northernvicarwalks – January 2020 and the start of a Pilgrimage (to Etwall) – William Stanley Way 1

In 2017 I said I would try and walk 1,000 miles. I failed. In 2018 I said I would try and walk 1,000 miles. I failed again. In 2019 I kept quiet – then had to have a minor op in the autumn which meant I wasn’t in a fit state to do much walking. I did some academic work on pilgrimage to Lindisfarne, but lack of exercise meant my weight and my blood pressure increased. I signed up to try Nordic Walking, and enjoyed it. I purchased some poles for Christmas, and we’ll see how far we get in 2020.

2020 is a year of Pilgrimage with lots of routes already on line at Julie and I have a fortnight in Orkney in the summer, so the St Magnus Way looks possible. Last year in the Hospice Shop in Stratford I purchased the guide of the Shakespeare Way which runs from his Birthplace to The Globe, and I would love to walk that. Then I wondered whether I should walk from Derby to Stratford – I thought one of Gerard Hoffnung’s advice to Foreign Tourists included “you could get a train to Stratford, but it’s not far to walk” (it’s not one of his, probably one of Dr Jeffrey Barham).

Any Walk needs a name. I obviously can’t call it the Hoffnung Way. A google tells me that William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, is one of those who might have written Shakespeare’s plays. So if I want to name my Walk from Derby to Stratford, I’ll name it after him. Might do some more research as I go.

On Saturday 18 January, after a wettish week, it dawned bright and frosty. I had been given details of an exhibition at Etwall church, so decided I would walk to Etwall. If I was going to walk to Stratford, heading south towards Burton on Trent would be a good start, and that takes me via Etwall.

It was a bit icy under foot, and I was glad I had my two Nordic poles. Through Allestree Recreation ground, down past Park Farm shops, and across into Markeaton Park – -and-open-spaces/markeaton-park/. The Mundy family had this estate from 1516 – several of the Mundys are memorialised in St Edmund’s – and gave it to the Council early in the C20. Usually on a Saturday morning it is packed for a park run, but that had been called off today. Just a few runners, most of whom were pleasant to a slower walker. I smiled at the swans – they are able to break your arm (or is it your leg?). Round past the Orangery and beside the gardens, then south towards the main road.

I walked up through Mackworth, passed Birds and Gregg’s (be impressed), passed the Catholic and Anglican churches, then I should have turned left down Merton Drive, then
Richmond Park Road and the footpath towards the trail along the railway. I made the mistake of getting onto the footpath which leads due east alongside the Sports Centre. That added a bit to my walk – it is a shame that signposting is not seen as important. Down to the Great Northern pub, and onto the Sustrans path along the old Great Northern Railway (there was a clue in the name of the pub).

They started building the line in 1875 to link the Nottinghamshire coal field across through Derby to Egginton Junction – where they could join the North Staffs down to Burton and across to Crewe. It crossed the River Derwent at the south of my parish of Darley Abbey, then entered Friargate station. Across past the huge goods’ warehouse which (like so much of Derby’s heritage) lies derelict, and then continued west through the 464 yard long Mickelover tunnel. Mickelover station was opened in 1878. At the Grouping it became part of the LNER (everything else around here was LMS), and passenger services were discontinued west of Derby in 1939. Excursion traffic continued to 1968, freight lasted until 1968, then British Rail Research Department took over the line until 1990. Note some of the signs of its history as we walk along. has some interesting photos (including the original prototype of the Advanced Passenger Train).

It is a lovely walk. A few joggers, and one young lady who (without the aid of Nordic walking poles) managed to overtake me! Nice views in both directions, and it was a gorgeous morning. Under the A516 (at least they built a bridge when they built this road), up onto the old road from Etwall to Sutton, and into Etwall village. Some nice houses – the Rectory was huge (a walk through rural England will be a picture of the decline of the influence of the Church of England).

I have already blogged St Helen’s, Etwall – etwall-derbyshire-st-heen/ – when I had a visit in 2018. I arrived today to a buzzing church. They were having a day to tell the village about the discovery of a vault in the churchyard. First I needed tea and cake – and very nice it was too. I had walked 9 miles.

Last May two workmen arrived from South Derbyshire District Council to repair the steps into the churchyard at the west end of the church. They revealed two arched openings, the ends of two large vaults in which lay nine coffins, three in the north vault and six in the south. They were allowed to insert a camera – personally I would have thought it would have made sense for someone to go in and check the roof before they bricked it up again. The news report is at burton/bodies-found-etwall-crypt-derbyshire2899429.

They knew there was a vault somewhere – indeed a memorial tablet on the north wall of the Chancel mentions it – but written records have been lost, and it had faded from the corporate memory. Research suggests it was built by the Cotton family who lived at Etwall Hall. They have managed to identify six people who are buried there (Joseph Green 1810, The Reverend W.T. Beer 1821, Rebecca Beer 1829, William Beer 1831, The Reverend Charles Evelyn Cotton 1857 and Agnes Sneyd 1862), and another five who could be there (but there are only nine coffins in all). The last one died in 1868 – so everything has been forgotten in less than 150 years. The Hall itself was demolished in the 1950s.

They had done a nice exhibition, and Geoff Lightbown had written a report and gave us an illustrated talk. I had to leave before it was concluded to catch the bus back to Derby, but I went and photoed the steps first.

