Great Parish of Simonburn"
from Hadrian's Wall to Carter Bar
The Village - St Mungo - Anglian Remains - The Church Interior - Simonburn Rectory - The Tithe Barn - Simonburn Castle - Noteworthy Rectors
The charming little village of Simonburn has a long and romantic history of great interest. In witness of this there are, in the parish church porch, fragmentary remains from the days of the Angles. There is however no written history of North Tynedale before the Norman Conquest, when Simonburn emerged out of the mists of the past in the eleventh century.
At that time Waltheof, the last of the Saxon Earls, was Earl of Northumberland. By inference we know that the lands of the North Tyne were held by him and his ancestors. He was executed in 1076 by William the Conqueror, who then gave the Earl's daughter Maud in marriage to Simon of Senlis or St. Liz, who had come over with the Conqueror.
Maud's eldest son Simon was Earl of Northumberland in 1136. His younger brother was the Abbot Waltheof, and in an account of the Abbot's life we are told that his brother Simon was: "an energetic knight" and that "in the time of King Stephen he built new castles". There was urgent need to do so, especially in North Tynedale, in defence against David, King of Scotland, who in fact invaded and seized the territory.
One of the castles Simon built may well have been that named after him: "Simondeburn", Simon's burgh or castle, now called Simonburn. The ruins of the castle may still be seen.
There has never been a Simon Burn. "Simonde" is the possessive: "of Simon" and: "burn" is derived from "burgh".
North Tynedale was in the hands of the kings of Scotland for 150 years and during that time rectors of Simonburn were appointed by Alexander II and III. In 1289, on the death of Alexander III, Edward I put the territories into the custody of Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham. In 1293 Edward declared Balliol to be the rightful claimant to the Scottish throne and from then the Bishop held Simonburn, and the rest of North Tynedale, by grant from Balliol.
In 1307 Edward himself appointed a rector to Simonburn.
So both the burgh and the parish were shuttlecocks between Scots and English in those barbarous and dangerous days when the border between England and Scotland was undefined and a battleground between the two contending forces.
Nowadays, in contrast,
this idyllic little village is the abode of peace. Above the village the
hill mount steeply until it reaches the high fells of Simonburn, Haughton
and Broadpool Commons, which stretch in all directions, like the roof
of England, until they reach northwards to the modern Scottish border
and southwards to the South Tyne valley.
If one crosses the North Tyne at Chollerford and continues along the road towards Wark and Bellingham one comes, in some four miles, to the first of two loop roads leading to Simonburn. They are on the left of the main road and the second is a few hundred yards beyond the first. Both meet half a mile westwards at the village and there they end.
The first loop road
leads along the side of a hill at a height of 400 feet. On the right the
hill slopes down towards the Tecket or Crook Burn flowing eastwards to
join the North Tyne at Nunwick, down in the valley, on the near bank of
the river. Further up the river, but hidden from view, is Park-End. These
have been the homes of the Allgood and Ridley families for several centuries.
Beyond the castle the eye follows up to the distant commons of Hareshaw, Corsenside and Chesterhope, and to Ottercops Moss, a dim blue back-cloth to a heart-stirring scene, a tapestry of conflict down the ages. There, in the high wastelands south of Carter Bar, the North Tyne is born.
As one gazes over this wide expanse it is surprising to recollect that for centuries all that one can see, and far beyond to Carter Bar itself, was included in the parish of Simonburn, whose boundary on the north was the present Scottish border and on the south the Roman Wall, a distance of some twenty-five miles. To the east Haughton township was included in the parish and, to the west, part of the Northumberland lochs, a distance often miles. The area of the parish was two hundred and sixty square miles. It was thus the largest parish in England, and was called: "The Great Parish".
It was probably formed by Bishop Walcher of Durham when, in 1072, he was re-organising his diocese, which then included Northumberland. Walcher was a friend of Waltheof, the last of the Saxon Earls. The Bishop may well have formed his friend's Tynedale lands into one parish with several chapels of ease, such as Bellingham, to the mother church of Simonburn. In the survey of 1522 Sir Edward Bowes says: "All the countye of Tynedale is in the Parish of Symondburne, and there standeth the Parish Church thereof.”
This vast parish was not divided until 1811 when five new parishes were formed from it, namely Wark, Bellingham (which was a chapel-of-ease already and had its own ancient church), Thorneyburn, Grey-stead and Falstone. In 1832 the chapelry of Humshaugh and Haughton was also formed into a separate parish. There were thus seven parishes where once there had been only the mother parish of Simonburn.
The parish included not only much wild land but also many wild people, for North Tynedale, which formed the western part of the ancient Middle Marches, was a savage and solitary land. There were few tracks across the fells for the wary and unwelcome visitor to find. Even now the silence is scarcely broken save by the sound of the wind in the 'bent' and the whaups wheeling above it and the waters rushing through the fields to the river.
As late as the sixteenth
century the King's Commissioners reported that the enemies most to be
feared were not the Scots but the Tynedale raiders who scorned to till
their own meagre soil but lived by raiding the lowlands.
This wall is still the southern boundary of Simonburn parish, as it has been for many centuries.
It is believed that the Christian community was first settled here in the sixth century by St. Mungo coming along this chariot road from the west, to baptise and evangelise at Simonburn, only a century and a half after the Romans left the wall in 410 A.D.
Facing one, as one continues along the road to Simonburn, is the farm of Hall Barns. Originally it was called "Thawle Barnys" and there was a tower here in the troublous days of raiding. There is mention of it in 1541, and also of another tower at the rectory. At this date Simon-burn castle was reported to be: "in measurable good reparation", but as the castle is mentioned in the thirteenth century these towers also were probably of a similarly early date.
