A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1928.
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The parish of Billingham included in 1831 the townships of Billingham, Cowpen Bewley and Newton Bewley, and the chapelry of Wolviston, and had an area of 8,970 acres. Wolviston and Newton Bewley were assigned as a district chapelry in 1859 to the church of St. Peter at Wolviston, (fn. 1) and in 1862 a considerable area in the south and east of the parish, including Haverton Hill, Port Clarence, and Salt Holme, was formed into the ecclesiastical district of Haverton Hill. (fn. 2) An Urban District Council of sixteen members was formed in 1923 and the parish divided into four wards. In 1920 a War Memorial Hall was erected.
The old parish had 3 miles of foreshore on the Tees Haven, and much of the land is low-lying and marshy. In 1623 the tenants of Billingham complained that their pastures on this low land, called 'The Checkers,' 'The Cow-marsh,' and 'Hors-marsh,' were constantly inundated by the tide, and in consequence had much deteriorated. (fn. 3) On the higher ground both arable and pasture land is very good. About 3,106 acres are under cultivation, (fn. 4) and cereal crops, turnips, beans, and peas are raised. The soil is various on a subsoil of keuper marl and alluvium.
The township of Billingham, which is the most westerly in the parish, is separated from Norton and Stockton parishes by the Billingham Beck flowing through low-lying meadows. In 1314 the Bishop of Durham granted a special indulgence to those who contributed to the building and repair of the bridge and causeway between Billingham and Norton. (fn. 5) This was probably on the high road from Stockton to Sunderland, which passes through the two villages. There is an old road, however, which runs south-west from Billingham village to the stream and is continued on the other side as a lane leading to Norton. An arm of Billingham Beck, diverted to form a millrace, flows close by the village. This was presumably the water-course which in 1366 the inhabitants were required to narrow between 'le Resschiters' and 'Flotherkere' (Flotter Carr, 1580), (fn. 6) so that it might keep to its old channel. (fn. 7)
The village is a group of houses round the crossroads; the highway sends one branch north from this point to Sunderland, the other north-east to West Hartlepool. The old street-names include the 'Pekeshers' and 'Balyerawe.' (fn. 8) The church of St. Cuthbert stands on high ground to the north-west of the village, and forms a conspicuous landmark in the low-lying country near the mouth of the Tees. In a space before it is a cross, and here, no doubt, was the pillory set up by the prior in 1418–19. (fn. 9) In the 15th century an unauthorized market used to be held against the wall of the churchyard on Sundays and feast days. (fn. 10) The vicar was ordered to admonish his parishioners on the subject in 1497. (fn. 11) Billingham made a stand for the old religion in the 16th century. A witness at the inquiry into the rebellion of the north in 1569 deposed that 'the hye alter stone is buried in the quier there, and one read cope is also remaining in the said church as yet undefaced.' (fn. 12) The trades of the village included in the 14th century the making of fish oil in the 'Pekeshers' and brewing. (fn. 13) In 1618 William and Robert Gibson sold a smelting house to Richard Apelbye (fn. 14) and in 1720 Mary Bushe conveyed a brass furnace and corn-mill to Thomas Corney. (fn. 15) In 1857 the village contained a brewery, a malting, and a large skinnery. (fn. 16) There is still a brewery here. The Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates Co. have extensive works in the parish, and the Clarence Brickworks are a short distance to the northeast. A lane runs south from the village to Billingham Mill, (fn. 17) and another, formerly the 'Ferrygait,' (fn. 18) eastward to the old landing stage from which the ferry crossed the Tees.
North-east of Billingham is the group of farmhouses called High, Middle, and Low Bellasis, and near the second the manor-house of Bellasis with the remains of a moat. In 1649 the manor-house was described as consisting of 'a hall, a parlour, a larder or milke house with chambers over them being very ruinous,' one barn, one stable, and other out-houses. (fn. 19) A garden city has lately been built by Lord Furness at Bellasis for the employees of his shipyard. More important than Bellasis at the present day is the modern settlement of Haverton Hill on the banks of the Tees to the south-east. It stands in the middle of a ring of saltworks and has a station on the North Eastern railway. The church of St. John is at the west end, and there are Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, and United Methodist chapels. At Port Clarence, a group of ironworks further east which is an outpost of Middlesbrough, there is a Roman Catholic church, built in 1879.
