Bywell, Northumberland – St Andrew

On Friday 22 April I joined an English Heritage Members’ Trip to three Churches Conservation Trust churches. We met at Newcastle Central, went to Bywell first, then sandwiches at the pub in Whittonstall, then to Shotley. Then a very long drive through Newcastle to Sunderland. Here is the first of the churches. Bywell is on the Churches Conservation Trust website.


I last went to St Andrew, Bywell – NZ048615 – in December 2010, where have the years gone? Going back even further, we know that Egbert was consecrated here in 803, after the Danes had sacked Lindisfarne, and that the first church was founded by Wilfrid of Hexham in the C7. The two churches stand at the meeting point of two Norman baronies, the boundaries of which may have reflected a pre-Norman division of lands. There may well have been a Roman river crossing here, and the tower appears to be built partly of reused Roman stones. Our guide was positive the curved ones over the top windows are Roman loo seats – I would have thought that in a land where wood was plentiful, a carved stone loo seat would be rarer. You may enjoy reading about the Vindolanda wooden toilet seat here.


The lower stages of the tower are earlier than 850, the upper stages date from the C10 and early C11. In the Middle Ages there was a population of about 500 in the village, a bridge over the Tyne, and a thriving iron industry. William Fenwick had a new house built in 1760 – it is open on selected days in the summer, see this website.


The hatchments are in memory of members of the Fenwick family. At some point I assume the villagers were cleared away, and the church was declared redundant in 1973. The Hall is now the home of Wentworth Beaumont, 4th Viscount Allendale.


The C13 church interior was enlarged and repaired in 1871, probably by Robert Johnson. Most of the stained glass is by William Wailes (as I noted last time, he is buried in the other Bywell churchyard), the later glass in the Chancel and north transept is by James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, London. Powell and Sons also made the mosaic sanctuary floor and reredos, to a design of John W. Brown. I love the three kings – did he really carry that thurible across the desert?



At the time of the Victorian restoration 25 C12 and C13 grave covers were incorporated in the external walls and as lintels inside the church. It is the finest collection of mediaeval cross slab grave covers in Tyndeale. Originally they would have been the lids of stone coffins, or as a grave-marker set in the church floor, or churchyard. Each slab has a cross, with other emblems too. Nine have a sword, probably denoting the right to bear arms, always set on the right of the cross shaft. Another nine bear a pair of shears, a female emblem. Two slabs have a shield accompanying; one bears a rampant lion, probably the arms of the De L’Isle family, and another a small shield or targe overlying the sword blade. We also have a hunting horn and a small rectangular object which may be a book or a lady’s work box. They were move into the church in the early 1990s.


There are some lovely gravestones outside. I like the bee hive. There is also the gravestone of the Reverend Joseph Jacques, Vicar here for 23 years, dying in 1866. Buried next to him are two of his sons and one daughter – Sarah died 2 ½ years, Charles 5 months, and Ernest 3 years and 8 months. There is also a memorial to Edward Lee, killed at the crossing place below Stocksfield Station on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway in 1865.


A fascinating church.


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