A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1928.
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The church of ST. NICHOLAS stands on the north side of the market-place, but was entirely rebuilt in the style of the 14th century in 1857–8. It consists of a short chancel, nave with north and south aisles, and tower at the west end of the south aisle forming the porch, surmounted by a tall stone spire. A few carved stones from the old church are preserved in Durham Castle and a modern 'Norman' window inserted before 1857 is now at Edmundbyers.
The building pulled down in 1857 consisted of chancel, nave with north and south aisles, and a tower in the same position as at present. Sir Stephen Glynne, who visited the church in 1825, described it as 'a large structure displaying some marks of antiquity although the barbarous hand of innovation has swept nearly all before it.' (fn. 1)
The nave arcades consisted of pointed arches, three on the north side and two of greater span on the south. The chancel had aisles on either side, the arcade on the north being apparently of 12th-century date, but that on the south was similar to the arches in the nave. Surtees states that the north aisle extended 'the whole length of the nave and chancel. It is divided from the nave by two low octagonal pillars supporting blunt pointed arches, and from the chancel by a low round column with a fluted capital supporting round arches of unequal height and span. The south aisle is separated from the chancel by a small pillar and pointed arch, and from the nave by one slender and octagonal column supporting wide pointed arches.' (fn. 2) The chancel arch was wide and blunt, springing from corbels of human heads. (fn. 3) At the beginning of the 19th century the south front of the building was almost entirely concealed by the market-piazza. The tower had been a good deal altered, and finished with a straight parapet. The outward northern wall (was) of great height and strength, supported by square buttresses and was considered as a portion of the defensive line of the city on the north, sweeping exactly in line with the curtain wall of Nevill's Place and Claypath Gate. (fn. 4) There were two galleries, one for the children of the Bluecoat School at the west end, erected in 1721 by Sir John Eden, bart., and the other between two of the pillars of the north aisle, erected in 1729 by the Cordwainers' Company. (fn. 5) In 1768 the south front of the tower was chiselled over and a large east window inserted in the chancel, and in 1803 the interior was restored, the north gallery taken down, the wainscot removed from behind the altar and the pews and paving renewed. (fn. 6) An old stone pulpit resting on a small stone pillar was removed about the same time. Another gallery extending nearly the whole length of the north aisle was erected in 1826. An organ loft, which had succeeded the rood loft, had been taken down in 1684 and replaced by the Ten Commandments and the Royal Arms which remained till 1806. (fn. 7)
There is a ring of six bells, five of which from the old church are dated 1687 and bear the stamp of James Bartlett, of Whitechapel. They all bear an inscription which, with slight variations, chiefly in the division of the lines, reads FVNDATVR DEI GLORIÆ REGNO AVGVSTISSIMI IACOBI SECVNDI NATHANIELE : : EPISE ROBERT DELAVAL ARM: PRÆTORE RALPH TROTTER ROB: ROBSON CH WARDENS 1687. The treble was cast by John Warner & Sons, of London, in 1889, when the other bells were rehung. (fn. 8)
The plate consists of a chalice and cover paten of 1665 with the maker's initials IR, inscribed 'Calix Benedictionis Sci Nicholai Dunelm 1665' (fn. 9); a chalice and cover of 1685 with the maker's initials IY, and the arms of Fenwick impaling Hall, the chalice inscribed 'The gift of Mary Fenwick Widd. of Mr. Wm. Fenwick of Newton Ganes desceased and the only daughter and Heir of Alderman John Hall Vintner; for the Communion Service of St. Nicholas Durham'; (fn. 10) two flagons of 1685 with the arms of Clark impaling Hall, inscribed 'Given to ye Parish of St. Nicholas in the Cittie of Durham by Mrs. Ann Clark Widdow, Sister to John Hall Esq. one of ye Aldermen of ye said Cittie 1686'; a paten of 1708, with the maker's mark CH; and two almsdishes of 1771 Edinburgh make, inscribed 'The gift of Thomas Wilkinson Esq. (of Old Elvet) for the Communion Service of the Parish Church of St. Nicholas in the City of Durham. Oct. 11th, 1841.' There are also two plated cups 'Presented to St. Nicholas Church Durham by G.W. 1858.'
