Natural History Handiworks
Aftermath Waterton Links Links - General Book Shelf
Overtown Miscellany - Charles Waterton
 site search by freefind  
Charles Waterton's Life and Family
Life at Tudhoe Roman Catholic School

Happy days in the classroom. (A fictious master.)"At nine years old, I was sent to a school in the north of England, where literature had scarcely any effect upon me, although it was duly administered in large doses by a very scientific hand. But I made vast proficiency in the art of finding birds' nests*. It was judged necessary by the master of the school to repress this inordinate relish for ornithological architecture, which, in his estimation, could be productive of no good. Accordingly, the birch rod was brought to bear upon me when occasion offered; but the warm application of it, in lieu of effacing my ruling passion, did but tend to render it more distinct and clear. Thus are bright colours in crockery-ware made permanent by the action of fire; thus is dough turned into crust by submitting it to the oven's heat." (1)

* His interest in nidification continued into later life, as can be seen from the following article in Loudon's Magazine.
■ A Visit to the Haunts of the Guillemot
[NB. All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, and it is thus an offence to damage or destroy an active nest or prevent parent birds access to their nests.]

Charles Waterton spent his early school years from 1792 to 1796 at a newly-established Catholic school in Tudhoe. Tudhoe was a small farming village "just on the king's highway, betwixt Durham and Bishop-Aukland, and one field from the school, there stood a public-house called the White Horse". (3)

Despite the somewhat daunting picture painted of his school master, the birch-wielding Reverend Arthur Storey, life was apparently not all bad at Tudhoe and Waterton had some typical boyhood adventures. He discovered that Mr Storey had two wigs, one of flaxen colour, without powder and one lower row of curls; the other had two rows and was "exceedingly well powdered". Waterton continues: "when he appeared in the schoolroom with this last wig on, I knew that I was safe from the birch, as he invariably went to Durham, and spent the day there. But when I saw that he had his flaxen wig on, my countenance fell. He was in the schoolroom all day, and I was too often placed in a very uncomfortable position at nightfall. ....... And thus I went on month after month, in sadness and in sunshine, in pleasure and in pain; the ordinary lot of adventurous schoolboys in their thorny path to the temple of erudition." (3)

Charles Waterton mentions a cottage opposite the Hall, occupied in the 1790s by the village tailor, "Low" (Lawrence) Thompson. Perhaps these were on the site now occupied by Tudhoe House, which was built in its present form in 1825. He describes the village ghosts and spectres - the Tudhoe mouse, an enormous dark brown mouse given to much mischief making, and a large black horse with a headless rider.

"There was a blacksmith's shop leading down the village to Tudhoe Old Hall. Just opposite this shop was a pond, on the other side of the road. When any sudden death was to take place, or any sudden ill to befall the village, a large black horse used to emerge from it, and walk slowly up and down the village, carrying a rider without a head." (3) The blacksmith's grandfather, his father, himself, his three sons, and two daughters, had seen this midnight apparition rise out of the pond, and return to it before the break of day. " Indeed, every man and woman and child believed in this centaur-spectre, and I am not quite sure if our old master himself did not partly believe that such a thing had occasionally been seen on very dark nights." (3)

The characters in his years at Tudhoe included Bryan Salvin from Croxdale Hall - "a dull, sluggish, and unwieldy lad quite incapable of climbing extertions." (3) This lad begged Waterton to climb into the schoolroom through a window to write a letter of complaint to his sister Eliza at York. Needless to say, the ever watchful Rev. Storey caught young Master Waterton in the act but did not administer the expected punishment straight away. The good Reverend Father delayed the application of the rod until the evening of the following day, as he thought it inappropriate the thrash the lad on Psalm Sunday.

He was also lured by two young comrades into killing a gander. This just after arrival at the school "from my mother's nursery". In typical fashion, the two boys ran off to tell the fearsome schoolmaster who, happily for the newboy, believed his account of events and he escaped punishment. The goose belonged to John Hey, a local farmer, whose son Ralph used to provide Waterton with birds' eggs, and whenever Charles wandered by the farmhouse, the children would call out "Yaw killed our guise." (3)

He encountered a Scottish boy with two thumbs on one hand. Another character was an East Indian officer called Tiger Duff who had been mauled by a tiger. Colonel Duff allowed the ever curious young Waterton to touch the scar caused when the tiger had ripped him open from mouth to ear. Then there was a magnificient soldier, one Serjeant Newton from Durham who taught them military exercise. "He was a magnificient soldier, every inch of him; possessing brain, spirit, and tact enough to command a regiment on a field of battle." (3)

Another of his school mates was Edwin Jones, later to paint Charles astride the cayman.

['A Tale of a Tub' (6)]
A first escapade on water - using an oblong tub used for holding dough prior to bread making - nearly ended in yet another encounter with the rod. Well into his voyage across the horsepond he saw the schoolmaster accompanied by Sir John Lawson of Brough Hall. He lost his nerve and capsized. Emerging from the pond, covered in muck, he might well have expected the worst from the schoolmaster, but Sir John thought that it was a brave adventure and so the Reverend spared the rod and the child.

