The 140th Anniversary Of St Mary The Virgin Parish Church, Middleton-in-Teesdale
There has been a church on the site of St Mary the Virgin, Middleton-in-Teesdale for over nine centuries. The 13th century medieval church was demolished in the spring of 1878 and a new building was consecrated on Thursday 23rd October 1879. Now, 140 years later, the church is celebrating its consecration with an Anniversary Service (on Sunday 27th October at 4:30pm). Like the original consecration the anniversary is reported in our local newspaper, The Teesdale Mercury. For many people St Mary’s is a central part of their lives in the dale, recognised by fundraising efforts in recent times to ensure that the building is maintained well after major remedial works to its fabric.
The building of the new parish church was overseen by the then Rector, John Milner. The architect for new church was Charles Hodgson Fowler who was architect to the Dean and Chapter of Durham. He designed a building in the “Late Decorated style” in keeping with the prevailing style of the older church. Much of the fine woodwork in the new church was by local cabinet maker Jacob Readshaw alongside carvings by a Mr Roddis of Birmingham. Jacob Readshaw was one of the village’s notable characters, not just a carpenter but an astronomer, musical instrument maker, artist and wood-carver. The final cost of the new church was £6000, which in 2019 would be over £350,000.
The Teesdale Mercury records that the consecration “was an important day at Middleton, and was observed in a great measure as a holiday”. A special train was run from Barnard Castle at 11.20am and a celebratory luncheon was held at the Cross Keys Hotel. (This is now the Teesdale Hotel in the Market Place, the luncheon cost 2/-). Captain Bainbridge who, as well as being a church warden, was the Superintendent of the London Lead Mining Company’s operations in Middleton and for whom there is a memorial fountain in Horsemarket. Clerics from across the area attended the luncheon and at 2.30pm they made their way to the church for “Evening Prayer”.
The Rector, Rev. Milner conducted the service with the choir led by Mr Oddie on the organ. At the conclusion of the service the Bishop of Dover, Dr Parry delivered what the Teesdale Mercury reported as “a most impressive and eloquent sermon” taking the 92nd Psalm as his text. Dr Parry who had strong clerical connections with the County and also the University in Durham was deputising for the only recently appointed, Bishop of Durham, Dr Lightfoot. After the sermon there was a confirmation service for 40 candidates. The congregation numbered over 500 people, made up of what the Teesdale Mercury described as “the principal inhabitants of the town and district”.
St Mary’s Church has many understated treasures, from the East window of the old church which stands in the graveyard to its Bell House with its three bells. Within its interior are some fine examples of wood carving, especially those by Jacob Readshaw such as the canopied chair in the Sanctuary. There are two more modern stained-glass windows on the South side of the Chancel. One celebrates Richard Watson the local lead-miner poet. Several medieval grave covers and mouldings are featured in the North aisle wall. Discovered in the foundations of the old church, some date back to Norman times. Some are adorned with symbols which indicate the occupations and trades of those whose graves they covered.
The gallery below shows the Church on a sunny autumn morning not long before its 140th anniversary.
There is a recently updated guide book for the Church available to visitors at a cost of £1.00. It can be purchased in the church which is always open for visitors and for reflection within its tranquil walls. St Mary’s church is at Town Head in Middleton-in-Teesdale. To download a transcribed copy of the 1879 Teesdale Mercury article click on the image of the article below.