We’re over the border in Cumbria, and stopped at Great Salkeld to have a look at St Cuthbert’s church – NY552368. The guide leaflet has a quotation from Ernest Barker, LLD, King’s College, London: “The village church has been the very core and symbol of the deepest life of the English nation – continuous still – dead knit to living, man knit to God”. I don’t know who the honourable gentleman is, but what a smashing quote. It seems appropriate if the first photo is of the war memorial. (This Sunday in Ponteland we are commemorating three men who died on the same day in Ypres a century ago. Most of the village won’t attend, and some in church are muttering “why are we commemorating these people?” I shall use Mr Barker’s quote, and probably comment that if three men gave their lives and we can’t give 15 minutes to remember them, we should be ashamed of ourselves!).
This spot was allegedly one of those where Cuthbert’s body rested on its North Country tour – resting by the spring among the willows (Old English for willow is selig, Old Norse for soring is Kilda – hence Salkeld). A church on this site probably dates to 880, and the rebuilding of 1080 has left us this wonderful south doorway with “elements of Scandanavian mythology” says the guide. Interesting that the door is only 2ft 7 in wide to keep them safe in violent times. Can they get a coffin in?
After all these delights, I opened the church door onto a simple interior. How old is this cupboard under the tower – the guide says 1687; imagine the changes that cupboard has seen.
The armour was collected in 1644 after a skirmish between local Royalists and the Scottish Army under General Leslie. There must have been some dangerous years in this part of the world. (I have just put Gregory Peck in “Twelve o’clock high” on to watch while writing this. The dvd case warns me that the film “contains mild war violence” but it is still graded U for Universal. Funny old world!).
The Chancel was added in 1480, and the memorial next to the altar is Thomas de Caldebec, Rector and Archdeacon, 1319.
The most impressive part of the church is the tower. It was built in 1380 for defence of the inhabitants against the Scots, although elsewhere in the guide it says “the construction of the tower with its narrow staircase and restricted access through an iron door indicates that the primary purpose was defence for the Rector himself” – there are times when every Rector needs a defendable tower!
Richard II had granted the manor to Ralph Nevile, Earl of Westmorland, and he obviously did a lot of defensive building – Penrith Castle also dates to this time. Ralph Neville was born about 1364, the son of John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby, and The Hon. Maud Percy, daughter of Henry de Percy, 2nd Baron Percy of Alnwick. His first military service was in Brittany, then he was appointed Warden of Carlisle in 1385. Three years later he was appointed, with others, to survey the fortifications on the Scottish border, and on 24 May 1389 was made keeper for life of the royal forests north of the Trent (also known as Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission). Then it all gets a bit complicated in the disputes between King Richard and Henry Bolingbroke – at the end of it he bore the small sceptre called the virge at Bolingbroke’s coronation as Henry IV on 13 October 1399. He became a Garter knight in 1403, and then had to do battle against the Percys, who were rebelling against the King. He continued to hold the border for Henry V, but played no part in Henry’s French campaigns (even though Shakespeare gives him a speech before Agincourt). He was one of the Council of Regency during the minority of Henry VI. He died on 14 October 1425 and is buried in Staindrop church – which looks well worth a visit. I don’t suppose I’ll ever finish visiting fascinating churches.