The register of baptisms and burials begins in 1540 and that of marriages in 1561. The first volume, which ends in 1602, is a transcript made in 1635. (fn. 11)
The church of ST. MARY-LE-BOW stands on the east side of the North Bailey, on a very ancient site, but dates only from the 17th century. It consists of chancel with organ chamber on the north side, aisleless nave and engaged west tower forming a porch and slightly projecting in front of the face of the main wall. It derives its name from the 'bow' or arch of the old tower which was thrown across the street, resting on a pier on the opposite side. (fn. 12) This tower fell down on 29 August 1637, in its fall destroying a great portion of the west end of the church. In the following December the parishioners resolved to take down and rebuild the whole structure, (fn. 13) but nothing seems to have been done immediately, and during the entire period of the Civil War the church was abandoned and the churchyard used as a common way. The building lay in ruins till 1685, when, after ineffectual attempts by the parishioners to raise sufficient money for the restoration, the aid of the bishop (Lord Crewe) and the Dean and Chapter was sought and the church entirely rebuilt. The tower was added in 1702, and the fittings of the chancel date from a few years later, the altar rails 1705, the screen 1707, and the wainscoting 1731. The west gallery and vestry were erected in 1741. The tower was repaired in 1827, and in 1875 the whole building was restored and the organ chamber built, oak benches at the same time taking the place of the old pews. (fn. 14)
The walls are of rubble masonry and the roofs are leaded and of flat pitch behind embattled parapets. All the windows are modern, generally of two or three lights with transoms and perpendicular tracery. The parapets are all modern restorations.
The chancel measures internally 34 ft. by 21 ft., and has a five-light east window with perpendicular tracery and two similar windows each of two lights on the south side and one on the north. The west end of the north wall is open to the organ chamber by a modern arch. The roof is a boarded one of four bays and the floor is level with that of the nave. The chancel arch is a lofty flat four-centred one, the full width of the chancel, dying into the walls at the springing, and the screen is of dark oak with three divisions on each side of the middle opening. The design is of mixed Renaissance and Gothic character, with cornice and long top panels and tracery in the heads of the openings. On the south side of the screen within the chancel are three stalls with carved standards of Renaissance type, and on the north side a pew. The altar rails consist of turned oak balusters and the wainscoting is of a rather plain classic type. The upper part of the walls is plastered. The general effect of the chancel with its lofty roof, tall Gothic windows, and dark oak fittings is one of much dignity.
The nave is 56 ft. long by 27 ft. wide and of the same height as the chancel. It is divided externally by buttresses into three unequal bays and has three windows on each side of three and two lights, similar in character to those in the chancel. The walls are panelled to the height of the window sills with 18th-century oak wainscot, and the gallery, which is 16 ft. in depth, has a good panelled oak front. It is approached by a staircase on the north side of the tower. The nave roof is a flat boarded one of six bays, and the walls are plastered above the panelling. There are diagonal buttresses at the angles of both chancel and nave.
The tower measures externally 14 ft. by 13 ft. 6 in. above the roof, but is wider at the bottom where it forms a west porch, the outer wall on this side being 5 ft. thick. The west doorway is round-headed and above, in the second stage, is a round-headed classic window enclosed within a pointed hood mould, possibly part of the older building. The embattled parapet of the west wall is carried along the face of the tower at the second stage, from which the belfry rises above the roof. The belfry windows are modern openings of two lights with tracery in the heads, and the walls terminate in an embattled parapet. On the south side is a vice to the roof of the nave at the south-west corner. The tower arch is a lofty segmental one of two chamfered orders 16 ft. 6 in. in width, the belfry stage contracting above.
The font dates from 1875, but has an old cover probably of early 18th-century date. An organ was purchased in 1789 from the executors of the rector of Houghton-le-Spring (fn. 15) and formerly stood in the west gallery.
The tower contains one bell cast by G. Dalton, of York, in 1759. (fn. 16)
The plate consists of a chalice of 1570–1 with an interlacing band of leaf ornament; two plates of 1688 with the maker's mark FG above a mullet, probably for Francis Garthorne, both inscribed 'Ecclesiae Ball' Boreal' Dunelm E: K: dedit A° 1689' (fn. 17); a flagon of 1696, with the arms of Spearman, inscribed 'Deo et Ecclesiæ Stæ Mariæ 1' Bow in Ballivo Boreali Dunelm. Submissa oblata Ao. Dom. 1703. Ex dono Johannis Spearman generosi Parochiani ejusdem Parochiæ'; another flagon of the same date, and a covered cup made at Newcastle in 1748, both inscribed 'The Gift of Eliz. daughter of Wm. Aubone Esqr. and Relict of Wm. Featherstonhalgh Esqr. to her grandchild Mary Wilkinson & given to Bow Church by Mary Wilkinson her Mother Anno Dom. 1734,' and bearing the arms of Featherstonhalgh. (fn. 18)
The registers begin in 1571.
