Washington County Durham


Memories of  Washington Old Hall  (1/6)

Fred Hill - Local Historian & Headmaster


Restored - Thanks to Frederick Hill!

Blue Plaque at the former Biddick School, which later became Columbia Primary School.
[ Courtesy of Washington History Society, October 2023. ]


Local Headmaster


Washington Old Hall

and promotes

Anglo-American Friendship

Fred Hill

A dedicated historian and preservationist, Fred was personally responsible for
Biddick School Swimming Pool and Washington's many American visitors.

Fred Hill  (1885-1955)

Washington Old Hall


Extracts from an article written by Dianne Snowden and posted by the Sunderland Echo, 5th August 2006

 Let’s not forget if it was not for a Washington man, the Old Hall would not have been restored and could easily have been pulled down.  Fred Hill,
    a keen historian and headmaster of Biddick School, led a 23-year campaign to restore George Washington’s ancestral home to its former glory.

 He wrote several books on the Hall’s history and, in 1932, even hosted a celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth.

 Fred’s campaign to rescue Washington Old Hall really took off in 1932, however, when he set up a committee to try to buy the ruined building.
    Fred’s efforts did not go unnoticed in the States and he was rewarded with a Commemorative Medal of the United States in 1933.

 The dream became reality in 1937 when, following a cash donation by a local industrialist, the Preservation Committee* paid 350 (sic) for the Hall.
    Wartime poverty and rationing made fundraising for restoration work difficult for several years, but Fred, helped by rector Cyril Lomax, refused to
    give up.  Fred managed to get American benefactors to play a key role, donating funds and furniture to the project. Even the rose garden was paid
    for by an American, Mabel Choate.

 Eventually, in September 1955, the restoration was complete. Winthrop W. Aldrich, the United States Ambassador, performed the opening ceremony.

[Many thanks to Dianne Snowdon & Sunderland Echo.]

* The trustees appointed to manage the project were Reverend Cyril Lomax, Matthew Anderson, G. Stirling Newall and Frederick Hill.
Mr Newall financed the purchase of the Hall.

•   •   ◊   •   •

Acknowledgement of Mr Hill's Massive Contribution to the Rescue & Restoration Project

•   •   ◊   •   •

In her book, Frederick Hill and Washington Old Hall, Sheila Arbuckle says: "All those connected with the Hall ... owe a debt of gratitude
to the foresight, energy and dogged determination of Mr Hill in securing the existence of Washington Old Hall for the future."


The Patrons, Committee & Trustees

Headmaster Frederick Hill - Honorary Secretary

1932 Letterhead

The Sphere

( Illustrated Weekly Newspaper )

Frederick Hill and Washington Old Hall

[ Press Cutting shown here courtesy of Washington History Society ]

•   •   ◊   •   •

Enhanced Images

Village Lane 1949  -  The Sphere, 29th January 1949

•   •   ◊   •   •

Washington Village Memorial 1949  -  The Sphere, 29th January 1949

•   •   ◊   •   •

Washington Glebe Colliery  -  The Sphere, 29th January 1949

•   •   ◊   •   •

[ An Enhanced Picture of the Derelict Old Hall appears on the next Tab. ]


Washington Old Hall - Front
[ Facing Dame Margaret's Hall.  Note Holy Trinity Church. ]

Washington Old Hall - Front

Washington Old Hall - Rear
[ Holy Trinity Church off-picture, left. ]

Could this be Headmaster Fred Hill with some of his Biddick School pupils?  The Trilby looks just right!

Washington Old Hall - 1949
[ The Sphere, Illustrated Newspaper, 29th January 1949 - See previous Tab. ]

The Old Hall looks even more derelict than in the previous image.  Could that picture be pre-1949?  Compare the large branch.

•   •   ◊   •   •

Work In Progress

Washington Old Hall - Front
[ Facing Dame Margaret's Hall. ]

Biddick School

( Headmaster: Mr F. Hill )

[ Situated in Washington Station at the junction of Oxclose Road and Albert Place.  Note the Spire. ]

FRED HILL - Synopsis of his life:

 Frederick Hill was born in Chester-le-Street, 21st August 1885.  He died 16th November 1955.

