I passed through this village a few weeks ago, I had never visited it before and had no knowledge of the place but it had an air of oddness about it so I made a note to return and have a poke about. A good place to start with any village is the church, god’s house often comes with parking.
The church is called St. Cuthbert and St. Mary, there were once two churches in the village, St. Cuthbert’s and St. Mary’s, the story goes that there were two sisters who refused to worship under the same roof. St. Mary’s was demolished in the nineteenth century and the names combined. In common with most local churches dedicated to Cuthbert it is said that the monks who carried his body rested here.
The exterior of the church is pretty but unremarkable. The church was closed, outside, beside the nave door is a section of broken stone with an indented diaper motif and a saltire cross, this has been interpreted as a possible 11th century cross shaft, I’m not sure I agree with that. Resting on the stone is another inscribed WE May 1678, this stone came from the demolished church of St. Mary’s.
The graveyard has two terraces. On the lower terrace are a group of striking rude stone memorials clustered around a large figure of christ. The stones mark the graves of the Vaux family.
The Vaux family were brewers, engineers and military men. Ernest Vaux met Robert Baden-Powell during the South African War and the two became close friends. In 1908 Baden Powell visited Vaux in Sunderland and the pair formed the first official scout group in the world.
My grandparents were pub managers for Vaux Breweries, my first home was the Palmerston Hotel on Newport Road in Middlesbrough, a Vaux house that has long since been demolished.
History aside, what drew me to these graves was the beautiful stone that the grave markers were made from. The stone is an early carboniferous crinoidal limestone and comes from a quarry about a mile south of the village.
The Barton crinoidal limestone is a buff coloured highly fossiliferous limestone, in it’s raw state it is a beautifully tactile stone, when cut and polished the dense, visible fossil content makes it highly decorative.
There is also a link between St. Cuthbert and crinoidal limestone. There is a coastal outcrop in Northumberland and the fossilised, hollow, segments of the Crinoid stems can be found on the beaches. These bead-like fossils were collected and used to make necklaces and rosaries, the individual fossils became known as St. Cuthbert’s or Cuddy’s beads.
But fain St Hilda’s nuns would learn
If on a rock by Lindisfarne
St Cuthbert sits and toils to frame
The sea borne beads that bear his name.
Such tales had Whitby’s fishers told,
And said they might his shape behold,
And here his anvil sound:
A deadened clang – a huge dim form
Seen but and heart when gathering storm
And night were closing round.
But this, a tale of idle fame,
The nuns of Lindisfarne disclaim.
From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott
I got talking to a nice bloke who was repairing the church pathway. He pointed out a couple of archways that were built into the wall across the road from the church and told me that the area is called Piper Hill and that there used to be a row of cottages and a large house all of which were demolished many years ago. He said that behind the arches there was once a fish and chip shop.
I followed the wall back to the main road to have a look at a tall sandstone structure. Apparently this was once the porch to one of the houses and also contained a dovecote. When the houses were demolished the porch was left standing and is now the smallest free-standing dovecote in England.