The Villager bus runs from Burton via Tatton and Etwall (so, if I continue my walk towards Stratford, I will end up on it again) and stops not too far from Kingsway. I met Julie and returned to real life with a trip to TK Maxx and Pets at Home. If I call my walk a ‘Pilgrimage’ surely I can avoid such excitement!

Posted in 1,000 mile walking, Derbyshire, Railway interest | Leave a comment

Tadcaster, North Yorkshire – St Mary

Hannah (our daughter) now has a house in South Milford, North Yorkshire. As the bank of mum and dad have helped, I think that owning property in Yorkshire makes me a Yorkshireman! Anyway, we have new churches to investigate. St Mary’s Tadcaster is on the north side of the town, next to the River Wharfe – SE 485435. It looked lovely in the afternoon sunshine on Friday 10 January 2020. The benefice website is . On 27 January they are still advertising the Christmas services, but at least they have a church guide page at Once again it has the “church is not a museum” line – as I have said before, I wish our churches had as much life as some of the museums I know!

It was worth an explore, and we only gave it a quick visit. Nice flat access – Julie had a very determined look. The first stone church was built by the Percy family, Lords of the Manor, about 1150, but was burned down in a Scottish raid in 1318. More rebuilding, and the church we see today is C15. Flooding has always been a problem, and the foundations were so damaged that in 1875 the entire building (excepting the tower) was taken down, rebuilt on new foundations, and the floor raised by six feet.

There was a major reordering inside, so it has a Victorian feel. Various fragments of older buildings and part of a C10 Saxon cross are gathered together near the main door, but I failed to photo them. On Boxing Day 2015 it was flooded to the depth of a metre.

The font is made of Caen stone and was presented by John Ramsden in 1877, in memory of his father Henry, a Captain in the 7th Lancers. Nowadays they use a wooden one – I can see all the practical reasons, front of the church, middle of the congregation – but there is something special about the old font by the door. Interesting picture, but no mention of the artist.

The Potter memorial is rather fun – lots of words. John and Ann Potter (died in the 1760s), their son John and his wife Ann. Their sons Thomas who moved to Manchester in 1802 and was its first Mayor, and Richard who was MP for Wigan. It also commemorates Thomas’s son John, also Mayor and MP for Manchester, and was erected by his son Thomas. (Julie did some work with Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester last year – be interesting to see if the Potters were every welcomed by the Gaskell family). I wonder what they would make of the elephants.

The War Memorial has 108 names from the First World War – there is a website which is currently being updated. Interesting that another website suggests the main War Memorial in the town has 107. I think there’s a Brother Cadfael novel where the number of the dead doesn’t add up – so perhaps there is a story here. I wonder what the population of the town was in 1914 – the town was a major brewing centre even then. I wonder how many employees of John Smith Brewery died. (For most people, Tadcaster is primarily a brewery town – for me it is Helen of Tadcaster, a character in The Beiderbeck Affair of 1985. (If it is a TV series you don’t remember, you are missing something wonderful).

One of the other local industries was linen weaving, and St Catherine was their patron – this is one of the oldest pieces of glass in the church. There is lots of Victorian glass – and some of it is rather good. I like the one which shows the three ages of womanhood (spinsterhood, motherhood and widowhood – Proverbs 31). It was made in 1879 by Adam and Small of Glasgow to a design by W.H. Constable of Cambridge. Interesting patterns on their dresses. In another we have John the Baptist, Jesus the good shepherd, and Philip preaching to the Ethiopian eunuch. The Good Samaritan, Transfiguration and the raising of Lazarus. Burial and Ascension of Christ, and the women at the tomb.

I missed some interesting woodwork – including a frieze of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (but it’s still an excuse to use the story about the preacher who thundered from the pulpit “I ask you, do you wish to stay awake with the wise virgins, or sleep with the foolish ones”). The East Window was made by William Morris & Co, and given in memory of Anne Elizabeth Harris who died in 1876. It is said that most of the glass was designed by Burne-Jones, though apparently the two panels depicting angels with censers in the top tier are by William Morris himself. Worth looking down at the kneelers too.

On the south side I enjoyed the Emmaus window and the Epiphany window – a bald king with an excellent beard.

I liked the south chapel, fun carving, and Boer War Memorial.

We went outside, enjoyed the afternoon light, and will have another explore of the town and the church.

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Norwich, Norfolk – St Gregory

I only managed two churches on these few days in Norfolk. There are lots of churches in Norwich, and after a few hours in the Castle Museum we ended up in St Gregory’s, which is now an antiques centre. They used to say that Norwich had a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week of the year – so what do you do with the churches we no longer need? Norwich Historic Churches Trust has a collection of such churches, and this one is on their website – There is a short film where one of the traders talks about how the church is special for her. The website has a 10 minute film about a gorgeous painted screen which is now in store in Norfolk Museums, and the same site has a link to a pdf guide leaflet – there was nothing available in the church. Simon Knott visited the church a while ago –

It is suggested that St Gregory’s is one of the earliest parishes in Norwich. Although there is no documentary evidence before the C13, its parish boundaries seem to be earlier than some of the other churches nearby – the leaflet says its parish “intrudes” onto areas that other parishes might have been expected to have had if their churches were built first. The nave design is abut 1380, payment for the chancel was made in 1394, and the high altar dedicated in 1401. It was closely linked to the Priory at the Cathedral, and the church’s income paid for the infirmary. It is suggested that the design can be attributed to Robert Wodehirst (Wadherst), who was ‘master’ at the cathedral cloister in 1385-86. Apparently, though I didn’t check, the altar is so high as a roadway ran underneath it [see below]. There is no chancel arch, but plenty of steps.