 Fred began his teaching career in 1906 at Washington Colliery Mixed & Infants School (Brandy Row) and moved to the newly opened Washington
    Upper Standard School in 1910.  This school has undergone several name changes and styles of teaching over the years: Higher Grade; Washington
    Secondary; Washington Grammar & Technical; Washington Comprehensive; Washington School; and currently (2020) Washington Academy.

Voluntary Aid Detachment, Royal Army Medical Corps.

 He taught at Upper Standard School until he received his WW1 call-up papers in 1915.

 Fred was responsible for compiling the Washington & District Volunteers Record
    which listed local men who had volunteered for military service.  Frederick Hill is
    listed in the 'Officially Signified Their Willingness To Serve' section, which declared
    his willingness to be called-up, when required.

 Fred reached the rank of Sergeant in the 91st Field Ambulance and saw action at the
    Battle of the Somme.

 After the war he returned to take up the post of Headmaster at Cleadon Council
    School.  In 1926 he was appointed Headmaster of Washington Biddick Junior Mixed
    School and he remained there until his retirement in 1948.

 Frederick Hill was also involved in local politics and was elected Chairman of
    Washington Parish Council in 1919.

[Thanks to Tyne & Wear Archives.]

[ You can read the entire Washington & District Volunteers Record, dated 11 September 1914, at What's Where / World Wars / WW1 - Washington Volunteers. ]

Biddick School Swimming Pool

( The first in Washington - thanks to Fred Hill. )

[ That's Mr Hill at the left hand corner of the swimming pool.  Note the School Spire. ]


Extracts from an anonymous article posted by the Washington Star, 22nd February 2013

• Fred Hill was a formidable character best known for leading the fight to save Washington Old Hall from demolition.

• One of his lesser known feats was organising the building of an open-air swimming pool for children at Washington's Biddick School, of which
    he was Headteacher.

• Local authority plans for swimming baths had been dragging on for some years without any sign of success, but Fred wasn't the kind of person to
    hang about for too long.  In May 1931, he drew up estimates for materials, and the month after, he organised a meeting of townfolk, among them
    unemployed parents willing to provide the labour without reward.

• The site of the pool - the first of its kind in what was then County Durham - was marked out that same day on land next to the school and
    excavation took only a week.

• The pool measured 49ft by 23ft and was 9in deep at its shallow end and 4ft 6in at the deep end.

• Such was Fred's tenacity that in July - just six weeks after the public meeting - the baths were opened.

• As Sheila Arbuckle says in her book Frederick Hill and Washington Old Hall: "It was a truly remarkable event given the time, the place and the
    economic climate."

• The opening ceremony was, at Fred's insistence, attended only by those directly involved in the pool's creation - workers and donors of cash or kind -
    about 120 guests altogether.

• The workmen and their wives received a 'good substantial meat tea' and the others were served light refreshments.

• Proud of his unemployed parents' efforts, Fred wrote to Jack Lawson, MP for Chester-le-Street and secretary to the Ministry of Labour, telling him
    how 46 jobless men had worked on the baths.  He added: "Don't you think mention of this is good material that you may use to confute the charge
    'lazy dole-drawers'?"

• During the following year, more than 50 children learned to swim, and in September 1932, the first annual swimming gala was held there.
    The gala involved several local schools and consisted of exhibitions given by local swimming champions, a diving contest and novelty events.

• The boy's champion cup winner was Fred's youngest son, also called Fred.  He later had aspirations to be an Olympic swimmer but was told by his
    dad to get a proper job instead.

• Sadly, by 1936, the baths had to be closed and, says Sheila, there are no records of why this happened.

• The land must have been filled in because it later became part of the garden of a house adjoining the school.

[Thanks to Washington Star]

•   •   ◊   •   •

Mr Frederick Hill in Holy Trinity Church
( Audrey Fletcher's washingtonlass.com )

Further Reading:
( Sheila Arbuckle's book about Fred Hill. )

Please Note: The newspaper articles draw heavily on Mrs Arbuckle's comments and meticulous research.


Contemporaries of Fred Hill

Note Alderman Smith (front row, bow tie) who gave his name to the Alderman Smith Grammar & Technical School on Spout Lane.

Washington Development Corporation Pamphlet

( Acknowledging Frederick Hill's contribution to the Preservation of The Old Hall )