Penshaw Monument: Why an ancient Greek-style temple was built on a hill near Sunderland

  • Julia Barthram visited Penshaw Monument to find out more about its history for ITVX

Sitting atop a hill near Sunderland there stands an unlikely monument in the style of a Greek temple.

Penshaw Monument has been a popular spot for visitors for generations.

Now considered an icon of the region, it even features on the badge of Sunderland Football Club.

JOHN GEORGE LAMBTON, ESQ. M.P. for the County of Durham, Monochrome mezzotint by Mr Samuel William Reynolds (the Elder) and Thomas Phillips Credit: © UK Parliament, WOA 1136

The monument on Penshaw Hill, between Washington and Houghton-le-Spring, was built as a memorial to John George Lambton, the 1st Earl of Durham and a coal mine owner in the area.

Known as Radical Jack, he died in 1840 at the age of 48, prompting the community to raise the funds needed to erect the monument, which opened four years later in 1844.

Penshaw Monument is based on the Temple of Hephaestus, in Athens. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

'It is possible to see as far as the Cleveland Hills in the south and the Cheviots to the north'

Based on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, the monument is 70ft high, 100ft long and has columns more than 6ft wide.

From the top, it is possible to see as far as the Cleveland Hills in the south and the Cheviots to the north.

Ged Parker, a volunteer from the National Trust, which looks after the site, said: "The trend at the time was to rediscover and copy what the ancients had done, particularly in Greece and Rome."

He added: "Everybody refers to it as seeing they're coming back home. It's such a large significant solid feature. And even the blackness on it reflects its coal-mining history. It's never been cleaned up."

The view from the top of Penshaw Monument on a winter's day. You can see as far as the Cleveland Hills and the Cheviots in better weather. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

But the area is also steeped in the legend of the Lambton Worm - a dragon-like monster that was said to terrorise local villages.

Rob Kilburn, author of Tyne and Weird, said: "For most people, Penshaw Monument is associated with the Lambton Worm, which is quite an old tale.

"It dates back to the Lambton family who were gentry in the area, connected to the River Wear, where there was a worm that grew to be more like a dragon.

"Ultimately there was a battle between the gentry and the worm and it's alleged the worm wrapped itself around a hill, and that's where the association with the hill comes in."

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