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Thornton Hall, now a Grade 1 listed building, was built around 1550 by Ralph Tailbois

Thornton Hall was built around 1550 by Ralph Tailbois. Today, the Hall is one of the oldest buildings in Borough of Darlington.

Thornton Hall Owners

  • 1550 - 1591 - Ralph Tailbois
  • 1591 - 1606 - Robert Tailbois
  • 1606 - 1610 - Thomas Salvin
  • 1610 - 1620 - John Salvin
  • 1620 - 1624 - Henry Bowes
  • 1624 - 1677 - Sir Francis Bowes
  • 1677 - 1697 - Sir Francis Bowes (2)
  • 1697 - 1752 - George Wanley Bowes
  • 1752 - present day - Thoroton and Croft Trust


There is no authentic account in the various histories of the exact date when Thornton Hall was built. We do know that an heiress of "Thornton of Thornton" married a Tailbois from Hurworth and that the ciphers of one Ralph Tailbois are to be seen to this day on the ceiling of what was once an entrance-hall. We, therefore, take it for granted that Ralph Tailbois either built Thornton Hall on the site of a much older house or improved the ancient structure, adding to and in other ways embellishing it around 1550. Unfortunately, none of the local historians have put forth anything like a complete account of Thornton Hall so I will try to piece together the scanty information we do have.

Ralph Tailbois married twice, his first wife being Eleanor, the second Jane Bertram whose ciphers are also to be found on the heavily carved oak beams in the old entrance hall, which is now the kitchen. Ralph remained loyal at the time of the "Rising of the North" and he received a grant from Queen Elizabeth 1st of much property including the estates at Ulnaby and Carlbury. It is possible with his newly acquired wealth he replaced the ancient manor?

Ralph Tailbois died in 1591 and was buried in St Edwin’s Church, High Coniscliffe, his name being fifth in the earliest church register. He was succeeded by his son Robert Tailbois who married the daughter of Richard Barnes Bishop of Durham and "died a prisoner in Durham Gaole in 1606" he was the last of this line of Tailbois. It is thus evident that there was a Thornton Hall, or house of some sort, previous to the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st.


In 1606 Thornton Hall passed into the hands of Thomas Salvin of Croxdale who died in 1610. He was succeeded by his son John Salvin, who was the grandson of Gerald Salvin Esquire, of Croxdale, the direct descendant and representative of one of William the Conqueror’s knights, but having no male heir the estate was sold to the Bowes family.


Henry Bowes a merchant adventurer and Sheriff of Newcastle and as such a man of considerable means, bought Thornton Hall in 1620, he died in 1624 and was succeeded by his son Sir Francis Bowes.

Sir Francis Bowes was an active supporter of Charles 1st, who suffered heavily for it afterward. He is buried in the chancel of St Edwin’s Church, High Coniscliffe, a fine ledger stone covers his grave, displaying the shield engraved with the Arms of the Bowes impaled with Delaval - he had married Margaret Delavel of Cowpen, Northumberland.

His son Sir Francis Bowes (2) succeeded to the property and died in 1697. He erected a large marble monument on the north wall of the chancel in St Edwin’s Church, High Coniscliffe in memory of a kind father and loving mother.

George Wanley Bowes was the next and last Bowes to own Thornton Hall. He had no heir only three daughters who came into the property in 1772. One daughter married Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Thoroton from the Coldstream Guards whilst another married the Reverend Robert Croft from Stillington in Yorkshire. The share in the estate of Margaret Bowes a third daughter became vested in the estate of her two sisters, which is still known to this day as the Thoroton and Croft Trust. An Act of Parliament was passed to enable Colonel Thomas Thoroton and the Reverend Robert Croft to lease their respective settled estates.

Towards the end of the 18th century, upon the death of the last of the Bowes family residing at Thornton, the old world glories of the Hall gradually faded away. It merged into a farmhouse, extensive orchards and cattle-houses taking the place of the Jacobean gardens and stabling of bye-gone days.


Styles of architecture to be seen at the Hall include Tudor (or late Gothic), Elizabethan, Jacobean and Georgian. The Hall has seen many changes in respect of its architectural design, and the original plan has undergone much modification.

It is very obvious when looking at the east aspect that the Hall is divided into two distinct parts. The southern half is considerably older than the northern; we can tell this, not only by the nature of the stonework and the relative thickness of the walls but by what remains of the small mullioned windows, windows that undoubtedly were put in not later than 1560. Thus we can conclude that the Thorntons and Ralph Tailbois had most to do with the older portion, whilst it was Sir Francis Bowes, about the year 1630 who was responsible for the addition of the Jacobean and northernmost half of the house, which is early 17th century and exhibits a later Renaissance style about its windows, which are proportionately larger and decidedly classic about the pediments and mouldings, and also includes the addition of the beautiful Jacobean staircase.

