Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Right Said Fred ( and He Was

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Right Said Fred ( and He Was

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tony Henderson

Environment Editor Tony Henderson visits the hall with presidential echoes.

For village schoolmaster Fred Hill, the sight of an historic hall in the middle of his community edging closer by the day to demolition was a cause of nagging concern.

So he did something about it.

The fortunes of Washington Old Hall, in what is now Tyne and Wear, had declined to the extent the building had been used as a tenement for decades.

All this was in 1932, when the hall was ruled to be unfit for habitation and was closed. As speculative builders eyed the site, Fred set up a preservation committee to save the hall.

He could not have known it would take another 23 years of struggle to raise the funds for restoration, so that the hall could open to the public.

It did so exactly 50 years ago, and Fred's fight was eminently worth it.

For halls with medieval origins are a rare commodity in Tyne and Wear ( and the building's links with George Washington, the first American president, mark it as extra special.

Now run by the National Trust, the hall is the centrepiece of Washington village, with President Jimmy Carter among the many Americans who have visited the ancestral home of the Washington family.

The name of Washington dates from Anglo-Saxon times, with various spellings of Wessynton, Whessingtun and Wassington.

Shortly before 1183, William de Hertburn exchanged his lands at Hartburn for the manor of Washington in a deal with Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham.

William styled himself de Wessynton and built a manor house on the site of the present hall. Part of the family's 13th Century hall can be seen in the present building, which largely dates from the 17th Century.

It must have been an impressive place, as Edward I visited the village on his way back from Scotland in 1304. The family was prominent in society and Sir William de Washington fought at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388.

The American link emerges in the family's coat of arms, in use by the 14th Century, which consists of two stripes and three stars in red on a white background.

The coat of arms is carved in stone on Hylton Castle, three miles away in Sunderland.

Through marriage a branch of the family became established in Lancashire and it was from this offshoot that Col John Washington emigrated to Virginia in 1656, possibly to escape the turmoil which followed the English Civil War.

The emigrants prospered and owned the Mount Vernon estate, and it was here that George Washington was born in 1732.

He became commander in chief of the Colonial Army in the War of Independence against Britain and then the first president, giving his name to the new American capital.

Cash donations from the United states were crucial in the 22-year struggle to restore the hall with the public opening ceremony being carried out by the American Ambassador. …

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