The reference to Hall Barns tower in the reign of Henry VIII is rather amusing and significant. When the King's Commissioners stripped Chichester Cathedral of its treasures, one priest, named Robert More, attempted to flee to Scotland. He actually got as far as Nunwick on his way to Falstone but there he was captured in the house of one Richard Yeldart and imprisoned in Hexham, but on the very next day the jail was broken into by "outlaws and thieves" who rescued the priest. Before the raid one of the Charltons had sent an urgent message to Nunwick with the instructions: "go to John Heron's mother of Thawle Barnys and warn her to keep in her cattle". Was this an example of honour among thieves?
At Hall Barns the road turns abruptly to the right and plunges sharply down, past the old farrier's forge, to the little bridge built in 1708 across a steep ravine through which flows the Crook Bum. Over its rocky bed it tumbles eastward to the North Tyne from Haughton Common where it has its source some five miles away in Halleypike Lough north of Sewing Shields.
Beyond the little bridge the road meets the other loop road which, having left the main Wark road at the gates of Nunwick Hall, travels westward along the level valley, crossing the Red Burn on the way by a charming little pack-bridge. The Red Burn and the Crook Burn meet, just before entering me grounds of Nunwick, to flow through them into the North Tyne.
Meanwhile, after the meeting of the two roads, there is a short ascent westwards, past the pleasant old white-washed steward's house, up to the village green.
The village opens out rather suddenly to one's view, a pleasant and restful scene where time seems to have stood still. The grass is sprinkled in. spring-time with daffodils and shaded by great chestnut trees. Confronting one, at the south-west corner of the green, is a massive stone lych-gate piercing grown churchyard wall. It was erected in the nineteenth century in memory of Lancelot of Nunwick, and is one of the best in the county. Beside it is the much older mounting-and along the wall is a charming row of white phlox and other country flowers.
Outside the north
wall of the churchyard runs the rectory drive, under its century-old trees,
leading op to its splendid Georgian gate-posts, now preserved by the National
Trust, and to the Georgian frontage of the ancient rectory.
Outside the south wall of the churchyard a farm road leads up westward to the fell top. After passing three lonely farms it comes to the quaint house named Kirkshield with its crocketed pinnacles, built as a shooting lodge by a seventeenth century rector. Just past the house the road comes to an end, being crossed by an ancient drove-road. This comes down from the north, its wide grass-track leading southwards towards the Roman Wall and beyond. One wonders how often it has seen stolen lowland cattle being driven northwards in the old days of the moss-troopers.
Just south of this road the Crook Burn runs down in a precipitous ravine. In the burn, and opposite the church, is the ancient St. Mungo's well and further up-stream, beyond Tecket farm, is a picturesque waterfall.
This is one of several ravines in which small burns have been busy, since primeval times, burrowing their way eastward through the ancient rocks on their way to the North Tyne.
Some half a mile north of the Crook Burn, perched on a high and narrow peninsula between the Castle Burn and the Hopeshield Burn, stand the crumbling ruins of Simonburn Castle.
A little further north again the Red Burn makes its way swiftly down south-eastward, and beyond again are the ravines of the Gofton and Wark Bums, also running down to the North Tyne.
So to the west of Simonburn stretch the high fells, serried by deep ravines and burns, almost dry in summer but in winter pouring swiftly over their rocky beds. The village, sheltered from the prevailing west winds by the high fells, lies on its green shelf between the wild plateau and the gentle pastures of the North Tyne.
Around three sides of the village green are ancient white-washed cottages and on the north side is the village post-office and shop with four more modern stone houses, each with its charming garden sloping down to the green.
If one comes from the noise and crowds of modern city life one holds one's breath! Always the air is as fragrant as anywhere in England, and, if one's visit is in the spring-time, there may easily come to the mind with delight the words of the Song of Solomon: "Lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land". And how true it all is here! For in this fragrant place all is pleasant to the eye and the ear. Here is peace! Here is a small community living together as life was meant to be lived!
A more intimate knowledge of the village and the fell farms strengthens one's first impression. This is truly a community, whose kind and friendly folk share life together; sturdy and independent, yet with innate courtesy and the quiet wisdom inherited from generations of unhurried countrymen practicing their skilled crafts down the ages. Here is a family of folk where all, whatever their calling or station are respected for their true worth and regarded with affection by their fellows. It is a community, happy with the rewards of hard work and mutual regard, and meeting the worries of life with a calm and contented philosophy which so often seems to evade those who are combating the stresses and strains of city life.
Such a village has a lesson for modern times! But its continuance is fragile and one hopes that urban inroads and attractions will not destroy it.
The church and its school have been, down the ages, the natural centres of focus, but the village school is now closed and the children go to Wark and later to Bellingham or Hexham. In some ways this is good but it encourages the depopulation of the village community as the young learn a new and wider outlook.
The church probably
created the village here as it created the state. The traditional arrival
of St Mungo in the sixth century has already been mentioned. There are
of course no written records of his coming hut there are, in the church
porch, fragmentary remains of a church settlement soon after his life-time.
There is also the coincidence, which may perhaps be significant, of early
links between the church here and S :Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow, which
was the seat of St :Mungo's
Again there is, as already mentioned, the ancient well in the Crook Burn south of the church. For generations this had been known as "Muggers' Well", but Canon Rogers, who was rector from 1873 to 1899, believed that this was derived from the name "Mungo's Well" and that St Mungo had used this spring, during his stay here, as a place for Baptism. The use of such springs or wells was common among the Celtic evangelists here in the north country. At Holystone there are two such holy wells, one St. Ninian's and the other St. Mungo's well, suggesting that St. Ninian in the fifth century and St Mungo in the sixth century were actively evangelising in what is now Northumberland.
