At the start of the Norman period Whitfield appears to have belonged to the Saxon Earls of Northumbria.
The daughter of one of them, Maud, married King David I of Scotland and Whitfield became, as part of her dowry, hunting land for the Scottish Kings. We know that Maud’s daughter, who was called Countess Ada, had a house called Eade’s Hall which was situated on the hill above the present village, and the ruins of which still stood in the 18th century.
Countess Ada was married to King Henry of Scotland and was mother to two of the Kings of Scotland, Malcolm IV and William the Lion (her husband’s great grandfather was the Duncan who was murdered by Macbeth).
Countess Ada had a chaplain or steward at Whitfield called Robert and her son William the Lion agreed in 1167 to give half the lands at Whitfield to Robert in recognition of his service to her. Robert then took on the name of the lands he had been given and became Robert de Whitfield. The other half of the land was given to Hexham Abbey who leased it to Robert and his descendants until some 500 years later the Abbey’s portion of the Estate was made over outright to Sir Matthew Whitfield in 1655 by Oliver Cromwell.
The fortunes of the Whitfields gradually declined and the Estate was up for sale in 1750.
It was bought by William Ord (c.1715-1768). Ord lived at Fenham Hall in Newcastle and initially bought Whitfield as a sporting estate, although he was probably looking to the future as well. He made his own fortune in coal mining (sinking England’s first ever deep shaft coal mine in Walker in 1762), and he would certainly have been aware of the potential at Whitfield for lead mining which did indeed subsequently take place. The Estate had become run down and Ord oversaw a significant amount of rebuilding and improvements, building many of the farmhouses still seen in the valley today.
William Ord’s grandson (also called William) was the first member of the family to live permanently at Whitfield in Whitfield Hall which by then had become a substantial Georgian house thought to have been modelled on the design of Palladio’s Villa Podjana which still stands near Vicenza (the Hall was remodelled in the mid-nineteenth century). William moved his residence to Whitfield some time after 1800, following significant improvements in the roads which made it feasible to live here. It was considered a little unusual to live so far outbye, as Sydney Smith wrote in a letter in 1825 to Lady Holland: “Ord lives in a very beautiful and inaccessible place at the end of the world – very comfortably”.
William was a prominent MP for Newcastle for very many years and his son William Henry looked destined to follow in his footsteps and achieve high office having been made a Lord of the Treasury in his early 30s. However he died soon afterwards and so the property passed to William’s niece, Anne Hamilton. In 1855 Anne married the Reverend John Blackett and their name was changed by royal decree to Blackett-Ord.
Four generations later, the Blackett-Ord family still look after the Estate and live at Whitfield Hall.