Howe Hill, Felixkirk

Howe Hill is a prominent mound in the centre of the village. It was previously thought to be a Norman earthwork or Motte but is actually a prehistoric burial mound dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age. The site is still marked on the modern maps as a Motte.

The barrow has a beautiful tree growing on it and sits upon a natural knoll that has been bisected by the main road into the village. The primary views from the barrow are to the west across the Vale of Mowbray to the distant Pennines.

There is a Norman connection with the village, the local church was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century contains a number of Romanesque carved stones including this lovely capital depicting foliate heads.

Wandering around Hexham Abbey

We took a trip up to Hexham, I spent half an hour wandering around the Abbey. As you walk into the Abbey you are faced with a Roman Tombstone, discovered in 1881, it is a memorial to Flavinus, a standard bearer. The carving depicts Flavinus riding over, what I presume is, a native Briton, the victors boot planted on his victims backside. The triumphs of past conquests are often displayed our churches, it is rare to see a memorial depicting our own islands conquest and defeat.

The original Saxon church was built using stone from nearby Roman sites. The church has been attacked many times during raids by the Vikings and later the Scots.

To the left of the High Altar is the Leschman Chantry Chapel, containing the tomb of Rowland Leschman, Prior of the Abbey from 1480 to 1491. The carvings on the tomb are an absolute joy.

Middlesbrough Pictorial & Industrial – Harold Hood

Published in 1926 by photographer and commercial printer, Harold Hood, Middlesbrough Pictorial & Industrial is Hoods love letter to Middlesbrough. Hood photographed the town, its people, buildings and industry. He quotes one critic as saying, If they felt about it as I do they would make a bonfire of the place tomorrow, and pitch the statues of its creators head-most into the flames..

This book was his response.

Seeking the Romanesque iii – North Grimston

Heading north out of Wolds I crossed into North Yorkshire and stopped to check out St Nicholas church at North Grimston. The church was built in the 12th century and has been remodelled over the years.

There are a number of corbels on the south wall, two of which are reputed to be of the exhibitionist type, one depicts a character gripping his ankles baring his backside and groin to the viewer, the other is a bloke in a similar position but with his penis in his hand. Sadly both are very worn and the detail is lost.

Rita Wood thinks that this carving of two animals may once have been from the original south doorway which was replaced in the 13th century. It reminded me of the small panel on the church at Newton under Roseberry.

I tried the church door, fully prepared to be disappointed, it opened, another jaw-dropping moment. I’d seen pictures of this stunning font but to have it there in front of me, to be able to put my hands on it, is an indescribable joy.

The font is one of the biggest in the country and depicts the the last supper and the crucifixion. There is a depiction of a bishop too, it seems to be the way of things that the bishop gets to feature on the font, I guess he commissioned this thing of beauty so pretty much deserves to be there.

The chancel arch, if I were to see this in any of our local churches I’d get quite excited but all I could think about was the magnificent font.

Back outside the church I took another wander around the walls. There are a number of small crosses scratched into the east and west walls, the crosses have been defined by four dots. I presume these are consecration crosses, places where the bishop anointed the original church with holy oil.

North Grimston..wow!

Etymology note

In old Norse Grimr is used as a byname for Óðinn. The name is identical with ON grimr ‘a person who conceals his name’, lit. ‘a masked person’, and related to OE grima ‘a mask’. It refers, like Grimnir to Óðinn‘s well known habit of appearing in disguise. No dout the Saxons used Grim in the same Way.

E. Ekwall

Sources

The Buildings of England Yorkshire: York and the East Riding – Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave. 1997

Romanesque Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Occasional Paper No. 9 – Rita Wood. 2012

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974

Seeking the Romanesque ii – Kirkburn

Just a few miles away from the lovely church of Cowlem is Kirkburn. Both churches were restored by Sir Tatton Sykes in the nineteenth century and a part of a group of churches in North and East Yorkshire known as The Sykes Churches.

This church also has a connection with our area, in 1119 Robert de Brus founded Guisborough Priory and gave Kirkburn to his new foundation, the original church was probably built within the next twenty years.

Rita Wood describes the restoration as ‘not overdone’.

The corbels and capitals on the exterior north wall are all original, the corbels on the south wall of the are mostly original, they are all rather wonderful.

The church has a very beautiful Romanesque font which Pevenser describes as ‘A jumble of delightful rustic carvings’. I tried the door, sadly it was locked, I wasn’t complaining though, I had this stunningly beautiful arch to marvel at.

Pevsner tells us that ‘The Norman s doorway is spectacular if course, with three orders of big columns, volute and spiral capitals, beakhead and zigzag in the arch.’ I was overwhelmed by it.