St Gregory’s is now an antiques centre, and they had an interesting selection of stuff. I assume it is Joseph and Jesus happily next to Buddha, the altar has an interesting selection of clothes and pictures, and I could have spent lots of money on model trains.

The roof is rather lovely, and there are some nice carvings and angels looking down on it all.

The vault of the western tower, which has an octagonal central opening in it to facilitate hoisting bells up to the top stage, is clearly based on the octagon at Ely. Apparently this can also be used to bolster the suggestion that the mason Robert Wodehirst was involved in the design as he is recorded working at Ely between 1387 and 1393. It would be fascinating to research the lives of some of these Master Masons – one day!

There are also some fascinating memorials, but there are also some worrying signs that all is not well with the structure of the building.

I wonder when the organ was last played. Interesting wall painting at the west end.

I went down into a sort of crypt, with some angelic glass (and more stuff to buy).

The font is hidden behind a selection of stalls and screens. Is it really wise to have such a plethora of extension leads – if we did this in a working church, the architect and Archdeacon would not be happy. I left thinking that, while an Antiques Centre is a perfectly good use for a redundant church, is the money ever going to be found for the upkeep and maintenance that is obviously needed?

On Saturday 7 March I had a walk round Norwich. Here is the road under the Chancel.

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Acle, Norfolk – St Edmund

We are having a few days in Norfolk to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary. Friends Rob and Anne drove up for the day and we walked down into the village. The girls took up residence in the tea room while the boys went and explored St Edmund’s church – TG 641203. There is a website at – Acle and Bure to Yare benefice, lots of churches to visit. It is also worth mentioning Simon Knott’s site – 

The church is on the corner in the middle of the village. Nice view from the south side, and a welcoming notice – but easiest access was through the North Porch. In the C12 there would have been a rectangular Norman nave and a round west tower, then the octagonal section was added in the C13. In the C14 the chancel was added, then the Norman nave was demolished and the present wider, higher nave constructed. The southern porch is C15, the north porch was added sometime later. We know that the tower battlements were added in 1472, a reeve called Robert Reynes records his father and two others adding them for £16. The figures at the top have been replaced over time – one of them is Edmund.

The roof will need re-thatching soon – a problem St Edmund’s Allestree hasn’t got. I didn’t photo the South Porch. In his will of 1487 Robert Bataly requested burial by the north door of the church and left 20 marks (£13) for construction of the porch. Apparently there is an image of them in the porch which I missed. It was also worth looking down – rather a nice memorial.

The church doesn’t look particularly stunning when you walk in, but it’s worth an explore. A small tapestry, and you can only be the organist if you are thin and agile. Two War memorials are rather special.

There is a rather nice Nativity Window on the north side – it dates from 1939, so the light in the darkness might have seemed particularly appropriate.

The East Window is a lovely Victorian Ascension window. It was given in memory of W.R. Last who died in 1867. I love the garden, the city and the angels. The saints on the riddle posts behind the altar are Edmund and George – I photoed Edmund. Another Edmund picture too.

The rood screen is C15. The original colour and gilt decoration, including the monogram of St Edmund, was painted over at the Reformation, and recovered in 1912. The rood itself is 1939 addition – interesting adding the image of the crucifixion as the world descended into War. The eagle is 1889 and the nave altar is possibly Stuart.

In the chancel is a charcoal inscription on the medieval plaster of the north wall. It dates from the time of the Black Death in 1549, and was discovered in 1912. The inscription is undated, but the accepted translation is:

“O lamentable Death, how many dost thou cast into the pit, Anon the infants fade away, and of the aged death makes an end. Now these, now those thou ravagest, O Death on every side, These that wear horn [headdresses] or veils, fate spareth not, Therefore while in the world the brute beast plague rages hour by hour, With prayer and with remembrance deplore death’s deadliness.”

Below it is a brass to Thomas Stones, long-standing Rector from 1583. He was also Rector of Wickmeare (15 miles away) and parson of East Dereham (25 miles) – makes you wonder how much he paid a curate! I also liked the memorial to the Victorian Rector, Robert Kennion, who was here for 36 years. I can’t say that I have “no greater joy than to hear of [my] people walking in the truth”, and I hope I’ll be able to retire before I am 79.

The font is stunning – I have left the best to last. The inscription on the plinth dates it to 1410. There are woodwoses (wild men) on the stem, the decoration around the bowl includes a pieta (Mary holding the body of Christ) and a representation of the Trinity. God the Father holding a crucifix, together with a dove symbolising the Spirit. Protestant reformers opposed such imagery, and in the reign of Elizabeth I there is a record that Rychard Dey was paid 5d for the font’s defacement. We also have symbols of the crucifixion, and the four Gospel writer (lion, eagle, ox, winged man). It also contains traces of the original pigments – we forget how colourful these buildings would have been. Just enjoy!

