Translating as ‘beautiful retreat’ from the French by which it was originally known, this now ruined manor house stands on a promontory above the River Browney in what was once a 1,300-acre, walled deer-park, two miles (three km) west of Durham City. The location is pastoral and pleasant despite many years of having been in the immediate vicinity of the coal mines of Bearpark (to which it may have given its name albeit in corrupted form).
The manor house – often referred to as a priory – was commissioned by the Prior of Durham monastery, Bertram de Middleton, between 1244-1258 as a lodge grand enough to offer hospitality to visiting royalty – including the three Edwards, I, II & III during their campaigns against the Scots – as well as other dignitaries. It was also used as a home for retired monks in similar fashion to neighbouring Finchale Priory. A century of development and extension followed until, in October 1346, the building was badly damaged by a marauding Scottish army which camped in the park before their defeat at the Battle of Neville’s Cross.
Rebuilt on the orders of Prior John Fossor soon after the battle, it went unmolested for almost three hundred years despite the monastery itself being dissolved during the religious upheavals of Henry VIII’s reign. Eventually the house itself would cover 6-acres of which only a small part – including the chapel – has been excavated. This was within a site of out-buildings that covered a total of 38-acres!
Sadly, during the English Civil War of the 1640s it was the Scots once again – in the form of the Calvinist Covenanter army fighting for Parliament – that would bring about Beaurepaire’s demise. Cromwell’s victory ensured that there would be no salvation and its remorseless decline was recorded by antiquarians and artists such as Samuel Grimm in 1773.
Beaurepaire is located just to the NE of Bearpark in County Durham. Despite its relatively isolated location near Bearpark Hall Farm (NZ 243439) you can reach it via several pleasant routes one of which follows Club Lane, an ancient track taken by the monks journeying from Durham, which crosses a large part of what may have been the Neville’s Cross battlefield (the entry to the park itself was through a gate in the vicinity of what is now Stotgate Farm). Alternatively you can turn NE off the Lanchester Valley Railway Path about 3/4 of a mile W of Toll House Rd/Auton Stile (between Crossgate and Bearpark).
You reach the ruins via a short but steep trail near the bridge on the vehicle access track which squeezes between the promontory and the River Browney (you’ll end up on the track whichever way you approach). The site itself is quiet and sheltered though with no cover and is an ideal place to enjoy a picnic on a sunny day.