St. Mungo is more widely known by his proper name of Kentigern. He is said to have been the illegitimate son of a Pictish princess who lived on the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth, and was cast out by her father with her baby in a boat and found, when the boat drifted ashore, by fishermen who took them to a hermit St. Servan. He brought up the boy in his Celtic monastic settlement at Culross. He was baptised Kentigern but Servan called him "Mungo" meaning "beloved".
On reaching manhood
he began his own evangelistic work in Strathclyde where Ninian had laboured
in the previous century, building there the first stone church in Scotland
at Whithorn i.e. the white dwelling, the church giving its name to the
It was during their years of forced travels that the saint is said to have come along the Roman road as far as Simonburn some 150 years after the Romans had abandoned the wall.
After some years Mungo was recalled to Strathclyde by a Christian prince. St. Columba came from lona to welcome him and they exchanged pastoral staves as a sign of their unity. St. Columba died in 597, the year St. Augustine landed in Kent, and St. Mungo died in 601. St. Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow is on the site of the foundations he laid.
Early links with Simonburn have been mentioned. These are interesting and perhaps significant. For instance Master Abel, who was rector of Simonburn in 1243 was a Canon of St. Mungo's Cathedral. Also Alexander II, King of Scotland appointed Master Mathew to be rector of Simonburn in 1229 and later in the century his successor, Alexander III also presented to this rectory one Bouges de Clare.
The fact that the axis of our church runs considerably north of east points to a pre-Norman foundation. It is also possible that the Normans would favour a dedication to St. Mungo as the son, daughter and grandson of Waltheof were present in 1116 when the possessions or St. Mungo's Cathedral were fixed.
The earliest remains of a Christian settlement are in the porch. The porch itself is comparatively modern, having been added in 1877 during the last restoration of the church. It replaced the south entrance, which was then closed because most of the village by then lay north and east of the church. A stone tablet over the entrance on the inside wall says "W.Wilson.Builder. 1877" Also inscribed in the porch is the date 1765. It is over the door leading into the nave. It marks the completion of an earlier restoration agreed upon by the vestry in 1762 and carried out by Robert Newton and his son William who was the architect of the Old Assembly Rooms, Newcastle.
The porch is interesting because of the dozen fragmentary remains it contains, dating from the early centuries after S :Mungo's time until medieval days.
These were discovered during the restoration of 1877 when they were brought to the newly built porch for safe keeping. In a much earlier restoration they had been wrested from their proper use and incorporated into the walls of the church. Several fragments were discovered built into the gable above the chancel arch, which was repaired in 1877.
Here were found the remains of the shaft of an Anglian stone cross. It is now set up on the stone bench on the west side of the porch. It is of the Tyne valley school begun by Italian workmen brought to Hexham by St. Wilfrid about 690 and developed by St. Acca who was Bishop of Hexham from A.D. 709 to 732, it is of either the eighth or ninth century.
By this time the invading Angles had established the Kingdom of Northumbria and had been converted to the Christian faith. Through the influence of S :Augustine's mission from Kent, King Edwin had been baptised at York as early as 627, only twenty-six years after the death of Mungo. On the death of Edwin, King Oswald, who had been brought up by the Celtic monks whom St Columba had settled at lona, won the battle of Heavenfield, only five miles east of Simonburn. He then re-established Christianity in Northumbria.
Simonburn was situated on the western edge of Northumbria where the old Celtic and new Anglian spheres of Christian influence met. It is interesting to reflect that this Anglian cross was set up here by the christianised Angles, outside a church which almost certainly survived from the old Celtic days, and on the site of which the later thirteenth century church now stands.
As one looks at the
cross shaft it is not the front, but one of the sides, that one sees.
The front of the shaft faces south, or rather half of the front does so
because it has been sawn down the middle length-ways. Unhappily this must
have been done, when it was built into the chancel arch gable, to make
it fit the surrounding masonry. So only half of the front and back remain.
The font appears to have been a pattern of birds within oval encirclements of branches. W. G. Cofengwood in his “Northumbrian Crosses" suggests an eagle motif. As each alternate bird is descending one wonders whether these might rather be doves, symbolising the Holy Ghost.
The motif on the back is a climbing central stem with circling branches terminating in pendant foliage.
The fragments built into the east wall of the porch are also of great interest. For instance it has recently been suggested that the stone circular boss, now much worn, towards the left of the group, is the central boss of the Anglian cross opposite.
The large fragment in the centre, now in a vertical position, should be thought of as horizontal for recently it has been recognised as part of an anglian hog-back tomb. These were decorative miniature stone houses placed over the graves of important personages by the Angles. This fragment represents half the length of the tegulated roof. There would be decorative walls below the roof but these have not yet been discovered.
These hog-back tombs are rare, especially in Northumberland. One from Falstone is now in the Black Gate museum at Newcastle and there is one of a late period at Hexham.
Along the roof-ridge can be seen a pair of shears and three rosettes. These are of a later period and are of great interest as they show that the Anglian tomb of the seventh to ninth centuries was re-used in the medieval period, some five centuries later, for the same purpose. It became the tomb of some notable woman, the shears being the sign of a woman's grave.
On the left of the group is part of a medieval table-tomb, also with the symbol of the shears. Fragments of two other medieval tombs, probably of the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, are included in the group.
In the bottom left and right comers of the collection, and also above the boss, are important fragments of Anglian or Roman chamfered impost moulding.
