The Maddison family were a prominent and respected family of the area, two of their number even finding fame and reward within the Diplomatic services. They lived in Hole House situated on the banks of the Derwent and enjoyed a prosperous existence. However, as with all families there was a black sheep; this time in the form of Ralph “Mad” Maddison.
A permanent feature in the inns and taverns of the area, especial the Kings Head at Shotley Bridge, better known to the locals as the Bridge End. He loved to cause mayhem and discord were ever he went and his heinous crimes have been well documented. One account states that when the river was in high flood an old lady was stuck on the far side of the river unable to get back into Shotley Village. He offered her a lift on the back of his horse which she gladly accepted.
Unfortunately about half way across he pushed her off into the rolling current. Onlookers watched on in horror as he sat amused. Luckily for the old women she managed to scramble back to the safety of the banks edge.
There is another documented case were Ralph argued with his then son-in-law in the Bridge End. Having lost his temper he placed him on his horse backwards with thorns under the saddle. As the horse galloped off the poor man was flung to his death.
His daughter then remarried John Elrington who Ralph taking an instant dislike to also tried to shoot. Luckily the shot was short of the mark and the poor man got away. However, the feud between them lasted many years. In 1661 when John had became a local magistrate he prosecuted Ralph for arson and larceny to which he was found guilty and his hand was burnt for his crime.
Shortly after John had to flee for his life and was forced to take refuge with the Justice of Assize in Newcastle. Another well documented case came in 1678 when he razed the property of one John Raw of Benfieldside to the ground.
As the years went on Ralph became more and more out of control. He had not always been this way however. In the years proceeding he had been a Warden of the area, hunting down Mosstroopers and the like. But eventually Ralph went to far, when in what was said to have been a drunk rage or fit of madness, he struck out and killed Laird Atkinson of Cannyside Wood at Shotley Bridge on 16th September 1694.
A message was sent out for his arrest from Durham. Fearing the worst Ralph mounted his famous grey steed and sped off in the direction of the Cumberland Wastes pursued by a troop of soldiers.
On reaching Muggleswick his horse stopped and would go no further so Ralph took to his feet and ran into a nearby wood where it is said he took refuge inside on old hollow tree.
However he was soon captured and dragged to Durham were he was hanged for his crimes.