The Stockton to Sunderland road running north from Billingham passes Billingham station on the North Eastern railway and a pottery and brickworks before it reaches Wolviston. Wolviston is a fair-sized village, roughly square in shape, approached at its corners by four roads. The site of the old church is in the centre of the village in a street formerly known as 'Northkevyll.' (fn. 20) The modern church stands a short distance to the east. The village has Wesleyan and United Methodist chapels. Wolviston Hall, on its south side, is the residence of Mrs. Webster. Mill Lane runs south-west to Wolviston Mill on the banks of Billingham Beck, probably on the site of the 'Snawedon' or Wolviston Mill of the 15th and 16th centuries. (fn. 21)
North-east of Wolviston on the road from that village to West Hartlepool is the little village of Newton Bewley. The present corn-mill at its east end has replaced the old windmill. The site of the manor-house of Bewley, from which the village is named, is not certainly known, but there are traces of a moat at Low Grange, a farm midway between Newton and Cowpen, (fn. 22) and a tiny stream near by would supply the necessary power for the water-mill attached to the manor. (fn. 23)
The remaining township of Cowpen Bewley occupies the marshy ground on the banks of the Tees to the north of Haverton Hill. The village, which consists of one wide street with a narrow green in the middle, is just above the marshes. On Cowpen marsh were the old saltworks of the township, now disused. Salt Holme, a large and important farm between Cowpen Marsh and Haverton Hill, existed in 1338, as part of the estate of the priory of Durham. It was leased by Henry VIII in 1541 to Roger Lascelles, and was granted in the same year to the dean and chapter of Durham. (fn. 24) In 1649 it was sold with the manor of Billingham (q.v.) by the trustees of church lands. (fn. 25) It subsequently reverted to the dean and chapter, and was part of the cathedral estate in 1823. (fn. 26) It now belongs to Durham University.
The inclosure of Billingham took place in about 1620. (fn. 27)
BILLINGHAM was given to the congregation of St. Cuthbert by Bishop Ecgred (830–46), described as the founder of the vill. (fn. 28) It was seized about thirty years later by Ella, King of the Northumbrians, but seems to have been recovered at his death. (fn. 29) Bishop Cutheard granted it about 901 to Elfred son of Birchtulfinc, who was seeking a settlement out of reach of the Danes, and became the bishop's vassal. (fn. 30) Afterwards, however, Regenwald, King of the Danes, ravaged that part of the country, and gave the lands of St. Cuthbert, from Billingham to (Castle) Eden, to his knight Scula. (fn. 31) Billingham was restored to the servants of St. Cuthbert by William the Conqueror, who granted it in aid of their maintenance. (fn. 32) It was subsequently part of the possessions of the priory of Durham, and appears in the forged charters of Bishop William de St. Calais. (fn. 33) A charter of William II is in existence granting Billingham to the monks, with all the privileges they had in their lands between Tyne and Tees. (fn. 34) There are also confirmations by Henry II, Richard I, and John. (fn. 35)
These grants included the whole of Billingham, which in the 14th century was held in three parts. The prior had a grange or manor-house with a garden, dove-house, and fish-pond. (fn. 36) There were a few freeholds, (fn. 37) and the rest of the township was held in 'husbandries' of nearly uniform size. (fn. 38) The farmers of these husbandries had the usual organization of tenants in the prior's vills, electing their officers and allotting to each tenant his common of pasture in their assembly or 'bierlawe.' (fn. 39) The men of Billingham, however, were specially favoured by the priors in being allowed a 'gild hous,' (fn. 40) in which probably these meetings were held. They ground their corn either at Billingham Mill or one of the other mills within the parish (fn. 41) and owed services to the manor of Bellasis as well as to Billingham.
An important appurtenance of the manor was the ferry over the Tees, which appears to have existed from the 12th century. (fn. 42) It seems that only half the responsibility and profit of the ferry belonged to the prior, (fn. 43) the other half belonging to the lords of the Yorkshire land across the river. In 1379–80 the prior made a payment to Sir Thomas Boynton, then owner of land on the opposite bank, (fn. 44) for half a ferry boat. (fn. 45) The ferry existed till the 16th century, but was 'decayed' in 1580. (fn. 46)
On the Dissolution the manor of Billingham, with the sixteen villeinage holdings, (fn. 47) and all its rents and profits except the water-mill, was leased to John Leigh of the Household. (fn. 48) In the same year (1541) the possessions of St. Cuthbert here were granted to the dean and chapter of Durham. (fn. 49) The manor was seized under the Commonwealth by the Commissioners for Church Lands, and in 1649 was sold to James Clement and John Pickersgill. (fn. 50) At about the same date the water-mill of Billingham and a windmill there (fn. 51) were sequestered for the delinquency of Captain Gascoigne Eden, then lessee. (fn. 52) After the Restoration Billingham remained in the possession of the dean and chapter till 1872, when part of the manor was vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 53)
In the early 13th century the priors claimed the privilege of taking customs from ships landing at or taking cargo from their land along the Tees bank. (fn. 54) The claim was opposed by the Bishop of Durham, who maintained that he had the sole right of taking custom on the north bank as Peter Brus had on the south. (fn. 55) Several witnesses testified that the priors had in the past taken toll, (fn. 56) but by the final agreement or 'convenit' made with Bishop Poor in 1229 this right was reserved to the bishop, leaving to the prior only his ferry. (fn. 57) Robert of Holy Island, Bishop of Durham (1274–83), granted the prior and convent warren in Billinghamshire. (fn. 58) An unexplained grant of view of frankpledge in Billingham, Newton, Bewley, Cowpen, Wolviston and other places was made to Ralph Fetherstonhaugh in June 1617, (fn. 59) while the see was vacant.
