The Darras Hall Estate Ponteland

One man takes the honour for the creation of Darras Hall Estate to the south of the village of Ponteland in the first decade of the twentieth century. This was JOSEPH WHITESIDE WAKINSHAW born in 1853 in Newcastle. A philanthropic man, devoting his life to the betterment of his fellows, he never married, was a teetotaller, vegetarian and non-smoker but very tolerant of those who did not follow his ways. He worked for the same firm of engineers all his life and his main hobby was gardening.

In 1890 he formed the Northern Allotment Society, NAS, whose aims were to obtain and cultivate land and grow flowers, fruit and vegetables for sale in the growing city of Newcastle. The members formed groups and were encouraged to buy land to achieve their objectives. The first one was the Nun’s Moor Gardens which have been neglected and this year they have been closed and a major clean-up of toxic material is proposed. It soon became clear that not only allotments were needed but more land was bought and they agreed to purchase such parcels through a limited company. Purchase would depend on the interest from members and terms of the lease or sale.

The first major purchase for housing in this scheme was the Red Cow Farm, west of Newcastle in 1891 and called Westerhope. It was a novel idea and well publicised in the local press. Wakinshaw built his own house here and called it ‘Runnymede’. A number of small estates and some over 100 acres were developed in the following years until in 1907 two adjacent farms were offered for sale by auction near Ponteland. The NAS was well positioned to bid for these farms since it had many members who were willing to purchase plots and a wealth of experience on planning and the legal aspects of sorting out the land, not only for houses, but also for roads and utilities.

The two farms were Darras Hall and Little Callerton with Callerton Moor making together a total acreage of just over 1000 acres. Many farms are called Hall but it does not have any connotation of grandeur, usually just a label, and often found in Northumberland and Durham farm names.

At the auction the NAS purchased the whole lot for £59,210 on behalf of 132 potential purchasers who had expressed an interest in purchasing plots. It was calculated that 925 acres would be available for sale after deducting the necessary acreage for roads and community facilities and this would be divided into 185 plots of approximately 5 acres each. Deposits of £2 per acre were required and there was a maximum of 10 acres for anyone person.

A draft trust deed was drawn up for prospective buyers to outline the dos and don’ts of ownership. The land could only be used for residential, agricultural or horticultural purposes and several other uses were banned. Among them were businesses of any kind, the keeping of pigs but chickens were allowed, asylums, workhouse or slaughter house; hospitals and cemeteries or the sale of alcohol were also not allowed.

In 1908 an offer of 13 acres was made to the North Eastern Railway at no charge, for the construction of a railway branch line to a station to be built in the middle of the estate. The NER accepted the offer but wanted a return of 4% on the cost of £12,000 for the line and buildings. This was to be collected by a levy on houses as they were built but in fact the progress of building was very slow and by the time it was paid off the railway closed in 1929 for want of traffic.

The first contracts for fencing and roads were agreed in 1910. The plots were fenced off so that 185 approximately 5 acres plots were available for auction in 1911. These plots were numbered and a metal disc stamped with the number was attached to the fencing of each plot. A few can still be found today. Notices of the Auction went out with a Memorandum of Allottees, a Plan and Schedule of the lots and a minimum price for each. Organised inspections were arranged for the prospective buyers and the Auction went ahead over two days on the 8th and 9th February 1911. A total of £76,423 was raised which more than covered the cost of the land at £59 210.

Those who bought land accepted the wide ranging conditions of the Trust Deed and the payment of an Annual Levy for the upkeep of the Estate and the maintenance of these regulations. This still holds today when plots have to be at least a quarter acre.