A piece of double roll moulding, with rosettes between the rolls, is probably of the twelfth century.
Above it is the lower side of the church's old sundial, probably of the seventeenth or eighteenth century. In 1877, through lack of identification, it was placed in the wall upside down. In the correct position the numerals would read X, XI, XII. A similar sun-dial, still entire, is built into the south wall of St. Oswald's church, Heavenfield.
Finally there is, at the bottom of the group, to the right of centre, a fragment from a medieval tomb, apparently part of a coat-of-arms.
The stone cross above the whole group is of indeterminate age.
On entering the church even the most casual visitor realises the simplicity and prayerfulness of its atmosphere. One senses immediately that this church has been prayed in for many centuries.
Built in the early thirteenth century it several restorations have happily, and almost miraculously, preserved its character down the ages.
It is interesting that just as St Mungo lived at a time when the old Celtic way of life was about to be fused with that of the Angles and Saxons so, when the present church was built, the Anglo-Saxon way of life was in turn becoming fused with that of the Normans.
This was the period when the high ideology of the church was most felt by men. However mean and wretched were their lives men were filled with awe by the sense of the supernatural and with the of hell and the hope of heaven.
The parish church was central in all men's thinking. It rose high above the squalid huts of the village, with its tall lancet windows pointing men upward to heaven. On entering their church the austere interior symbolised for them, as it still does for us, the need to renounce the complicated ways of the world for the purity of the higher life. So the church is eloquent in its austerity and yet kindly in its welcome, and to-day it is impregnated with the prayers of all the ages since.
Perhaps the first thing that one should examine is the long list of the rectors of Simonburn down the ages. The first known rector was Master Mathew, appointed in 1229. Unfortunately the list in church does not begin until 1309 when John de Sandale was appointed. Before him however there were five other rectors. Some of the early appointments by the Scottish and English Kings are of particular interest. Notes concerning some of the rectors will be found at the end of this guide.
It is noteworthy that the succession of parish priests has continued unbroken from at least 1229 until the present day. Even during the turmoil of the Reformation the same parish priest, Nicholas Harborn, ministered to his parishioners undisturbed for thirty-two years from 1535 to 1567. During those years he saw the change from Latin to English, the compilation of the first and second editions of the Book of Common Prayer and the break with the Papacy. Again from 1636 to 1666, during the reign of Charles I, the Commonwealth and the Restoration of Charles II, William Kimber quietly continued his parochial ministry. So we are reminded, as we look at this list, of the unbroken continuity of the Church of England.
Between the two brass plates on which the rectors' names are inscribed is the very apt quotation from the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter. 7 verses 23 and 24: "And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood".
At the west end of the church the visitor will be surprised to see two fonts. One is in the baptistery which, as usual, is situated near the porch as a reminder that it is through baptism we enter the church. This font, of white caen stone, was the gift of Miss Ridley and was one of several furnishings given to the church at the time of its last restoration in 1877.
Its decorative style is typically Victorian, in contrast to the severely plain Georgian font which it superseded and which now stands near the organ. There must have been earlier fonts, now lost, used down the ages.
By tradition, as already mentioned, baptisms were first ministered locally in the Holy Well of St Mungo in the sixth century. This is in the Crook stream which runs at the foot of the steep ravine south of the. church.
Under the west window is a noteworthy seventeenth century grave-cover, with raised letters curiously carved, in memory of one of the Smiths of Haughton Castle, who for generations were buried here.
Turning and looking eastward from the west end of the nave one first notices the great length of the chancel. Indeed it is only some eleven feet shorter than the nave and of almost equal width. They are respectively fifty-one feet and sixty-two feet six inches long, thus forming a length of 113 feet. This, with the crossing of the choir, would remind the thirteenth century worshipper, with his strong religious awareness, of our Lord on the cross. Moreover the choir axis is seen to incline northwards, a deliberate reminder that Christ’s head fell to one side as He died on the cross: a visual aid of the thirteenth century.
The north and south aisles were restored in 1762 and again in 1863 when the wall of the north aisle was pierced to provide the north entrance. The windows of the aisles are modern but in sympathy with the early English style of the rest.
The west wall, three feet six inches thick, is of thirteenth century construction, except for the large modern window, inserted in imitation of the "five sisters" window in York Minster.
The Walker two manual organ is a fine instrument and was purchased from York Minster, where it was used when the great Minster organ was being re-built at the end of the nineteenth century.
Behind the organ two recessed stone cupboards in the west wall may have been aumbries for church plate.
The west bay of the
north aisle, where the nineteenth century font now stands, was once the
burial place of the Smiths of Tecket and Haughton. At another period it
was screened from the nave and used as a vestry. Traces of this can be
seen on the west pillar and wall of the north arcade in which imposts
have been cut to support the beams of the parclose screen.
The pillars have stood supporting the nave roof since about the time when King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 or probably even before, because we know that the interior of the choir was altered in 1229. It seems unlikely that this would be done in a church only fourteen years old. Moreover there was a papal interdict from 1208 until 1213 and during those years no church was allowed to be built. All religious services were forbidden except baptism and extreme unction, marriages were forbidden and the dead were buried without any religious service and in unconsecrated ground. It seems probable therefore that the present church was built prior to 1208, upon the pre-conquest site.
The roof has been restored on at least two occasions. James Scott, who was rector from 1771 to 1815, augmented his stipend of £5,000 by selling the lead from the church roof to the government to make munitions for the battle of Corunna in 1809! The church had to be content with a cheap hipped roof of blue tiles! The present open-timbered roof was put in during the restoration of 1877. Also at that time the stone interior of the church, which had been plastered, was stripped and the windows were replaced by windows of early English pattern.