The freeholds created here by various priors are not of great importance. Gilbert son of Reginald de Billingham surrendered his land here in the late 12th century for land in Wolviston. (fn. 60) A messuage and 72 acres belonged in the early 13th century to John son of Geoffrey, whose daughters and co-heirs Agnes, Alice, and Margaret married respectively Henry del Hay, Alexander de Kirkynsolagh, and William son of William de Herle. (fn. 61) Alice and Alexander enfeoffed of their share William de Herle, who added to his 48 acres a messuage and 6 acres purchased from William Champenays. The holding, having passed in turn to his son William and daughter Joan, finally reverted to his sisters Sibil and Isabella, whose sons David de Bicheburn and Roger de Herle were tenants in 1336. (fn. 62) A third part of this freehold was granted in mortmain to the prior and convent in or shortly after 1379 as part of the endowment of John Fossor's chantry. (fn. 63)
The most important freehold was that granted by Thomas Melsanby (prior 1233–44) to Robert son of Robert Rekelott, (fn. 64) to hold as his father had held it. It consisted of 72 acres and a capital messuage, and was next held by John son of Robert, (fn. 65) evidently the John the Cowherd of Billingham who married the sister of Richard Kellaw, Bishop of Durham, and was treated with special favour in consequence by the prior. (fn. 66) John's son William unsuccessfully claimed common of pasture in 'Saltcroke' and 'Wylycroke' in 1343. (fn. 67) He had a son Alan, who paid relief for his lands in Billingham in 1349 (fn. 68) and made an agreement with the prior in 1361. (fn. 69) Alan died between 1390 and 1397. (fn. 70) A dispute with William de Billingham, son of Alan, was settled in 1410. (fn. 71) This William was succeeded by Thomas, who lived till about 1442. (fn. 72) Before 1430, however, his land at Billingham had passed to Robert Jakson. (fn. 73) Robert paid a yearly rent of 13s. 4d. for his capital messuage and 72 acres, and owed military service, suit of court every fortnight, and works at the mill and at the manor of Billingham. Most of these services were redeemed in 1430 by a payment of 10s. (fn. 74) The heir of Robert Jakson is not known, but it was apparently his freehold for which the heirs of John Hewetsone paid a rent of 20s. in 1539. (fn. 75) Thomas Bainbridge held it in 1580, (fn. 76) and in 1612 this or a later Thomas Bainbridge, with his son and heir John, conveyed three messuages and 360 acres of arable land, meadow and pasture in Billingham to Sir Henry Anderson. (fn. 77) About five years later Sir Henry claimed that this tenement, which was known as 'Billinghams or Bainbridges,' carried with it a share in the manorial rights of the dean and chapter, against whom he brought a writ of partition. He succeeded in securing the inclosure of the common lands, a measure which caused great discontent among the other tenants. There are records of their proceedings against him, the ground of which was that he had no right to the soil of the pasture lands, but only a right of common like themselves, and that his claim to a ninth of the whole was in any case excessive. (fn. 78) The dispute dragged on for several years, and the result was apparently unfavourable to Sir Henry. (fn. 79) He was succeeded at Billingham by his son Henry, but the later history of the estate is uncertain. (fn. 80)
BELLASIS (Belasyse, xv cent.; Bellces, Belsis, xvi cent.; Belsis, xviii cent.) gave its name to a local family subsequently of Henknowle. According to tradition this family came into possession of Bellasis soon after the Conquest, (fn. 81) but nothing is known of it earlier. Henry and Roger de Belasis witnessed 12th-century charters of the Prior of Durham, (fn. 82) and a grant of the vill by William de Belasis to William son of Robert is quoted in the family pedigrees. (fn. 83) Sir Rowland de Belasis, who lived at Bewley, was among the knights of the bishopric in 1264. (fn. 84) The John de Belasis who held land in Wolviston between 1270 and 1280 (fn. 85) may have been lord of Bellasis, but it is possible that his family had already alienated the manor to the priory of Durham, to which it certainly belonged in 1296. (fn. 86) The fact that certain freehold tenants in Billingham holding under Prior Thomas (1233–44) owed labour at the manor of Bellasis (fn. 87) seems to indicate that it was acquired by the priory considerably before that date. The tradition, supported by a couplet formerly in a window of the church of St. Andrew Auckland, that Bellasis was exchanged by a John de Belasis for Henknowle, (fn. 88) is curious, in view of the fact that Henknowle was granted to John de Belasis as late as 1380 for land at Wolviston. (fn. 89)
