One of my earliest memories of Doxford Park was going with my primary school to help clean up the park, which had become incredibly run down, unsafe and overall an uninviting place to be. I feel like it was this way for an incredibly long time and always seemed to be a dangerous sort of place. However upon my recent visit to the park, it no longer feels like this. It seems to be well maintained and enjoyed by many people who walk through it. It was on this recent walk that I decided I wanted to know more about the history of the park, and how it came to be.
Many who know of Doxford Park, also know of Doxford House, or Silksworth House as it was formerly know. This house is where the history of the park begins.
It was built back in 1780 (Some sources believe it was between 1775-1780, but the majority I found said 1780) by a man named William Johnson. I was unable to find any real information about who he was. But he was obviously very rich as the property included what is now the park area as its gardens and grounds. The entire estate is 24 acres which at that time was an immense space and would have only been affordable to the very wealthy and important people of the time.
The house he built was incredibly grand, and the gardens include the lake, a waterfall structure and there was even a walled garden with underground heating suitable for growing fruit trees.
Following the death of William Johnson in 1792, the house was left to his friend Henry Hopper. From here and through the next century, the house changed hands many times, including a man named William Beckwith. He was a very important general of the British Army and was present at battles such as the Battle of Waterloo. He was later appointed High Sheriff of Durham which at the time gave him a lot of power and responsibilities. This gives great insight into the status of the house and gardens and the people who lived there throughout the years.
In 1902, Charles David Doxford and his family moved into the home. Charles was the youngest son on William Theodore Doxford, who was an incredibly important man for the city. He founded William Doxford and Sons shipbuilding yard in 1840 which was based at Pallion docks from 1870. At one point, the shipyard had the highest production rate in Europe. Really I could do a whole blog post about the entire Doxford family as there is so much to say about the 9 children they had!
See also Sunderlands Heritage and Where to Experience it
Upon Charles’ death in 1935 he left the house to his daughter Aline Doxford. When I was at school I was always told that she loved the gardens and was always seen to be wandering through them (although I couldn’t find any specific sources to support this). There have also been paranormal sightings of a woman walking through the park though to be Aline (if you believe that type of thing).
Upon her death in 1968, she left the estate to the city council. This I believe supports the idea that she loved the gardens, as only a few year later, Doxford Park was opened to the public as a park for all to enjoy.
The house was used for several things over the years such as university housing and even a rehab at one time. It was also empty for many years resulting in it becoming a hot spot for break ins and it was even a victim to arson at one point. It it currently being developed as a private home, which I imagine will be amazing to see when it’s done. The house is grade 2* listed and has some surviving original features of the house.
The park however has remained in the hands of the council. Unfortunately, budget cuts to things such as public spaces are what contributed to it becoming so run down and decrepit. However the Friends of Doxford Park was set up, and is a volunteer group dedicated to maintaining and restoring this important park of our cities heritage.
They are always running clean ups, and searching for volunteers to help with upkeep in the gardens and park. If you were interested in helping out, you can find information on their Facebook Page.
Doxford park has made an indisputable contribution to Sunderland’s history and it is so lovely to go back to it now and see the space being looked after and cared for. It made really lovely place for our daily walk on Sunday and I hope it remains a space for all to enjoy in the future.
See also 40+ places for Daily Walks in and around Sunderland
I have absolutely loved exploring the history of this park, and hope you have enjoyed reading this post. If you want to see more things like this please leave a comment below, or leave your email address to be notified everytime I upload a new post.
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Doxford House Wikipedia Page 2020