What a wonderful Edmund church. Well worth coming to Acle for. But we came for something else – Acle Station Cottage is a holiday cottage – One large step to get inside, but flat once in – two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, lounge. There are regular trains to Norwich and to Yarmouth and the new Greater Anglia local trains have flat access – the only problem for us is that the flat access to the Norwich platform is a very long walk and not particularly flat. They are in the middle of a re-signalling project as well.

Train run every half an hour, but you get used to them. The last one was 2345 to Norwich (so that was on the opposite platform). One night there was a train in ‘our’ platform about 0015. I leapt out of bed to see what it was – a track tamper. I took rather too much of the duvet with me, which was almost the end of our marriage. However I am glad to report that my beloved wife has agreed we can return for our 37th wedding anniversary.

Posted in Norfolk, Railway interest, World War 1 | Leave a comment

A personal pause – another (two) MAs

My wife Julie is the clever clogs of the family. MA (Cantab), PGCE, MA (Open University). I have an MA (Cantab) and a BTh Hons (Nottingham). Once I could put ALA after my name, until I stopped being an Associate of the Library Association. Apparently it is now called CILIP which I guess is Chartered Institute of Library and Information Practitioners (slightly ironically their website doesn’t spell it out!).

After a year or so in Derby we decided we needed to stretch our brains. Derby University were starting an MA in Public History and Heritage, and launched it at Kedleston Hall. The cake alone was enough to make us want to sign up. The course started in September 2017. There were about a dozen of us on the course – half youngsters in their 20s, fresh out of a History degree, doing it full time; the other half oldies like us, usually taking 2 years. We have made some friendships that will last.

My BTh degree from Nottingham was my theology while training at Lincoln Theological College. Nottingham was the first university going on to Semesters. I said then (1993) that that was a stupid idea, and I haven’t changed my opinion. Wasting several weeks in January/February is just daft. Anyway in the first we studied Heritage management, funding and marketing and Curation and conservation in a digital world. In Heritage management Julie did some work on Alice Wheeldon (a Derby supporter of Women’s Suffrage), I looked at our Lusitania memorial in St Matthew’s churchyard (Darley Abbey), and we got that renovated. We will draw a veil over being digital, not an experience either of us got much out of!

Next was Audiences and audience development and a Public History consultancy. Elvaston Castle was a place where Julie got stuck in the mud, certainly not a local attraction we are desperate to get back to. I enjoyed Crich trams (and my research is the basis of their Mail exhibition last summer and next summer – I’m very pleased with what they did with it), Julie enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell House in Manchester.

This year was Politics of history in the first semester. I did a paper on War memorials which you can read at . Julie did more on the Suffragettes. In the second it was Current debates in global heritage, with a presentation on the Darjeeling line from me and one on Eva Peron from Julie. We also wrote longer dissertations – Lindisfarne for me, Writer’s Houses for Julie (just a shame so much work is read by only two people!). Here is Adrian Shooter’s Darjeeling loco.

Thanks to our lecturers (though I haven’t forgiven Kathleen for commenting that she wasn’t born when I first visited Crich), and we enjoyed using the library and Blackwell’s. Derby Theatre is part of the Uni, so gives discount and free wifi in the cafe – Julie calls it my creche, she leaves me there while shopping in the INTU centre. Thanks too to Derby Diocese for some funding and to the Trustees of Lichfield Theological College for some more. We paid for the bulk of my course and all of Julie’s – I remember the days when Uni education was free. If you want to know more about the course have a look at

We graduated on Thursday 21 November. Hannah had arrived last night. I had to do a funeral visit in the morning and J had to go to Toddlers, then I went to the station to collect Harry. We then drove to the Arena and managed to blag our way through the crowds to get in – bacon sandwiches were what was required. There was, as always at these things, a lot of hanging around, but eventually the kids were seated. We robed – the chap from Ede & Ravenscroft tried to tell me how to wear a hood – and had our photo taken for the Derby Telegraph. Robe hire is expensive (£51 each), but it was good to see “Graduation services Cambridge” on our bank statement. I ended up on row K with Rebecca, Ruby, Claire and Mollie, and Julie was sat on the front row. It was long – lots of young ladies in unsuitable outfits wobbling across the stage. Then they awarded an Hon Degree to someone I’d never heard of, then there were more degrees.

Eventually it was our turn. Everyone had to climb the steps onto the stage, walk across, shaking two hands, then down the other side. Except Julie. They had a lift on one side. She had to go up, wheel across, shake hands, turn round, wheel back (avoiding me), and down on the lift – not falling off the stage while she did it. Then a few more. The chap from Chatsworth then gave a speech, and Claire (one of our colleagues) gave the vote of thanks – she was superb. She’s the clever-clogs who got a distinction, but she worked rather harder than we did (probably harder than we both did put together!).

It took a while to get out, and even longer to drive through Pride Park. We had to throw Harry out for him to run for his train. I was supposed to be singing Evensong at the Cathedral, but had to phone en route. We had fish and chips from George’s, then Hannah drove home. I am glad we did it – a bit of maths says I’ve been to 14 family graduations (2 x dad, 3 x me, 4 x Julie, 3 x Hannah, 1 x Gareth, 1 x Harry).