There is a small burial ground on the north side of the church, but the original churchyard no doubt extended to the south and west. (fn. 19)
The church of ST. MARY THE LESS stands in a retired situation on the west side of the South Bailey, and consists of chancel and nave under separate roofs, with a bell turret containing two bells over the west gable. The chancel measures internally 26 ft. 6 in. by 14 ft. 6 in., and the nave 35 ft. by 20 ft. 6 in., the total internal length being 64 ft. 6 in. The church is of 12th-century date, but was almost entirely rebuilt in 1846–7 in the 'Norman' style, very few of its ancient architectural features being preserved, though it follows more or less the old design. The only original window which has been preserved is a small round-headed opening at the west end of the south wall of the chancel, now in the position of a low side window, but it was formerly at the west end of the nave. The modern windows, including that at the east end, are all large round-headed openings of 'Norman' type. The walling is of rubble with quoins and ashlar dressings, and the roofs are covered with slates overhanging at the eaves. The south doorway is slightly advanced in front of the main wall, its gable giving it the appearance of a shallow porch. The whole of the work on the north side of the building, being little seen, is of a very plain description, the jambs and heads of the windows being of brick, and there is a small brick vestry on the north side of the chancel. The building had lost many of its original features some years prior to the rebuilding, Sir Stephen Glynne, who visited it in 1825, stating that it had been 'lately modernised and the windows altered from the original form.' (fn. 20) The chancel arch is 9 ft. wide and is of two orders to the nave and square to the chancel. It was originally quite plain, but the inner order was carved at the rebuilding with the cheveron ornament and the outer with an indented moulding. Some panelling at the east end of the chancel may be of late 16th-century date, but the rest of the fittings, including the chancel screen, are modern. The font also is modern. A mediaeval grave slab with cross and sword is built into the south wall of the chancel and over the vestry doorway in the north wall is a large stone, formerly at St. Giles's, (fn. 21) on which, enclosed in a vesica, is carved in low relief a representation of Our Lord in judgment. The corners are occupied by the evangelistic symbols. 'In 1743 there remained in the large south window a coat in stained glass, argent on a chief azure three escallops or.' (fn. 22) There are some 12th-century stones with cheveron and star ornament in the churchyard on the north side of the building.
The plate (fn. 23) consists of a chalice and paten of 1702 made by Eli Bilton, of Newcastle, both inscribed 'Ecclesia Sanctæ Mariæ Ballivi Austral Dunelm. Ex dono Cuthberti (fn. 24) Bowes Sen. 1702'; a flagon of 1711 made by Jonathan French, of Newcastle, with the same inscription; (fn. 25) a paten on three feet without marks, inscribed 'Eccles. B. Mar. in Ball. Austral Dunelm A.D. M.DCCC.XXIX,' and scratched on the back 'Pro eleemos colligend: used the first time on Whitsunday 7 June 1829'; and a 17th-century almsdish, probably originally in use for secular purposes, given by the Rev. E. Shipperdson, M.A., in 1848 and bearing his arms. (fn. 26) There is also a set of two chalices, two patens, a flagon and almsdish given in 1889 under the will of Robert Henry Allan of Blackwell Hall, Darlington.
The registers begin in 1559.
The church of ST. NICHOLAS, a rectory originally in the gift (fn. 27) of the Bishop of Durham, was annexed in 1443 by Bishop Robert Neville (fn. 28) to the Hospital of Kepier, and served from that time to the Dissolution by a stipendiary chaplain since there was no endowed vicarage. (fn. 29) The impropriate rectory of St. Nicholas, with other property of Kepier Hospital, was sold (fn. 30) by the Crown in 1553 to John Cockburn, lord of Ormeston, who conveyed to John Heath, Esq. Elizabeth, daughter and heir of John Heath, married in 1642 John, son of Sir Thomas Tempest, of the Isle. After this date the advowson followed the descent of Old Durham (q.v.), and thus descended to the Marquess of Londonderry. The church was served by a titular 'Curate-in-Charge' with a very small stipend. His inefficient services were supplemented by the endowment of a 'Lectureship' by the Corporation in about 1700, which was of substantial value, and was held by various learned persons. In 1854 when Corporations became disqualified by law from holding such patronage, the Corporation sold their rights to the Rev. Edward Davison, the then vicar, and he in turn to the Rev. G. T. Fox, who at that time held both curacy and lectureship. The Rev. G. T. Fox presented it to the living. Subsequently in 1893 Lord Londonderry sold the patronage of the augmented living to the Rev. H. E. Fox, nephew of the Rev. G. T. Fox, who vested the living in five trustees. They in turn passed it to the Church Pastoral-Aid Society. (fn. 31) The original endowments of the rectory of St. Nicholas were considerable, the glebe lying in Old Durham. In 1268 Geoffrey de Helme, rector of St. Nicholas, received licence (fn. 32) from the Prior of Durham for an oratory within his court of Old Durham, and before the appropriation to Kepier Hospital a manor court (fn. 33) was held by the rector for his tenants. In 1522 a messuage (fn. 34) and land in Smallies, in Wolsingham parish, was vested in trustees to the use of the 'chirchwarke and ornamentes' of the parish of St. Nicholas.
