Whitley Chapel, Northumberland – St Helen

I was a Suffolk Vicar, enjoyed the website Simon’s Suffolk Churches – and my old boss, Neil Collings (the Dean of St Edmundsbury), managed to visit all the churches in Suffolk before his untimely death earlier this year – may he rest in peace. Now I’m a Northumberland Vicar I thought I’d try and do all the churches in Northumberland. I was going to start a website, but my wife – northernreader – suggested a blog would be easier. So, here goes.

One of the Diocesan committees I sit on had “Whitley Chapel” on the agenda. “Where’s that?” I asked. “South of Hexham” they replied, so on 30 September 2010 I decided to go early to Choral Evensong at Hexham Abbey, and go via Whitley Chapel. It is a steep drive south (up) out of Hexham and the Tyne Valley, down to West Dipton Burn, up, down to Ham Burn, up to Whitley Chapel. In the middle of the hamlet is the church – grid reference NY927577. Village and church information is at this website. At the meeting I asked what “Hexhamshire” was – apparently it became part of Northumberland in 1572. St Helen’s church was a peculiar or detached jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York until becoming part of the Diocese of Newcastle in 1882.

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I chatted to a chap at the gate who told me there was a wedding on Saturday and the church was full of flower-arrangers. It certainly was – the bride and two friends (I wished her well but failed to ask her name), Barbara the churchwarden, and two others. They were doing a marvellous job, and I’ve no doubt the church will look gorgeous (as will the bride).

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According to the guidebook, in 1662 the building was probably in use as a school, in 1694-5 a subscription was raised to make the building fit for Divine Service – perhaps as a reaction to the fact that the Quakers in the area used the Chapel Hill as their meeting
place. More building work took place in 1742 and a Curate was appointed. Six years later Abraham Brown, Master of Hexham Grammar School, was appointed – and he died in post in 1812 aged 92. The Reverend Adrian Patterson has been Vicar here since 1996 – he is also Chaplain of Hexham Hospital. The flower-arrangers were singing his praises!

They have three pretty bog-standard stained glass windows, and four others that I liked more. The Millennium window was designed as a result of workshops exploring St Cuthbert’s life, and was designed by Bridget Jones. I liked the colours and the row of plants on the blue at the base.

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Then there are plain glass windows designed by Leonard Evetts (1909-1997). Like me, he was a member of the Newcastle Diocesan Advisory Committee and he died in Woolsington, part of the parish I’m Vicar of. His obituary is on the Independent website
and there is an American website. Other Northumberland churches contain his work, but I will have to go ‘out of county’ to see his 46 windows in St Nicholas church, Sunderland.

This window is dedicated to Alan Swallow and Anthony Duncan. The former was churchwarden here for 30 years, and the images reflect his life as a farmer. The latter was priest from 1987 to 1995 – also a writer, poet and musician. His book “The
Elements of Celtic Christianity” is on Amazon for 39 p.

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This window is in memory of John Andrew Reed. The middle sections of the window depict a tractor wheel, with aerial views of fields depicting his love of the countryside.

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Finally, this one is in memory of Muriel Tweddle of the Lea Farm (1920-1990). The square in the right hand circle depicts a radar screen. During the Second World War she was a member of the W.A.A.F. and charted Hess’s flight to Scotland.

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This banner dates from 2007 – Hexham U3A stitching course.

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I had a walk round the outside too – lovely situation.

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We turned the car round, returned via Juniper (what a lovely place name), and went to Choral Evensong at Hexham Abbey, where our son Gareth is verger. The Girls’ Choir – who are excellent – sang complicated Atkinson responses, Sumsion in D, and a new anthem by Graham Coatman “Bring us, O Lord” – the words of John Donne (with which Neil finished one of the Radio 3 Choral Evensongs from Bury). Then supper at The Wellington in Riding Mill. Thursday night is Curry Night – a smashing end to the day.

This blog was retyped and re-posted on 4 September 2015 after it was lost in the change over. I have not changed the tense – may Gareth rest in peace.

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