For this legends of Sunderland installment, we’re aren’t discussing a character in our “recent memory” but we’re in fact going far, far back in time… 600 years to be precise, to talk about somebody you’ve more than likely never heard of. But there’s a first time for everything, and here we’re going to give you the story of a prominent and influential figure who lived on Wearside in the Middle Ages, a man who was an important part of County Durham Politics. His name? Robert Jackson, and where did he live? On what is now Farringdon.
In the Middle Ages, County Durham was known as “The Land of the Prince Bishops” not merely as a slogan, but for the fact it was a “County Palatinate” whereby the Catholic Church and its Bishops wielded literal political power over the area in delegation of the King of England. The Church was the rightful owner and distributor of all its lands, the church collected taxes and appointed local officials. This system would exist at least in formality up until as late as the mid 19th century.
At the height of the Bishop’s power in the 15th century, Robert Jackson was a man who was appointed by Durham to become the “bailiff” of Sunderland throughout the 1420s and 30s, vesting him with legal and financial responsibility for the area. He was an enforcer and a tax collector, doing what ever business needed to be done. Robert Jackson was appointed to his role in the year 1402, and it was designated a “Lifelong” position. By the 1410s, he was granted land in the city of Durham itself on the Riverside where the passport office is, by a widow known as Elena Leventrop. Despite being based in Sunderland, he had the privilege of owing a great deal of land around the North East, including in Billingham on Teesside. He was also known as an esquire.
The following year, Bishop Hatfield’s Survey of County Durham set out that: “Robert Jakson holds the borough of Sunderland, with the profits belonging to the said borough, the fishery of. the water of the Wear and with the borough court“. We learn that sometimes he granted people land too on behalf of the Bishopric, such as for example: he granted “William Bowes, knight, and others land including 1 burg. in Fleshewergate lying between ten. of John Burn on n. side and ten. of chantry of St. John the Baptist on s. side.
Jackson resided on what records refer to as “Farnton Hall” which is of course, modern day Farringdon. The long lost medieval mansion was situated around Anthony Road, and also served as a Monastic Grange for the priory of Hexham. His tenancy of course was granted by the Bishop. Why Farringdon? Because it was a convenient location which was situated off the “Durham Road” and was a halfway point between Sunderland (the fishing village on the East End) and the Cathedral city himself. If one could imagine his life, it would involve going backwards and forwards by horseback frequently.
However, Jackson conducted some of his business in the nearby township of Silksworth, of which Farringdon was a part of. Just up the road from Farringdon Hall in what is now the area of Silksworth Lane and the Old Hall, was where the medieval village was situated and here, there are records of a “Holding Court” once existed, which would have been an important part of Jackson’s work. However, his role far exceeded the area itself and he was involved in affairs all around the county. A few miles away in the village of Crook, in the year 1428, “violent quarrels” broke out between a man known as Thomas Billingham and William Rakwood, an as a result “Robert Jakson of Sunderland and other friends became bail for his keeping the peace”- showing he was involved in local disputes.
This is not the only “fight” he was involved in. Another record states he was involved in a conflict between William of Chester and Thomas De Gretham. This appears to relate to his additional role as not just the “Baliff” of Sunderland, but also as a coroner of Easington district, of which wearside was a part of. Being a coroner in the Middle Ages was just not about verifying people’s deaths, but also testifying in court and conducting investigations, as well as also having financial powers. It was much bigger than how we see it today. Living on Farringdon was also in proximity to East Durham after all. You can only imagine how it exhausting it must have been to travel around all these places constantly without a car.
We know from records that Jackson wielded his role for over 35 years. Appointed in 1402, his work was still being referenced as late as 1437. For a man who lived in the Middle Ages, this is an extraordinary career and lifespan, showing that with his land rights and mansions, he was not an ordinary person by any means. We discovered that Jackson died in the year 1439, with Robert Preston being appointed as the next coroner for Easington by the Bishop of Durham in that year (it was a lifelong role, as we said above).
In conclusion, what an extraordinary life Robert Jackson lived. A tax collector, a bailiff, a dispute resolver, a keeper of the peace, a coroner, an investigator, all from his residence on Farringdon. This is without a doubt the most extraordinary person who ever lived on this estate and is the biggest “legend” of Farra so to speak!