The Chantry of Our Lady was founded (fn. 35) by Reginald the merchant before 1250 for one chaplain and one light at the Altar of the B.V. Mary, and was further augmented in 1299 by Hugh de Queringdon, who provided for a second chaplain. The gild hall (fn. 36) in the market place belonged to this chantry, and in the 15th century at least was rented to the gild of St. Nicholas. (fn. 37) The gross value (fn. 38) of the Chantry of Our Lady at the Dissolution was £4 14s., and the net value less reprises £4 9s. 3d., and of the second Chantry of Our Lady £4 1s. 1d. gross and £3 18s. 8½d. less reprises.
The Chantry of the Holy Trinity in the church of St. Nicholas existed in the 14th century, if not before, as the 'mansio cantarie Sancte Trinitatis' is mentioned (fn. 39) in 1400. The clear annual value (fn. 40) at the Dissolution, less reprises, was £7 1s. 4d., the gross value £7 3s. 10d. The Chantry of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist was founded (fn. 41) in 1348 by Thomas Kirkeby, rector of Whitburn. At the Dissolution this chantry was estimated at a clear annual value, (fn. 42) less reprises, of £5 12s. 2½d., the gross yearly value (fn. 43) being £6 10s. The Chantry of St. James was founded in 1382 for the souls of Thomas de Cockside (fn. 44) and Alice his wife and their son Robert, and at the Dissolution its gross value was £5 18s. 10d. and its clear value, (fn. 45) less reprises, £5 12s. 2d. The almoner of the Priory of Durham was the patron of each of these chantries.
Besides these chantries in St. Nicholas' Church there were other chapels in the parish. Two of these were situated on Elvet Bridge, both being in the gift of the Prior and Convent of Durham. Of these the Chapel of St. James was founded (fn. 46) by Thomas son of Lewin, a burgess of Durham, and his wife Emma, in the 13th century, and endowed with burgages, lands and rents in Durham and land at Stokeley; the other, the Chapel of St. Andrew, (fn. 47) at the south end of the bridge, was founded in the pontificate of Robert de Insula by William son of Absalom. Owing to the loss or depreciation of endowments the chapels were usually held by the same chaplain from about the middle of the 14th century, and on 7 April 1344 William Syreston was presented to the chantries, united (fn. 48) ob eorum exilitatem. At the Dissolution the gross annual value of the united chapels was £4 6s. 10d. and the net value, less reprises, £3 18s. 6d. The relative size (fn. 49) of these two chapels is indicated by the lead roofing, estimated at 36 sq. yds. in the case of St. James, and 88 sq. yds. in that of St. Andrew's. At one time, after the Reformation, a charity school was carried on in the chancel of St. Andrew's, the remainder of the building being used as a blacksmith's shop. (fn. 50) Another still older chapel in the parish was that of St. Thomas the Martyr, Claypath, which is mentioned in 13th-century deeds. (fn. 51) Its cemetery was used for burials as late as the plague year of 1597, as shown by entries in the parish registers of St. Nicholas.
