Simonburn – St Mungo (outside)

DSC03718Our Coffee Club had their annual outing, and this year I was able to go. We had an excellent lunch at the Battlesteads Hotel in Wark – – and then drove up the valley. I went through the village, which is a collection of late C18 early C19 cottages around the green – their daffodils are still flowering, mine died off a week ago. There is a tea shop which looks worth a visit. I went past the church and found a parking space – if I had gone further I would have reached the Castle, probably built by Simon Earl of Northumberland from 1136, first mentioned in 1415, but not much left these days. I walked down past these lovely plants – can someone tell me what they are? – and came into the churchyard from the west. We met in church and Prof Richard Bailey gave us a talk and tour – it was too wet to spend much time outside. I’ve got lots of photos, so let us do outside first. DSC03644The church dates back a very long way – later we will see some Saxon work. The dedication to Mungo, or Kentigern, is interesting. There’s an interesting article at – I like the line “Mungo’s life was not particularly spectacular, although he did recite the entire book of Psalms every day, sometimes neck-deep in frigid Scottish rivers.” Next time my Morning Prayer colleagues complain that a psalm is particular long … . Our principal at Lincoln Theological College was William Mungo Jacob, so we used to celebrate St Mungo’s day (13 January) with a High Mass. Wikipedia tells me he (that’s Mungo, not the man who is now Archdeacon of Charing Cross) died in his bath! He is a late C6 saint of Strathclyde, and the patron saint of Glasgow. The church guidebook says he may well have travelled south to the line of the Wall – there is a Mungo’s Well only a few miles away at Holystone (not that I mentioned it when I visited …). Alternatively, there was a time when Simonburn was under control of the Scots, which might explain this Scottish dedication. Suggestion number three,  the ancient well south of the church was known for generations as “Muggers’ Well” and Canon Rogers (Rector 1873-1899) believed this derived from “Mungo’s well”.

DSC03647The building is, in essence, a C13 church, and C13 work can be seen in the west end. The Nave was partly rebuilt in 1762 by Robert Newton and his son William, who are also architects of the Old Assembly Rooms in Newcastle. (Wikipedia describes Robert as a “Builder” and William as “Architect”). The Chancel is large, as they often are. DSC03714DSC03713At the other end of the churchyard is a rather impressive C19 lych gate. You can imagine them resting the coffin here after a long walk over the hills. Bishop Walcher of Durham re-organised his diocese in 1072, and probably founded this parish then. He was a friend of Waltheof, the last of the Saxon Earls (who was executed four years later by William the Conqueror), and may well have formed his friend’s Tynedale lands into one parish. Simonburn was the parish church, Bellingham a Chapel of Ease. The parish covered 260 square miles, from the Wall to the Border.

In 1811 five new parishes (Wark, Bellingham, Thorneyburn, Greystead and Falstone (just Falstone to blog) were formed from it, later Humshaugh too. From one to seven. You will remember from other blogs that the Patron were the Greenwich Hospital Commissioners, and many of the rectors now appointed were ex-naval Chaplains. The old rectors of Simonburn required a large income for security purposes, and lived in his own fortified Pele Tower. At the time of its division it was worth £5,000 a year. You can imagine the wealth when you look at the gorgeous Rectory. The house looks empty, so I was tempted to have a major explore, but thought I had better not – according to the various guidebooks there is a kitchen garden, coal furnaces, a stable yard, a lime tree terrace and a three-seater netty. Apparently the old frontage of the building, dated 1666, faces the back. Over the door the Latin inscription translates “Not so much for himself as for his successors, this building was erected by Major Allgood in the strange year 1666. Now it is mine; at a later period his; but thereafter I know not whose.” ‘Major’ is his Christian name, and 1666 was the year when he got married and became Rector – he was 25.

DSC03715Pevsner says “The style of the front block of 1725 suggests Vanbrughian influence” – I like that word. The Rector was Henry Wastell. His wife used her diamond ring to draw pictures on the nursery windows – apparently they are still there. It’s Grade II, as is the gateway. The Allgoods are one of the major families, and many of them are buried behind the iron railings in this corner of the churchyard.


DSC03711There are many wonderful gravestones. This one says, on the reverse side,

“Stop passenger as you go by,

And view those heaps of dust,

While in the publick life we lived,

In God we put our trust.

DSC03652But why should you lament the loss,

Or morn for us that is gone,

Prepair your self to bear the Cross,

Or here you cannot come.”

Shortly we will come into the church.


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One Response to Simonburn – St Mungo (outside)

  1. Anne Penfold says:

    The plant is butterbur – native, I believe, with early flowering spikes of unimpressive pale flowers followed by enormous green leaves, often on riverbanks, or damp areas. According to my plant book the leaves were used for wrapping butter up in, hence the name.

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