Notes on the Parish of Seaham


by R. Anderson Aird
A 33 page booklet first printed in 1912, re-printed 1987.
Copies of this second print are still available from the Churchwarden of St. Mary the Virgin Church in Old Seaham?..

Raymond Armbrister
6 Lynwood Ave,
Hastings Hill,

Copies are priced at £4 including postage. All proceeds go towards Church funds.
The Church consists of nave, chancel, a low square embattled western tower, and a south porch with stone roof supported by two pointed arches. Some time ago a plane tree had sprung from seed on the porch roof and grew to a considerable size, displacing the key stone and arch.Over this porch is a sundial dated 1773, inscribed:?
“The natural clockwork by the Almighty One Wound up at first, and ever since has gone, No pin drops out, its wheels and springs hold good, It speaks its Maker’s praise, tho’ once it stood, But that was by the order of His wondrous power, And when it stands again it goes no more.This was written by the clerk, A.Douglass, who was also the schoolmaster.
The nave and chancel are narrow and of equal breadth, separated by a segment of an arch springing from stone corbels, supported by carved human heads, probably Saxon, two on either side, which appear to have carried a rood beam and seem to indicate that the building was originally of greater extent than at present. Both nave and chancel have a flat plaster ceiling; the segment of the arch does not go above this, and is constructed of lath and plaster only. The whole of the walls are also covered with stoothing and are plastered, and the floor has been raised above its original level.
The east window consists of two round-headed lights, under an ornament of nailhead, probably Transitional.

The lights in the nave have been narrow and lancet-headed, one on the south being of ancient date. Several of the windows have been widened and the headings rounded. Quite recently two stained glass windows ? executed in Early English style in keeping with the date of the building?have been placed in the south wall in memory of the late Revd. Angus Bethune, M.A., who was vicar from Christmas 1859, to his death on May 24th, 1908, at the age of 97 years.

The tower, which exhibits stones with Roman tooling, is late Norman, with four lancet windows, one on each side, and below there is a lancet window in the west wall. The tower is supported inside by a pointed arch resting on corbels with dog-tooth moulding. This arch and the arches of the tower windows have no keystones, the top joint being vertical. The arches of the old windows in the nave and chancel are each spanned by a single stone, except one window on the south of the chancel, which has two odd stones, one squared and the other a quadrant. There are two long-waisted bells, uninscribed, in the belfry, but no stairway.

The roof of the church has been high pitched, as shown by the water-tabling projecting on the east side of the tower. It is now low and slated, supported by pitch-pine timbers.
The pulpit of oak is Jacobean, and until quite recently had the
clerk’s desk in front. This has, unfortunately, been removed. The font cover is also Jacobean; and the font is a plain stone basin and rests on a circular shaft. The rim, ornamented with tracery, appears to indicate that it is early work, probably prior to 1170,There is a poker drawing* above the Communion Table ? head of Christ after Carlo Dolci’s Salvator Mundi by the Revd. Richard Wallis, who was vicar 1783-1827. The drawing was placed in the church at his request by his son-in-law and executor, Thomas Surtees Raine, who married Mr. Wallis’ daughter Margaret.

The railing in front of the Table and the oak panelling behind are quite recent (about 65 years old), having been brought from St. John’s Church, Seaham Harbour, when the east end of that church was rebuilt in 1886
A stone coffin of usual form with ridged cover stood for some years near the outer south wall. This has now been brought inside and stands at the west end under the tower and bears the inscription in Lombardic characters:- HIC IACET RICARDVS MILES DE IHELAND.6 When moving this coffin human remains were found within the church, and when recently removed from the chancel to the west end a dressed stone was discovered let into the north side of the chancel floor which has every appearance of having been an altar top. It measures 6ft by 3ft by 7.5 ins. deep and is roughly moulded. There are small regularly drilled holes in groups of ten.
(6) Surtees gives the inscription as Hic lacet Ricardvs Vic . . .de . . Seahaiam, which is clearly a
Removed by the Vicar 1981/82.
A drawing of the stone is given here. It is native limestone, moulded on the front and on the end, and straight at the back, as shown in the end view. The end nearest the east wall has not yet been exposed. The stone is much worn, especially towards the centre, so that the groups of small holes are scarcely visible in places.
The churchyard is raised considerably above the surrounding land owing to the great number of burials. Very little of the ground can now be lifted without finding human remains???.

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The present vicarage was built by Rev. O. J. Cresswell about 1830 on the site of the old building but much enlarged. The Cresswell arms are displayed over the doorway. It is a fine Renaissance building, standing to the east of the church on the north bank of the dene in a delightful situation with a view of both country and sea. “The cliff below has been converted into an ornamental garden to suit the natural character of the place, trees, shrubs and flowers of the hardy variety suited to sea breezes abound clinging to the rock.”17 In the garden near the entrance the ground is covered with a mass of natural growth, the spring flowers following each other in a continuous succession.