The press office at the University were keen to tell the world about us. We ended up in the Derby Telegraph – and on BBC Radio Derby (twice). The Diocesan press office were not interested. Our churches were very enthusiastic – we could not have done it without their support (or without the office photocopier!!).

What now? Change my letter head to “MA (Cantab), MA (Derby), BThHons (Nottm)”. Finish paying for it. Catch up on all that reading I haven’t done (Julie is always reading – have a look at her blog Find some interesting short courses. Mention in a Ministry Development Review that I have done this MA, wait for the promotion and the pay rise (sorry, I forgot, I work for the Church of England).

You might like to look at the lettering on the mugs …

Posted in Derbyshire, Personal | 1 Comment

Melbourne, Derbyshire – St Michael and St Mary

“A little drive” out on Saturday 2 November (and writing it up on 4 November). Melbourne is a small town but, like most small towns, parking seems to be at a premium. We eventually found a space outside the Hall, and I wandered into the church – SK 389250. (Nice to see welcoming notices on both north and south side – south side entrance is flat, but there’s nothing to tell you that). It is rather a wow church when you walk in –

A church is listed in the Domesday Book, and it may – like Repton and Breedon – have been a substantial structure. It was rebuilt into the form we see now in the C12. When Henry I founded the diocese of Carlisle in 1133 he presented the church at Melbourne to Adelulf, it first bishop. It has long been assumed that Adelulf used this church as his base since Carlisle was a bit dangerous (and Virgin Trains are so bad), but there is no evidence of this, he seems to have stayed up north. The manor was a Royal manor, so had Henry I built himself a substantial church – at the west end we can see a gallery, could this have been a royal pew?

The Norman arches and their carving are rather wonderful – it has the feel of a special, Royal, important church. A statement of power is being made. Not quite as much as a statement as Durham, but certainly the same idea.

I liked the window under the gallery – one leaflet says it’s 1953, but nothing says who made it.

The font is C13, and the flower arrangers go for quiet and subtle! (I hope they check the lists of baptisms planned before doing quite such a big display!). There is also a fascinating notice about their solar panels – in November 2011 they installed a 9.84kW array of 48 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof. So far the feed-in-tariff has earned them £28,000 – the aim is that they pay for themselves within 25 years. The weblink is, which does not work – hardly fills you full of confidence (and certainly doesn’t enthuse me to push sceptical PCCs in this direction).

I made my way up the north aisle. The hatchments and flags tell the story of the occupants of Hall and Town. Sir Penistone Lamb was created the first Viscount Melbourne in 1781. His second son William inherited the title in 1828 – he was Home Secretary before becoming Prime Minister in 1835. As Australia developed, one province was named after his Queen, and its capital after him. His is the second hatchment on display, theirs’ is the flag.

One imposing bishop, an Agnus Dei, and a C13 chest.

The North Transept ends with an altar, once it would have ended with a semi-circular apse and the altar would have been further east. I like the glass and the altar frontal, but I missed the squint into the chancel. Look at the carvings as we move round to the Chancel arch. Did you spot the cat on one side, and the dog straining at the lease on the other?

Worth looking at to the bell frame as well, and west to enjoy the Nave. The top of the tower is C17 and the original four bells dated between 1610 and 1732. They were recast and rehung in 1882 (with two bells added), and another two were added in 1887 (Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee). The organ dates to 1860, and was rebuilt in 1981. This is a church with a good choir – Julie had been here for an RSCM day.

A very proud eagle, and the wall painting behind is a wonderful relic (it was hidden behind a plaque). There would have been a great scene of hell and damnation, now we have the demon Tutivillus hovering over two women – wonder what they did wrong!

In the Chancel we have some space. The side walls are Norman, the east is part of the late medieval rebuilding. It is a high chancel, and there may have been a second storey – once again, you are reminded that this is a major church. The hatchments are those of the first and the third Lord Melbourne. The east window glass is by Hardman.

At the east end of the south aisle I liked the painting, The Red Cup by Michael Cook, and lit candles on this All Souls’ Day for my lovely lads. I looked Michael Cook up and found him at  – he currently has work in display at Derby Cathedral. Better go and have a look!

I want for a wander out of the south door and round the outside. The church is surrounded by buildings, including a tithe barn at the west, so you can’t get a good overall view. But look at the details.

We went next door to the craft shops and tea room at Melbourne Hall – Tea room has flat access for the wheelchair (and did a very nice ham omelette), but we’re not sure whether there is a disabled loo. The gardens look worth a visit, and the Hall is open occasionally. If I’m doing the gardens I might come on the bus!

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Birmingham – Hall of Memory

On Saturday 19 October I was allowed an escape day. I started with my flu jab, then caught the train from Duffield to Derby and on (on a packed Cross Country train) to Birmingham. I eventually managed to escape from New Street (how could they make such a mess of a station rebuild?) and walked to the Library of Birmingham. Why does Birmingham have a stunning library when in Derby they closed a beautiful Victorian library and handed everything else over to community control?

