Orm’s Church

Tucked away in the secluded valley of the Hodge Beck is the ancient church of St Gregory. It is thought that there may have been a church on this site as early as the eighth century. A number of early crosses have can be seen built into the walls with further loose remnants held within the church including a quern

Above the south doorway is a sundial that reads, Orm Gamal’s son bought St. Gregory’s Minster when it was all broken down and fallen and he let it be made anew from the ground to Christ and St. Gregory, in Edward’s days, the king, and in Tosti’s days, the Earl. This is day’s Sun marker at every tide. And Haworth me wrought and Brand, priests. The sundial dates to just before the Norman Conquest, we know this because Tosti refers to Earl Tostig, Tostig Godwinson, the Earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065.

The church was restored in 1907 by Temple Moore, of the greatest Victorian church architects. A few elements from the early church can still be seen including the beautiful, tall, narrow Saxon south door, which was once an entrance but now leads into the tower, and a wonderful waterleaf capital.

Just across the valley from the church is the site of the famous Kirkdale Hyena Cave, a place of some significance in the history of the study of geology and evolutionary science. More of that another time.

Map – National Library of Scotland

Jellinge to the Jacobean

St. Andrew’s church at Haughton-le-Skerne is the oldest in Darlington and probably stands on the site of a previous Saxon Church. The church is essentially Norman and has a collection of early medieval carved stones.

I walked up to the porch, it was locked, my heart sank, I walked around to the west door, a big smile, not only an open door but a beautiful plain Norman arch and tympanum.

On entering the church things just got better, I was given a very warm welcome into the church by two lovely attendants who were sat in the baptistry on either side of this handsome font. The original font has gone but the beautiful Frosterly Marble base survives. We had a chat about this and that and I was shown around the church then left to wander.

In the nave there are a number of early medieval stones that have been built into the walls. The stones were found during the 1895 restoration. One of the carvings (bottom picture) stands out as being exceptionally good.

This piece establishes that the best carving from this site occurs with the most purely Scandinavian ornament. The ribbon animal panel on A is closely linked in style with Sockburn 8 and should date from an early stage after the introduction of the Jellinge-type style. It is possible that this piece was carved elsewhere, since it is the only piece from the site in this stone.

Another simple arch and plain tympanum leads into the porch and more remnants of carved stones including some knotwork and fragments of cross slabs. A blackbird has made its nest on a shelf, she watches me but does not move.

Back in the nave, the amount of 17th century woodwork is quite overwhelming. I’m told that this style is known as ‘Cosin woodwork’ named after Bishop Cosin of Durham. This style is unique to County Durham and is now quite rare. Nikolaus Pevsner dates the woodwork to the 1630’s and writes that ‘the church gives a very complete picture of that date.’

The chancel arch is Norman, its single-step simplicity reflects the entrance and porch arches. Below the arch on the left of the picture is a squint or ‘hagioscope’ designed as a viewing point between the nave and the chancel. Below the arch on the right side is a niche with the remains of an original pre-reformation fresco painting. This niche may have housed a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Displayed on a shelf in the south transept are a number of sheets of lead. These were removed from the tower roof. All date to the eighteenth century, three are outlines of shoes, one is a hand and another is an etching of a fully-rigged ship. All of the sheets are initialled, presumably by the craftsmen who repaired the roof at various times.

I would encourage you to visit this beautiful church. This Grade one listed church is warm and welcoming and proudly displays its rich history and heritage. The church is open for visitors every Wednesday 10am-4pm June til November.

Sources

The Buildings of England. County Durham. Nikolas Pevsner. 1953. Penguin Books.

Visitors booklet – available within the church.

The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture.

Durham Dales – Escomb

I took a trip into the Durham Dales with my friend Graham Vasey. County Durham is a bit of a mystery to me, growing up on the south bank of the Tees I’ve always viewed County Durham as a place of declining post-industrial townships, hastily built in the service of king coal and the ironmasters; Institute walls maintaining memories of pit explosions, collapsing shafts and pals whose bones fertilise foreign fields. Graham is slowly enlightening me and correcting my ignorance.

We arrived at Escomb to visit the beautiful seventh century Saxon church of St John, itself once a ruin, now saved and restored.

Boundary walls topped with raw slag and scoria brick paving speak of the district’s recent past

Keys at No.28

Stone

An austere beauty, each stone block tells a tale, many of them were carved by Roman hands

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Layers of time – the nearby Roman fort at Binchester became a convenient quarry for the Saxon masons; an intact Roman arch, its underside reveals traces of Medieval fresco

The altar cross recycled, below it a beautiful Frosterley Marble Grave slab

Two sundials, one the oldest in England

The key to the interpretation of the sculpture lies in Saxon mythology, to a period before the emergence of the cult of Valhalla and the Viking Gods. For just as the beast’s head has little resemblance to a stag, so too it bears little resemblance to a wolf. We are looking at a chaos monster… Nicholas Beddow 1991

sundial leflet

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The Devil’s door and Roman Lewis hole