In 1296 the manor was farmed by William son of John. (fn. 90) It seems, however, that during most of the next century the priors held it in their own hands. (fn. 91) It was among the manors of which Prior Richard de Hoton declared in 1305 that Bishop Antony had disseised him. (fn. 92) In 1373 a lease for fifteen years was granted to William Jakson of Cowpen, with provisions to protect the prior from loss if the value of the arable land should have fallen at the end of his term. He leased at the same time the services of the sixteen bondage tenants of Billingham who owed work at Bellasis. The rent was fixed at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 93) William Dicon held a similar lease in 1439 and 1446. (fn. 94) Eighteen years later the tenant was Ralph Holtby. (fn. 95) By 1500 it had come into the possession of Percival Lambton, (fn. 96) whose descendants held the lease for 300 years. He died in 1501, (fn. 97) when the rest of his lease for seventy years seems to have passed to his son William. (fn. 98) The rent was raised before 1539 to £9 6s. 8d. (fn. 99) William's son Marmaduke, known as 'Blind Lambton,' died without issue, (fn. 100) leaving three sisters and co-heirs, Elizabeth, Frances, and Alice, married respectively to John Eden of Durham, William Skelton of Armswell, and Robert Claxton. (fn. 101) The lease of Bellasis came by arrangement into the hands of John Eden, (fn. 102) to whose descendants of West Auckland (q.v.) it was subsequently renewed. (fn. 103) At the sale of church lands in 1649 Robert Eden, then the tenant, purchased the manor from the trustees, thereby losing a sum of £1,320 5s. when the sale was set aside. (fn. 104) His descendants continued to lease it till the early years of the 19th century, when Sir John Eden, bart., sold his interest. (fn. 105) Bellasis House was among the possessions in Billingham retained by the dean and chapter after the settlement of 1872. (fn. 106)
BEWLEY (Beaulou, Beulu, xiii cent.; Bieuloue, Beaulieu, xv cent.; Bewley, xvi, xvii cent.) probably came to the priory of Durham by the grant of Billingham (q.v.). The grange of the prior here is mentioned in the time of Prior Thomas Melsanby (1233–44), (fn. 107) and a manor-house was built by Prior Hugh de Darlington between 1258 and 1273. (fn. 108) This manor-house was the headquarters of the prior and other officers of the priory when they stayed in this neighbourhood. (fn. 109) They farmed the demesne during the 13th and 14th centuries, and tenants of Blaxton and Wolviston owed services here. (fn. 110) A water-mill, a dove-house and a park were attached to the manor; the two former are mentioned in the 14th century and the latter in the 15th and 17th. (fn. 111) In 1446 Bewley was said to be in the hand of the lord only for lack of tenants, (fn. 112) and in 1464 it was held by William Thorp for a term of years. He paid a rent of £10 3s. 4d. (fn. 113) The prior stayed here with the Prior of Guisborough in 1501–2, (fn. 114) and in 1532–3 the bursar made a payment for repairs to the hall and the steward's chamber. (fn. 115) George Davyson was the farmer in 1536–7 (fn. 116) and Ralph Davyson, perhaps his heir, in 1539. (fn. 117)
After the Dissolution Bewley and the demesne lands were annexed to the 12th stall of Durham Cathedral. (fn. 118) They were described as parcel of the possessions of the cathedral in 1649, when they were sold by the trustees for church lands with the manor of Billingham to James Clement and John Pickersgill. (fn. 119) The manor-house seems to have fallen into decay during the 17th century, for it is not mentioned after this sale. No remains of it appear to have existed in Hutchinson's day. The demesnes were probably then included in the manor of Newton.
COWPEN BEWLEY (Cupum, xii cent.; Coupon, xiv cent.) may be supposed to have been included in the charter of William the Conqueror granting Billingham to the priory of Durham. It is specifically mentioned in confirmations of Henry II and Richard I. (fn. 120) It was held in bondage or villeinage tenements, the tenants of which elected their reeve (praepositus) and made rules for the government of the vill. (fn. 121) They ground their corn at the mill of Newton. (fn. 122) There were fifteen bond tenants in 1300, and the same number in 1536. (fn. 123) In 1539, however, only ten are mentioned, the remainder of the land being held by cottiers. (fn. 124) In the 13th and 14th centuries the saltworks from which the priors derived a large part of their revenues in Cowpen were attached to various tenements and held on lease by the tenants, a rent of salt being paid to the prior. (fn. 125) In 1432–3 the tenants of the vill are first found holding the saltworks in common and paying £7 3s. 4d. as an equivalent for a salt rent of 35 quarters 6 bushels 2 pecks. (fn. 126) This arrangement continued throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. (fn. 127) In 1536 and 1580, however, the rent was £7 6s., the price of 36 quarters 4 bushels. (fn. 128) In 1539 the tenants of the vill similarly leased the common bake-house. (fn. 129)
Six cottier tenants in Cowpen paid a rent called Candlewick silver. (fn. 130)
The land of this township was divided in 1872 between the dean and chapter of Durham and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 131)
The whole of NEWTON BEWLEY belonged from an early date to the Priors of Durham, probably as part of Billingham (fn. 132) (q.v.). It was held under them in nine 'husbandries' or villeinage holdings, the rent of which in 1539 was £4 0s. 0½d. each and three cottier holdings. (fn. 133) The windmill was leased separately, (fn. 134) and there were no freeholds of any importance. In 1358 an order was made that no tenant was to exchange his land with another without licence. (fn. 135)
