The History of Rock Estate

The Manor of Rock, of which the boundaries have not changed since the early 12th Century, formed a small part of the Barony of Alnwick. In the late 13th Century it was held by William de Rok who paid to his overlord each year a modest sum known as half a knight’s fee. In the mid 14th century Rock became the property of Robert de Tuggal, a wealthy man who also owned an estate at Scremeston in North Northumberland. At his death both properties passed to the Swinhoe family, probably by marriage to an heiress of Robert de Tuggal. The Swinhoes’ coat of arms showing three swine is on the north chancel wall of the Church and is on display in the entrance porch of Rock Hall.

By the reign of Elizabeth I the Swinhoes had fallen into a state of comparative poverty, and the estate was transferred to the Lawsons, who around 1600 added a manor house to the pele tower. This pele tower was one of scores on both sides of the Border with Scotland where life was made dangerous and all forms of possessions vulnerable by raiding parties, guerilla warfare, and the occasional depredations of larger armies. The Kings, and the Bishops of Durham, attempted to defend the Border and at times recruited foreign mercenary soldiers for this purpose. In the middle of the 16th century a small band of Spanish mercenaries under the command of Sir Julian Romero were quartered at Rock to try and keep some semblance of peace.

In 1620, Ralph Lawson sold the estate to John Salkeld of Hulne Abbey. The Salkeld coat of arms can be seen above an old, blocked doorway to the right of the current front door. In the 17th Century, it was no disqualification to appointment as a Justice of the Peace to have committed a murder! Colonel Salkeld at the age of 27 in 1643 killed with his sword one of his drinking companions, John Swinburne at Meldon Gates. In the chaos of the Civil War he was able to avoid punishment by disappearing from Northumberland for a short time. Less fortunate was a grandson of his sixty years later. Colonel Salkeld’s daughter had married Martin Fenwick of Ellingham. They had a son, described as John Fenwick of Rock, who on an August evening in 1701 stabbed Ferdinando Forster, a member of Parliament. Fenwick was tried and condemned to death. His wife pleaded for his life with the Judge, who replied ‘Madam, I am sorry but it cannot be granted. We are not to have our Members of Parliament murdered in our streets unnoticed.’

In 1794 the Estate was sold to Mr Peter Holford, a prominent lawyer in London. In 1796 his daughter Charlotte married Charles Bosanquet, a rising young merchant in the City of London. His great grandfather had come to England in 1688 as a Huguenot refugee from the persecution of Protestants in the South of France by Louis XIV. The Rock Estate was his wife’s dowry. The marble monument in Rock Church records his activities including serving as a Governor of the South Sea Company, Governor of the Canada Land Company and Chair of the Exchequer Loan Commission. These various occupations did not cause him to neglect his landed estate at Rock. He completed the division of the estate into farms, restored the church which was in a ruinous state, rebuilt the village and rebuilt and added to the old mansion which had been in a ruined state for over 70 years following a fire.

In 1862, a tragic event occurred on the estate at Rock Moor when the steam boiler used to drive farm machinery exploded, killing eleven people, mostly young people and children. The youngest was only six years old. The report of the inquest into their deaths was reported in the local paper. Several headstones in the graveyard of Rock church commemorate their deaths.

Charles Bosanquet and his descendants lived in the Hall until 1905 when it was let to successive tenants including Helen Sutherland, the daughter of a shipping magnate, who rented the Hall from 1928 to 1939. She used her fortune to be a patron of the arts. David Jones and Ben Nicholson were both invited to spend time at Rock Hall. David Jones’ ‘Chapel Perilous’ painting, the view from the Hall towards the Church, is in the Tate Gallery in London. She also supported the Ashington Group of painters and has been made famous in the play ‘The Pitman Painters’written by Lee Hall, two scenes of which are set in Rock Hall.

On the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Hall was requisitioned by the War Department, which built huts in the grounds to house army units during their period of training for service overseas. Towards the end of the War it became a camp to house 250 German prisoners allocated to the district for agricultural work.

In 1947, the Hall was let on a long lease to the Youth Hostels Association, becoming one of the principal hostels of the Northern Region, with accommodation for 80 visitors, and the facilities of a biological field station drew visiting parties of students from schools and colleges.

In 1992 the Hall was returned to the Bosanquet family and became Rock Hall School. The school was a small independent preparatory school with an ethos of outdoors education, music and drama which supported the standard curriculum. As costs continued to rise, it became increasingly impossible for the school to continue and it was finally closed in July 2013, much to the regret of the parents and the entire community.

Rock Hall has now returned to being the Bosanquet’s family home. The Estate continues to thrive through a diverse range of activities, including farming, woodchipping, potato storage, holiday accommodation, dog grooming, cricket and a café at Rock Midstead.


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