Window Tax

The window tax was introduced in 1696, it obviously played a large part in the Hall’s history as many windows are to this day still blocked up which makes it extremely dark inside. The tax would be paid on a house of more than six windows. Seven - nine windows had to pay a tax of 2 shillings and those with property containing 10 - 19 windows would pay a tax of 4 shillings. People opposed income tax, as it was an intrusion of private matters and a potential threat to personal liberty. The window tax was repealed in 1851 and replaced with House Duty tax not unlike our Council tax.


Above the front door are some Gothic remains in the shape of two curious gargoyles "right ugly nondescript animals" is how one historian describes them. They appear one on each side of a row of blank shields, which do not appear to be quite the same date. It is probable that the parapet or cornice to the porch, with its sunk panels, shields, and gargoyles either belonged at one time to the earlier porch (perhaps unlikely as Tailbios would certainly have inserted his Coat of Arms) or they may have been of the time of John Salvin as one of the shields has the initials of JS slightly cut in. It seems very strange that there is so complete an absence of Coats of Arms or initials on such prominent shields with this one exception.

Jacobean Staircase

This beautiful staircase, associated with Henry Bowes or his son, Sir Francis is unique in these parts and a makes a large contribution to the Halls Grade 1 listing of today. The tall newels at the angles of all the flights extend upwards to the ceiling above, and resemble the posts of a tall old-fashioned bedstead. The richly moulded hand- rails and balusters are massive and far from uniform with one being placed upside down.

Long Gallery or Solar Ceiling

This bedroom would probably be where the ladies of the household took their exercise during inclement weather and was known as the Long Gallery or Solar. As the name suggests the ladies could enjoy the sunshine without getting burnt The Solar had an extremely fine plaster and corniced ceiling with moulded ribs between heavy oak beams - now plastered - dividing it up into panels. Each panel has an octagonal star pattern with curved ribs, the points terminating in beautifully designed fleur-de-leys. In the centre of each of these panels is a Tailbois Coat of Arms; a shield with 3 escallops or shells in the chief and a saltire.

Old Entrance Hall/Kitchen Ceiling

The heavily carved oak-beamed Tudor ceiling with elaborate sunk tracery on the beams is adorned with many ciphers on the bosses and half way along the beams. The ciphers are those of Ralph Tailbois and Jane Bertram. The tracery is identical with some on the stone at Bolton Abbey dating to 1520 thus we can conclude that this work was perhaps done at Thornton around 1540/50 by Ralph Tailbois.


There appear to have been three distinct walled gardens. Two on the east side, one which is banked up all around which would have portrayed the Elizabethan raised borders and has a look-out at the top. A second contains nothing except a very old mulberry tree. An even larger one can be seen on the north side, the layout of a more simple fashion, the whole having been divided into four parts by a broad crucial walk. However, these gardens were covered with grass and planted with orchards and trees, some of which must have stood there for over 250 years. However, in 1995 restoration work began by Michael and Sue Manners to return these old walled paddocks to their former glory as gardens.

Points of Interest

The panelled dining room had a secret cupboard in which two/three people could stand upright to hide. This space is now converted into an alcove and the panel stored away in the attic so that it may be replaced if necessary.

An avenue of lime trees opposite the Hall lined the entrance to the Hall before the Staindrop road was built.

A tunnel is said to run from a cellar at Thornton Hall over to Walworth Castle.

Thornton Hall has a ghost; the White Lady who appears to be very friendly, living in a small secret room between the two large attic rooms on the third storey - keep a look out for her.

What visitors say about Thornton Hall Gardens

Author 1

From the minute you walk through the small door into this amazing garden you are hit by the wow factor.

Author 2

My favourite garden in the north east of England, there is something for everybody.

Author 3

I have never seen such a variety of unusual perennials - I didn't know there were so many different hostas and heucheras!

Author 4

Fabulous collection of peonies one that you shouldn't miss.

Author 5

If you are looking for a day out in County Durham a visit to Thornton Hall Gardens is a must for all garden lovers.

Author 6

Thornton Hall Gardens must have one of the largest collections of David Austin roses in a private garden in the country - the perfume in late June early July is magnificent and something all garden lovers should experience.

Author 7

One of Britain's finest new gardens, with a very old past - fascinating.

Author 8

A beautiful old Hall accompanied by gardens full of flamboyant colour, go and see for yourself.

Author 9

A great venue for a photo shoot.

Author 10

One of Darlington's best tourist attractions - not to be missed.

Visit Thornton Hall Gardens

Thornton Hall, Staindrop Road, Darlington, County Durham, DL2 2NB

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