The vill was granted to the dean and chapter in 1541, (fn. 136) and was annexed to the cathedral till 1872, when portions of it were vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 137) The abolition of customary tenant right in 1576 (fn. 138) caused some friction here. There are two suits of the late 16th century setting forth the grievances of tenants who could not obtain from the dean and chapter new leases of what they claimed were their ancestral holdings. (fn. 139) Two farms here were sold by the trustees for church lands to Henry Barker in 1650. (fn. 140)
Some land in WOLVISTON (Wlveston, Olvestona, xi cent.; Wolston, Wolveston, xvi cent.) probably passed to the church of St. Cuthbert by the grant of Billingham. This did not include the whole vill, however, for Wolviston occurs among the places released to Bishop William de St. Calais by Robert, Earl of Northumberland. (fn. 141) Bishop William perhaps made a grant of it to the convent; the vill of Wolviston is introduced into the forged charters attributed to him. (fn. 142) One carucate in Wolviston was 'restored' to St. Cuthbert by Bishop Ranulf Flambard (1099– 1128). (fn. 143) It was then in the tenure of a certain Clibert de Hetton. (fn. 144) Geoffrey Rufus, successor of Ranulf Flambard, gave half a carucate here held by Clibert son of Aelstan, probably the same tenant, to buy a light in the chapter. (fn. 145) Finally, in 1185, Roger de Kibblesworth, son of Clibert de Hetton, surrendered to Prior German his tenancy in drengage (fn. 146) in return for the vill of Cocken. (fn. 147)
Another holding bought in by the prior and convent during the 12th century was a freehold created by themselves. Richard 'the engineer' quitclaimed to Prior German all the land he held of him in Wolviston in return for a carucate in Pittington. (fn. 148) Richard had a tenant, Ralph son of Gamel son of Aelsi son of Arkil, who held in drengage, a tenure dating from before the Conquest. (fn. 149) He was perhaps the ancestor of the William and Henry de Wolviston who quitclaimed land here to the prior in the 13th century. (fn. 150)
There still remained a large freehold in Wolviston held by the Belasis family. Between 1270 and 1280 John de Billingham released to John de Belasis of Wolviston and Alice his wife all the lands and tenements which he had in Wolviston by gift of John. (fn. 151) Alice widow of John made a release to William de Belasis in 1316. (fn. 152) In 1380 the whole estate of the Belasis family, amounting to seven messuages, 160 acres of land, and 8 acres of meadow, held of the prior per certa servitia, was granted to the prior and convent in exchange for the manor of Henknowle. (fn. 153) At the same time the prior acquired land here late of John de Wolviston, Richard de Aske, Robert de Masham, and others, tenants of the priory. (fn. 154)
About 1384 some 500 acres in Wolviston were held of the prior by free tenants. (fn. 155) The rest of the vill was divided between bond tenants, of whom in the 16th century there were thirteen, and cottiers. (fn. 156) A water-mill was attached to it. (fn. 157) The possessions of the priory were granted to the dean and chapter in 1541. (fn. 158) One of their tenants here, a certain William Thorpe, was among the leaders in the agitation for tenant right settled in 1576. (fn. 159) Part of Wolviston was sold by the trustees for church lands in 1654. (fn. 160) Since 1872 the cathedral land in the township has been divided between the dean and chapter and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 161) The Marquess of Londonderry also has land here.
The church of ST. CUTHBERT consists of a chancel 40 ft. by 15 ft. 8 in., with organ chamber on the north side, clearstoried nave 63 ft. 4 in. by 13 ft., north and south aisles each 10 ft. wide, south porch, and west tower 12 ft. square, (fn. 162) all these measurements being internal.
The earliest parts of the building are the tower and the greater part of the nave walls, which are of the pre-Conquest period, probably about the middle of the 11th century, though an earlier date is quite possible. There are several pieces of sculptured crossshafts built into the walls of the tower. (fn. 163) Six of these fragments are on the south side of the tower at different levels, some near the ground and some in the upper stages, which seems to indicate that the stone crosses then standing on the site were collected and used when the tower was erected. (fn. 164) The extreme narrowness of the nave in comparison with its height marks it as contemporary with the tower. Some pre-Conquest fragments have been found here also, one, now at Durham, 'exhibiting two seated figures in which the knees are treated in a conspicuous and unusual manner.' (fn. 165) The original nave, however, does not appear to have extended so far eastward as at present, the long masonry pier at the east end of the north arcade, marking its extent in that direction, showing it to have been about 48 ft. in length. The original squareended chancel would therefore occupy approximately the easternmost bay of the existing nave.
