The History and Significance of St. Cuthbert's Church, Norham

One of the grandest churches in Northumberland, closely associated with the medieval Prince-Bishops of Durham for whom the nearby castle was their principal stronghold against the Scots. Apart from these two major structures the village now reflects little of its illustrious past but has a quiet charm and is rightly designated a conservation area. Indeed, Clive Aslet, in his recent book "Landmarks of Britain" lists Norham among his ten top villages. The church building is described by Simon Jenkins in his "England's Thousand Best Churches" as a "mini-Durham Cathedral".

The church building (AD1165) retains a great deal of very fine late Norman work in the south arcade and the Chancel (including the Chancel arch and the particularly splendid south wall). The Chancel was extended eastwards in the 14th century. Following a long period of neglect, during which the west end of the Nave (which extended onto land no longer in church ownership) was lost, most of the rest of the building was (sensitively) reconstructed in neo-Norman style in the 19th century: The Tower (1837), Porch and South Aisle (1846) to designs by Ignatius Bonomi; the North Aisle (including its arcade) and Transept (1852) by D. Gray. Despite these restorations a great deal of archaeological significance survives in the standing structure and the site must be regarded as being of considerable archaeological interest as well.

The present building consists of Nave flanked by aisles, West Tower (with curious staircase housing abutting its north wall), North Transept (serving as the Organ Chamber) and Chancel with Vestry on its north side. Walls are of local pinkish-grey sandstone, fully exposed internally.

The church building contains some fine monuments, including the effigy of a 14th century knight, and some Bishop Cosin woodwork brought from Durham in the 19th century. There are also numerous architectural fragments, several of which are incorporated in a curious pillar standing in the North Aisle, and some of these may indicate a pre-Conquest date for the site.

All in all the Grade I listing seems entirely appropriate. An early 18th century gravestone south of the Chancel is listed (Grade II) in its own right.

The church is the site of a number of historic events. In 1290, for instance, in the church Edward 1st arbitrated between thirteen claimants to the Scottish throne, granting it to John Balliol. It was in the church that Balliol did homage to Edward. In 1318 Robert Bruce fortified the church while besieging the Castle.

 

As well as embodying significant historic fabric and attracting numerous visitors, the building continues to serve as the focus for Christian worship in the community and is highly cherished by its parishioners. It is occasionally used for non-liturgical events and educational visits, thus fulfilling a wider community role.