‘The homestead or estate called, or at Billing’ Billingham from [c.1040] 12th., Bellingaham 1087×93, -yngham 1378, 1381, Billingeham [c.1123]12th, [c.1190×5]n.d. OE billing ‘a hill, prominence, a ridge’ perhaps used as a place name. Billingham, locative-dative singular. Billinge, + ham. Billingham stands on a prominent ridge overlooking low ground. It is almost certainly not a folk-name in ingaham meaning ‘the homestead of the followers of Billa.’.
Information about this place-name was supplied by Victor Watts by personal communication
Throughout the Middle Ages, Billingham belonged to the monks of Durham Priory. It was granted to the Community of St. Cuthbert by Bishop Ecgred (830-846). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory lands in Billingham were granted to the dean and chapter of Durham Cathedral. Apart from the Commonwealth period, Billingham remained in the hands of the dean and chapter until 1872.
See the Victoria History of the County of Durham vol.3 (ed.) William Page (1928)
An Early Mention
From “The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham” vol. 3, W.Hutchinson (1794) ‘The village of Billingham, situated on a fine eminence, commands an extensive prospect to the southward. It is a place of antiquity, and memorable for a great battle fought there by Ardulf, king of Northumberland . . . .
The church of Billingham, it is said, was first built by Eanred; but there is no appearance of that distant antiquity in any part of the present structure. . . . The whole chancel is neatly wainscoted with oak; and enclosed, from the nave, by a screen with stalls ornamented with pierced work, under a pointed arch.”
St. Cuthbert’s (Anglo-Saxon tower)
The Vicarage (partly 17th century)
Co-operative store (1930)
The Forum (1967)
Public Library (2015)
A Few Lost Buildings
Methodist Central Hall (1932) demolished in the 1990s.
Art Gallery (1968) demolished in 2014.
Victory Hall (1919) demolished in 1968.
North Tees Power Station (1949) demolished in 1987.
Some People of Note:
Rev. John Wallis (1714-1793) Curate at Billingham from 1775 to 1792. In 1769 he published a history of Northumberland in two volumes. He was also a student of natural history.
Frederick Dawson (1912-1988) As Clerk to Billingham Urban District Council from 1947 to 1967 he was closely involved in the development of the new town centre and the Forum.
Pat Partridge (1933-2014) A football referee who refereed the F.A. Cup Final in 1975.
Willie Maddren (1951-2000) A professional footballer and later manager of Middlesbrough football club.
Diana Youdale (1970- ) A junior gymnastics champion who grew up in Billingham. She became famous on the television series “Gladiators” from 1992 to 1996
Geoff McCreesh (1970- ) A professional boxer who won the British welterweight title in 1997.
Jamie Bell (1986- ) An actor who became famous at the age of 14 for playing the lead role in the film “Billy Elliott”.
Richard Kilty (1989- ) An athlete who won the gold medal in the 60 metres sprint at the World Indoor Championships in 2014.
The Hearth Tax of 1666
40 houses in Billingham had 1 or 2 hearths. The wealthiest were “Jno Eden Gent” (4 hearths) and “Sam Bolton Gent ” (4 hearths). There were 27 other houses that were exempt from the Hearth Tax.
See “Hearth Tax List for South Durham Lady Day 1666” (ed.) J.C.Howe for Cleveland Family History Society
Whellan’s 1856 directory creates a picture of a busy village, with 3 shopkeepers, 2 butchers, 2 tailors, 2 blacksmiths, 2 millers, a fellmonger and a coal and lime merchant. The directory also names 6 public houses in the village and 13 farmers.
Ward’s 1936 directory, which probably has some omissions, lists 4 grocers, 2 butchers, a baker, a fishmonger, a fruiterer, a dairyman, 2 newsagents, 2 shoemakers, 2 drapers, 2 chemists, a wine and spirits dealer, a watchmaker and 2 wireless dealers.
A Selection of Dates
798 According to Simeon of Durham, King Eardwulf of Northumbria defeated rebels at “Billingahoth” near “Walalege”. This is sometimes said to be Billingham, but is more likely to have been Billington near Whalley in Lancashire.
c.828-846 Bishop Ecgfrid granted Billingham to the church of Durham.
1231 The Bishop of Durham granted Durham Priory the right to have a ferry across the Tees at Billingham.
1314 The Bishop granted an indulgence to anyone who contributed to the repair of the road and the bridge between Billingham and Norton.
1343 The Prior of Durham summoned the elders of Billingham to his manor house of Beaulieu to settle a dispute between William de Billingham and Durham Priory.
1418 A pillory was set up in the village.
1569 Five men from Billingham were executed for their part in the Rising of the North.
1570 Billingham parish register commenced.
1725 Ann Chapman began a charity for the poor widows of Billingham.
1790 Alice Gardner began a second charity for poor widows.
1838 A cattle show was held in Billingham.
1836 The Wesleyan Chapel was dedicated.
1852 The National School opened.
1855 Stockton Races were held at the Mandale course after sixteen years at Billingham.
1862 The ecclesiastical district of Haverton Hill was created.
1921 Brunner Mond purchased land at Billingham and began to construct a chemical works there. In 1926 they joined other companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries Limited.
1922 Brunner Mond built more than 200 houses for its new workforce.
1928 The Billingham Picture House cinema was opened.
1931 Perspex was invented at Billingham.
1953 Billingham shopping centre was developed.
1958-1962 The four secondary schools of the Billingham Campus were built.
1964 St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Secondary School was opened.
1965 The first Billingham International Folklore Festival was staged.
1966 Imperial Chemical Industries began manufacturing plastics at Billingham.
1967 The official opening of the new town centre and the Forum Leisure Centre by Queen Elizabeth II.
1968 Billingham Art Gallery was opened.
1971 The Anhydrite mine was closed. Billingham Bombers ice hockey team was formed. They were later known as the Billingham Stars.
1972 Northfield School opened.
1986 The Billingham Beck Valley Country Park was created.
2001 Britain’s largest hydrogen production plant was opened at Billingham.
2012 The Forum was officially re-opened after extensive renovation.
2015 The new Billingham Library and Customer Service Centre was opened.
This list of dates was based on “Highlights in the History of Cleveland” by Norman Moorsom (1995) and other secondary sources.
Suggested Further Reading:
“The Medieval Origins of Billingham” L.Still and J.Southeran (1966)
“Billingham in Times Past” P.Menzies (2 vols. 1985, 1986)
“Billingham in Bygone Village Days” P.Fletcher (1987)
“Billingham Before and After Enclosure” D.W.Pattenden (CTLHS Bulletin 32 (1976)
“The Inter-War Development of Billingham” P.Howes (CTLHS Bulletin 53 (1987)