The first change in the plan occurred at the end of the 12th century, when a north aisle was added, the arcade being broken through the wall, leaving large masses of the early masonry between the arches, with 'responds' on either side, the piers thus being on plan a short-limbed cross. About 1200 the south arcade was added, the nave extended eastward one bay, and the chancel arch built, a new arch similar to the old being erected at the east end of the north arcade. The addition of a new chancel followed, the Transitional character of the south arcade giving way to the fully developed style of the 13th century. No further alterations to the plan have since been made, with the exception of the addition of the organ chamber in modern times, though the building has undergone many alterations and reconstructions. No evidence remains as to the date of the original porch, and it may therefore have been of late date. In the 15th century the top of the tower was reconstructed, and probably the north aisle wall raised and the buttresses added. The nave roof and the south clearstory windows were also apparently of 15th-century date, but the latter have been restored. The building underwent some changes in the 18th century, sash windows being inserted in the south aisle, but no structural alterations of importance appear to have been made. Sir Stephen Glynne, who visited the church in 1843, describes the chancel as of 'excellent plain Early English work,' having 'four plain lancets with rather obtuse heads' on either side. The clearstory windows were then closed and the exterior of the building was 'patched and ragged.' 'The chancel,' he proceeds, 'is long and of fine proportions, the parapet moulded, with a corbel table below and a string under the windows. The east end has the parapet in an uncommon form: a kind of ellipse with toothed ornaments. … The chancel is rather neat within, and fitted up with stalls and desks before them, and the wainscoting is not quite in character with the ancient church. The roof of the chancel has plain timbers, the rest of the church is ceiled within.' (fn. 166) In 1846 the chancel (which is described as 'having shrunk') (fn. 167) was taken down and rebuilt in the following year on the old foundations. The plaster ceiling of the nave, which had only been put up a few years before, was removed at the same time, and a fine old oak roof revealed. The arches and piers of the nave arcades were chiselled over. (fn. 168) There were restorations in 1864–5, 1882–3, and in 1890, the whole of the south aisle wall and the porch being taken down and rebuilt and the nave roof and clearstory windows reconstructed.
The chancel is of no antiquarian interest, except in so far as it reproduces the older work. It is in the 13th-century style, with an east window of three lancets, and is divided externally into four bays by flat buttresses. There are four lancets on the south side and three on the north, the westernmost bay on that side being occupied by the organ chamber. No ancient features have been retained, with the exception of the pointed chancel arch, which is of two slightly chamfered orders and springs from semicircular responds with moulded capitals and bases. The capitals of the responds differ in detail, that on the north side having a semi-octagonal abacus. Externally the chancel has a straight parapet and high-pitched green-slated roof.
The north arcade of the nave consists of five pointed arches of two slightly chamfered orders springing from masonry piers, the imposts of which are chamfered on the underside with a triangular groove above. The piers, as already stated, are each, in section, a short-limbed cross slightly chamfered on each angle, and the responds correspond. The angles of the abaci are cut off and are ornamented on the underside with a pellet ornament, some of which are missing. The south arcade is much richer in character, and consists of five pointed arches springing from circular piers with square plinths, on the four corners of which are slender shafts attached to the larger middle one. The base mouldings follow the plan of the piers, but the capitals have square moulded abaci with separate bell-shaped necks to the piers and shafts with a fillet below. The responds are similar in detail, but the small shafts of that at the east end are octagonal in section, all the others being circular. The arches are of two orders, the outer order moulded on the nave side with an edge roll and the inner with a pointed bowtel. Towards the aisle the outer order is simply chamfered, and the inner order is moulded with two rolls. The arches are inclosed by indented labels on the nave face of the wall. (fn. 169) The nave walls above the arcades and at the west end retain their ancient masonry, but terminate externally in embattled parapets above the clearstory and have gargoyles and grotesque heads at the eastern angles. There are four clearstory windows on the north and five on the south side, those on the north being old square-headed openings with splayed internal jambs and sloping sills. The westernmost window on the south side is similar, but the others are later adaptations of the older openings, two of which have been widened and made of two lights each. They are all squareheaded with trefoiled lights and stepped internal sills, but outside are modern restorations. The roof is of nine bays covered with slates, and over the east gable are the remains of a sanctus bellcote.
The modern south aisle offers no features of interest, except that some original detail is reproduced in a double square buttress and lancet window at the east end. The easternmost window in the south wall is of three lights; the others are of two lights. The aisle is under a lean-to leaded roof behind a straight parapet. The porch has a slated roof with overhanging eaves, and built into its walls are several fragments of mediaeval grave slabs and a piscina, the bowl of which has been cut away. The windows of the north aisle are all modern, but the walling is old. The aisle is divided externally into four bays by buttresses, those at the angles being diagonal. The north doorway, which is now blocked, has a plain pointed arch of a single chamfered order without impost or hood mould, and at the east end is a pointed recess high up in the wall with corbelled sill.
