Brinkburn Priory

Back in Northumberland – even I can’t spend the whole of my sabbatical driving around the country! On Saturday 12 July we went for a drive north, and turned off the main road to go and visit Brinkburn Priory (NZ116983). An English Heritage property with this website, but there’s another for “a magical destination” with lots of wedding potential. (Reading it I see why the first word one should teach your daughter is “elope” – how much for a wedding? Hannah, don’t even think about it!).

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It is a beautiful 12th century church, the Augustinian priory of Brinkburn which survives completely roofed and restored. As we drove past the car park (disabled parking is right beside the church) we were surprised how full the place was – and were told there was a wedding at 1 pm. A local gospel choir were rehearsing, and I got some photos as we listened. There aren’t many weddings in the church, though it is not a parish church there are still legalities to fulfil. There is a house (which I didn’t photo) which is the more usual wedding venue.

Lovely doors to get into the church and once inside I was staggered at the height and the size of it. William Bertram, Lord of Mitford, founded a house for Augustinian canons at Brinkburn between the years 1130 and 1135. There were probably 12 canons, and the first prior, Ralph, came from the monastery of St Mary de Insula, which was probably Pentney Priory in Norfolk. I wonder what he felt about being sent north? They were given 3,500 acres of land and more was given over the next few centuries. In 1315 the priory was destroyed by Robert Bruce, forcing the 13 canons to flee and beg for food. After the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 they would have hoped for a return to normality – but the Black Death arrived three years later. And so it went on … . When its value was assessed in 1535 it was valued at only £69, and it was closed a year later. The church was retained to be used as the parish church but in 1602 it was reported “the church is still in decaie in the roof and windows; they have no communion table and no surpcloth.” The roof had collapsed by the end of the century and services had ceased. Work to rebuild it began in 1858, under the patronage of Cadogan Hodgson Cadogan, with the architect being Thomas Austin of Newcastle. 

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The High Altar of 1898 is a memorial to Cadogan Hodgson Cadogan,  most of the windows are by William Wales, and the organ of 1868 was built by William Hill (the gift of Sir William Armstrong of Cragside).

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Next door, parts of the monastic buildings are incorporated into the elegant adjacent manor house – it could do with several million pounds to do something with it. It would be lovely to have a picnic beside the River Coquet – although Julie points out I don’t do picnics.

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They have a full summer programme of music and an annual Music Festival. I only live 15 miles away, but this is the first I have heard of the Music Festival – apparently I’ve missed 2014’s. Talking of missed publicity opportunities – could we not get some “Spirit in Stone” guides to the churches of Northumberland and Durham into this English Heritage property (I seem to remember EH helped fund the booklet)? Here is a link to my blog post about it – copies are still available.

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