The Library is hosting an exhibition called “Watt in the World, the life and legacy of James Watt 2019.” I did a little bit of research on him many years ago while looking at ‘Finding God in technology’ for a St Edmundsbury Lent Address, and one of the sadnesses of 2019 is that I haven’t had opportunity to do more Watt stuff – there’s been quite a lot at Soho House, Handsworth, and elsewhere in the Midlands (and in Glasgow). There was some fascinating material in this exhibition, but I was most intrigued by a print entitled “Engraving of the Liverpool to Birmingham Railway in 1825” (ie dated several years before the line opened). Never seen it before, can’t find it on the web, and there’s no decent (affordable) exhibition catalogue to tell me more about it. Here’s part of it.

Outside is a building site for the Birmingham Westside Metro extension. It will be wireless, interesting to see how battery power works. I had a wander and then realised there was what looked to be a fascinating building open.

The Hall of Memory was built to commemorate the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died and the 35,000 who were wounded in the First World War. The foundation stone was laid on 12 June 1923 by The Prince of Wales. He said that the building would stand to “symbolise to generations to come that Birmingham stood for, during  period of great national crisis – work of every kind unflinchingly given, compassion to the sick and wounded, courage and resource in adversity, and, above all, self-sacrifice in the face of death.” It was opened two years later by HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, is built of Portland Stone, and cost £60,000, and was constructed mainly by Birmingham craftsmen. It was designed by S.N. Cooke and W. Norman Twist, built by James Barnsley and Sons, and John Bowen and Sons. Website at

In the centre of the Hall is a sarcophagus-shaped dais of Siena marble, and in the display case are two books, one for each of the World Wars. There is a third book, as Wars never end.

Having been to the Island of Barra, I wondered why they sent a wreath – it’s the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association – It is good that they remember something that could so easily be forgotten.

Looking up, the glass is rather lovely. The main one was designed by R.J. Stubington. He studied, and then taught, at Birmingham School of Art.

There are four Art Deco Bas-relief plaques depicting scenes from the First World War. Here are two of them. 35,000 came home disabled – that might be something to think about this Remembrance Sunday. How Society looks after the people who need looking after – I can see that annoying a few!

These seats do not look the most comfortable to sit and meditate on. It was a shame that there wasn’t anywhere you felt welcome to sit and think. The one chap on duty sat in a side office on the phone, not making eye contact with any visitors. There was just an A4 sheet with information, and nothing to help people remember. It would be a fascinating project to see what you could produce in such a multi-racial City.

Outside there are four bronze statues by Albert Toft, another local man – They represent Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Women’s Services. Rather stunning.

I wandered back to New Street and travelled home via Rugeley Trent Valley and Tamworth (the way one does). I was home at 3, having had a good day out. Today (1 November) I have got my blog totally up to date (which it hasn’t been for a while). I now need another day out!

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Binchester, County Durham – Roman fort

We drove on about four miles to Binchester Roman Fort. We last came here in 2010 on a warm May Saturday when there was a bunch of re-enactors on site and the place was buzzing. Rather different to a very wet Friday in September when the only people on site are us and the lady from Durham County Council – who came and found us later in our visit to lend us an umbrella. Although there is no café and the loos are portaloos, everywhere in the main buildings are wheelchair accessible (as is a portaloo). More details at Durham CC have a superb archaeological section, and are to be congratulated for so much good work.

Dere Street is the main Roman road from York to Corbridge – I have blogged Corbridge and the settlement at Piercebridge (the one south of Binchester, Vinovia). There has recently been a lot of archaeological exploration along the line of the new A1(M) south of Scotch Corner – have a look at This road was probably laid out while Petilius Cerialis was governor of Britain between 71 to 74 AD, and the first fort was built here circa 75 AD. It covered about 7 hectares, and was one of the largest in the North. Around 90 AD it was reduced in size, and may have been abandoned completely when Hadrian’s Wall was  built in the 120s. A new and smaller fort was built circa 160. It continued to function as a military base until the end of the Empire in 410 AD.

Later the stone was used to build Escomb church and Auckland Castle, but John Leland and William Camden, writing in the C16, described walls and buildings still standing. In 1815 the ground collapsed under a horse and cart, and a hypocaust was found and preserved. In 1833 Bishop Van Mildert, the owner of the site, allowed the sculptured and inscribed stones collected over previous centuries to be broken up and used as building material in a new coal mine – never lets bishops anywhere near anything historic! The first excavations took place in 1878-80, directed by the Reverend Robert Hooppell, a nearby Vicar (Vicars always being more use than Bishops). More recent work included a visit by Time Team in 2007 (is that really 12 years ago?) and work continues every summer. The old people’s home that has covered much of the site is now closed, and there are plans to investigate more – we will be back (when it’s not raining quite so hard).

In the dry we visited the Bath House. It is easy enough to work out the layout, and imagine the progression from cold to hot. You can also imagine the hard work of the slaves in keeping the fires stoked and the furnaces blazing. Several years (decades?) ago they built a replica bathhouse at Segedunum Fort at Wallsend. A lot of money was poured into it, and I’m I sure I remember you could book it for parties (perhaps I’m just fantasising …). Then it was drained, and I remember visiting when there were barriers everywhere to stop you falling in to an empty bath. Now (again I think for several years) it has been closed “until further notice”. Time for a campaign to re-open it?

I then braved the rain to look at the Dere Street and the Commander’s House beside it. I did wonder whether the Commander would really want to live bang in the middle of the town with all the traffic going past his front door. 

