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Haydon Old Church

Haydon Bridge 'Old Church'The village of Haydon Bridge sits in the valley of the South Tyne exactly midway between Newcastle and Carlisle. Since ancient times this corridor across the neck of England from sea to sea through the “Tyne Gap” has been a key strategic link between the east and west coasts. On the heights of the whin sill not far to the north (and passing through Haydon parish) runs Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Empire’s northernmost frontier.

Haydon Bridge has been a crossing point on the River South Tyne since 1309, and possibly long before that. But the bridge was not originally at the centre of the village. This lay half a mile up the steep hill on the left bank. All that is left of the former village is a couple of farms (East and West Haydon) and the “Old Church” as it’s known. Over the centuries the village migrated downhill and established itself around the river crossing. It was here that the new church was built in 1796.

The Old Church stands all on its own in a beautiful walled churchyard, surrounded by fields. An avenue of clipped yews conducts you into its heart from the road, as if up the nave of a long dark church. From the churchyard wall, you can see the modern village stretched out below, with the river, railway and main road snaking through the valley. You feel this churchyard is a very ancient place. Might it date from as far back as Roman or at least pre-Saxon times?

The Church’s dedication could suggest so. Most medieval churches dedicated to St Cuthbert preserve a memory either of the saint himself or his relics. In places where Cuthbert preached, there is often a church dedicated to him, e.g. at Edinburgh and Carlisle. More common are sites associated with the Saxon community of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) who made a long journey round the North carrying Cuthbert’s relics and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Having been driven inland by Viking raids in 875, and looking for a permanent home, they settled in a number of places for days, weeks or even years at a time. Norham on the banks of the River Tweed, and Chester-le-Street on the Wear are famous examples. Eventually the long pilgrimage that had lasted more than a century reached Durham where a Saxon church, and then the present great Romanesque Cathedral were built, both dedicated to him along with Blessed Mary the Virgin. We can believe that Haydon was plausibly one such resting place, hence the dedication to St Cuthbert.

The church was once larger than it is now. All that survives is the chancel, sanctuary and side-chapel. The rest was demolished late in the eighteenth century to provide stone for the new church being constructed down the hill. But the Victorian restoration successfully created a building with its own integrity and beauty. The main part of the church dates from the twelfth century, while the side chapel is of the fourteenth. Its simplicity and isolated setting are its great appeal, enhanced when services take place there as they regularly do, by the absence of electric light and any form of heating.

Among its furnishings, the most remarkable is the font. It consists of a Roman altar (to an unknown god) hollowed out to contain water for baptism. (Altars were not infrequently unearthed by Victorian archaeologists near the Roman Wall. Indeed, Haydon parish includes a rare survival from Roman Britain, the temple to the god Mithras at Carrawburgh by the Roman fort of Brocolitia on the Military Road to the north: maybe this altar was connected with that site?) Among those to have been baptised in it was Haydon’s native painter of huge apocalyptic canvasses, John Martin who was born in Lane Ends Farm on the other side of the bridge in 1789.

St Cuthbert’s Haydon Bridge

St. Cuthbert's, Haydon BridgeThe New Church was built in 1796 by the Commissioners of the Greenwich Hospital who owned much of the village at that time. Like its predecessor, it is dedicated to St Cuthbert. The exterior is typically Georgian in style, though the western tower, unusually, is crowned by a playful pagoda that is a familiar landmark in Tynedale. As already mentioned, much of the stone came from the demolished nave of the Old Church, and this includes Roman stones, for the Wall was regularly plundered in medieval times as a source of high quality well-squared ashlar.

Inside, you might expect to find box pews, a three-decker pulpit and galleries. However, all the Georgian furnishings were removed in the Victorian era when the church was enlarged by the addition of a transept (now the vestry behind the organ), new pews installed, and most of the windows altered to fit the taste for ecclesiastical gothic revival (though some round-headed Georgian windows have survived).

The interest of the church lies mainly in its furnishings. The best of these date from the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They include two fine embroidered altar frontals in green and violet, a brass altar cross and candlesticks, a carved wooden screen across the chancel, and a beautiful reredos behind the altar erected as a memorial to the fallen of the Great War. There are also four windows by the prolific but talented Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), one of the best Victorian stained-glass artists in whose work Tynedale is especially rich. The east window depicts the Nativity, while on the south side, three windows illustrate the Easter story: the empty tomb, Mary Magdalen’s meeting with the risen Christ in the garden, and the Supper at Emmaus. Like Beltingham, the church also has a 20th century by Leonard Evetts, showing scenes from the life of St Cuthbert.

