Kirk Merrington Primary School

Project Profile

Project Title :

Kirk Merrington Primary School

Client :

Durham County Council

Type of Work :

Evaluation, Excavation, Watching brief, Desk-Based Assessment and analysis

Project Gallery 

Trench 1 showing the ridge and furrow ploughing earthworks   The remains of the air-raid shelter  
The air-raid shelter is emptied of rubble   The air-raid shelter during excavation  
Richardson plan of the village in 1768   Map of division of Merrington 1666  


Kirk Merrington Primary School, County Durham

A village through the ages

Recent archaeological investigation, undertaken in advance of the construction of a new primary school, has uncovered evidence of medieval ploughing and the remains of a World War II air-raid shelter at Kirk Merrington in County Durham. Subsequent post-excavation analysis is now beginning to reveal some interesting information on the history of the village, from a rogue bishop occupying the church in the 12th century, to life in the area during the bombing raids of the Second World War.

The work was carried out for Durham County Council as part of a condition attached to the planning permission for the development. It included a trial-trench evaluation; sample area excavation; monitoring during groundworks, and a Desk-Based Assessment.

The village of Kirk Merrington lies on a prominent ridge to the south of Spennymoor. The church dominates the village, with a commanding view out across the surrounding landscape; a strategic advantage which in the 12th century led William Cumyn - usurper to the Bishop of Durham, and nephew to 'the Scottish intruder' - to fortify and occupy the building during his bid for power. Cumyn's attempt failed when three Durham Barons - Roger Conyers, Galfrid d'Escolland and Bertram Bulmer - raised a force against him and, 'hurling firebrands on the defenders', stormed the fortified church until 'the whole party were taken prisoner'. His exploits are detailed in Surtees The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham (1816).

Other documentary evidence, including records of the rentals associated with the village and historic mapping, were also reviewed. These revealed information on the size and form of the village in the 15th century (Greenwell 1860; Arthur 2009) and how it has changed and developed throughout history. Interestingly, the site of the development lay outside of medieval Merrington, within fields associated with a small village called Shelom.

The remains of a World War II air-raid shelter, preserved beneath the school playground, are evidence of more recent conflict. Research is currently being undertaken into what life might have been like in Kirk Merrington during this period. Did you live in, or near, Kirk Merrington during the war? Do you remember the school air-raid shelters? If so, we would love to hear from you. Drop us a line at or give us a ring on 01833 690800.