The tower, which is about 70 ft. in height, is the most interesting feature of the building. Externally it is marked horizontally by two strings immediately below and above the belfry stage, the lower part, which internally consists of three stages, being quite plain. The bottom story opens to the nave by a tall narrow round-headed doorway with a plain arch in two stones resting on chamfered imposts. The opening is 2 ft. 9 in. wide at the bottom, slightly narrowing to the top, and is 8 ft. 3 in. in height to the crown. The chamber is roofed with a groined vault with chamfered ribs, introduced probably in the 13th century. The ribs spring at each angle from plain corbels 4 ft. 5 in. above the floor, and the vault has been cut through at a later period to give access to the upper floors. A modern single-light window has been inserted in the south wall. The second internal stage has a narrow loop on the west side and had formerly an opening to the nave, but the north and south walls are blank. The third stage has a large round-headed window on the south side which is treated with a band of stripwork to the jambs and round the extrados of the arch connected with the opening by projecting impost stones. Above this window is the first string-course, which is a plain square projecting band of stone. In the stage above are four round-headed belfry windows, one on each face. The belfry is loftier than the other internal stages, and the windows consist each of two round-headed openings separated by a mid-wall shaft in one stone, within an inclosing arch. The windows are treated with stripwork to the jambs and arches, and in the spandrel formed by the strips to the outer and inner arches is a pierced hole, those on the east and west sides being circular and the others in the form of an eight-rayed star or octofoil with pointed ends. The string-course above the belfry windows is quite plain, like the one below, but is probably, together with the short bit of walling above it and the embattled parapet, of 15th-century date. The whole of the walling is of rubble, and there is a clock dial on the east side towards the village. The lower stage is used as a clergy vestry.
The font, which stands at the west end of the nave, is contemporary with the south arcade, and consists of a circular stone bowl on a moulded circular shaft and base and octagonal plinth with corner ornaments. The lower part of the bowl immediately above the shaft and the upper part of the base are carved with conventional flat leaf-ornament, and there is a 17th-century carved oak pyramidal cover.
The oak chancel screen is of late 17th-century date, and has a central doorway with gates and two openings on each side divided by thick turned balusters. The detail is simple and substantial, but has been a good deal patched and restored. Near the south doorway is an oak poor-box on a turned baluster shaft inscribed 'Remember ye poore año Do[mini] 1673.' The pulpit and all the other fittings are modern. At the west end of the nave, high up on the wall above the tower doorway, is a clock dial.
The church contains three brasses. The first bears the figure of a priest vested in surplice with full long sleeves, through which appear the sleeves of the cassock, almuce, and a tippet of squirrel fur with a fringe of pendant tails. The head is missing. The inscription, which is a good deal worn, reads: 'Hic iacet d[ominu]s Robert' Brerley nu[per] prebendarius siue porconarius [in] ecc[les]ia | [par]ochiali de Norton ac vicar' ecc[les]ie | [par]ochialis de Belingh[am]; Dunelm dioc qui | obiit . . . . die . . . a[nno] d[omin]i m'cccc° lxxx . . . . cui' aīe [pro]picietur deus amen.' The second brass is inscribed: 'Orate pro a[nim]a Dñi Jo[han]is Necehm cap[ell?]i ac vicarij q[uonda]m istius ecc[les]ie qui obijt in ffesto S[anct]i Nicholai E[piscop]i Anno dñi mi[llessi]mo cccc° vjto cuius anime [pro]picietur deus Amen.' The inscription on the third, which is very much worn, reads: 'Hic jacet Wi[llel]m' Dyson de Bellasys yomā qi obiit …die men[si]; Maij Anno Dñi MCCCC …cui[us] aĩe … [dominu]s Amē.'
There is a ring of three bells, two cast by Lester & Pack of London in 1759 and the third by John Warner & Sons in 1857. (fn. 170)
The plate consists of a chalice of 1637 with the mark of James Plummer of York; a paten of 1701 made by Seth Lofthouse of London and inscribed on the back with the initials of Thomas and Margery Davison, who presented it in 1712; a flagon of 1757 made by John Langlands of Newcastle, inscribed on the bottom 'Donum Ricardi Dongworth Vicarii de Billingham 1761'; and another flagon of 1757 with the mark of Thomas Whipham and Charles Wright of London, inscribed, 'Given to ye Parish of Billingham A.D. 1758 By Thos Chapman, D.D. Prebendary of Durham.' (fn. 171)
The registers begin in 1570.
The churchyard is entered at the south-east end from the village through a modern lych-gate.
The church of ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, HAVERTON HILL, built in 1865, is of brick with stone dressings, in the 13th-century style, and consists of a chancel, nave, and western bell-turret. The living is a vicarage in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Durham.
The church of ST. PETER, WOLVISTON, was built in 1876, replacing an earlier building. It consists of a chancel, nave, north porch, and bell-turret. The registers date from 1759.