Then I walked across the field into a huge tent which cover the excavations made this last summer (at least, I think they are. There are reports at  and at but I can’t quite square those with what I saw. Here we seem to have Regimental Baths, obviously a larger complex than those we’ve been in, and probably of earlier construction. Just admire the workmanship, and imagine the noise and bustle.

This is obviously a site with a lot more to find. There seems to be a real buzz about history in Bishop Auckland – I picked up a leaflet for their History and Heritage Festival 13-28 September. Escomb Church, Binchester, Auckland Castle, Weardale Railway, and preparations for the Bicentenary of the Stockton-Darlington Railway in 2025. Wonderful to see how history is being used to regenerate a town that has not had an easy few decades – we need to pay a proper visit, and not just call in while en route down the A68.

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Escomb, County Durham – Saxon Church

On Friday 27 September we left Northumberland and drove back down the A68, then we turned off to Escomb Saxon church – NZ 189301. A church literally in the middle of the village, surrounded by a circle of 1960s houses, parking outside, and the key hangs on a hook outside number 28. Church website –, and it’s on and They also mention a Small Pilgrim Places Network, which looks worth finding out more about –

This church was built about 680 AD. Just mull that over – 680. When we read the Lindisfarne Gospels and think about Bede, this is a church that had been built when he was writing. Imagine all that this village has seen. Roman, Vikings, Prince Bishops, the building of the Stockton-Darlington Railway (terminus nearby at Witton Park), the coal mine and iron works, the decimation of industry in the 1960s and the building of the houses around it. It is a church that is still here, still used, still a place of prayer and worship – wow. T.S. Eliot wrote about “a place where prayer is valid” – it doesn’t come much more valid than here! To quote their guide “In its most simple and basic form the survival and continuity of this little church speaks of God’s eternal presence in the midst of our human frailty and transience.”

Having got the key I let myself in, ignored the displays in the porch, turned on the lights, and sat in the church itself just to soak up the atmosphere. Why was it built here? Who built it? Why is it so tall? I can’t see anything in the guidebook which suggests that the roof has been raised – so what does that say about a bunch of Saxons? They were perfectly capable of building to height and at height – I hope no one fell off the scaffolding while they did so. What does it say about their concept of the Glory of God, building their church so much higher than their houses? When the kids were little we lived near the Anglo Saxon Village at West Stow in Suffolk – well worth a visit – this church is on a different scale to those houses and halls.

As you walk round the church there are various notices pointing out items of interest. The stone came from Binchester Roman Fort (the next blog) and you can see its origins. The stone next to east window in the north wall proclaims “Bono Rei Publicae Nato”, To the man born for the good of the State.

In the Chancel you can see The Tree of Life with a couple of figures (Adam and Eve) next to a blocked up door.

In front of the altar is a strip of Frosterley Marble, mined the other side of the Wear. The pattern in it was made by corals which grew in the warm, shallow sea which covered this area 180 million years ago. One assumes it is a grave cover, so the person underneath must have been of some importance. It would be wonderful to know who he was.

In front of the altar is a strip of Frosterley Marble, mined the other side of the Wear. The pattern in it was made by corals which grew in the warm, shallow sea which covered this area 180 million years ago. One assumes it is a grave cover, so the person underneath must have been of some importance. It would be wonderful to know who he was.

The piscina has a drain to ensure that the holy water does not get into the wrong hands. Nice solid chancel roof. The fresco on the chancel arch is C12, painted on to the plaster. You can imagine that most of the church would once have had these patterns and colours. There is a reference to the plaster work in 1697. Most of the frescos would have gone in the C19 when the church stood roofless for a while. The Victorian church (dedicated to St John the Evangelist) which replaced it, did not last as long as this chapel. Pevsner gives this church a dedication to St John, but the guidebook does not – nor does it link the church specifically with one of the Saxon saints we know about. Too often we (and northernvicar includes himself in this criticism) assume that faith depends on named individuals, amazing men (usually men) whose names we know. Rubbish! Although I will balance that with Kipling’s lovely poem – – on display in this church.

Let’s remember the generations baptised in this nice solid font (late medieval), and enjoy the Millennium Textile – made by local people, children from Escomb School and Durham City Embroiderers’ Guild under the leadership of Ann Clare.

A good display in the porch – well worth a detailed read. I enjoyed this church!

I went outside into a rather wet churchyard. This Celtic Prayer was displayed in church:

As the rain hides the stars,

As the autumn mist hides the hills,

As the clouds veil the blue of the sky,

So the dark happenings of my lot

Hide the shining of thy face from me.

Yet, if I may hold thy hand in darkness,

It is enough,

Since I know,

that though I may stumble in my going

Thou dost not fall.

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Chillingham, Northumberland – St Peter

Any Man’s Kingdom is a lovely film. It is a travelogue of Northumberland produced in by 1956 British Transport Film for British Railways, directed by Tony Thompson. As it includes a scene of the Lindisfarne taxi, a rusty Ford, driving across the sands onto the island, it gets a mention in my MA dissertation. (For my blog readers I should explain that Julie and I have just both completed MAs in Public History and Heritage at Derby University). Details of the film are here – The original film was filmed in 1953 and is available on a DVD produced by Northern Heritage – At a trial screening it was realised that a sequence showing passengers travelling to Bellingham Fair by train was no longer possible as the line had been closed. That sequence was re-shot the following year, with passengers travelling by bus! The later version is available on See Britain by Train, a DVD released by the BFI. The film’s music was written by the composer Elisabeth Lutyens, who lived with her family in Lindisfarne Castle.

