Family History Notebook

Mugglewick Parish and Church
A Brief History

(Church leaflet)

Muggleswich Church

Welcome to this church in a peaceful corner of NW Durham where worship has probably been continuous for over 900 years. The Church is entirely 19C and not of great architectural interest but there were past events in the parish of both local and national interest.

 Rector: Mark Cumming, Blanchland Rectory.

There are no records relating to the early church in Muggleswick and the first documented reference to Muggleswick manor is in the Boldon Book of 1183. Mr Denis Briggs prepared a dowsed plan of the church which suggests Anglo-Saxon origins. The alignment is 12 degrees N of true E and there was an apsidal E end. The church was larger with both N and S aisles. Plan of Muggleswick Church

The monks of Durham cathedral were the land owners of the manor up till the Dissolution of their monastery on the last day of 1539. Prior Hugh built the stone grange in 1259 end two centuries later it was said to consist of a hall, chapel, grange and dairy, all in need of repair. The monks needed these offices to run the manor which was a one of their major stock-rearing areas.

East Wall of the Monastic Grange

The massive wall of the E end of the grange is an impressive ruin just N of the church. Part of the W wall can be seen from the path up to the church and farm buildings cover the area where the grange buildings would stand.

A Dean & Chapter took over the monks' estates in 1541. They had the advowson of the church and the ministers appointed were Perpetual Curates. The Chapter was composed of 12 prebends or canons and the manor of Muggleswick was divided between 3 of them. The rents from the farms made up their income and the rental books can still be seen in the Cathedral archives at Durham.

Muggleswick hit the headlines in the 17C after the Restoration of Charles H. The times were turbulent and the nervous authorities were trying to press for conformity in religious matters. Dissent and non-conformity were regarded as seditious. A plot was uncovered when an informer gave details to the Justices in 1662 about meetings held in Muggleswick Park. He alleged that more than 30 named men plotted rebellion against the state and the murder of all clergy. The Bishop of Durham had arrests made and investigations were carried out for over 2 years but no convictions resulted and the people settled back into their usual quiet ways.

One of the table tombs to the S of the church is to JOHN WARD who was the dissenting leader of the church at the time of the Plot and he died in 1717, aged 87. Dissent has a long history at Muggleswick and the non-conformist meetings and churches were always better attended than the established church. Rowley Baptist chapel was founded in 1652.

The church we see today is the result of rebuilds and restorations in the 19C. The first was probably 1825, the next in 1869 when the chancel screen was pulled down and the northern vestry built, and another in 1886. Improvements and repairs have continued through the C20 and are still going on as both the fabric of the church and the nature of the site cause problems.

Most of the interior furniture is 20C and commemorates events and persons of the RITSON family. Utrick Alexander RITSON was a coal owner and man of stature on Tyneside and he used CALF HALL, just S of the church, as his country residence. The East window, the organ, the altar rails, the choir stalls, the pulpit and lectern are all Ritson memorials and two grandsons, one the holder of the VC, are remembered on a plaque found on the south wall. The LYCH GATE in the SW corner of the churchyard is another Ritson memorial made from teak from the battleship HMS Powerful.

A small plaque found on the north wall with a Latin inscription by John Carr was written for his wife after her death . He was born in the parish at Watergate but both he and his wife were buried in Hertfordshire. A worn tombstone in the floor of the church near the plain font is to ROWLAND HARRISON, a mosstrooper who died in 1712.

Between the church and the lych gate are 2 tombstones to the Mayor family. One of these, with a beautifully carved cherubic angel, is to 6 children of John and Ann MAYOR of TWEEN HOUSE. NANNY MAYOR, 1775-1860, kept an inn by the side of the new Stanhope and Tyne railway over the Muggleswick moors, and the rope-worked incline was named after her. The Mayor tombstone is one of the first works by JOHN LOUGH, a locally born sculptor, who went on to achieve national fame. His name is on the N edge of the tombstone.

Carving by John Lough on the MAYOR tombstone

His parents are buried here in Muggleswick. The brass railings around Nanny Mayor's tomb were erected by her grandson, an ironmaster in Scotland, who is buried nearby and has a marble headstone. Notice where the brass railings have been sawn through in an attempt at removal. There are 4 clergy with memorials in the churchyard.

The railway spawned a village of over 270 people in the 1850s at WASKERLEY. The Anglicans met for worship in the school room until a mission church was built in 1896 and a Methodist church was built in 1901. The Anglican church is still in use but the railway and the village are long gone and now the Waskerley Way is a wild and beautiful railway walk between Consett and Stanhope.

The Church Commissioners took over the Dean & Chapter estates in the latter part of the 19C and in the 20C most of the farms in Muggleswick were sold off. The manor of Muggleswick included most of Edmundbyers, the parish of Healeyfield and a part of Castleside. St John's at Castleside and Healeyfield were separated off in the 1860s when the population was expanding rapidly because of lead mining. Edmundbyers and Muggleswick were often served by the same clergymen until well into the 19C.

In 1954 Muggleswick lost its last vicar when the parish was once again combined with Edmundbyers and the large vicarage built a century earlier became a private residence, Key West. There was further amalgamation in 1990 when Muggleswick and Edmundbyers were joined with Blanchland in the Corbridge Deanery of the Newcastle Diocese. Records show that over the last two hundred years congregations at Muggleswick have never been large and varied between 6 and 20. There is still only a small congregation today but a determined one and aware of the need to keep the church as the spiritual and communal focus of the parish.

Line drawings by Peter Wheatley.
Written by Muriel E Sobo.
Revised 1996.