Holy Cross Tour

Photo by Michael Bradley

Holy Cross Church Buildings

Background - There is sound documentary evidence to show that Christian worship has taken place in Haltwhistle for the past 800 years but as you will see from reading our Christian journey there are indications that it goes back much further.

When the church was built it would have been a bare shell with rushes on the floor, and possibly benches along the walls for the infirm or elderly. It is a fine example of early 13th century architecture. Indeed Holy Cross is such a fine, beautiful and interesting building that it has Grade 1 listing. Its importance lies in it being of one style built in one period.

Some interesting features of Holy Cross:
  • The nave and aisles make the main body of the church into a square and the chancel is disproportionately long in comparison with the nave.
  • In Jacobean times box pews were installed for the local gentry. In 1870 Haltwhistle’s prosperity enabled the whole church to be restored and Robert Johnson an architect from Newcastle was appointed to carry out a major restoration. The oak pews were replaced by pitch pine; the stone parapet to the nave was removed and the west wall rebuilt and the roof replaced. By this time the rich and influential were much in favour of stained glass as a fitting memorial and hence stained glass windows by the William Morris Company were included in the restoration. These were based on designs by Burne Jones, Madox Brown, Philip Webb and Charles Kempe.
  • Where the vestry is now was once the main entrance to the church rather than the present south door. Visitors are also much intrigued by the font which dates from the 17th century. The carving on it looks quite primitive and not very well executed.
  • The water stoup located by the vestry door is the oldest object in the church. There are various theories as to its origin and it remains a mystery. We now keep holy water in it!
  • There are also many interesting memorials and gravestones dotted around inside the church

Changes - In 2010 the west end of the church was reordered to provide toilet facilities and a kitchen. It proved to be a challenging project as many wanted the church to remain as it was. However the changes were managed well and the work carried. The facilities and the opportunities they now provide have confirmed that this was a positive change and is widely accepted as such. It is used by the Mothers’ Union for weekly soup lunches for the community and it is also used for light refreshments following services. It is now available for hire for meetings or small gatherings. Hadrian Singers our local choir meet in the church every week and they also hold their Annual Meeting there.

The Graveyard – Surrounding the church is a well-kept graveyard with many ancient stones which the local history society has mapped and listed in a file kept in church. The wooden/stone shed by the main gate is where the hearse was kept many years ago. The local Council maintains the grounds of the church.

The old water stoup

The Old Water Stoup

Huatweutl (the high place between the two waters – the Tippalt and Haltwhistle Burn) is situated in the Tyne Gap – the link between east and west sides of the North Pennines which had been created when the glaciers on the High Pennines formed the South Tyne and flowed north until it hit the hard rock of the Whin Sill and turned east to flow into the sea.

It is also where the pre-Roman Maidenway (the road that brought lead out of the North Pennines) meets the Ulster to Tyneside Stanegate – the itinerant preachers’ road which runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall. The road was probably used by St Patrick, St Cuthbert and St Paulinus who would camp and preach at gatherings at Bewcastle and Simonburn and maybe Haltwhistle.



On entering the church through the south door the font stands ahead and slightly to your left. The hexagonal bowl of the font belongs to the 17th century.

The carving, although interesting, is of poor quality. On the first side there is a face surrounded by rays, followed on the second by an intricate knot, then a Maltese Cross, after that a fleur-de-lys with the letters IS (the first and last letters of the Greek word for Jesus), and finally another complicated knot.

Around the rim of the bowl there are holes showing that at some time the font had a fixed cover. Near the upper edge appear the letters RP July 26 1676: this probably refers to the vicar at that time, Robert Priestman.

The interior of the bowl is in marked contrast to the exterior, being carefully and accurately worked, and shows signs of considerable wear and tear.

Lady Chapel

Lady Chapel

On entering the Lady Chapel there is an Aumbry in the South wall which contains the Reserved Sacrament.

In the Lady Chapel there is a small Piscina which is often mistaken for a leper’s squint. It is in fact a wash basin for sacred vessels.

During the restoration of 1870 marks were discovered that suggested that there had been an altar attached to the east end of the aisle.