The church of Billingham seems to be first mentioned in the confirmatory charter of Henry II, by which it was granted to the prior and convent. (fn. 172) In the late 12th century it was the subject of dispute between the prior and the bishop. A witness in the case stated in 1228 that when Simon the Chamberlain, an incumbent of Billingham, was dying he (the witness) was sent by Simon's son Henry to Prior Bertram (1188–1212) asking him to defend the church against any encroachment on the part of the bishop. Henry held it for life, and it was afterwards served by a monk of Durham. (fn. 173) The rectory must, therefore, have been impropriated to the priory. The right of the prior and convent to the church was fully acknowledged by Bishop Richard de Bury in 1343. (fn. 174) A vicarage had then been in existence for at least fifty-two years. (fn. 175) In 1314 the parish chaplains of Norton, Billingham, and Grindon were ordered to admonish their parishioners to deliver money left for the repair of bridges between Norton and Billingham to the perpetual vicar of Billingham. (fn. 176) The existence of the parochial chaplain may indicate that the vicar was non-resident. This was the case in 1577–87, when John Magbray or Mackbrey was vicar. A curate was in charge, and in 1587 the parishioners complained that the sacraments had sometimes been performed by strange curates, and that one couple had had to go to Wolviston to be married. (fn. 177) The advowson was granted in 1541 to the dean and chapter, whose successors are now patrons.
The rectory was leased in 1541 by Henry VIII to John Leigh for twenty-one years, (fn. 178) but was shortly afterwards granted to the dean and chapter, (fn. 179) and in 1555 it was annexed to the deanery. (fn. 180)
Rent was paid by free tenants in Billingham in 1430 to the light of the Blessed Virgin in the church. (fn. 181)
A chapel dependent on Billingham Church existed at Wolviston from the time of Richard I. (fn. 182) It was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, and in the 16th century was said to belong to the gild of St. Mary Magdalene. (fn. 183) It was granted by Elizabeth in 1572 to Percival Gunston and his heirs, (fn. 184) but seems to have continued in use as late as 1634. (fn. 185) It was in ruins, however, for some time before 1716, when the churchwardens by legal process freed it from the control of the vicar of Billingham, and then rebuilt it with a dedication in honour of St. Peter. (fn. 186) The living was declared a rectory in 1866. (fn. 187) It is in the gift of the dean and chapter.
Richard de Hoton, prior 1289–1308, built a chapel at Bewley, (fn. 188) which is mentioned several times in the 14th and 16th centuries. (fn. 189)
The Poor's Land, the origin of which is unknown, consists of two houses and 4 acres, producing together £24 yearly; the net income is distributed in small money doles by the incumbents and churchwardens of the several ecclesiastical districts in the ancient parish of Billingham.
In 1725 Ann Chapman by her will gave to the poor £20, now represented by £20 4s. 1d. consols.
In 1790 Alice Gardner by her will gave £20 for the poor. The legacy was augmented by accumulations to £60 consols.
In 1846 Robert Baiston by his will, proved at York, gave £20 for the benefit of poor widows, now represented by £17 10s. consols.
In 1894 Lawrence Featonby Holwell Shortt by will, proved at London, gave £30 to the poor. The legacy, less duty, was invested in £25 19s. 8d. consols.
The several sums of stock are held by the official trustees, producing together £3 1s. 8d. yearly, which is distributed in small money doles to the poor, principally to widows.
The charity of Thomas Newton, founded by will dated 29 July 1820, is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 20 January 1920. The endowment consists of a sum of £108 2s. 5d. consols, with the official trustees, which is applicable for the benefit of deserving poor in the following proportions, namely, two-fifths to the township of Newton Bewley and one-fifth to each of the parishes of Norton, Wolviston, and Billingham.
There are certain lands in the parish, the rents of which have been applied to the support of the church at least from the year 1676. The property consists of two grass fields containing 8 acres, 'The Half Moon,' formerly a public-house, a field containing 4 acres, and a cottage, the whole producing about £60 yearly. A sum of £17 3s. 3d. consols with the official trustees represents proceeds of sale of land to the Durham County Council. The income is applied for the general purposes of the parish church.
Site for a Sunday school and mission room, being half an acre of land at Nelson Avenue, Haverton Hill, conveyed by deed of 27 March 1922 from the Furness Shipbuilding Co. and Marmaduke Viscount Furness and others to Robert Boardman and others.
The Mary Trotter Charity is comprised in a declaration of trust dated 24 November 1923. The endowment consists of £398 9s. 1d. 5 per cent. War Stock with the official trustees, and the dividends, amounting to £19 18s. 6d. yearly, are applicable by the vicar and churchwardens for the benefit of the poor of the ecclesiastical parish of Billingham St. Cuthbert.
For the schools see article on schools. (fn. 190)
There is a field at Cowpen Bewley, known as the Poor's Field, containing 3 a. 1 r. 26 p., the rent whereof, amounting to £8 a year, is applied in support of the National school. (See article on schools. (fn. 191) )
In 1876 Lydia Wilson by her will, proved at Durham, gave £100, the income to be distributed to the poor of Wolviston and Newton Bewley. The legacy was invested in £104 8s. 9d. consols, with the official trustees, the annual dividends of which, amounting to £2 12s., are distributed in money doles.