Thockrington, Northumberland – St Aidan

On Tuesday 25 May 2021 we were in Northumberland, collected Harry, drove north to Barter Books, then south via Edlingham (which was locked), Otterburn Mill for lunch, then onto the A68 and south – until I saw the sign for Thockrington. That was fun! At one point we were herding sheep with the car, then had to send Harry out to send the sheep behind the car so they didn’t escape when he opened the gate. We walked up to the church and found it open, which was a joy.

My 2013 blog is very short. Here’s a bit more information from the parish website – http://www.chollerton-churches.org.uk/thockrington.html – a website which has not been updated since 2017 (which is unbelievable, so much for the digital world we have all lived in while we have coped with Covid).

The church was built by the Norman family of Umfraville in 1100 and it remained in their possession, with adjoining lands, until 1226, when they were forfeited to the Archbishop of York as compensation for disturbances to the peace of the Prior of Hexham and damage done to the Archbishop’s lands by Robert Umfraville. The Archbishop assigned the church and its revenues as an endowment for a prebend in his cathedral in York.  This arrangement lasted 625 years, until the death of the last prebend in 1851, when it was merged into the diocese of Durham, and later transferred to Newcastle.  Documentary evidence of the population of the settlement at Thockrington dates back at least to the 1296 Lay Subsidy Roll, when 18 tax payers are recorded, through to the early nineteenth century when 25-30 cottages existed. In 1847 a returning sailor reputedly brought cholera, and the village was wiped out, the houses being burnt. Apart from some foundations pressing through the turf, a single farmstead and the church are all that remain. There is a total parish population of about 50. Before Covid they had a fortnightly service. I wonder what the future holds.

One assumes that the slab memorialises a member of the family, Pevsner says “Decayed effigy of a lady”.

Harmonium and collection plate. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.

What’s the door for?

I flicked through the history file and found the graveyard map. Last time I came I found the graves of Lord and Lady Beveridge – read about him there, The Beveridge Report, this time I also managed to find that of Connie Leathart.

Constance Ruth Leathart was born in Low Fell in 1903, was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and Queen Ethelburga’s in York. In 1925 she started flying lessons at Newcastle Aero Club and is said to have written “C.R. Leathart” on the application form so as to disguise her gender. She received her flying licence in 1927, one of only twelve female pilots in the UK, and the only one outside London.

According to Northumberland Archives – https://www.northumberlandarchives.com/archive-exhibitions/constanceleathart-clouds/ – “Connie became part of a group of flying socialites and participated successfully in many air races both in this country and throughout Europe; her photograph albums contain numerous photographs to support this.  She held a Royal Aero Club of Great Britain Air Tourist’s Identity Card allowing her to be exempt from landing, take-off and garage fees for a period of 48 hours in several European countries. Connie travelled so regularly that she had a special locker cut into the fuselage of her Comper Swift to accommodate her picnic hamper.”

With her friend Walter Leslie Runciman, she set up Cramlington Aircraft Ltd on the aerodrome which had been built in 1915 for the Royal Flying Corps. In 1939 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, and by 1943 she was flying heavy bombers as well as fighters – Spitfires, Oxfords, Ansons, Tigers and Wellingtons. The following year she suffered a period of ill health, and her contracted ended in June 1944. After the War she went to work with the UN on relief efforts in the Mediterranean, distributing food and medical supplies by plane. Her final flight was in 1956. After that she had a small holding at Little Bavington, where she died in 1993. She did not want a headstone, but her friends put a stone from her open air swimming pool. I was very pleased that the church had provided a graveyard plan! Another piece to read is https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34473589

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