Two grave covers bearing the Thirlwell arms (three boars’ heads) were also found there. The grave covers are now in the sanctuary. Taking also into consideration the Thirlwell arms it would seem that the south aisle was once a Thirlwell Chantry. The window in memory of the wife, son, and eldest daughter of Canon Lowe, depicts St. Edwin and St. Aidan.

Rood Screen

Rood Screen

The Rood Screen was designed by Messrs Hicks and Charlewood of Newcastle, and carved by Ralph Hedley, also of Newcastle. It was dedicated in 1923 in memory of Canon Joseph Lowe who was vicar of the parish for 44 years.

The inscription reads ‘by thy Cross and Passion, by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension good Lord deliver us’. The seven symbols of Christ’s passion are over the head of the screen: the spear, Judas’ money bag, the seamless coat, the crown of thorns, the cup of the Last Supper, the nails, and the scourge.

Ridley Memorial Stone

Ridley Memorial Stone

Passing through the Rood Screen, you will see the Ridley Memorial Stone standing upright against the south wall. It used to stand on two dwarf pillars in the middle of the chancel.

It commemorates John Ridley, Lord of the Walltown, who died in 1562. John Ridley was the brother-in-law of the protestant martyr Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, who with Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Latimer, was burnt at the stake in Oxford in 1555 by order of Mary Tudor.

Transcribed, the stone reads:

John Ridley, that sometime did be then Lord of the Walltown

Gone is he out of this vale of misery:

His bones lie under this stone:

We must believe by God’s mercy:

Into this world gave His Son:

Then for to redeem all Christians:

So Christ has his soul won:

All faithful people may be glad:

When death comes that none can flee:

The body which the soul kept in pain:

Through Christ is set at liberty Among blessed company to remain:

To sleep in Christ now is he gone:

Yet still believes to have again:

Through Christ a joyful resurrection:

All friends may be glad to hear:

When his soul from pain did go:

Out of this world as doth appear:

In the year of our Lord



In the south wall of the sanctuary there is a very beautiful three-stalled Sedilia, stepped up from west to east to conform to the steps of the ancient floor. The arches are moulded in trefoil form and rise from clustered shafts which divide the stalls. The most senior clergy sat in the highest seat and the most junior the lowest.



Within the sanctuary, to the left of the Sedilia there is a Piscina. This is larger than the one found in the Lady Chapel, and is in fact a wash basin for sacred vessels.



The Reredos, which is made of alabaster and stands behind the altar, depicts the nativity of Christ and is very fine indeed. The Infant is flanked by the Old Testament characters who heralded his coming – on the left the prophet Isaiah, and on the right King David.

There is hearsay that a curate thought the Reredos needed brightening up and without getting his vicar’s permission or a faculty from the diocese painted the figures gold. The authorities descended upon him and he had to remove it, but some people maintain they can see flecks of gold on them today. It doesn’t seem to have harmed the curate’s career as he was eventually made a bishop!

Stained Glass

Stained Glass Banner

Stained Glass

The stained East Window was the gift of the Rev Dixon Dixon-Brown of Unthank Hall in memory of Dixon Dixon Esq. The beautiful triplet of lancets with richly moulded trefoil inner arches and delicate shafts is 15th century work. The excellent glass is by Burne Jones, who was greatly influenced by William Morris, and was one of the Pre-Raphaelites. Burne Jones was a frequent visitor to Naworth Castle and his work can be seen at St Martin’s Church, Brampton and at Lanercost Priory. It is alleged that the window was designed for a church in the South: how or why it came to Haltwhistle is a mystery. There is an illustration nearby showing details of the work.

In the upper part of the window the central figure is the crucified Christ. On the left is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and above her the cup of the Last Supper. On the right is Saint John, and above him the whip of Christ’s scourging. The cross is unusual in that it is coloured green, signifying re-birth.

In the lower part of the window there are three pictures, two of which are examples of what is called typological interpretation of the Old Testament:

On the left, Isaac, the only son of his father Abraham, is seen as a type of Christ preparing for his own sacrificial death.

In the centre Moses is seen bidding the serpent-ridden people of Israel to gaze upon the brazen serpent in order to be healed. This represents men looking to the Crucified One to be saved from the death of sin in the wilderness of this world.

On the right is Christ carrying his cross up to Calvary.