On either side of
the buttress above the chancel arch two stones project. These are corbels
which supported a rood beam on which were figures of our Lord on the cross,
His Mother and S John. This was taken down in order to repair the arch
during the 1877 restoration and, by an arbitrary penciled note, of the
Archdeacon of the day on the architect's plan, was not replaced.
fine Jacobean monument no doubt stood in the Lady chapel which had been
endowed by his family and restored by himself. It was later destroyed
but happily four of the figures remain. They have been damaged and show
signs of weathering as if they had been thrown out into the churchyard,
either through Puritan bigotry or on the destruction of the chapel in
The recumbent figure of a small boy lies nearby against the south wall. This is his son Alban. On the stone is a Latin inscription which translated reads, "I recollect the mercy of God in taking away from this life into eternal life Alban Ridley, son of Cuthbert Ridley, a miserable sinner. A.D. 1625, 8th April".
An inscription on
the pulpit reads that it is in memory of Meyrick Beebee, M.A. for thirty-two
years rector of Simonburn, the gift of his children. He was rector from
1841 to 1873. The pulpit is modeled from the out-door pulpit of Magdalene
Marks of the hinges of the chancel gates are still to be seen on both shafts of the arch.
In 1863 the choir floor was re-laid at a higher level, so that there are no longer, as before, steps down to it from the nave, Unhappily the beautiful thirteenth century mouldings of the priest's door, which is in the south wall, were re-hewn.
Fortunately the fine thirteenth century piscina, which is one of the treasures of the church, was not re-hewn and was left in position except that it was of necessity raised to correspond to the higher level of the floor. It is one of the few double piscinas extant, having two sinks, very rare but typical of some in the thirteenth century. After seven and a half centuries it is still used regularly at Holy Communion.
The brass altar rails are supported on elaborate shafts made from a set of six old Norwegian altar candlesticks. These were presented in the nineteenth century by Miss Allgood of the Hermitage.
Just west of them, on the north side, is a plain gravestone of a little boy, inscribed, "John Algood dyed Feb. 16th, 1681". He was a young son of the Reverend Major Allgood who, in 1666, at the age of twenty-five, was married and became rector of the parish. Nearby is the tomb of, "An Algood dyed May 20th 1688", "An" or Ann was a sister of John. Neither are mentioned in the Allgood pedigree, presumably because they died young. Major Allgood married again in 1678/9 and the grave of his youngest daughter Margaret Widdrington is also in the chancel. She did not die until 1777, over a century after her father became rector. He died in 1696 and he too is buried in the chancel.
In the sanctuary floor, on the south side of the altar is a most pretentious inscribed slab to Annabella Scott, the mother of the Reverend James Scott, rector from 1771 to 1815, the second Hanoverian political nominee (see in the list of rectors). His boastful inscription on his mother's tomb seems in character. "She was the mother of James Scott, D.D., rector of this parish and grand-daughter to Tobias Wick-ham Dean of York the grand-son of William Wickham, Bishop of Winchester who married Antonia Barlow one of the five daughters of William Mathew, Archbishop of York. Another to Wickham, Bishop of Winchester, a third to Overton, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, a fourth to Westpaly, Bishop of Hereford. And a fifth to Day, Bishop of Chichester. It is remarkable that William Barlow was the first English Bishop that ever married". To which we might add, "sic transit gloria mundi"
is of Giles Heron of Wark, said to have been a natural son of the Herons
of Chipchase. By his Will dated 23rd September, 1679 he left £200
for the support of a day-school in the parish and for the poor. With this
the trustees bought the Tecket estate, the rents from which are still
used as he willed.
On the north side of the chancel, which is lit by two lancet windows, is the Bishop's chair, a fine example of a Jacobean chair of the early seventeenth century, contemporary with Shakespeare.
On the south side of the chancel are four lancet windows, and, towards its western end, a low side window to light the space under the former rood-loft.
This window is described by Robert Johnson, the architect, on his plan for the restoration in 1875, as a leper window. It is true that the present High Altar could not be seen by a leper looking through this window to participate in the priest's actions during the Eucharist, but in the early days the altar was just east of the rood-loft and would therefore be clearly seen from the leper's window.
The eastern part of the chancel was screened off to form a retrochoir with its own altar where the high altar now is. This arrangement we may owe to Master Mathew the first recorded rector, presented by Alexander II, King of Scotland in 1229.
This low-side leper window is now filled with interesting glass representing four angels playing unusual musical instruments. It is in memory of Edward, the only son of Canon Rogers, who died at Giggleswick school at the age of twelve, in December, 1877. This was surely a sad end to a busy year for his father, who had just completed the extensive restoration of the church.
Until 1863 the lancet window west of the piscina had a higher sill to permit head-room for a sedilia which was presumably then destroyed.
The great east window is in memory of Meyrick Beebee and is the gift of his widow. He was rector 1841 to 1873 and he died in 1875. The window was put in as part of the restoration by Canon 1877, as was the pulpit, a gift from Meyrick Beebee's children, in memory of their father, and the modern font given by Miss Mary Ridley of Park End.
The window represents our Lord crucified, with His Mother and S John at the foot of the cross. It is the same subject as that on the medieval rood beam arbitrarily taken away at that time, and one wonders whether its loss suggested to Canon Rogers this window as a substitute.
Almost all the stained glass windows are of artistic merit and add greatly to the beauty of the interior. Some is good modem glass by Kempe. Those in the north aisle are in memory of members of the Allgood family and those in the south aisle to members of the Ridley family. The window at the east end of this aisle, where the Lady chapel was, very suitably has as its subject the Blessed Virgin and two saints.
