Echo Memories tells the tale of a battle fought – and won – in the early morning mist of Ferryhill, and reveals more about Henry Pease’s mansion.
EARLY one autumn morning in October 1346, Ferryhill was shrouded in deep, dank mist. Thousands of English soldiers were feeling their way along the exposed ridge from Merrington, desperately trying to keep silent. They peered hopefully northwards through the gloom towards high ground on the west of Durham City, and could just about make out the shapes of the 12,000 Scots camped in Beaurepaire.
Beaurepaire was the Bishop of Durham’s hunting park, and the invaders were feasting on his deer, game and fish.
The Scots didn’t know that the English were watching them. In fact, the Scots didn’t know anyone was there.
The English king, Edward III, was fighting in France with his best men. Indeed, a couple of months earlier at Créçy, Edward’s hopelessly out-numbered forces (12,000 English fighting up to 100,000 French) had won a stunning victory thanks to their superior longbows, and had then turned to besieging the French king, Philip VI, in Calais.
Map showing The Battle Of High Butcher's Race.
Philip turned to his auld ally, King David II of Scotland. He sent him men and money and pleaded with him to launch a diversionary attack on northern England.
Edward, though, had seen this coming and had sent emissaries to David, telling him he could have Berwick back if he sat this battle out.
David, though, wouldn’t listen to the English entreaties. He saw the auld enemy laid naked and vulnerable before him, and so he invaded, expecting a cakewalk to the capital.
He gave Hexham Priory a good going over before laying up in Beaurepaire and enjoying the unwilling Bishop’s largesse.
EARLY on the morning of October 17, he sent out a raiding party several hundred strong, under the command of Sir William Douglas, into the dense fog. They stumbled southwards, over the Wear, up its steep valley into south Durham and on towards Ferryhill.
All of a sudden, the mist lifted. Ferryhill was revealed in all its morning glory.
It is difficult to know who was the more surprised. The English, who thought they’d been keeping a watchful eye from a safe distance on the ignorant Scots eight miles away, or the Scottish, who found themselves outnumbered and surrounded by thousands of Englishmen who they thought were a hundreds of miles away on the other side of the Channel.
One of the great debates of medieval history is whether Edward had planned all this.
He was the greatest king of his age, turning England into a military superpower.
Surely it was no accident that as soon as David stepped over the border, flouting England’s fair skies with his flags, Edward was able to rustle up 10,000 wellarmed soldiers from Richmond and Barnard Castle with competent, noble leadership.
Anyhow, the Scots fled.
They turned tail and rushed north. They were pursued by thousands of screaming Englishmen down the steep bank into East Howle and on through Thinford. At High Butcher’s Race – between Spennymoor and Hett – the English caught up with them, and butchered them.
About 500 Scots were slaughtered near where the Coach and Horses pub is today, on the A167 above Sunderland Bridge.
SIR William, the Scots leader, escaped the carnage. He hurried back to Beaurepaire and advised King David to run for the hills. David, though, refused to accept the English could possibly be as dangerous as Sir William said, and instead prepared his men for battle.
With the English advancing northwards after their triumph at High Butcher’s Race, the Scots came southwards towards the Redhills – the reedy hills, “a piece of broken and irregular ground rising swiftly from the Wear”, according to MA Richardson in 1846.
The historian continued: “The city of Durham lay in dreadful suspense, a prize to the conqueror; and whilst the remaining brethren of the convent poured forth their hymns and prayers from the highest towers of the cathedral, their eyes wandered with anxious doubt over the field of approaching combat.”
And so it came to pass that the English archers mowed down 7,000 Scots during the six-hour-long Battle of Neville’s Cross. It was, eventually, a rout which ended when King David was captured beneath a bridge over the River Browney – his hidey-hole was given away when John Copeland, a Northumbrian noble, saw his reflection in the water.
And it all began when the early morning mist cleared over Ferryhill.
A race, of course, is “a rapid current of water, especially through a narrow channel”.