Between the school and Ferry Tree was an old oaken post around 9 feet high (about 2.75 metres), although Waterton concluded that it must have been taller in former days. It was known as Andrew Mills' stob. He often went to see it with his fellow students and, one afternoon they encountered an old woman who pared a chip off the post. She said that it was good for curing toothache. The stob had a sad and terrible history.

"A neighbouring farmer and his wife had gone a tea-drinking one summer afternoon, leaving six children behind. Andrew Mills, the servant-man, fancied he would become heir of the farmer's property if the children were only got out of the way. So he cut all their throats, and his body was hung in chains on this noted stob. The poor children were all buried in one grave in a neighbouring churchyard. The tomstone tells their melancholy fate, and the epitaph ends thus:-

'Here we sleep: we were all slain;
And here we rest, till we rise again.'

I suspect that the remains of this oaken post have long since mouldered away. I have not been there for these last seventy years, and probably if I went hither, I should not be able to find the site of this formerly notorious gibbet." (3)

More snippets of school life

On Easter Sunday the boys were given Pasche eggs - boiled hard in a concoction of whin-flowers, which turned them purple. The boys held contests by bashing one egg with another, not too dissimilar to the basic principle of conkers. Ultimately, the victor would consume both his prize egg and those that he had vanquished. (3)

A mite of merit
In 1794 four young men came to study for the Roman Catholic Church, later they moved on to Crook Hall "where they may be said to have been the foundations of the future college of Ushaw." As young Master Charles had purloined extra portions of bread and cheese for these young men, he considered that "I might have a right to claim a mite of merit, having contributed to the bodily support of those who laboured for Ushaw at its birth." (3)

Although not possessing a river*, Waterton thought that Tudhoe was in other respects charming. "There was an ample supply of woods and hedgerow trees to insure a sufficient stock of carrion crows, jackdaws, jays, magpies, brown owls, kestrels, merlins, and sparrow-hawks, for the benefit of natural history and my own instruction and amusement." (3)
[* although the River Wear passed not far to the west of the village.]

A Charitable Deed
One day, as he was walking up a lane, Charles Waterton met an old lady, who asked him for charity. Young Master Waterton had recently spent all of his pocket-money and did not have even a ha'penny left. The only thing that he could give was a fine darning needle, which he kept in the hem of his jacket. To him it was of enormous value as it was an essential tool for blowing eggs. "Years afterwards, towards the end of a life full of quiet acts of kindness, he once mentioned this gift of the darning needle as the most meritorious act of charity that he had ever done." (3)

Charles Waterton included his years at Tudhoe in his "Life of the Author" at the request of his "dear cousin, George Waterton, now a student in divinity at Ushaw College". (3)

Home at last (for a while, at least)
In 1796, Waterton, having finished his preparatory studies, returned home. During the short period that he was at home, he was saved from disaster by the family chaplain, Monsieur Raquedel. Waterton was sleepwalking at one o'clock in the morning and was about to climb through a third floor window under the impression that he was on his way to a neighbouring wood to visit a crow's nest. The chaplain caught him as he was lifting the sash and so saved him from plummeting to the ground.

For the next stage in his education, Charles was sent by his father to Stonyhurst.

Find out more about Tudhoe at:

■ The History of Tudhoe Village: Dissent and Rebellion in County Durham by Jeremy Hutson

and, by the same author:

■ The Tudhoe Schools: Tudhoe Academy, Tudhoe House and Tudhoe Place. (PDF)

Books about Walton, Charles Waterton, Guyana, and more!
See a selection of
books about Walton,
Charles Waterton,
Guyana and more.
• click here •
(Offered for sale by

Click image to enlarge.
Tudhoe 2002

Tudhoe, where Charles Waterton spent his first, not always happy, years at a Roman catholic school. Once a village, Tudhoe has seen much building development since Waterton's days. The map above shows Tudhoe in the 21st century. Despite the ravages of time, the area around the green is still very pleasant and agreeable. The church depicted on the map is St Charles' Roman Catholic Church.

Click to enlarge
Tudhoe 1861
The White Horse referred to by Waterton is not shown on this map, produced during his life time, but many years after his schooldays. The pubs shown are the George & Dragon (now the Green Tree) and the Black Horse. It seems possible that the Green Tree is the same inn referred to by the Squire, being close by to the school and village pond.

Money Matters

An interesting bill, dated 1805, in respect of Master John Hussey, seemingly about to depart for Stonyhurst College.
[click image to enlarge]
(Picture and information courtesy Alan Taylor.)

Click to enlarge
St Charles' RC Church.
Click here for more pictures of Tudhoe.


 Visit the Bookshelf.

OVERTOWN MISCELLANY (overtown.org.uk)  
© John S. Sargent, 1997 - 2021.  All rights reserved.  
• About this site  • Contact  
Squire Charles Waterton