The whole flight has now been restored, retaining the original steps. There were planting pits found beside the steps, now planted in yew hedging. Move on past the southern square to the south wall where you will find the next point of this tour.

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

Putlog Holes

At this point the terrace wall shows two periods of building, with different putlog holes for scaffolding beams, and

evidence of a wall coming out at right angles from the terrace wall. This shows that the gardens were growing in

stages over a long period. Move on to the gateway at the end of the terrace.

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

The Orchard & Lower Gardens

From here you get a good impression of the orchard planting in the lower garden and on the slope below the terrace. The archaeological excavations told us nothing about the lower garden – it was too damaged by deep ploughing. The layout in the sketch was based on the designs of an early 17th century garden writer, John Parkinson, but the executed planting, researched and designed by garden historian Fiona Green, is based on the more local contemporary garden writer, William Lawson of North Yorkshire. All the plantings here are early-mid 17th century varieties. Within each square bed of roses, shrubs and fruit bushes are four apples around a central pear tree. Beside the squares and on the slope are more apples. Outside the walled garden, towards the river, are damsons and greengages. Now move back to the central steps and climb to the terrace beneath the gazebo.

    Species In the Orchard:

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

The Terrace Wall

The long high terrace wall here is evidently a structure of more than one period, with the oldest part to the north, closer to the manor house. The gazebo lies centrally in the terrace and was the focal point of the original gardens, with its 17th century basement arch and early 18th century sash window above. The main terraced path here, as excavated, was half washed away by slope erosion, only one cobbled edge surviving. The whole path has now been restored with local river gravel, and edged with box hedging. The terrace bed was restored with late 17th century planting (in 2015 supplemented by modern planting and awaiting authentic restoration). Move south, half way along the terrace, for the next point in the tour.

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

The Wear and the Gardens

In the 17th century the River Wear, and its tributary Old Durham Beck, lay much closer to Old Durham than it does now. When John Heath IV laid out his gardens he would have wanted water close by; it was an important component in contemporary garden design. At its NW corner the walled gardens originally reached the river bank, so to protect the wall base from being washed away, a stone abutment was added – the platform you are standing on. This was, half-jokingly, called ‘the jetty’ during the recent restoration, but it is just possible that John Heath may have been able to get on a boat, if not here then near here, and travel into Durham. Move to the bottom of the stone steps, following the wall, noting a wall recess en route.

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

Upper Walled Garden & Gazebo

While most of Old Durham Gardens are open 365 days a year, entry to the Upper Walled Garden and the gazebo is only possible during Heritage Open Days, Friends’ twice-weekly work days and by prior arrangement. The notes here cover details of the garden restoration, gazebo and its interior. The planting scheme here is typical of the early C18, when we know the gazebo was remodelled. Pyramidal yews are set in a formal grid of narrow beds, planted with popular plants of the period (in 2015 to be fully restored shortly) The gazebo was completed prior to 1665, then remodelled in the early 18th century, when it was squared, raised and given a pyramidal roof. Outside new doors and window were fitted, and new panelling inside with a fireplace and china cupboard alcove.

To the north of the gazebo, on private land, lies the site of the manor house (10 on sketch) and its front garden. The centre of the house lies on the central axis of Durham Cathedral. Only small ruined fragments of 17th century doors and window openings survive from the house. The white house to the north is the Old Pineapple Inn which incorporates part of an earlier garden house, sketched by Samuel Grimm around 1780.  (Note: this is all private land).

Thank you for visiting Old Durham Gardens. We hope you enjoyed the tour!

If you would like to know more about the gardens, would like to make a donation towards the continuing restoration work, or may be would like to become a Friend, see details on www.olddurhamgardens.co.uk

Welcome to Old Durham Gardens!

Whether you have arrived here from above, through the former Old Durham Farm, or from below from the River Wear, Pelaw Woods or via Maiden Castle Sports Centre, we would like to offer you this QR-code guided tour, on behalf of the Friends of Old Durham Gardens.

To begin, we suggest you walk into the orchard in the lower garden and stand at the far end, by the old riverbank trees on the main axis of the gazebo and steps to get the full panorama of the gardens and hear something of their history. If you have arrived through the Farm, walk down the south side of the gardens, then in through the five-bar gate. When you are in position, read on.


Old Durham is older than the City of Durham. It takes its name from a 2nd century Roman villa or farm that stood on the low-lying ground, south of the gardens. It’s claimed to be the most northerly villa in the Roman Empire! Its ruined bath house must have still been standing in Norman times for it to acquire the name – it was called ‘Old Durham’ in the 12th century. In 1268 there was a manor house here and by 1443 the manor came into the ownership of Kepier Hospital, a wealthy hostel for pilgrims to Durham Cathedral that is still standing today. We don’t know the precise position of the medieval manor house. After the dissolution of the hospital, the whole estate was bought by John Heath I in 1569. It was bequeathed through his family, with Old Durham eventually passing in 1630 to John Heath IV, the man who laid out the surviving gardens here.

Precisely when John Heath IV’s work at Old Durham began is unknown, probably soon after 1630, when he was still living on the peninsula, but he was at Old Durham in 1648. The gardens were most likely completed before he died here in 1665, when he put his initials and date on the door of the gazebo in front of you. The estate passed to his only daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Tempest I, MP for Durham. The gardens probably developed to their fullest extent in the latter part of the 17th century and the early decades of the 18th century. The sketch
shows the garden as it may have appeared around 1730. The manor house lies east of the northern upper garden (now private land). The gardens probably developed from here, south and west over many decades.

How the garden may have appeared circa 1730

The Tempest family lived at Old Durham until 1719 when they moved to Sherburn Hall but still used the gardens into the 1730s on their visits to the city. But by 1748 they were leased as a commercial nursery and by 1776, the manor house had gone. In 1794 the gardens passed by marriage to the Vane-Tempests and in due course, early in the nineteenth century, to the Vane-Tempest-Stewarts, the Marquises of Londonderry. Old Durham became a very small part of a hugely wealthy family’s estate, so it preserved its 17th and early 18th century design without ever being improved.

In the mid-late 18th century the gardens were used for summer music concerts, when (in 1787) it was said that ‘This sweet retirement has become a place of public resort, where concerts of music have frequently been performed in the summer evenings, and the company regaled with fruit, tea, etc’. In the 19th century the commercial nursery continued beside the well-established Pineapple Inn – the white house you can see to the left of the central gazebo. In 1918 both gardens and pub were sold, but by 1926 the Pineapple had lost its licence, but continued to hold dances there between the wars. After the Second World War the gardens gradually fell into decline and disrepair.

In 1985 the City of Durham Council bought the gardens and began an annual conservation and restoration programme over the next fifteen years. This work included three years of archaeological excavation to aid the restoration work. In 1998 the gardens were finally planted up with contemporary 17th and 18th century fruit trees, shrubs and plants, based on the writings of North Yorkshire gardener, William Lawson.

In 1998 the national importance of the Gardens was recognised by their inclusion on English Heritage’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. After the completion of the Garden restoration in 2000, annual maintenance of the Gardens lapsed. In response the Friends of Old Durham Gardens was established in 2010 to arrest the decay, return the Gardens to their neat formality, promote their use and work closely with the new owners, Durham County Council, in jointly managing the site, so continuing to develop the Gardens for public enjoyment, maintaining a tradition that dates back almost 300 years.

Now, look at the sketch here of the gardens as they may have been in the early 18th century. Move to outside the lower walled garden, overlooking Old Durham meadow, where you will see another QR code affixed to a wall.