A couple of weeks ago I went looking for an Anglo Saxon cross shaft that I’d recently read about. I was convinced it was located in the graveyard at St. Georges Church, West Middleton.
The church is quite isolated at the end of a rough track on high ground above the Tees valley. When I got to the church there was a rough pillar in the graveyard which didn’t match the description I had of the cross shaft. The groundsman of the church arrived and informed me that the stone was now kept inside the church and I could visit on a Saturday morning when the wardens opened the church for a couple of hours.
I returned the following Saturday with my friend Martyn. There were two stones inside of the church, neither of which were an Anglo saxon Cross base but we were not disappointed. The stones were at the foot of the pulpit, both appear to be Medieval cross slabs, one had a carving an intricate wheel head cross symbolising the Tree of Life with oak leaves, fleur de lys and a bird perching on the shaft.The other was carved with a simple sword and scabbard motif.
There are two stone heads on either side of the chancel arch, these have been interpreted as Medieval, one is of a woman with her tongue out, facing her is a man bearing his teeth.
The summary below is from a 2013 Archaeological Assessment of the church
This is rather a sad little church, which seems likely to face redundancy in the near future. Changing tastes mean that its simplicity and humility are now likely to be seen as attributes, and its unimproved rural interior, never provided with mains services, seems to have entirely skipped the 20th century. The intemperate language of antiquaries such as the Rev Hodgson, whose opinion of the building – ‘one of the very smallest and most despicable – perhaps the very meanest and most beggarly in the County of Durham’ is a period piece in itself.
Later that day we called in on St. John the Baptist’s church at Low Dinsdale and there in the graveyard was the cross shaft that I had been looking for. The shaft has been dated as 11th Century so is quite a late example of Anglo Saxon stone carving and although the stone is quite weathered it is fairly obvious that this is not one of the best examples of the tradition.
Unfortunately the church was locked but there is a very impressive stone coffin in the churchyard that is thought to be almost certainly Saxon or a Saxo-Norman overlap.
There is a lovely cross slab on the wall of the porch, below is a description from the 2003 Archaeological Assessment.
Lower in the wall, an impressive medieval cross slab of yellow sandstone, complete; it bears an eight-terminal, cross rising from a trefoiled ogee-arched base, with a sword on the r. and on the l. the inscription ‘Goselynus Suyteys’. Goseline Surtees in known to have died in 1366 (Boyle 1892, 662), which gives this slab the distinction of being the only cross slab in Durham that can be accurately dated.