In the east end of the north aisle are six eighteenth century copies of the Bible given by Arthur Ridley, Esq., C.B.E.
In the bell-turret at the west end of the church are two bells, one with the date 1751. The other was brought from Canada and was formerly in use there on a main-line locomotive!
The extant parish registers begin in 1681. Only tattered leaves of the earliest register remain. In another register there are entries of baptisms and burials from 1681 to 1725.
In the churchyard are many examples of massive tomb-stones, some elaborately and interestingly carved and engraved, mostly belonging to the eighteenth century. One bears the quaint epitaph:
In 1765, when digging a grave, a silver coin of Edward 11(1307 to 1327) was found, a reminder of how many generations are buried here.
The rectory is a house of charm and great historical interest. The frontage is Georgian (1725). This is the newest part, but the history of the rectory dates back into the dim past.
The original building stood at the top of the present rectory drive. It was a fortified house, a fortalice or tower. As already mentioned it was in use in 1541 and probably long before. It was not completely destroyed until the early nineteenth century. A quaint old stone-roofed privy (if, with its long seat for two adults and a child, it can be so called) now stands on the site.
As for centuries the whole of this vast parish was constantly harried by border reivers it was essential for the rector to live in a fortified pele, as did most of the Northumbrian rectors. For instance a sixteenth century ballad about the rector of Rothbury says:
So it is not surprising that in 1490 Bishop Fox ordered that the vicar of Simonburn should have:- "an honest and sufficient chamber in the rectory of Simonburn in the neighbourhood of the gate or castle" to which he might resort in case of sudden emergency.
Fifty years later, in 1541, the Commissioners spoke of the rectory as:- "a little tower in fairly good repair".
In 1595 the Lord Warden of the Marches wished to appoint a certain Mr. Crakenthorp to the rectory but he refused:- "deaminge his body unable to live in so troublesome a place, and his nature not well brooking the perverse nature of so crooked a people".
In 1666 the little tower or fortalice was superseded by a new rectory built by the Reverend Major Allgood who became rector that year. It faced in the opposite direction to the present Georgian facade built in 1725. This older rectory still stands though it was much altered when incorporated into the later extension.
Probably the old stone kitchen and the adjoining stone-flagged rooms, including the dairy, are unaltered though another story has been added above them, probably in 1725. Many small boys must have been forced to climb the kitchen chimney, which is still extant.
A very interesting feature of this 1666 rectory is the stout old nail-studded door, with a small aperture in it, so that one could see, without opening it, whether the rector or the reivers were arriving! This was the front door, but since 1725 has become the back door.
Over it is an inscription in Latin, engraved in the stone lintel. It reads:-
The year 1666 spoken of as:- "annus mirabilis" was thought of by the whole nation as a year of wonders. The plague of London had filled everyone with awe the previous year and then in 1666 the great fire of London renewed their wonder. Also, despite these calamities we won a naval battle under Prince Rupert against the Dutch. John Dry den immediately wrote his heroic poem:- "Annus Mirabilis" treating of both the battle and the fire.
This would be in the mind of young Major Allgood (Major by the way is a Christian name, not a military rank) for whom personally it was a wonderful year, for in this year he married at the age of twenty-five, was made rector and built the rectory. So the inscription is not surprising.
There is a sad foot-note to this. The same local stone-mason who engraved this for the young rector seems later, in less happy years, to have cut for him the inscriptions on the graves of two of his children in the sanctuary, for the capital 'N' in all three is written backwards. John and "An" Allgood are the children, mentioned earlier.
This ancient door and its stone surround are apparently older than the house. Where did they come from? The old fortalice, a few yards away, was still intact if not in good repair. Unhappily this ancient pele tower was pulled down in 1832 to repair the garden walls with the stone. Was the doorway brought from there and incorporated into the new house? One who examined it claims that the two different kinds of incisions in the stone surround were made by sharpening arrows, one of them late armour piercing arrows. But arrows were already history in 1666. The old door has intriguing interest!
In 1725 the front
of the rectory became the back when the present Georgian facade was built
facing south and other extensive alterations were made. This was done
by the first Hanoverian rector, the Reverend Henry Wastell, appointed
by George I.
The great walled kitchen garden, an acre in extent, has a massive hollow wall on the north side. Three tiers of coal furnaces are built into its length outside. They are joined by flues to heat the espalier fruit trees on the south face in the days before green-houses, thus making it a famous garden in the early eighteenth century. The furnaces, though now bricked up, may still be seen. Coal was brought from a local drift-mine.
On the top floor, in the nursery, Mrs. Wastell drew pictures on the window and signed her name with her diamond ring, perhaps to amuse the children on a wet day! They are still there after 250 years!
Many of the original panes of window-glass are intact. They were hand-made as light reflection shows. Most of the interior doors too are original. Wider than modern doors their structure is interesting being "framed", and the panels are "fox-wedged", while the mortises have exposed tenna, an unusual feature showing that they are handmade, probably by local craftsmen.
Mr. Wastell, being a staunch Whig, planted the lime-tree terrace called by the villagers "the twelve apostles". He chose lime as it is the badge of the House of Orange, in thanksgiving for the defeat of the Jacobites. All but one, which fell in 1972, still stand after 250 years. Beneath them in the spring a beautiful carpet of blue and white crocuses stretches the length of the terrace. This is known as "the admirals' walk" because the Hanoverian rectors were for centuries appointed by Greenwich Hospital and they were always retired naval chaplains. One of them came here after serving in the battle of Trafalgar. Now in the drive grow two almond trees, a symbol of the Jacobites which can be seen in old house gardens up the North Tyne where they were planted after the Rising as a welcoming sign to Jacobite refugees.
