An overview and short history

In Northern England, just south of the Scotland border, are the rolling moors of County Durham, home to the smaller branch of the American family that first migrated to Pennsylvania shortly before the U.S. Civil War, and later moved to the upper Midwest and Salt Lake City area. I learned much more about this branch of the family from my visit. First, many of the places the Parmleys called home were actually neighborhoods of Middleton, not separate villages. Centuries ago, when people's worlds were smaller, they gave names to practically every hill, crossroads and farm. And those names have endured. The tombstones of Middleton's cemeteries even bear "California Row," "Snaisgill," "Hude Bridge" and other small neighborhoods. American genealogies, including mine, have repeatedly misspelled the names of some of these smaller places.

Middleton-in-Teesdale ("The middle town in the dale of the River Tees"), or "Middleton" as the locals call it, remains very much today the small village it was in our ancestors' time. Middleton has 12th-Century beginnings, according to a plaque at the center of town, above, growing up in the sheltered valley of the Hudeshope Beck, close to the Tees and the hunting grounds and pastures of the monks of Rievaulx Abbey.

The farming origins can be found in the sections of town that bear the names Horsemarket and Market Place. Around the village, traces of medieval cornfields are visible as long, narrow fields and plowing terraces.

By the early 19th Century, moors and open fields were enclosed with stone walls and the leading industry was established in Upper Teesdale.

In the mid-1800s the village had become a company town, for the London Lead Co., which set up its headquarters here. The population grew with lead workers, craftsmen and traders.

In 1842, the Teesdale Workmen's Corn Assn. was established, one of the earliest co-ops in England, in Chapel Row. It was followed by a grocery store, and, in 1856, a bank in Market Place. Most of the 19th-Century buildings were made of sandstone and quite modest. The cottages in California Row, right, at the northeast edge of town were built when a large deposit of lead was found in 1849, the year of the California Gold Rush. Several generations of Parmleys lived here.

The Methodist chapels were among the largest buildings; the Wesleyan chapel in Horsemarket was built in 1870 for 400 people.

Today the area is building on a fledgling tourist industry and attracting many retirees who have decided to flee the city for the countryside. Many sheep farms remain but the lead industry is all but gone. It looks like our ancestors left their jobs in the mines here for those in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

Some Parmleys still live in the area, while others are buried at St. Mary's, left, which dates from 1879 although an 11th century church's remains still loom at the cemetery entrance.

One of the earliest mentions of the family in early genealogies was John Parmley whose 1672 will said he was "of Hanging Shaw in the High Forest." Several miles west of Middleton is High Force, right, Britain's tallest waterfall at 50 feet.

And a few miles west of that is a small settlement called Forest-in-Teesdale, a mile north of it and up a small lane is an area known as Hanging Shaw. John must have lived on this moor overlooking the north bank of the River Tees.

It's a pretty lonely stretch of road; I'd venture not much has changed in the last 300 years or so.

On the main highway leading into town from the east is Spring Hill, left, and atop the hill is the farmhouse that several generations of this family lived in the 1800s.

The original farmhouse (the white one on the left in the photo) still stands, just a few yards away from the bubbling spring.

About a mile north of town lies an area known as Snaisgill, where Joseph Parmley [1764-1816; Joseph, Henry, John, Edmond, John of Hanging Shaw] built a stone cottage. Today, the enlarged home known as Snaisgill Farm, below, is a bed and breakfast owned and operated by William and Susan E. Parmley.

The family was in the midst of cleaning those rooms when I visited, so I lodged at another farm around the corner. Susan, who provided more information on this branch of the family, said that an American Parmley family searching for its roots visits their farm about every other year.

The original cottage is the left third of the building. Two additions have made it the present size. The Parmleys offer two double rooms with wash basins and a visitors lounge with a TV room from 14 pounds (about $23) a night, and a holiday cottage.

Snaisgill Farm, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Barnard Castle, County Durham, England DL12 0RP. Phone: (01833) 640-343.

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Updated Dec. 30, 2019