Lower Gardens

This is the largest part of the gardens, and is open to the public at all times and easily accessible from the neighbouring cycle path.

The gardens are particularly attractive in late spring when all the fruit trees are in blossom. Students in particular from the nearby colleges take advantage of the peaceful environment to study for their exams, and pursue other activities favoured by students throughout the ages.



Archaeological excavation in the lower garden did not find any clear evidence of how the gardens were once planted. Any evidence was probably destroyed by deep ploughing in the 19th century. Plans from the 18th century suggest show this area as an orchard, although the restoration has focused on garden styles from the mid-17th century, when the gardens were first developed.

The present layout consists of a damson orchard, and more openly planted apple and pear trees amongst formal borders. In keeping with the early style, all of the varieties of fruit date from before 1650. Here you will find eight rare varieties of apple, including Catshead, Leatherjacket and Golden Pippin apples; Black Worcester pears; Shropshire Prune Damson and Old Greengage.

Plans from 1776 suggest that the lower gardens were totally enclosed by walls. However, sections of the walls were removed in the late 19th century to make space for the nearby railway embankment, which carried trains to Elvet. The remaining sections have been restored, including a 17th century doorway which gives access onto the terrace.


Our Management

So far, we have replaced dead and diseased trees with authentic historic varieties, heavily pruned the formal border, and agreed a new grass cutting regime with Durham County Council.


Planned Works

We aim to continue managing the fruit trees and formal border through pruning.

Future improvements could be made to the boundary with the public footpath, and filling any remaining gaps in the yew and box hedging.


Photographs of the lower gardens

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Over the past 350 years, Old Durham has been a private garden attached to a manor house, a commercial nursery, a public park, a bowling green and tennis courts.


Medieval Old Durham

The first records of Old Durham date from the 12th century, when it belonged to the rector of St Nicolas’ church. In 1268 a chapel and private oratory were established by Golfrid de Helme of the Rectory of St Nicholas.

In 1443, land owned by St Nicholas’, which included Old Durham, was appropriated by Bishop Neville and given to Kepier Hospital. In 1479, the Master of Kepier leased Old Durham to his brother, Richard Booth, for a length of 99 years.


Private Gardens

The estate at Kepier Hospital was sold in 1545 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and passed into the ownership of John Heath I. However, the Booths continued to lease Old Durham for a while, living here in a modest medieval manor.

In 1630, John Heath IV sold Kepier and moved to Old Durham with his wife Margaret. The gardens were first laid out in this time, sometime between 1630 and John’s death in 1665.

After John’s death, the estate passed to his only daughter Elizabeth and her husband, John Tempest I, MP for Durham. The couple continued to live in Old Durham, as did their son William, also an MP. However, in 1719, the Tempests left Old Durham and moved to Sherburn.

The Tempest family remained owners of the Old Durham estate until 1794, and they continued to use the gardens at Old Durham. Between 1725 and 1735, they renovated the gardens and remodelled the gazebo.


How the gardens may have looked in the 18th century
How the gardens may have looked in the 18th century


A Place of Public Resort

The Tempests appear to have left Old Durham by 1748, by which time it was run by a commercial nursery by gardener John Thackray and then by his widow, Jane. 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. A commercial nursery was still present at Old Durham in 1844.

Through the 1750s, music concerts were held at Old Durham. The Newcastle Courant reported a concert in June 1753 at which the “Choir of Durham performed a grand Concert of Music to a brilliant Assembly of Gentlemen and Ladies”. The following May, the newspaper reported a “concert of vocal and instrumental musick”, performed to an audience “very large and genteel”, and again the following year a concert was run by the celebrated composer John Garth, organist of Durham Cathedral.

By 1776, documents show that the mansion at Old Durham had been demolished. It is likely that the building was dismantled and sold for building materials.

Several years later, in 1787, William Hutchinson described the gardens:

“The gardens are formed into terraces of a considerable length. 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. The gardens are open all summer for rural recreation. The terraces command the elegant valley prospect before described.”

In 1834, the Pineapple Inn was already established as a public house supporting the commercial and recreational activities of the gardens. The first edition Ordinance Survey map in 1857 shows the walled gardens as a bowling green.