The glebe farm was originally the building standing at the north-east of the present vicarage, and the glebe lands extended north and a short way south of this building. The farm and lands were, some 50 or 60 years ago, exchanged for the Seaham Grange, near the Stockton turnpike, and now divided from the estate by the North Eastern Railway.
There is now no village of Seaham, though formerly it was a place of some note, situated close to the sea banks and bounded on the south by a deep dene. In the time of the Milbankes (who left Dalden Tower and resided here) the village consisted of one main street running down towards the sea. The manor house called Seaham Hall, adjoined the village inn, and formed part of the street. There were six cottages:-
3 of 4 rooms each and garden 1 of 3 rooms and garden 1 of 2 rooms and garden 1 of 2 rooms without garden
.The village inn contained eight rooms, cellar, out-houses and garden, five-stall stable and about nine acres of land. The rent in 1821 wasœ15.
The manor farm stood west of the church, the fold yard of which adjoined the churchyard.

At the present day all trace of the village street and manor farm has disappeared. The only houses near the church are the Hall ? one of the seats of the Marquis of Londonderry ? and the few houses of those engaged upon the estate.
The present Hall occupies the site of the old manor house and village inn, and was extended by the late Lady Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry. The central portion of the Hall forms part of the old manor building. (The Hall with extension became a hospital, closed in 1982, and is at this present time an hotel.

The population of Seaham in 1801 was 115, in 1811,121, and in 1821,103.
Many visitors from Houghton, Durham and other places stayed at Seaham during the summer for the sea bathing. A brass plate in one of the pews in the church reads:- “Free access to this pew for all strangers”. The pew will seat four persons! Amongst such visitors was Mrs. Grant, a daughter of the Ironsides of Houghton, and wife of Judge Grant, with her children. The eldest Eliza, who married Colonel Smith of Baltiboys, in Ireland, delightfully describes her visit in Memoirs of a Highland Lady.

Early in the summer of 1808 … my mother removed with the children to Seaham, a little bathing hamlet on the coast of Durham, hardly six miles from Houghton. She had often passed an autumn there when a child, with some of her numerous brothers and sisters, and she said it made her feel young again to find herself there once more, wandering over all the ground she knew so well…
We lived in a little public-house, the only inn in the place. We entered at once into the kitchen, bright and clean, and full of cottage valuables; a bright ‘sea-coal’ fire burned always cheerily in the grate, and on the settle at one side generally sat the old grandfather of the family with his pipe, or an old worn newspaper, or a friend.

The daughter, who was mistress of the house, kept bustling about in the back kitchen, where all the business went on, which was quite as clean, though not so handsomely furnished, as the one where the old man sat. There was a scullery besides for dirty work, such as baking, brewing, washing, and preparing for cookery. A yard behind held a large water-butt and several out-houses.

 A neatly-kept flower garden, a mere strip, lay beneath the windows in the front, opening into a large kitchen garden on one side. The sea, though not distant, could only be seen from the upper windows; for this and other reasons we generally sat upstairs. Roses and woodbines clustered round the lattices, the sun shone in, the scent of the flowers, and the hum of the bees, and the chirp of the birds, all entered the open casements freely; and the polished floors and furniture, and the clean white dimity hangings, added to the cheerfulness of our suite of small attics.

The parlour below was dull by comparison. It could only be reached through the front kitchen; tall shrubs overshaded the window; it had green walls, hair bottomed chairs set all round them; one round table in the middle of the room, oiled till it was nearly black, and rubbed till it shone like a mirror; a patch of carpet was spread beneath this table, and a paper net for catching flies hung from the ceiling over it; a corner cupboard full of tall glasses and real old china tea-cups, and a large china punch-bowl on the top, and a corner-set arm-chair with a patch-work cover on the cushion, are all the extras I remember. We were very little in this ‘guest-chamber’, only at our meals or on rainy days.

We were for ever on the beach, strolling along the sands which were beautiful, sitting on the rocks or in the caves, penetrating as far into them as we dared. When we bathed, we ????.
???It was during the years 1814 and 1815 that the poet Byron visited Seaham, but except for the admiration of the sea, already referred to, he does not seem to have been impressed with the district, for in a letter written February 2nd, 1815, he writes:-“Upon this dreary coast we have nothing but county meetings and shipwrecks”.

That he was not surfeited with excitement seems evident, for on another occasion he writes:- “I am in such a state of sameness and stagnation . . . gathering shells on the beach and watching the growth of stunted gooseberry bushes in the garden.”????
???..The coast of Seaham seems ever to have been notorious for shipwrecks, and the villagers seem to have done all in their power to help unfortunate crews. Having none of the modern means of saving life, several of them, firmly holding a rope, and headed by a strong man, would enter the water to try to reach the vessel. My grandfather, being exceptionally tall and strong, acted as leader in this way, and in many cases several lives were thus saved.

Smuggling was carried on to some extent, and the farm buildings afforded convenient hiding places for stowing the goods. Smuggling went on until comparatively recent times???.
???.In September, 1861, whilst workmen were making the north road and the approach leading from it to Seaham Hall human bones were found, whilst they were cutting a drain close to the park gates. Care being taken in uncovering them it was found that they consisted of entire skeletons lying without any apparent order at a depth of from two to three feet below the surface. The excavation extended, though not continuously, over an area of ten yards by about three. In that space from 25 to 30 skeletons were found, some stretched out but without any regard to the points of the compass, whilst others appear to be doubled up, and in some instances the skeletons lay across one another.