The churchyard has some fine trees and interesting early nineteenth century tombs. The Northumberland flag usually flutters from the flag pole. Behind the churchyard is the elegant former vicarage, while on the wall by the road is a war memorial with a Northumberland Fusilier sculpted with particular sensitivity and grace.

The War Memorial and Reredos, Haydon Bridge

* A Reredos is an ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an altar.

War Memorial Description: Cast Figure of a soldier on a plinth. Dedication on sunken panel on main plinth. Two plaques and on flanking wall with WW1 names, WW2 names on front of plinth below dedication.


The Names of those Commemorated on the Village War Memorial are:

Haydon Bridge Ware Memorial

Haydon Bridge - First World War 1914-18

  • Anderson G
  • Archbold J
  • Armstrong J
  • Barron J
  • Batey J
  • Batey W
  • Bell H
  • Birnie JJ
  • Birnie JM
  • Brown W
  • Brown E
  • Carrick Winifred (Civilian)
  • Charlton W
  • Charlton N
  • Cowing T
  • Cuffe B
  • Curry J
  • Davidson N
  • Douglas W
  • Dove M
  • Gibson J
  • Glendinning W
  • Henderson J
  • Heslop H
  • Hutchison J
  • Irwin R
  • Johnstone J
  • Kennedy W
  • Kershaw E
  • Kindred T
  • Kirby F
  • Kirton E
  • Kirton M
  • Law C
  • Lee F
  • Little R
  • McGurk F
  • Paxton W
  • Pearson H
  • Phillipson A
  • Rayner R
  • Reed J
  • Robinson J
  • Robinson JW
  • Robinson JE
  • Robson J
  • Southern M
  • Sowerby T
  • Spark L
  • Spark W
  • Stobbart M
  • Stonehouse J
  • Taylor E
  • Thomson C
  • Todd J
  • Turnbull J
  • Willan T

Haydon Bridge - Second World War 1939-45

  • Armstrong J
  • Bates A
  • Bell T
  • Brown P
  • Brown J
  • Clemitson C (civilian)
  • Gilmore T
  • Law I
  • Mason J
  • Patterson C
  • Patterson R
  • Philipson I
  • Reed A
  • Ridley J
  • Wardle O
  • Wylie J

St. Cuthbert

St Cuthebert at Wallington HallThree of our four churches are dedicated to St Cuthbert, the North of England’s best-loved saint. Beltingham Church and the “new” church at Haydon Bridge both have modern windows depicting scenes from his life. Almost all of what we know about Cuthbert is derived from the writings of the Venerable Bede, one of his greatest admirers.

Cuthbert was born in what we now call the Scottish Borders in about 635. In 651, he is said to have had a vision of a soul being taken up to heaven. This coincided with the death of St Aidan, founder of the community on Lindisfarne and pioneer of the Christian mission in Northumbria. Following this experience, Cuthbert entered the monastery at Melrose on the banks of the Tweed. He became prior in 664, already known for his ascetic spirituality and the personal discipline he modelled for his community. After some years he was elected prior of Lindisfarne, thereafter indelibly associated with the Insula Sacra or “holy island” off the coast of north Northumberland.

Bede paints a picture of a man utterly dedicated to the spiritual life. His ascetic practices included rigorous fasting, and standing in the sea throughout the night reciting psalms and prayers. This intense spirituality, his simplicity and humility, the miracles ascribed to him and his closeness to nature and friendship with birds and animals place him firmly in the tradition of the desert monks of Egypt and of early Irish Christianity. He saw life as a relentless battle between good and evil: his love of solitariness was not a retreat from ordinary life but his resolve to play his part in waging war against the demons.

CuthbertShrineDurhamCathedralIn 684 Cuthbert was elected bishop of Hexham, which gives him a direct link with Tynedale (you can see his name inscribed on a board just inside the south transept of Hexham Abbey). The following year he became bishop of Lindisfarne. He was a reluctant bishop, by instinct drawn towards the life of a hermit rather than public leadership in the church. He had long made the Inner Farne his place of solitary retreat. After only two years as bishop, he died there on 10 March 687 and was buried on Holy Island.