In 1918, Lord Londonderry, descendent of the Tempests, sold the Pineapple Inn and Old Durham Gardens to Victor Mazzini Walton. Mr Walton was an artist and ice cream maker and continued to develop the Gardens as a pleasure ground for public recreation. A 1921 advert describes it as having tennis courts, putting green, running track and a tea garden.

The Pineapple Inn was still licensed in 1921, but five years later it lost its licence, some say due to its unfavourable reputation. The reality may be less exciting, as perhaps its dwindling customers moved to more accessible city centre pubs. Whatever the reason, the Pineapple continued to serve soft drinks, and the popular weekend dances were a feature of Durham life between the wars. The dances took place on an open-air dance floor surrounded by tables divided by screens made of bi-plane wings.


Decline and Abandonment

After the Second World War the Old Durham dances died out and in 1949 Mr Walton sold the land. The Pineapple Inn became Pineapple House, and the public entrance was blocked up. The gazebo, its walls, terraces and gardens, now devoid of purpose, gradually slipped into decline and disrepair.

By the end of the 20th century, the gazebo lay in ruins.
By the end of the 20th century, the gazebo lay in ruins.


Restoration and Revival

In 1985, the City of Durham Council purchased Old Durham, and began a programme of conservation and restoration, which would last 15 years. The gazebo walls were repaired and the missing roof replaced, the eroded terrace and slope were restored, and archaeological excavations carried out. Finally, the gardens were planted to historic layouts. In 1998, English Heritage placed Old Durham on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens (Grade II).

However, following restoration the maintenance of the gardens lapsed. In response, the Friends of Old Durham Gardens were established in 2010, with the aim of restoring and improving the gardens for the future.




Set into the wall of the garden, the gazebo consists of two floors. While the lower floor is accessed from the terrace, the upper room, which overlooks the terrace and lower gardens, is entered through the walled upper garden.



The gazebo is presumed to have been built when the gardens were first laid out. Like the original manor house, it was built in alignment with Durham Cathedral, and enjoyed spectacular views into Durham. It is easy to imagine John Heath and his family enjoying a summer evening in the gazebo with a glass of wine and dessert.

Although originally rectangular, the gazebo was renovated soon after the 1720s, into its current square plan. However, after the manor house was deserted and demolished, the gazebo likely fell into ruin.

The slow decay of time continued until Old Durham was purchased by City of Durham Council in 1985, and a program of restoration saw the walls strengthened and rebuilt, the roof reinstated, and fittings such as windows and panelled walls installed.

The gazebo currently holds displays, and is a useful indoor space during events.


Photographs of the gazebo

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The gardens spread over two levels, the larger orchard restored to 1650, up the terrace (late 17th C) to the walled garden and gazebo (1720s). Click on any number to read more about the specific parts of the gardens.




  1. Orchard
  2. Lower Gardens
  3. Terrace
  4. Gazebo
  5. Walled Gardens

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    We are sorry, but we are unable to host wedding receptions and similar events.

    Welcome to Old Durham Gardens

    Established more than 350 years ago, Old Durham Gardens provide a charming public space for everybody to enjoy. The gardens lie less than a mile from Durham city centre, and can be reached through a number of pleasant woodland or riverside walks.

    The gardens are owned by Durham County Council and have since 2010 been jointly managed with the Friends of Old Durham Gardens. The rejuvenation of these historic gardens is an ongoing project, with which you are welcome to help.

    Visiting the Gardens

    Opening Times

    The Lower Gardens and orchards are open to the public at all times.

    The walled garden and gazebo will be open between 2pm and 4pm on Thursdays and Sundays from April 15th to October 28th 2021.

    Entry is free at all times, although as a voluntary group, donations are always welcome.


    The gardens can be reached by footpath along the River Wear, or through the University Sports Fields.

    Access by car is restricted, as is parking at Old Durham. Bent House Lane is a single track, no-through-road with passing places, and can be entered only from the A181 Sherburn Road.

    Our postcode is DH1 2RY.



    Click on the map to expand.


    With the temporary closure of the walled garden, here are some photos showing the new door and steps to the gazebo, and some of the plants out in March.

    photos from the gardens March 2020

    Coming Events

    There are no events scheduled, please check back soon.