The tithe-barn stands in the rectory paddock as it has since medieval days. It was recently sold as a house but apart from the insertion of windows the structure remains the same. It is smaller than southern tithe-barns yet in 1806 the tithe value was estimated as £2,000 a year. Shortly after this the great parish was divided into seven and to-day, after numerous sales of glebe-land, only some twenty acres remain.
Now happily the ancient
system of tithe-rents no longer exists. Ever since Anglo-Saxon days the
tithe collection had been an unhappy cause of friction and bitterness
between parson and people, a tenth of all produce being levied in kind
on the tenant farmers, who had to bring their tithe to the rector's barn.
shows how incompatible such a system was with the spiritual care of a pastor for his flock.
The romantic ruins of Simonburn Castle rise half a mile west of the village. One walks along Castle Lane as far as the confluence of the Hopeshield and Castle Bums flowing swiftly down from the fells through their steep ravines. Here, where the forest descends to a charming dell and the burns meet, two small wooden bridges cross the water. Climbing steeply to the left one soon reaches the castle ruins, perched on a narrow plateau between the two ravines.
As already mentioned it was probably built, as "Simons' burh", by the second Simon of Senlis, who was Earl of Northumberland in 1136.
He had to defend the North Tyne against his step-father, David, King of Scotland. In fact the king seized the northern counties and for 130 years Tynedale was held by Scotland.
Edward I regained possession and gave Tynedale into the custody of Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, who on one occasion used a hundred bowmen from the North Tyne to assault Durham Cathedral and Priory and capture a recalcitrant Prior!
The castle is mentioned as "a Tower" in 1415.
In 1522 King Henry VIII's Commissioners recommended that it be garrisoned with a hundred men, and they reported that "the most convenient house for the Keeper of Tynedale and the said garrison with hym (as we thynke) were Chypchase and Symondburne And Symondburne ys a greatt and strongly buylded towre".
They recommended a bridge over the North Tyne at Chipchase so that the inhabitants on both sides of the river might quickly rally to "releyve the said keeper of Tyndall as his need shall require" against "theves or Scottes".
They claimed that "Chypchase standeth so nere to Symondburne that the one of them may both heare and see when a fraye or busynes is about the other", yet the Herons, who held Chipchase, seem to have kept only a few men in Simonburn Castle at this time and made Chip-chase their headquarters.
However, in 1537, fifteen years later, the King's Commissioners recommended that the castle should be repaired and put under the Bailiff of Tynedale, both as a defence against the Scots and to keep the country quiet.
It was owned by the Herons until 1718, when it was conveyed to Robert Allgood. He repaired it some years later, but its usefulness was past and it gradually fell into ruin.
This was hastened by a belief that it contained hidden treasure. The villagers were thus encouraged to pull it down in a fruitless search.
To-day, among the fallen masonry, only part of the north-east tower remains, with one or two lancets and door-ways, and ruined walls nine and a half feet thick.
In February 1229 Master Mathew, Archdeacon of Cleveland, was presented to the rectory by King Alexander II of Scotland. He probably rebuilt the chancel. He is the first rector of Simonburn known by name.
In 1243 Master Abel, Canon of St. Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow, Archdeacon of St. Andrew's and Papal chaplain, was made rector. He became Bishop of St. Andrew's in 1254. He almost certainly rebuilt the chancel arch.
In 1279 Rufinus de Tonego was rector. Probably it was he who completed the rebuilding of the church with new aisles, the Lady chapel and the west wall of the nave.
In 1290 Bouges de Clare, son of the Earl of Gloucester, was presented to the rectory by Alexander II if Scotland. He held twenty-nine preferments in fourteen dioceses!
When John Balliol became King of Scotland in 1294 he presented the gift of the living to Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, but in 1307 Edward I claimed it for himself.
In 1310 John de Sandale was presented by Edward II. He was already Chancellor of the Exchequer, a not unusual post for a priest in the fourteenth century when few except the clergy were literate. Six years later he became Bishop of Winchester.
In 1342 Edward III allowed his wife Queen Philippa to present John of Clisseby to the living.
In 1351 however the king, in thanksgiving for his victory over King David II (Bruce) at Halidon Hill, founded the Order of the Garter, with S :George's Chapel and College, Windsor, to be the headquarters of the Order.
Towards the money needed for this enterprise he sold his right of appointment to this living. So this parish can claim to be one of the founder benefactors of the most distinguished knightly Order in Europe!
In 1366, the year
before the old rector died, the Bishop of Durham commissioned Richard,
an Austin friar from Tynemouth Priory, to hear the confessions of the
parishioners; a much travelled and dangerous task in those troubled days!
In 1485 Henry VII, after defeating Richard III at Bosworth, seized Richard's possessions, including the living of Simonburn, and the right to present to this rectory remained with the crown for the next century.
In 1527 Robert Ridley, D.D. became rector on the 3rd of December. He was "a man of mark, a learned and courtley divine, and was of the old knightly race of Ridley". He was a brother of Sir Nicholas Ridley of Willimoteswick, the fortified house across the South Tyne from Bardon Mill, and uncle of Nicholas Ridley, who was born at Willimoteswick and became Bishop of London. With Bishop Latimer Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake for his faith on the 16th of October, 1555, during Queen Mary's persecution. His uncle, the rector, had maintained him during his education at Cambridge, Paris and Louvain.