Sources

The Buildings of England Yorkshire: York and the East Riding – Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave. 1997

Romanesque Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Occasional Paper No. 9 – Rita Wood. 2012

Thanks to Pat O’Halloran for keeping me right

Marske – A flowery cross, a greenish man and a wandering font

I was passing St. Mark’s Church in Marske and noticed that the door was open, I’d been wanting to have a look at the Norman font for a while so walked in. I was met by a very nice lady who showed me around the church.

The first thing that caught my eye was this beautiful foliated cross. This style of cross is quite rare, the information board states that it is only one of four known to exist in England. The lady told me that the cross was found buried in the sand dunes in 1901. She said that it marked the route of a corpse road along the beach from Redcar to St. Germain’s graveyard.

The information board tells of how in 1570 Archbishop Grindal ordered that all such crosses should be destroyed. Archbishop Grindal was a puritan and as the newly appointed Archbishop of York he would no doubt have wanted to stamp out the superstitious practices of the Northern Roman Catholics. It was his influence that probably led to the loss of many of our moorland crosses. However, it seems that this lovely cross escaped destruction.

Reading through the antiquarian accounts of Marske, there is mention of a cross being erected in the centre of Marske during the 17th century. It was raised when nearby Guisborough was depopulated by the plague and the market moved to Marske. There is no record of what happened to the cross.

In 1874, a time before the cross had been re-discovered, the Antiquarian J.C. Atkinson wrote ‘that the cross itself dates or dated from a much earlier period’, he was right, this cross, if it was the one mentioned, is thought to date from 1230.

The lady asked me if I’d like to see the Green Man, ‘he’s in the kitchen’. We went in and there he was, mounted into the wall.

The carving was came from the ruined church of St. Germain. I guess that the lack of foliage means that he is not strictly a Green Man, he’s lovely and probably formed a capital in the old church. A number of our local Romanesque churches have capitals with carved spiral motifs including Great Ayton, Kirklevington and Egglescliffe. The spiral is also repeated on the font.

The font is a massive block carved with different patterns on all four sides. Rita Wood describes it as ‘slabby’ and lacking the elegance of the local group of early 12th century fonts. The size of the font may give some indication of the size of the church that predated the ruined St Germain’s church.

The font itself has had a bit of a chequered past. Prior to the nineteenth century it was used as a cattle trough in a local farmyard. It was then rescued and placed into the garden of the parsonage where it was used as a planter. It was finally moved into the church where it been returned to its original purpose, a baptismal font.

Sources

The History of Cleveland. Rev. J. Graves. 1808

The History & Antiquities of Cleveland. J. Walker Ord. 1846

History of Cleveland Ancient & Modern. Rev. J. C. Atkinson. 1874

Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. 2012

Crossing Peg Powler’s beat

The section of road from Girsby to Over Dinsdale is marked on the OS map as ‘Roman Road’. During the 18th century Gainford Antiquarian, John Cade, studied the Roman Roads of the north and theorised that a Roman road ran from the Humber estuary to the River Tyne. Cade thought that the road may have been an extension of Ryknild or Ickneild Street, a road that ran from Gloucestershire to South Yorkshire. Cade placed the crossing point of the Tees at Sockbridge. The Roman Road became known and is still referred to Cade’s Road.

In the 1920’s Archaeologist OGS Crawford took a look at the area and thought that the crossing point of the was more likely be Middleton One Row at the site of a medieval bridge known as Pountey’s Bridge. A reliable late nineteenth century source reported timber piles and abutments being visible at the site. An earlier report states that a large number of squared Stones being found in the river.

Recent work by the Mid Tees Research Project has discredited Crawford’s theory and moved the search for Cade’s crossing eastwards to a bend in the Tees close to Newsham, where at least three separate river crossings once existed.

The modern road leads to the bridge over the Tees at Low Dinsdale. The bridge was originally built in 1850 by the Surtees family and operated as a toll bridge. In 1955 the bridge was taken over by the North Riding County Council and the original trussed iron beams were replaced with steel beams rolled at the Cargo Fleet Iron Works, a concrete deck was cast then over the beams. The bridge was further upgraded in 1993.

In the churchyard of St John the Baptist at Low Dinsdale is the lower portion of an eleventh century cross shaft. The shaft is carved on all four faces but quite weathered. There are other carved stones within the church but this church is always locked when I visit.

Sources

Bridges over the Tees. The Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist. Research report No. 7 C. H. Morris. 2000

Mid Tees Research Project

Archaeologia, or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity Vol.7

The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture

Map Extract reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

St Agnes Church – Easterside

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St Agnes Church Easterside was built in 1967. The Church was designed by Robert Mortimer of Northallerton. The steel-framed pyramid was supposed to reflect the product of local industry.