There were at least three gilds or fraternities associated with the Church of St. Nicholas, those of Our Lady, (fn. 52) St. Nicholas and Corpus Christi. Of these the gild of Our Lady may have been connected with the chantry of that name. The gild of St. Nicholas certainly existed in the first quarter of the 15th century, and as early as 1432, if not before, the brethren were occupying the great hall of stone known as the Gild Hall (fn. 53) in the market place, renting it from the Chantry of Our Lady. At the Dissolution the gross annual value of its property had evidently largely declined (fn. 54) and the clear value, after deducting reprises, was only 23s. Any early importance possessed by this gild, and certainly strongly suggested by its occupation of the Gild Hall in the market place, had been eclipsed in the 15th century by the rise of the gild of Corpus Christi, to which were affiliated the various craft gilds of the city. (fn. 55)
The gild of Corpus Christi was founded, or rather reorganised, (fn. 56) in 1437, and its hall was situated in Walkergate. (fn. 57) Its chief occupation was the ordering of the festivities of Corpus Christi Day, when a great procession of the crafts with banners and lights escorted the Corpus Christi Shrine, finely gilt, having 'on the height thereof … a four-square box of chrystal, wherein was inclosed the Holy Sacrament of the Altar' from St. Nicholas' Church to the Cathedral and back again. This famous shrine (fn. 58) was saved by the parishioners of St. Nicholas till 1546, when Dr. Harvey, one of the Commissioners 'for defacing all such ornaments in the parish churches of Durham as were left undefaced at the former Visitation, did call for the said shrine; and when it was brought before him, he did tread upon it with his feet and broke it into pieces.' At the dissolution of the gild the yearly value of its endowments, less reprises, was returned at £5 10s. 7½d., the gross value at £6 3s. (fn. 59)
A number of other benefactions for obits and anniversaries also existed in the Church of St. Nicholas at the Dissolution, and at a much earlier date in 1366 John de Luceby died seised of a messuage held by paying annually 4 lb. of wax for the support of lights before the cross there. (fn. 60)
An evening lectureship at St. Nicholas in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation was founded in the late 17th century, (fn. 61) the principal endowment being derived from a farm at Easington.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN in the North Bailey, or ST. MARY-LE-BOW, belonged before the Reformation to the Prior and Convent of Durham. The advowson of the church then passed to the Archdeacon of Northumberland. It was afterwards conveyed to the Dean and Chapter of Durham. The livings of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Mary the Less were united by Order in Council of 14 May 1912, the Dean and Chapter presenting twice to one presentation of the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 62) For several years after the Dissolution no rector was regularly instituted, (fn. 63) the incumbent being styled curate or minister. Between 1637 and 1685 the church lay in ruin, though burials still took place in the churchyard. After the death of Richard Wakelin, minister, in 1655 there was no incumbent until Anthony Kirbon was instituted to the rectory in 1687 after the building of the new church, some provision for the endowment being gradually made from Queen Anne's Bounty and from other sources. The early possessions of the church, which had then long been lost, appear to have included a parsonage house, for we hear in 1313 that the messuage (fn. 64) of Sir William, parson of the church of 'Nort Bailly,' and other buildings near the North Gate were to be cleared for the building of a barbican there. An early charter of uncertain date mentions the grant of certain land in the North Bailey by William, son of Thomas the chaplain, to Piers Goldsmith. It was held of Ranulf de Fisseburn, and charged with the provision of a lamp in the church at the morrow mass (fn. 65) (missam matutinam) and at other times. In 1416 John Belasis (fn. 66) desired in his last will to be buried in the church of 'St. Mary within the Castle' before St. Katherine's Altar, and left lands within the bishopric of Durham to his wife Sybil, and after her death for the foundation of a chantry at the same altar. This was carried out under licence from Bishop Langley, 4 messuages and 4 acres held of the bishop, and 17 messuages, 9 acres of meadow and 39s. 4d. rent held of other lords forming the endowment. (fn. 67) At the Suppression the yearly revenue (fn. 68) of this chantry, less reprises, was £4 17s. 9d.
There was at least one other chantry in this church in the 15th century, that of St. Helen, since in 1480 Thomas Hedlam, (fn. 69) a Durham merchant, granted to William Smethirst a waste burgage, between John Kelynghall's burgage on one side and a lane leading to St. Helen's Well (fontem Sancte Elene), in South Street, on the other, charged with an annual rent of 1s. 6d., payable to the chaplain of St. Helen's Chantry in the North Bailey church.
The church of ST. MARY THE LESS, in the South Bailey, was in the patronage (fn. 70) of the Nevills of Raby, afterwards Earls of Westmorland, till the attainder of 1569. Since then the advowson has belonged to the Crown, the patronage being in the hands of the Lord Chancellor. The living was united to that of St. Mary the Virgin (q.v.). According to Surtees, (fn. 71) there was after the year 1572 no institution to the rectory, which was held by sequestration till 1742, 'or rather the profits were so small that whoever had the key of the church left him by his predecessor became minister without let or hindrance.' A 13th-century deed mentions a 'place' in the Bailey held by the chaplain (fn. 72) of this church. In 1388 the endowment (fn. 73) included a rent of 40s. paid by Lord Nevill from land in Crook in Brancepeth parish, and another parcel named Aldhenland, as well as rents charged on tenements in the Bailey. A parsonage house existed, but apparently at this time was not occupied by the rector, who also had the right on three days of the week to eat at the Prior's table. This in 1434, if not before, had been commuted for a pension of one mark and a sable suit at Christmas. In 1535 the rectory was valued (fn. 74) at £4 13s. 4d.