From 1535 to 1567 Nicholas Harborn, who had been presented by King Henry VIII, was rector of Simonburn during the troubled years of the Reformation. He saw the Church of England break with the Papacy, the translation of the Mass into English, and the publication of the first and second editions of the Book of Common Prayer, but he continued throughout as parish priest during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth!
In 1604, the year of Elizabeth's death, Cuthbert Ridley was instituted rector. He held the living during the reign of James I and for eleven years after the accession of Charles I.
During the previous century, in the religious turmoil of Tudor times, both religion and civilisation had suffered in Tynedale. Churches had been neglected and were in ruins or disrepair. Cuthbert Ridley, with great devotion, gave himself to the task of restoration and to the pastoral care of his people. Both Bellingham church and Haughton chapel were reconstructed, Simonburn church was repaired and beautified and the Lady chapel was restored. He laboured for thirty-two years to repair the neglect of past years. In this he would be encouraged by the example of Archbishop Laud, who was also striving to restore the high tone of the church, and to defend it against the rising tide of Puritanism.
The fine family monument, placed no doubt in Cuthbert Ridley's beloved Lady Chapel, was probably cast out of the church during the puritan Commonwealth, but the weather-worn fragments have happily been brought back, including the kneeling figure of the good rector himself.
In 1636 Cuthbert Ridley was succeeded by William Kimber who, in 1650, a year after the beginning of the Puritan Commonwealth, was described by the commissioners as "a preaching minister".
In 1666 Major Allgood became rector. He built the older part of the present rectory.
In 1723 Henry Wastell, the first rector after the fall of the Stuarts, was appointed by George I. He added the present facade to the rectory. He also repaired the churches at Simonburn and Bellingham. He had antiquarian interests and encouraged Wallis, his curate, to compile his "Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland" which Wallis is supposed to have written seated by the Tecket waterfall.
In 1771 James Scott
became rector. He was an astute political pamphleteer under the name of
"Sejanus". He was rewarded with the living by his Hanoverian
masters. It was he who sold the lead off the church roof to augment his
income of £5,000 per annum. Wallis's stipend as curate was £30
per annum with a house and surplice fees in payment of duties, often done
for his absentee rector! Scott was said to have had "more regard
for his spaniels than his curates". Wallis left after Dr. Scott ordered
him to whip the dogs out of the church, "which he declined to do,
saying that the rector should send his servant for that purpose".
He used Kirk Shield, up the Tecket Lane, as a shooting-lodge. On the enclosure of Simonburn Common it had been granted in compensation to the benefice about 1755.
He had already cost the Nunwick estate a lot in litigation over the ownership of the village "pin-fold" or "pound" beside the tithe-barn.
So he was not popular! Two Nunwick keepers were deputed to see that he did not trespass when shooting at Kirk Shield. Stung to anger one day the rector turned and peppered the keeper's gaiters with small shot! The case was sent for trial at the Newcastle Assizes, but the Grand Jury threw out the bill! Kirk Shield is often known since then as "Rector's Folly"!
Scott was constantly engaged in litigation with his parishioners over his tithe, and on one occasion the villagers are said to have fired on his coach, when he arrived to collect his tithe, from his London mansion in Portman Square. So "apprehending his life was in danger he removed to London".
It is not surprising that he wrote "A Special Hymn to His Majesty (i.e. George III) on his Marriage 1761" and also "Everyman the Architect of his own Fortune, or the Art of rising in the Church". Typical too is the pretentious tomb to his mother in the sanctuary. He died at his London home at the age of eighty, in 1814.
In 1815 David Evans, M.A., succeeded to the rectory. He had been a naval chaplain at the battle of Trafalgar. In 1811 the decision had been made to divide the "Great Parish" into seven. The living, since the Hanoverian succession, was under the patronage of Greenwich Hospital, and the plan was that the incumbents of the seven parishes to be formed should be ex-chaplains of the Royal Navy; in the first instance of Nelson's navy. This arrangement has only recently lapsed in favour of the Bishop of the diocese.
In preparation for
the division new churches were built at Wark, Greystead, Thorneybum and
Humshaugh, while the churches of Bellingham and Falstone were repaired,
and new parsonage houses were provided. The rectors’s income from
tithes was divided.
It was in David Evans' time too that the old pele tower, which had been the fortalice to house and protect the rectors during the troubled centuries, was at last demolished, the stones being used to repair the great garden wall.
Mrs. Evans, the rector's widow, built for herself an elegant Regency house in Humshaugh. She also built and endowed the Evans Trust alms-houses for aged parishioners of "the great parish". In addition she left a fund to aid the sick and infirm in perpetuity.
The long association of the Rectors with Simonburn Rectory came at last to an end in 1982 when the Revd. Benedict Jackson retired. Coming late to the ministry of the church after holding high office with the Central Electricity Generating Board, he was a popular and much respected Rector for nine years. His ministry with that of his wife Moira was notable for the 'open house' that they kept for both parish and diocese. They were hosts for many visitors.
Under a scheme for pastoral reorganisation, what was left of the Old Parish was joined to the Parishes of Humshaugh and Wark and the Revd. Stanley Prins, Vicar of Humshaugh, became the first Rector of the new United Benefice which, by a strange turn of fate, has grown again to nearly half the size of the Great Parish as it was in 1800.
In 1984 the Old Rectory
was sold. The Latin inscription above the door continues to proclaim its
prophetic message 'Now mine, soon his, but afterwards I know not whose'.
This history of Simonburn comes from a web site that can no longer be found (http://www.northtynechurches.info) and has been placed here without recognition of the author. If anyone who reads it has information on the author/researcher please contact us.