Staindrop, Durham – St Mary the Virgin

I wanted to visit Staindrop church to catch up with Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland – see my blog on Great Salkeld. We were driving south down the A68 to go and see friends living in Yorkshire, so turned off and came down into Staindrop – St Mary’s church is on the right, just beside Raby Castle. That looks well worth a visit – website. The church has its own website – and its grid reference is NZ132206. At this point I pause to wonder how many northernvicar readers use the grid references – but as a Cambridge Geographer (OK, Part I Geographer, I did Theology for Part II) I shall continue to quote them. I see that John, the other Selwyn Geographer from our year of 1980, is now Director of Strategy at Ordnance Survey. (Julie, my Selwyn Lawyer who would regularly go and drink with John and his pals at the Hat and Feathers. says her strategy as far as maps are concerned is “don’t get lost”). Did you know James Bond took a First in Oriental languages at Cambridge?

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Anyway, the church has a nice guidebook – lovely black and white drawings “reproduced from Canon H.C. Lipscombe’s ‘A Detailed History of Staindrop’ – I think he was Vicar here for 58 years, that’s time to write a very detailed history. He also restored the church and is buried by the door. Lovely sundial on the C14 porch, but no mention of it in the guide.  Later on, inside the church, I found a plaque to Canon Lipscombe.

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When you enter the church you immediately find some wonderful tombs. Now I should be disciplined, work my way round the church – but I cannot believe anyone could walk past these tombs and not stop. Interesting question as to why they are by the door and not at the East End.

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The first one, made of oak, is of Henry Neville, who died in 1564 and his two wives. Anne was the daughter of the Earl of Rutland, Jane the daughter of Sir Richard Cholmondeley – it’s the one you pronounce Chumley. I climbed up to take photos from above, if I had looked down and through the railings I would have seen their children carved in the niches of the tomb, and the family crest.

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Down between the two huge tombs, is this one of Margary, the second wife of Ralph, Lord Neville, died circa 1343. I’m not sure why she is here separately, or which Ralph her husband was.

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He is presumably not the Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, who we came across at Great Salkeld, and who lies in this incredible alabaster tomb. He died in 1425, and lies between his wives, Margaret Stafford, daughter of Hugh, Earl of Stafford, and Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and half sister of Henry IV. Back in 2013 we enjoyed The White Queen on the BBC, an adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel. It was also blogged about by Northern Reader (Julie is now blogging regularly again – why not follow her?). Warwick the Kingmaker was the grandson of Ralph and Joan. Dame Cecily was Cecily Neville, Ralph and Joan’s daughter. She was the mother of Edward IV, George (Duke of Clarence) and Richard III. The stone for the tomb probably came from John of Gaunt’s quarry at Tutbury in Staffordshire. Today it would be quite a task to transport a huge block of stone from Tutbury to Staindrop – how on earth did they do it?

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I tore myself away from these magnificent tombs, purchased my guidebook from this wonderful chest, and tried to work this church out. Some models in the south aisle helped.

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The Saxon church, dedicated to St Gregory, was, according to the guide, in “classic Saxon cube form” and occupied the space between the screen and the third arch of the main aisle. You can see the remains of Saxon windows, which I spotted, and a Saxon sundial, which I didn’t. The small church was then enlarged into an abbey with the addition of a tower at the west end and a small chancel at the east.

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In Norman times the side walls were demolished and replaced with Norman arches. There is a mason’s mark which was the trade mark of John d’Ireby. He was also responsible for Bulmer’s Tower at Raby Castle and the keep at Carlisle Castle in the early C14. In 1343 the south aisle was constructed on the instruction of Ralph Neville (who is remembered in the Battle of Neville’s cross near Durham) to form the Lady Chapel where his mother and later Neville ladies could be buried.

juned 067juned 068juned 069The east window of the south aisle, is dedicated to Henry, 2nd Duke of Cleveland, and contains three ancient shields of glass. These are the three at the top left and relate to the houses of Percy, Clifford and Greystock. The ones on the right are C19 copies and relate to Neville, Dacre and de Ros.

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The Sedilia in the Chancel is a portion of the remains of the old chancel before it was rebuilt circa 1230. On the north wall is a small, slanting window which was the hermit’s window from which he could look down on the main altar. Lovely coloured ceiling too.

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The chancel screen is C14 and the pews are C15, having their origins in the day of the collegiate church which was founded in 1408. In that year Cardinal Langley granted a licence to Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and he founded a college on the north side of the church. It was the only college founded by a lay person, and the endowment amounted to £126.5.10d. I love the 10d – apparently the complete value today would be about £300,000. You couldn’t endow much today for £300,000.

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The East Window is constructed in perpendicular style and is of Victorian origin. It was designed by John Cory and replaced a previously similar window of medieval origin. The glass was supplied by Messrs Warrington of London, and donated by Henry, Duke of Cleveland, in 1855.

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There are some hatchments in the Chancel, and plenty elsewhere in the church, especially in the north aisle. Most of them are for members of the Vane family of Raby Castle – Sir Henry Vane purchased Raby in 1626, and he petitioned Charles I to become lay rector of St Mary’s. In 1698 his grandson Christopher Vane became the first Baron Barnard. There are other lovely memorials in the north west corner. I didn’t work out who they all are! The St Gregory Chapel is the end of the north aisle, and there are some interesting niches and a lepers squint which are associated with C14 chantries. There are other memorials over by the south door – lots and lots of words.

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So, what have I missed? The WW1 memorial is quote something, and they have worked on everyone’s stories. An interesting WW2 memorial too. The font is late C15 and made of Egglestone marble. As you all know, or would if you had read Sally Badham’s book Northern Rock: The Use of Egglestone Marble for Monuments in Medieval England, which is British Archaeological Reports British Series 2009, “Egglestone marble was quarried at four sites around Barnard Castle on the banks of the Tees in the later Middle Ages, reaching a peak in usage in the fifteenth century. … Whilst there is no evidence of the stone’s use in building work, it was used in a range of other monuments such as cross ledger and incised slabs, tomb chests, fonts, and most importantly as the setting for memorial brasses. [In this book] patterns of patronage are noted and the appendices contain a complete list of Egglestone marble pieces with evidence for dating and patronage.” I’m sure it would be £38 well spent!

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It is a lovely church, and one which must be quite a struggle for this small town to maintain. Outside is lovely too – just enjoy the photos.  We must come back and enjoy the town.

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3 Responses to Staindrop, Durham – St Mary the Virgin

  1. Jane says:

    What a lovely blog! I found it when I was looking for photos of stained glass by Leonard Evetts and you have some great examples of his work here (I’ve realised you are fortunate to be in prime LE territory). I like the way you ‘collect’ lots of beautiful and interesting things here.

  2. Gail says:

    Thank you for this wonderful and informative blog! So interesting!

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