At the time of writing, the history of The Victoria Inn at Witton-le-Wear has been traced back to May 1771 when the site was described as:
“a house and land let to John Gibbon at an annual rent of £4-5s”.
At this time it was owned by John Dobinson who farmed Witton Castle initially for the Darcy family but subsequently for the Cuthbert family when the Witton Castle estate was sold in 1743. The Dobinsons of Witton Castle were pioneers in the breeding of shorthorn cattle, an activity for which the North East was famous at this time, and John Dobinson’s death in 1778 attracted the notice of both the Newcastle and London newspapers:
“Thursday, in the 90th year of his age, Mr. John Dobinson, of Witton-le-Wear, upwards of 50 years Farmer of Witton Castle; much esteemed by a numerous acquaintance of all ranks, and a constant benefactor to the industrious poor.”
In his will he left:
“all that my dwelling House and the Garth behind the same situated in the South Row of the town of Witton upon Wear aforesaid, and now in the occupation of John Gibbon my Tenant thereof”
to his eldest daughter Mary who continued to let it as she had the option of living more comfortably with her sister Ann in Witton House which her father had built and which survives to this day.
As reported in the Newcastle Courant Mary Dobinson died in 1795 and she was buried in the family grave at Witton le Wear:
“On the 19th inst. at Bishop Auckland, in the 79th year of her age, Mrs. Dobinson, a maiden lady, much respected by all who knew her: and on Sunday last, her remains were interred in the family burying place at Witton-le-Wear.”
The family gravestone was visible in 1834 but has since been lost. Perhaps it is under the grass and will be revealed by a programme of gravestone excavation now underway carried out by the Witton le Wear Heritage Group.
By 1798 the site was owned by John Scarth, a tenant farmer at Lodge Farm just outside Bishop Auckland who also let it. He is buried just across the River Wear in Hamsterley Baptist Church, one of the oldest Baptist Churches in the country. His gravestone is one of the few to survive and the burial register records:
“John Scarth of Lodge in the Parish of St. Andrew Auckland and County of Durham aged Fifty-Six Years was buried here this 5th day of May in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred & Six”.
John Scarth left his house and garth to his wife who lived in it until her death in 1822 as announced in the Durham County Advertiser:
“At Witton le Wear, very suddenly, on Tuesday last, in the 63rd year of her age, Mrs. Ann Scarth, relict of the late Mr. John Scarth, of the Lodge farm, near Bishop Auckland, much regretted.”
As the Scarths had no children the site passed to their niece Jane who by that time had married Richard Jackson a tenant farmer at Escomb Woodside along the river from Witton le Wear.
In 1840 Richard Jackson and his son John sold the site to William Garthwaite a Witton le Wear blacksmith. The deed recording this sale is displayed on the wall in the bar. However, sometime between January 1850 and March 1851 William Garthwaite ceased to describe himself as a blacksmith and started to refer to himself as an Inn Keeper. The economy of Weardale had been stimulated by the opening of the Wear Valley Railway on 3rd August 1847 so it may have been this event that made an Inn in Witton le Wear economically viable. However, the construction of the railway had necessitated the compulsory purchase of land in Witton le Wear including about half of the garth behind William Garthwaite’s house. By 1857 the first edition of the Ordnance Survey is describing the site as Garthwaite’s Inn.
As announced in the Durham Chronicle William Garthwaite died in 1859:
“At Witton-le-Wear, 10th inst., Mr. William Garthwaite, inn-keeper, late blacksmith, aged 64”
In his will he left his Inn and its stock to his wife Maria but only for a period of eight years. After that it was to go to William Oddy and when he died to Sarah Garthwaite Oddy William Oddy’s daughter and William Garthwaite’s great niece. This arrangement seems to have been followed as Maria Garthwaite and her family occupied the Inn in 1861 but by 1871 it was occupied by William Oddy and his family. It is in 1871 that the Inn is first referred to as the Victoria Hotel.
There is a very fine photograph in the bar of John Dodd one of the Innkeepers outside the Hotel Victoria which has been dated to about 1906. According to a local tradition yet to be fully documented John Dodd a doctor saved the life of Ernest Vaux a member of the Sunderland brewing family during the Second Boer War of 1899 to 1902. When Dodd was subsequently struck off the medical register Ernest and Cuthbert Vaux purchased the Hotel Victoria and asked Dodd to run it. Consistent with this tradition is the fact that Dodd was on the Army Reserve. He also named his house in Witton le Wear Ladysmith House presumably after the siege of Ladysmith a protracted engagement in the Second Boer War which lasted from November 1899 to February 1900.
6th May, 2019