St. John Lee; St. John of Beverley


The parish of St. John Lee is an ancient parish - established in the 10th century, although the earliest recorded incumbent is John Del Clay 1311. The church appears to have been built on the site of the oratory dedicated to St Michael referred to by the Venerable Bede in his ‘History of the English Church and People’. Our neighbouring parish of Warden also lays claim to this - but Warden did not belong to Hexham until the 12th century whereas the ville and oratory to which John of Beverley resorted during his time as Bishop of Hexham (692 - 705) were on the lands of the Bishopric - it was the property of the Priors of Hexham. Prior Richard in 1130 says that Earneshow - or Eagles Mount a former name for the promontory on which the current church stands - belonged to Hexham. This friendly rivalry continues!

In 1310 the church is described as ‘Capella beatis Johannis de Lega’ (the chapel of St John in the woods) A document dated 1429 gives the dedication to St John the Baptist. We do not know when the dedication to St John of Beverley was made but may coincide with Henry IV’s victory at the battle of Agincourt which was fought on the eve of the Feast of St. John of Beverley. Henry claimed that the victory was due to the assistance of St. John and from that time his cult blossomed. what is recorded is that the place was held in such veneration by the monks of Hexham that they visited it annually in high procession.

The name, St John Lee, means St John in the field/clearing in the wood. The area around here was covered with forest - hence the names Acomb (place of the oaks) and Oakwood.

The Church has never been a spectacular building - it began, as we know as a small oratory. The present church was built by the Newcastle architect Dobson in the 19th century with substantial alterations made by another Newcastle architect Hicks in 1886 - at a cost of between £1700 and £1800. The church was widened, the chancel stepped and the spire constructed.

The church is built of stone with a plain tile roof. Most of the leaded windows have stained glass.

The spire at the west end of the church contains the single bell.

All around the building are buttresses, each topped with a gargoyle.

On the south side of the building is a small door, which used to give access to the churchyard.

Around the church is the old graveyard with gravestones dating back to around 1700. The current graveyard is over the road from the church and dates from around 1920.

There are two war memorials; the first to those who lost their lives in the 2nd world war is part of the Lych-gate, and the second is a memorial to those who died in the 1st world war and is a more traditional memorial just outside the main north door.

The Baptistry

Entry to the church is from the North West corner of the building. Immediately inside the door is the Baptistry with the font centrally placed. The font is relatively modern with the inscription "Ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord God Almighty."

To the right of the door is a Roman Altar, which at one time was used as a font. To the left of the door is the "Oakwood Stone", a cup & ring stone dating from around 1600BC.

On the south wall of the Baptistry is first of three hatchments - this one is from the Errington family of Beaufront Castle.

The Nave

The most impressive feature in the nave is the carved roof and the fine carver panelling around the sides of the church, which is part of the Hick remodelling carried out in 1886.

Around the top of the walls are carved the words from the Te Deum (the Song of the Church, part of morning prayer).

Further down the wall at about shoulder height are carved the words from Psalm 22.

Down the centre of the ceiling leading to the chancel screen are carved statues of some of the Apostles and evangelists.

The Chancel Screen itself was made in 1886 with a much later addition of the carved scene from Calvary on the top in 1983.

The Stained Glass Windows

To the North side of the nave there is:

The Mewburn Window which depicts three kings of Northumbria.

Edwin, the first Christian king of Northumbria, shown being Baptized by Paulinus on Easter Day 627.

Oswin, King of Deira in Northumbria and was greatly loved because of his benevolent nature. He was killed by Oswy, King Oswald's brother and was seen as a martyr because he died "if not for the faith of Christ, at least for the justice of Christ".

Oswald, who was brought up as a Christian and defeated King Cadwallon at Heavenfield. It is said that the night before the battle Oswald erected a small wooden cross on the battlefield, holding it in place whilst his soldiers made it firm. He wanted to show that he fought as a Christian and that he would reign as a Christian King - He won the battle and Cadwallon was killed.

The Burgess Window. This shows symbols of Christ:

The Pelican pecking her breast to feed her chicks with her own blood, reminding us that Christ gave his blood for us.

The Phoenix. A legendary bird, used in early time as a symbol of the Resurrection.

On the South side of the Nave are three windows depicting:

Saints of Northumbria

St. Aidan. A monk and a Bishop who founded Lindisfarne as the monastic centre for Northumbria. It was Aidan who was credited in establishing Christianity in Northumbria after the pagan Penda of Mercia.

St. Cuthbert. An abbot of Lindisfarne and later Bishop of Lindisfarne he was credited with healing abilities, not just of physical ailments but also healing of relationships.

St. Wilfrid. Bishop of Hexham, an austere man he prayed, he fasted, and he is even reputed to have taken a cold bath every night. But he was hospitable and generous and was widely travelled, establishing many monasteries throughout the region.

Three Apostles

This window shows St. Peter, St. James and St. John

Three more Northumbrian Saints

Benedict Biscop. Founder and first Abbot of Wearmouth, also the founder of the monastery at Jarrow he travelled widely, particularly to Rome bringing back countless books and artifacts, which made these places centres of education and learning.

St. John of Beverley, our Patron Saint, Bishop of Hexham and later Bishop of York. John is reputed to have shown special care for the poor and handicapped, including one dumb boy whom he taught to speak which is depicted in the window (shown right).

The Venerable Bede. A monk of Jarrow, a biblical scholar and the first English historian, Bede devoted himself to study, he travelled very little - probably never outside Northumbria but his writings and teachings reach down to us today. Bede was made Deacon by John of Beverley at age 19.

A hatchment is a memorial to a person who has died and is made up from the deceased's coat of arms There are three hatchments in the church.

The Arms & Crest of the Errington Family from Beaufront Castle are shown in the baptistery and are a memorial to John Errington who died in 1827 and is buried at St. John Lee.

The other two hatchments are on the south wall of the Nave.

The first is the memorial of Elizabeth Allgood who died in 1854 and who is buried at Simonburn. As she was the owner of the Hermitage, which is in the parish of St. John Lee, it was thought fitting that the hatchment should be in the parish church.

The next hatchment is a memorial to William Cuthbert of Beaufront who died in 1878. The Cuthbert family still live at Beaufront.

In the side Chapel is a memorial to Simon Mewburn a young soldier who died in the First World War. The Mewburn family was a significant family of the area and this area of the church is a memorial to the family.