Within a few years, his memory was becoming legendary. In effect, he was declared a saint by the end of the century, pilgrimages to his shrine began, and the Lindisfarne Gospels were written in his honour in around 701. But Viking invasions destroyed the Christian site on Holy Island, and drove the community inland to find a more secure home. They travelled all over the North, bearing their cherished treasures, the body of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Medieval churches dedicated to St Cuthbert often preserve the memory of places where they stopped on their journey, such as Norham and Chester-le-Street. The long pilgrimage lasting more than a century ended at Durham where a cathedral was built to house Cuthbert’s shrine and Gospel Book.

Here in our Benefice at Beltingham and Old Haydon, we believe we have two of the stages of this ancient journey of the community of St Cuthbert. This means that our parishes are directly linked to Lindisfarne where the journey began, and to Durham where it ended, and to all the holy sites in between. That can help us to think of ourselves as the successors of St Cuthbert’s community who are constantly on the journey of faith, hope and love.

St Cuthbert at Beltingham Church (1)St Cuthbert at Beltingham Church (2)


Bishop Ridley

The family name of Ridley is well known in Northumberland, especially in Tynedale. In early Tudor times the family owned estates in the upper South Tyne valley such as Ridley Hall near Beltingham and Unthank Hall upstream by Plenmeller across the river from Haltwhistle.

It is possible that the most famous member of that family was born at Unthank in about 1500. At any rate, Nicholas Ridley, a prominent bishop of the Church of England who was martyred in 1555, grew up there. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle, from where he went to Pembroke College Cambridge. He was ordained in the 1520s. A shrewd theologian and controversialist, his advancement in the Church was rapid, thanks to his being noticed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. By the 1530s, the Reformation was beginning to take hold in England, and Ridley became one of its foremost champions. In 1547 he became Bishop of Rochester and assisted Cranmer in compiling the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549. He was appointed Bishop of London in 1550.

Following the brief reign of the protestant young king Edward VI, catholic Mary Tudor was crowned queen. The course of the Reformation was reversed and its principal leaders imprisoned, including Cranmer the archbishop together with bishops Latimer (of Worcester) and Ridley. They were tried at Oxford for heresy and in 1555 condemned to be burned at the stake. Latimer’s words to Ridley as they burned, quoted in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, have etched themselves into the English protestant consciousness: “Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out.”

The three “Oxford Martyrs” as they are often known are commemorated in the city by a cross set in the middle of Broad Street outside Balliol College, and by the 19th century Martyrs’ Memorial outside St Mary Magdalen’s Church.

John Martin

John Martin's The Plains of HeavenThe painter who was among the most celebrated in Victorian England was born in a modest farm cottage at Land Ends on the south bank of the Tyne at Haydon Bridge. He is famous for his enormous canvasses, many of them depicting dramatic scenes from the Bible such as Belshazzar’s Feast, The Fall of Babylon, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the trilogy for which he is best known, The Last Judgment, The Great Day of His Wrath, and The Plains of Heaven (the image shown here - click here or on the image itself for a larger clearer view).

John was baptised at the Old Church at Haydon Bridge in the year of his birth, 1789. In his childhood he will have watched the new church being constructed in Church Street in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Apprenticed in Newcastle, he moved to London in 1806 where he married and gave drawing lessons to maintain his family. His first publicly-acclaimed success began the long series of biblical paintings for which he was to become famous, Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon painted in 1816.

These biblical themes indicate a painter of deep religious faith. This was no doubt nurtured in his childhood in the Tyne Valley. But it was also much influenced by the writings of John Milton the grand sweep of whose vision of death, judgment, hell and heaven touched him profoundly. Meanwhile, the memory of Tynedale seems to be present in the landscapes in which his apocalyptic dramas are set. This is particularly obvious in the serene Plains of Heaven, but the fiery reds and yellows enveloped by threatening violets and blacks also suggest the mines and ironworks of the early industrial revolution in the north Pennine dales.

In 1829 his elder brother Jonathan (also of Haydon Bridge and known as “Mad Martin”) achieved notoriety by setting York Minster on fire. At his trial, John Martin paid his brother’s defence costs. He was found guilty but escaped the gallows on the grounds of insanity. John died in 1854. He is commemorated locally in the Haydon Bridge Community Centre, at The Bridge, and by a walking trail that takes in the village and the surrounding countryside that left a permanent imprint on his art.