Sunday, 15 September 2013

Visits to churches in Wylam, Hexham, Kirkhaugh, Ninebanks as part of the Steeplechase yesterday

A busy day yesterday covering many miles across the constituency, but broken up by visits to many of the wonderful Northumbrian churches that were open as part of the Historic Churches Steeplechase. My thanks to all the parishioners and vicars who welcomed me and chatted to me. It was a pleasure to meet the vicar at Wylam at last, and a delight to have a good look round the beautiful Hexham Trinity Methodist Church, which prayed for me and sent me a scarf (that I still wear) when I was unwell. Then, after popping by the Hexham Abbey, and in to the Salvation Army in Hexham to speak to the ladies in there about everything from the food bank to their work in the community, it was off west to Ninebanks.
There I had been invited by Roger Morris and parishioners to be at the opening of the Ninebanks Heritage Centre. Tea was laid on and over 50 locals, tourists and hikers came to the Village Hall to hear Roger talk about the work of Isaac Holden, and listen to me say a few words of thanks and appreciation. Roger gave us a historical tour of St Marks church in Ninebanks, the graveyard and the village, but not before him mentioning to the vast crowd of 50 that the last politican to address a crowd at Ninebanks had been my predecessor as MP for West Northumberland, Wentworth Blackett Beaumont, who came, with his wife, to Ninebanks to open the school he had built on July 18th 1856. A crowd of 3000 attended, serenaded by the West Allendale Brass Band, and all were provided with tea and cakes! Roger kindly noted that politicians don't attract the crowd they used to!
None the less the Heritage Centre in Ninebanks is superb, with exhibitions on Isaac Holden, the Tea Trail and so much more. The cakes were also delicious. I spent some time there chatting to locals, tourists and hikers taking abreak from the Tea Trail. This walk and the Coast to Coast cycle way are doing so much to revitalise the economy in our most rural part of south west Northumberland. The church itself at Ninebanks is simple but beautiful.
I then travelled on to visit the Holy Paraclete Church in Kirkhaugh. I have wanted to visit this church for many reasons for some time. Firstly, it is exceptionally beautiful and a architectural masterpiece, but also its name is unique.

Designed by its first vicar, the amateur architect the Reverend Octavius James, and built in 1849 on a medieval sacred site, the church is unique in England in being dedicated to the Holy Paraclete, the Holy Spirit symbolised as a dove. Its quirky architecture is topped with a toothpick spire modelled on churches that James admired while travelling in the Black Forest; its appearance has attracted mixed reviews. The architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner described it as "absurdly thin", but in its heyday it would have been a devotional landmark for about 250 parishioners, scattered around mines and farmsteads. Now the congregation is small except when weddings are held, taking advantage of Kirkhaugh station, just a field and a footbridge away, to ferry guests from Alston via picturesque steam trains on the South Tynedale narrow gauge railway. There are beautiful pictures of past weddings in the back of the church.
The spire makes Salisbury Cathedrals thin stem look extravagant and large! It is a stunning piece of architecture and the church itself in side is beautiful. The commemoration of the 1st world war was notable for the 7 members of the Maughan family who fought - with 2 sadly losing their lives.
It is worth noting that the wonderful Helen Maughan, who lives over the hill in Whitfield, has just retired as the Matron of Hexham Hospital this week, after 40 years of service for the local NHS. She will be sorely missed by one and all. She was an outstanding Matron in an outstanding hospital. I do not know if she is related to her 7 relatives who fought in the war, but I would guess for sure.
As I drove back to Hexham for my final surgeries last night I pondered on the unique people that make west and south Northumberland so strong. There is a sense of community here that is impossible to underestimate, and a tie to the land from which their forebears came. The Maughans and Beaumonts are still here. Long may that last.