Alston – St Augustine

Gareth goes off to drive at the South Tynedale Railway – www.strps.org.uk – and I managed to keep Thursday 27 October free to go and join him. I started with a trip up the extension to Lintley on the engineering train, then had a wander round Alston. Alston is in Cumbria, but the Benefice of Alston Moor is in the Diocese of Newcastle.

Firstly, as I walked up the hill, I spotted this sign:

Not a sign you often see … . Sadly the chapel was locked. A notice one side of the door says the Catholics have their Mass on a Saturday evening. A notice the other side of the door says the Methodists meet on a Sunday. Ecumenical sharing???

St Augustine’s church is in the centre of the Town – NY718466 – the door is open and welcoming. As you enter there is a display and leaflets asking the question: “What is the largest and most underused building in the centre of Alston?” Should the space inside be converted and made available for wider use? Visitors/heritage/arts/culture/health/wellbeing/community activities/art – as well as leaving a space for worship and quiet contemplation. They are asking for ideas and help to take the project forward. They have my prayers – I fear it won’t be easy. Alston feels rather depressed, the police station and ambulance are under threat – hardly a good time to launch a big project. Is there ever a good time? On the plus side, Judy the Vicar has energy – more energy than most of us!

One tradition has it that St Augustine of Canterbury came this far north (unlikely). By the 1760s the church was in a bad state of repair and was demolished. A new one was built to a plan by Smeaton, the builder of the Eddystone lighthouse. The Archdeacon of Northumberland described the new building as “a large handsome building and tolerably well executed”. ‘Tolerably’ is faint praise – and the church only last a century. The current church was built in 1870.

The Derwentwater clock and bell was originally at Dilston Hall, and was presented to the church in 1767. The bell was hung in the tower, the clock dumped in a corner. In 1978 it was finally displayed!

This window in the North Aisle was installed in the 1890s and was designed by Nathaniel Westlake. It is well worth a second look. The guidebook says both the East Window and the Chancel screen are worth a closer inspection – I missed getting decent photos of them.

The reredos dates to 1899 – I didn’t get closer as there were other people in church. There’s a Millennium kneeler which needed a bit of working out – I like the first panel “Non Angli sed Angeli”. (You will remember Pope Gregory saw slaves in the market at Rome, asked where they were from, and was told they were Angles. “Not Angles, but Angels.” “Not Angles, but Anglicans” said ‘1066 and all that’.

Good headstones outside – and some nice aerial photos at www.visitcumbria.com/pen/alston-st-augustines-church.htm

I was going to have a longer wander, but the train driver phoned – he needed lunch. Back to the station cafe – proper bacon and egg stotty. I missed the Cobbler’s Epitaph:

My cutting board’s to pieces split,

My size-sticks will no measure mete,

My rotten last’s turned into holes,

My blunted knife cuts no more soles.

My hammer’s head flown from the haft,

No more Saint Mondays* with the craft,

My nippers, pincers, stirrup and rag

And all my kit have got the bag;

My lapstone’s broke, my colour’s o’er,

My gum-glass froze, my paste’s no more;

My heels sewed on, my pegs are driven,

I hope I’m on the road to heaven.

[* apparently keeping Saint Monday was formerly used to describe the regular practice of staying off work on Mondays, particularly in the shoemaking trade. You learn a lot reading my blog!]

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