Bedlington is a small mining community in Northumberland. One of six townships, including Choppington, Netherton, East Sleekburn, West Sleekburn and Cambois (which included North Blyth.), Bedlington has a long and varied industrial history.
Bedlington was the most important of all the Townships, as it had the first ever parish church built in the area, St Cuthberts, which was built on the site of a Saxon church, over 1,000 years ago.
Historians recorded that the Monks of Lindisfarne carried the body of St Cuthbert around the North country with them, to escape the wrath of the king, and where ever they rested a chapel was built. It is said that they stopped in Bedlington for one day, on Saturday, December 12th, 1069, and that they built a church there, which was made of wattle, daub and thatch, on the site of St Cuthberts today. There is still trace of our Saxon origin remaining, with an important stone carving now fixed to the exterior of the nave at the south east corner. The carving depicts two angels which are very similar to carvings at South Church, Bishop Auckland, and Aycliffe near Darlington. It is suggested that the same craftsman could have made them all.
In 1343 the Vicar of Bedlington spent four months in a prison at Newcastle, charged with the offense of provision. When he was acquitted, local feeling against him was running so high that he made arrangements to exchange parishes with a Vicar from Warwickshire. In 1349 the Papal Letters contained the following reference to Bedlington. William, son of John of Warthcoppe, provisor of the Vicarage of Bedlynton, void by death of Richard Fenrother at the Apostolic See.
In 1469 the benefice of Bedlington was put in sequestration, and the profits diverted to repair defects and decay in the mansion house of the Vicarage, and the out-houses and buildings around it.
Ten commissioners were appointed by the Bishop of Durham in 1502 to examine and certify the condition of the Bishop’s castles, mines and woods in Norhamshire, Islandshire, Bedlingtonshire, and between the Tyne and Tees. The Vicar Thomas Lee of Bedlington was one of those commissioners appointed.
In 1527 Dr Ralph Davell, Archdeacon of Northumberland, was appointed Benefice of Bedlington by Bishop Tunstall and also the monks of Durham. During the reign of Edward V1, Dr Davell with all other clergy was required to cease using Latin in worship, and to adopt the Book of Common Prayer. Dr Davell held his incumbency from 1527 to 1557 He was succeeded by William Watson who came to Bedlington during the reign of Mary.
Elias Smith was the Vicar of Bedlington in 1643, he was driven out three years later and replaced a Presbyterian intruder named John Darnton who never held any sort of ordination. The Parish Register for this period lets us know how all marriages were conducted by the Lay Commissioner and not the minister. Elias Smith was allowed to resume his benefice in the parish in 1662, when the Holy Communion was then celebrated as it should have been.
The agent of the Dean and Chapter of Durham visited Bedlington in 1724 and ordered the commandments be put up in place of Oliver Cromwell’s Arms. Also during the same year on April 5th, the church was presented with a silver Chalice and Paten which is still used to the present day. The greatest number of trees within the churchyard were planted by Vicar Ellison in 1726. A Norman window rich in moulding and of a unusual character stood in the western front of the tower. The chancel was rebuilt in 1736, and enlarged again in 1847, here marble monuments and inscribed stones to various people are found and can still be seen today.
Five large sash windows were inserted into the South Wall and Nave in 1743. The outlines of these windows are still there to be seen as they were filled in when the present Perpendicular Windows were installed as part of the rebuilding program in 1912. During high winds in January 1772, the church roof which had just been newly covered was entirely unroofed along with several houses in the village.
The church was originally a small Gothic structure before it’s enlargement in 1818, when it consisted of a chancel measuring 32 feet by 17 feet, nave 52 feet by 24 feet, and the tower measured 6 feet by 9 1/2 feet. The workmen who were employed to carry out the alterations and repairs in March of the same year made a fascinating discovery. On the north side of the church they found three grave stones that were ornamented with crosses and swords in the style of the eleventh or twelfth centuries. One of the graves had inscribed upon it a request “Ora pro nobis,” which translated means “Pray for us.”
When the north wall was pulled down there was a fragment of pillar measuring fourteen inches long discovered with the remains of an inscription, “Crvx, or Lvx Vndique Fvlget Amata”. Also found were the remains of a man supposed to be called Cuthbert Watson, who was a noted sleepwalker. He was killed upon the spot were his remains were found. The story says that on February 14th, 1669, he had risen from his sleep and was in the act of climbing the north buttress of the tower, when a person passing by saw him and became worried by the situation called to him to warn him of the danger. Watson was then woken and fell, he died instantly. The story is supported by the tradition of the place, by an entry said to be the parish register, and by the above date, and the words “Watson’s Wake” cut upon the buttress.
The north aisle was erected in 1817 to cater for the growing population of Bedlington, due to the opening of the ironworks, also the mining of rich coal deposits in the area.
The old north wall was pulled down and replaced with a circular gallery aisle with seats facing the south wall, on which there was a three decker pulpit.
The south porch was the next to be developed. It was converted into a vestry, the cost of the developments being £713.00, with £616.00 raised by public subscription and the remainder by a rate.
The present Chancel was built in 1847. The old Norman tower was found to be in serious decay in 1867, that it was decided to demolish and rebuild it. This makes the present tower that dominates the village just over a century old.
The organ was dedicated to the church on April 3rd, 1877. It was first installed in the Gallery at the West End, with the choir occupying the pews near to it. In 1911, the North Aisle was rebuilt and the galleries removed. The organ was then moved to it present site in the Chancel, which was rebuilt in 1970.
The Mission Church at Netherton Colliery closed in 1953, the Side Altar from there was then moved to Saint Cuthberts and erected in the North Aisle.
An appeal was launched in 1910, by Cannon Robert John Pearce, to rebuild the North Aisle and also new vestries. He also aimed at the same time to restore the ancient character of the church. The West Window was put in to commemorate Augustus Burdon, the last of the Squires of Humford. The Cuthbert Rose Window was installed in the memory of Drusilla Carter Kidd. The appeal was met with enormous generosity from the parishioners that it was decided at the same time to renew all the woodwork in the church, which included the pews, pulpit and lectern.
Throughout the late part of the Twentieth Century was a time of liturgical experiment and change within the Church of England. Saint Cuthberts shared fully in this seeking after renewal. Then on All Saints Day 1970, the Choral Eucharist replaced the Morning Prayer as the central act of Sunday Worship.