Old Ryton village was built into the side of a richly wooded bank that rose steeply from the River Tyne, dividing the historic counties of Durham and Northumberland. Somehow, the village escaped the transformation that coal mining and industry brought to so many other Durham villages.
THERE ARE REALLY two Rytons today. The old village rests quietly within a half mile or so of the B6317 road. There is a distinctly different “feel” between the old village and the newer Ryton that has developed more recently and sits on the B road itself. This minor road takes traffic east towards nearby Newcastle or west along roads that roughly parallel Hadrian’s Wall - that remarkable and ancient structure whose remains have spanned the breadth of England since Roman times. Nearby towns with names like Wallsend or Heddon-on-the-Wall reflect their proximity to the great wall that once marked the northern extremity of the Roman Empire.
Ryton once lay closer to the Scottish border than it does today, and its location near to the point on the Tyne River which is most easily fordable made it a target for attack by Scottish armies during the many years of conflict between Scotland and England. William Wallace - “Braveheart” - burned the village to the ground in 1297.
Two centuries ago, when John Otterson and Jane Middlemas were married at the Holy Cross parish church, there was only one village, and Holy Cross was the most significant part of it. The church dates back to the 1200s, and was modernized in the 18th and 19th centuries. A mediaeval castle once stood on the site, and the church stood within the castle walls.
The parish itself is ancient - the first written mention of a church in Ryton is in 1112. It once covered an extensive area that is now split between several parishes. Today, many restored cottages line the quiet roads of Old Ryton village, and an old Market Cross stands where the village green once marked the center of village life.
Above: Cottages in St. Mary's Terrace, Ryton.
Below: Pinfold Cottage. An inscription in stone above the door reads: "John and Jane Newton, 1752."
Below: The main B6317 road through the "new" Ryton village. The old village is a half mile off this road.
Above and right: Holy Cross church. The first rector of the parish took up his responsibilities in 1220.
“The open space in the center of the village is what remains of the mediaeval village green. The green is the heart of the village and has long been used as a place to play, to be punished and even to find a job. At one time there were stocks on the green and the twice-yearly hiring fairs of agricultural workers took place there. The fairs were banned from 1866 because of drunkenness, noise and fighting. The Market Cross was erected in 1795, and renewed in 1951, probably replacing a much older mediaeval structure.”
- Text from a panel produced by Gateshead local government council in 2002, and which stands just inside the long drive that leads to Holy Cross Church (below).