Byrness – St Francis of Assisi

july b 111We continued north up the A68 and drove past Byrness church – NT771024. We turned round by the Forestry houses a mile or so further on. A very large timber lorry was parked in the laybye. After my recent incidents with other vehicles my wife asks, in her most solicitous voice, “you have seen that lorry, haven’t you”. We drove back to the church. It is locked. A posh noticeboard directs walkers on the Pennine Way to collect a church key at the Byrness Hotel across the road. The building that I think was the Byrness Hotel is looking very locked and unloved. Another key is held by the Forest View Hotel, which is back by the timber lorry in the village. “You have seen that lorry, haven’t you”. The blog of the Team Vicar – here – says they restocked the noticeboard in June, which suggests the Byrness Hotel closure is recent. He also says they are trying to leave the church open, which would be marvellous. He may be interested in the recent comments about “time locks” on Three (locked) Huntingdonshire churches on this blog.

The church of St Francis of Assisi was built in 1796, and was paid for by the Revd Dutens, vicar of Elsdon. He provided for a resident curate, who had to teach 12 poor children from the village free of charge. I wonder how many children the village has now? Pevsner describes the church as “of tiny dimensions” – the team website says it measure 8.5 x 5.5 metres. It also says that the dedication to St Francis is modern – 1978. The church was remodelled and partly rebuilt in 1884. It has a fortnightly service but, and I hope I don’t offend anyone, it feels a bit unloved – it needs a good clean, and a few days with the door wide open to get some fresh air in. Is there no one in the village who will open the door, put a kettle, tea, coffee and milk at the back (like we find at Alwinton) and make it a loved stopping point on the Pennine Way? I know how easy it is for me to make that suggestion – I am also aware that one of my churches is only open on a Sunday afternoon in the summer …

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We have a nice font, a memorial to a previous Vicar (did they do the stone and then someone demand they added his MA?), and a couple of War Memorials. Interesting how many people went from here to War. Nice floor tiles too.

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The most well-known thing in the church is the stained glass window which commemorates the 64 men, women and children who died during the construction of Catcleugh Reservoir 1984-1905. Their names are recorded  on a brass plaque nearby. To quote the church website: “The window depicts labourers who worked at Catcleugh – their clothing, tools and equipment – and a boy holding a water container. The landscape of the upper Rede valley, hills, rocks and plants, provides the backdrop although much of the area is now forested.  Of particular interest is the ‘loco’, the sturdy engine that plied the narrow-gauge railway specially built from Woodburn to Catcleugh, to pull the trucks carrying bricks, valves, pipework and domestic supplies to the workforce and their families, recruited from Newcastle and Gateshead, who were housed in hutted accommodation near the construction site. The window was designed and built by George Joseph Baguley & Sons whose stained glass studios were based in St Thomas’ Place, Newcastle upon Tyne. … Dated 1903, the Catcleugh window is unusual in that it was the first  commemorative window in the country to be paid for by subscriptions raised by a workforce and dedicated to a workforce, which is why St Francis became a place of pilgrimage for members of trade unions and the labour movement for many years.” Pevsner says it is “surely the only such [window] to illustrate a narrow-gauge steam railway” and several local guidebooks repeat this. Pevsner is wrong. Cadeby in Leicestershire has a window which commemorates the Reverend Teddy Boston – no, I won’t tell you more now, I will try and visit it this summer.

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There are some lovely photos of Catcleugh Reservoir at I can find no photos on the www about the building of the dam or its railway line – even on the website of the excellent Bellingham Heritage Centre, just down the road –  or on the Northumberland National Park – http://www.northumberland where most of the links seem to be broken. There is a workman’s cottage by the dam which I visited in July 2010 – these photos are from that visit (are you impressed I can find my photos from five years ago?). I know that one of my regular blog readers knows more about Catcleugh than most people, so I hope he might send me some links or a photo or two I can add.

july photos 230This should be a pdf with interior photos: july 2010

I had a wander round the churchyard – lovely. Then we returned the key – “You have seen that lorry, haven’t you”.

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4 Responses to Byrness – St Francis of Assisi

  1. Ray Ion says:

    ”I know that one of my regular blog readers knows more about Catcleugh than most people, so I hope he might send me some links or a photo or two I can add.”

    Hello Peter,
    I have two links for you.
    The first one;
    – gives a good account (apart from one or two mistakes) of the story behind the need for, and the construction of, the reservoir and includes some photographs at the end
    The second link;
    – contains photographs only. This is a link is to the Northumberland Record Office website’s archive of photographs. Starting from this first page there is a total of seventy six photographs in the archive relating to Catcleugh and Byrness.

    Hope this helps,

  2. Kim Blackstar says:

    Reference the railway line and reservoir try these books; Rennison R.W., WATER TO TYNESIDE A HISTORY OF THE NEWCASTLE & GATESHEAD WATER COMPANY, (Gateshead, Northumberland Press, 1979).
    Bowtell D. Harold, DAM BUILDER’S RAILWAYS FROM DURHAM’S DALES TO THE BORDERS, (Brighton, Plateway Press, 1994).

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