The church was built with money donated to the Church of England by Agnes Spencer-Whitfield. Agnes was born in Marton, whilst living in Leeds, she met Thomas Spencer and the couple were married in 1892. Thomas Spencer and his business partner Michael Marks were the founders of Marks and Spencer. Following the death of her husband, Agnes moved back to Middlesbrough and lived in a house on The Grove, Marton. Agnes died in 1957 and was buried in the graveyard of St. Cuthberts church, Marton

The church is currently unused and showing the signs of neglect, the last service held here was in 2019. Over the years, thieves have stripped some of the roofing panels under the mistaken belief that they were made of copper sheet. The panels are actually made of copper covered felt and are of little value.

The church dominates the housing estate that surrounds it. The people who live around the church are confronted with its sad, gradual decay on a daily basis.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt would be wonderful if this building could be restored and given back to the community as a useable space but I suspect the history of this building may end in a mound of rubble.

 

Durham Dales – Stanhope

Stanhope DU [Stanhopa 1183 BoB, -hop 1228 Ep]. ‘Stony HOH or ridge and HOP or valley.’

Graham and I drove up into the Wear Valley to Stanhope to have a look at the wonderful fossilised tree in the churchyard of St. Thomas’s church.

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The 320 million year old fossil was found by quarrymen at a sandstone quarry at Edmundbyers Cross in 1915. It was originally taken to Newcastle and was brought to Stanhope in the 1960s and placed in the churchyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a superb relic of one of the trees that grew in the Carboniferous forest. It is a species known as Sigillaria, an early ancestor of modern club mosses. Today clubmosses are small mountain plants, only a few centimetres high, but in the tropical swamps of the Carboniferous Period they grew into 30-metre high giants!

tree

Another fossil tree recovered from the sandstone quarry can be seen in the Hancock Great Northern Museum in Newcastle.

While here we thought we’d take a look inside the church. This was a very different building to the previous church we had visited at Escomb. St. Thomas’s is a very well endowed church and reflects the fortunes that have been made from farming and mineral extraction in the district.

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The first thing you notice when you enter the church is the Victorian baptismal font. Beautifully carved in Frosterley marble with an extremely ornate cover complete with an over-engineered lifting mechanism.

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Frosterley Marble has been used on the chancel floor.

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Frosterley marble isn’t a true marble. Marble is a metamorphic rock, i.e. a rock that has been altered from its original state by temperature and pressure. Frosterley marble is merely a highly fossiliferous limestone, that when cut and polished forms a highly decorative stone.

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frosterley Laing i

Fossil – Laing Art Gallery Newcastle

This sculpture is a carved block of Frosterley Limestone inset with cast bronze interpretations of the fossils found within it. The fossil installation is displayed on an oak plinth among the Frosterley floor tiles and oak doors and display cabinets in the Marble Hall of the Laing Art Gallery. The sculpture is finished on one side to reflect the smoothness of the floor tiles and the central section shows and explains the unusual shapes seen in the tiles with carved and truncated fossils. The third section is a representation of a carboniferous sea floor with ‘living’ dibunophyllum bipartitum cast in bronze. The Department of Coelenterates at the Natural History Museum in London offered invaluable advice in establishing the most accurate representation of ‘dibunophyllum’. 

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This ancient stone coffin in the grounds of the church was carved from a single block of Frosterley marble.

The only true marble in the district is to be found in Upper Teesdale. A limestone which was subjected to heat and pressure from contact with the igneous rock that forms the Whin Sill. The resultant rock is known as Sugar Limestone. It is quite crumbly in nature and therefore pretty much useless as a decorative stone.

altar

It was nice to see this Roman altar displayed inside the church. A translation of the inscription is provided, it reads..

To Silvanus, the invincible, sacred

Caius Tetius Venturius Mecia

Prefect of the Sebosian Cavalry

On account of a boar of enormous

size taken which

many of his predecessors

were not able to destroy, erected (this

altar) willigly in discharge of a vow

The town of Stanhope is surrounded by quarries and the valley has a long history of  lead mining and smelting. Spoil heaps from the quarries encroach onto the margins of the town but I can find very little evidence in the church of the people who worked in the quarries and mines of Weardale. We left Stanhope and drove up the dale to visit the Rookhope Arch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The arch is all that remains of a two mile long horizontal chimney or flue. The flue carried the toxic gases and fumes from the lead smelt mill to the moortop. Mill workers were periodically sent into the flue to dig out the deposits. The average life span of a lead miner in 1860 was 45 years. Perhaps this ruin is a more fitting memorial to their lives than some mossy obelisk in a churchyard

Sources

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. 4th Edition. Eilert Ekwall. 1974

North Pennines AONB Geoparks Leaflet

Laing Art Gallery – Topografik