How Fens Estate got its name – farming memories of the past

This photograph is taken from a postcard c.1912 and shows two girls posing at the south east corner of Owton Fence House farm house.
This photograph is taken from a postcard c.1912 and shows two girls posing at the south east corner of Owton Fence House farm house.

Hartlepool couple Robert and Gillian Smith having been digging into the history quite literally on their doorstep.

The Smith’s home stands within what was once the farmyard of Fence House Farm - inspiring the pair to start researching the area.

Demolition of Owton Manor Farm.

Demolition of Owton Manor Farm.

“When the Fens Estate was created, its name was derived from Owton Fence House and Owton Fence House Farm,” said Robert.

“The farm existed from at least the early 1800s, and was demolished in 1968. It occupied land on which parts of Thursby Grove and one end of Newark Road stand.”

The Durham County Advertiser carried a notice in 1826 revealing the farm was available for a six-year let. At the time it was 212 acres of “rich, arable and grazing land” with superior turnip and barley soil.

But, in 1870, the Northern Echo advertised that all the farming stock and other effects were to be auctioned off. This included 53 head of “fat, grazing and milking cattle”, 11 draught horses, 16 Leicester Hog sheep and a Phaeton carriage.

“Luncheon was to precede the auction, and it was probably quite a social occasion,” said Robert.

In 1901 the farm was acquired by the Hartlepools Cooperative Society, who ran it for 50 years - until it was sold in 1951 to farmer Edward Moffitt. Just nine years later, in 1960, it was bought Yuills - with a view to the land becoming part of the Fens Estate.

“We know that by 1968 the cow population was down to two animals. These provided milk for the farm itself, as well as for Oval Grange - the residence of Cecil Yuill and his family,” said Robert.

“The only other livestock were pigs for bacon, but some arable farming still took place including barley and oats for the pigs and feed for the cows. Rye grass was also grown for hay.

“The farm lane, as it always had, ran from the back of the yard to a junction with the Black Path, probably somewhere in Spalding Road - a short distance from the northern end of today’s remnant of the path. When Mowbray Road was built, a rough link road was made to the farm - creating a short cut to Greatham.”

Roly Teasdale worked as farm manager during these years of change, living with his wife in the farm house. Mrs Teasdale was known as a keen gardener and tended two large lawns, as well as flower beds, in the farm house garden.

“Dick Hutchinson was the farm foreman and he lived in one of the two semi-detached houses belonging to the farm. The other house and the three cottages were occupied by Yuill employees, one of whom was Jeff Stevens, who provided the information about the farm as it was in the 60s,” said Robert.

“Jeff now lives in Canada and has many memories of his time at the farm, including watching the then numerous Water Voles, which have now sadly become locally extinct.”

* Robert would like to hear from anyone with information about the farm. He can be emailed at r.smith45@ntlworld.com.