The film also has a section on Chillingham, the Castle and the wild cattle who live here. But Chillingham, its castle and its cattle, is a place I have never visited – until today. Passing the Castle, it wasn’t immediately obvious whether it was open or not. The Wild Cattle were better signposted, and they are just up from the church of St Peter, NU 062 259. The Cattle have a website at As you can see, it has a page about the church – so a round of applause for them! The castle has a website, but no mention of the church – No applause for them. They are advertising themselves as Britain’s most haunted castle – and even the tearoom is not accessible to those in wheelchairs (so we won’t be going there!)

My photos are not brilliant. Have a look at those on other wesbites:,, and

There is parking outside the church, but it isn’t disabled accessible either. I climbed the steps and stopped to admire the headstones en route. The nave and chancel are C12, nave windows C16 and the lovely bellcote is of 1753.

Entering the church, it is rather frustrating to find there is no leaflet, no guide, nothing. Here is a church in the tourist spot, where at least one of the tourist attractions wants to advertise them, so they need to talk to the people at Kirkharle and do some joined up thinking. In a moment we will see a stunning tomb – again with no information, no display panel, nothing.

A C16 king-post roof, a memorial half way down, a Jacobean pulpit, and a font which is dated 1670 and originally came from Ancroft. here was an 1828 renovation, and the box pews date to this time. Then you climb several steps into the Chancel. 1960s altar and east window – as Pevsner puts it “some hate it; others welcome the glorious view of the trees beyond.”

Let me quote Pevsner again: Sir Ralph Grey +1443 and his wife. A sumptuous monument of considerable artistic importance, because against the tomb-chest there stand fourteen figures of saints in niches separated by figures of angels, and all these figures escaped the iconoclasts of the C16 and C17. So here is an example of dated sculpture of c. 1450, the date of the Beauchamp Chapel in Warwick, and though the sculptural quality of the Grey tomb is much inferior to the Earl of Warwick’s, the stylistic position is the same – drapery folds just breaking, though not so crackly as generally late in the C15. Rich, thickly encrusted canopy work. Alabaster effigies, and a background or reredos – for the head side of the tomb stands against the wall – with a standing angel and left and right two demi-figures of angels holding big helmets. Above this, Jacobean addition with elaborate strapwork cartouche and obelisks.” There is a book by Barbara Harbottle and David Heslop entitled Chillingham church, The South Chapel and Grey Tomb (2000).

According to a note in church, Sir Ralph was a crusader knight, and his wife is Elizabeth. Nothing is mentioned about his crusading days, but apparently he fought for the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, while his son fought for the Yorkist cause. When the Lancastrians had the upper hand Sir Ralph sentenced his own son to death by hanging, drawing, and quartering. The sentence was eased at the last minute and the younger Grey was ‘only’ beheaded. I wonder what Elizabeth thought of that, and I looked at a beautiful tomb in a new light. A very sad world.

At the beginning of November I did some more research. Apparently, Sir Ralph was born in 1406, and was the youngest son of Sir Thomas Grey and Lady Alice Neville. His father, Sir Thomas, was part of a plot to assassinate Henry V, and was executed on 2 August 1415. (Henry was of the House of Lancaster). Ralph died in France in 1443 and was buried here in Chillingham – imagine the logistics of bringing his body home. One of his sons was another Ralph, born in 1432, who was executed in Doncaster on 2 July 1464. So Ralph senior (died 1443) did not sentence his son Ralph junior (died 1464) to death.

In his book, The Brothers York: an English tragedy, Allen Lane, 2019  Thomas Penn notes that after the Battle of Hexham (15 May 1464) Edward IV (of the House of York) turns his fire on Northumberland Castles. Ralph junior is commander of Bamburgh. When his castle is captured he is taking south to Doncaster and brought before the King.

“Edward’s instant response was to hand Grey over to his constable of England, John Tiptoft, to be tried for treason. The trial, as all parties knew, was a formality. Sitting in judgment, invoking the full force of the laws of chivalry, Tiptoft detailed to Grey precisely why it was he had to die. Before Grey was killed, Tiptoft told him, he would undergo the full ritual degradation of knighthood. First his spurs would be hacked off – here, Tiptoft gestured to Edward’s master cook, standing aproned and clutching a knife in readiness – then, the royal heralds would cluster round and rip his coat-of-arms from his body, before dressing him in a paper replacement painted with his coat-of-arms reversed that he would wear as he went to his execution. Here, Edward saw fit to intervene, graciously commuting the humiliation in memory of Grey’s loyal grandfather, Sir Thomas, who, half a century before, had been convicted for his part in a plot to kill the Lancastrian king Henry V, and executed alongside Edward’s grandfather. Without further ceremony, Grey was drawn on a hurdle to a makeshift scaffold and beheaded.” (Thomas Penn, The Brothers York, an English tragedy, Allen Lane, 2019, page 103).

Still a pretty dreadful story – what human beings will do to other human beings. I suppose it puts Brexit arguments into some sort of context!

Posted in Northumberland, Railway interest | 2 Comments