‘The homestead on the gravel’. Gretham 1196 – 1622, Grytham 1382, Greatham from 1581, Greetham 1630.

Old English greot + ham. Greatham occupies a patch of gravel in the marshes of the Tees estuary.

Information about this place name was provided by Victor Watts by personal communication.


Bishop Stichill’s statutes for Greatham Hospital 1272

Based on the translation in “The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham vol. iii, Robert  Surtees (1823).

“Andrew de Stanley, Priest, shall be the first Master, and there shall be perpetually maintained five other priests and two clerks, of honest life and competent learning, to sing matins, and all canonical hours and placebo et dirige, and forty poor brethren to be chosen from the most indigent within the manors of the Bishop. . . The Master shall be a Priest, and shall wear, during the celebration of divine service, a surplice and black hood, after the fashion of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. The poor brethren shall have a competent house to eat and sleep in; they shall be chosen of the most infirm and indigent, without other preference. . .”


Early Landowners

In the 12th and 13th centuries the manor of Greatham belonged to the Bertram family of Mitford in Northumberland. When Simon de Montfort led the Barons’ Revolt in the 1260s, Roger Bertram sided with the barons. Roger’s daughter married one of the de Montforts, and it seems as though Greatham was part of the marriage settlement, because the Crown seized it as a forfeit after the Barons were defeated. The Bishop of Durham at this time was Robert Stichill. He pointed out that the Crown should not have taken Greatham because it was part of the Durham Palatinate. The King agreed, and Greatham was handed over to the Bishop.


An Early Mention

From “A Description of England and Wales” vol. 3,  F.Newbery and T.Carnan, (1769) “Gretham is a village, eight miles north of Stockton, where there was an hospital, founded and endowed by Stitchell, bishop of Durham, in honour of God, St. Mary, and St. Cuthbert, for a master and brethren; and for the support of such poor and needy people as should resort thither. He settled upon it the manor of Gretham and other lands, and also granted to the master and brethren, that they should be free from all tolls, aids, and tollages. It was valued, at the dissolution at 97l. a year.”


Another early mention in literature is to be found in An Historical, Topographical and Descriptive View of the County Palatine of Durham, E.Mackenzie and M.Ross (1834)

“The village contains two day-schools, five public houses, a corn-mill, with shopkeepers, shoemakers, tailors, cartwrights, smiths, a surgeon &c. A little to the east, James Langley, Esq., has erected a handsome mansion. The township includes seven farmsteads. On the marsh, near the mouth of the Tees, are the remains of ancient salt-works, for which, though ruined, some of the adjacent farms pay a salt-rent to the Hospital. The cockle-beds near this place have long afforded employment to the poor of the neighbouring district.”


Selected Buildings

St. John the Baptist (rebuilt in 1792, tower added in 1909)

Greatham Hospital Master’s House (1725)

Dormer Parkhurst Almshouses (1761)

Hospital of God Almshouses (rebuilt in 1803-4)

Hospital of God Chapel (1788)

Hall Farm (18th century)

Hill House (1883) later called “Briarmede”, designed by Philip Webb.

Egerton Terrace (early 20th century) A terrace in the arts and crafts style.


A Few Lost Buildings

Nothing remains of the original medieval hospital.

Greatham Hall (1725) demolished in 1962.

Greatham Mill (  ?  ) demolished in 1948.

The Barrington School (1831) demolished in the 1970s.

Cerebos Salt Works (early 20th century) demolished in 2012.


Some People of Note

Dormer Parkhurst (1688-1764) A lawyer from Northamptonshire who became Master of Greatham Hospital and founded almshouses for poor widows.

William Gray (1823-1898) A Hartlepool shipbuilder who lived in Greatham. He also founded the South Durham Steel Company.

Charles T. Casebourne (1836-1897) An Irish businessman who established a cement works in West Hartlepool and made Greatham his home.

John Wilson (1837-1915) A politician from Greatham. He was a coal miner and one of the founders of the Durham Miners Association. He was the Liberal M.P. for Mid-Durham from 1885 to 1910.

Henry Tristram (1861-1946) A cricketer and rugby player who was born in Greatham. He played cricket for County Durham and rugby for England in the first season of the Home Nations Championship in 1883.

The Bisto Kids (1919-1996) Two cartoon characters that were created to promote Bisto gravy powder which was manufactured at the Cerebos factory at Greatham. They were used to advertise the brand until 1996.



Whellan’s Directory of 1856 noted that there was a post office in Greatham, two mills and the Bull and Dog, the Smiths Arms, the Three Tuns, the Hambletonian, the Hope, the Plough, and the Travellers Rest. The tradesmen listed included 4 shopkeepers, 2 butchers, 5 shoemakers, 2 tailors and drapers, a saddler, 3 joiners and builders and 13 farmers.

Ward’s Directory of 1936 listed 2 grocers, 2 butchers, a confectioner and a draper, but this might not be a complete list.


A Selection of Dates

1272     Greatham Hospital was founded by Bishop Stichill of Durham.

1444     King Henry VI granted Greatham Hospital the right to hold a weekly market. There is no record of how long this lasted.

1563     Thomas Sparke, suffragan bishop of Berwick bequeathed various furnishings to the hospital and money for repairs there.

1559     Parish register commenced.

1610     King James I granted a refoundation charter to the hospital.

1650     The common fields of Greatham, were enclosed.

1724     The Hospital buildings were said to be in a ruinous state.

1761     Parkhurst’s Hospital was opened for six poor widows.

1788     A new hospital chapel was built on the site of the old one.

1792     The parish church was re-built.

1804     Greatham Hospital was re-built by the Earl of Bridgewater.

1819     The Earl of Bridgewater provided homes for the out brethren of Greatham Hospital.

1831     The Barrington School was built.

1834     The National School was built.

1836     Greatham station was built.

1878     The National School was rebuilt.

1882     The Independent Methodist Church was dedicated.

1885     The Wesleyan Church was dedicated.

1889     The Hartlepools Salt Company sank seven brine wells at Greatham.

c.1900  Houseboats and cabins began to appear at Greatham Creek. They were used by fishermen.

1903     The Gray Memorial Hall Wesleyan School was built. Cerebos took over the salt works.

1910     At this time thirteen men, known as brothers, lived in the Hospital.

1928     The village school was enlarged.

1930     Tommy Blumer built a bus garage at Sapper’s Corner, Greatham for his bus company.

He sold his company four years later, 14 years after it was formed.

1938     West Hartlepool Civic Airport was opened at Greatham.

During the Second World War, a squadron of Spitfires was based at Greatham airfield.

1940     A line of concrete barriers was erected as part of Greatham’s wartime defences.

1949     Durham County Agricultural Show was held at Greatham.

1952     Teesside Flying Club purchased its first aircraft, a two-seater Auster.

1957     Greatham airport was closed.  The South Durham Steel and Iron Company built their South Works on the site.

1965     Greatham by-pass was constructed.

1970     The National School became a Community Centre.

1974     Production of Atora suet was transferred from Manchester to Greatham. It stopped in 2002.

1975     Greatham Conservation Area was established.

1980s   The last of the houseboats at Greatham Creek was abandoned.

1991     Greatham station was closed.

2002     The Cerebos factory was closed.

2014     Greatham Creek flood defences were repaired, having been seriously damaged by high tides during the winter.


This list of dates is based on “The Victoria History of the County of Durham” vol.3 (ed.) William Page (1928) and other secondary sources.


Suggested further reading

“The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham” vol.3, R.Surtees (1823)

Treasures of Greatham” B.Walker (1987)

“Greatham Home Front” B.Walker (2008)

Hartlepool History Then and Now website.