Though entire when uncovered, the bones when exposed soon mouldered away. They were examined by three medical men, who pronounced all of them to be the bones of adult males. These bones appeared to extend further than the excavation reached, but it is impossible to say at present over what exact area they were deposited????
????.number of bones found in so small an area. In either case ? battle field or burial ground ? the large number of skeletons seemed to clearly indicate that a place of some considerable size had existed long before Seaham was first mentioned in the records of the reign of Athelstan???..
???Seaton village, a mile and a half west of Seaham, is pleasantly situated on high ground, partly surrounded by wood. Seaton Hall, formerly the old mansion of the Middletons, occupies the summit of the hill. A short time ago traces of the old hall of the 17th century could be seen in the mullioned windows and gables. Formerly Seaton formed part of the Manor of Seaham??..

Slingley, formerly Slinglawe, is to the south-west of Seaton. It now consists of two farm houses. A law or mound frequently formed an ancient burial place before the Roman occupation, and remains have been found in several such places. Surtees quotes:-“In 1564 George Swinburne, of Seaham, gentleman, leased to John Byllyngham of Crookhall, the younger, gentleman, all his lands in the towne and fieldes of Slinglawe upon the hill, for 21 years, under 40s. rents, the tenant to maintain the houses now beilded, and to fell great tymber for the upholding of the said houses.”????..
???????ROADS. Previous to 1821 none of the denes was bridged or embanked for the roadways, except the mouth of Dawdon Dene on the extreme south of Seaham parish. The road from Sunderland was by the present Stockton turnpike, running south-west from Ryhope village, and Seaham was approached through the park by the west lodge gates, where the road runs due east towards the sea. The south outlet was by the same park gates on the Stockton road.

There was a foot and bridle road north and south of the village by the sea cliffs, and this was reached by a lane past the church and glebe farm turning sharp to the south and winding down the north bank of the dene on to the beach,22 whence it proceeded south to the fields. Dawdon Dene was reached by a pathway up the cliffs and into the dene to Dalden Tower, farms etc. In the winter storms the road at the foot of the cliffs was sometimes covered by surf, and it has been known for a man to ride with his horse breast high through the surf in order to reach his stock in the fields on the south. What is now known as the “Feather-Bed Rocks,” situated near the entrance of Dawdon dene, adjoined the mainland by a narrow strip of grass land. This has been gradually washed away by sea until the rock is quite separated from the cliff and is fast disappearing. Some time ago cattle strayed over the narrow part on to the rock and had to be taken off by being lowered to the beach by ropes, the strip being too narrow to allow them to be driven over in safety.

Later a foot road ran from the east end of the village past the west wall of the churchyard through the dene and fields to the south.
This road crossed the Dawdon dene by a bridge and embankment, with a toll house on the north side which is still standing. The embankment was carried away many years ago after heavy rains, when the tunnel in the dene became choked with trees, etc., washed down by the rush of water, and the dene became flooded to the top of the embankment????
Two men came to cross the dene, and debated as to whether the road would be safe. One of them crossed and had scarcely cleared the farther side when the whole embankment gave way with a great noise and the water rushed towards the sea carrying all before it. At that time a small house further up the dene, now known as the “Adam and Eve Gardens”, was flooded, and the pressure being released from the outside, and the water within not being able to escape quickly, forced the front portion out and carried the stones away. A wooden structure was erected to carry the road over the dene in place of the bridge destroyed, and this continued until the present north road was made.

More recently, to the south west of the village, the road crossed the dene by a brick bridge, east of the present fine stone structure. The old bridge is still standing, though unused, and forms a very pretty picture in a romantic setting. The path through the dene westwards is still known as Byron’s Walk, and there is a well towards the west called Lady Byron’s well.
The road to Seaton was, as at present, to the west, past the lodge, the village of Seaton standing on the south side of the road. About two miles further along the road towards Houghton-le-Spring is Salters Lane leading to Slingley, which is a mile south of the Houghton road. Salter’s Lane probably takes its name from the traffic in salt carried over this road from the salt-pans at Shields to the south
 Newspaper article publication and date not known.

By John Hall, F.R.I.B.A.

There is, at St. Mary’s Church, Seaham (though it is not generally known), a large stone slab with somewhat unusual markings depicted upon its upper surface. In dimensions it is 6 feet by 3 feet 1 inch by 7.5 inches thick. It is of local limestone, and at present forms one of the pavement slabs within the altar-rail, being placed at the north-east corner of the chancel, one of its long sides against the north wall. This stone was thoroughly examined and measured during the renovations and excavations carried out within the Church in 1908, when evidence of Saxon foundations and Saxon windows were opened to view.

Upon the surrounding earth being purposely removed from the slab it was found that two of its edges and probably a third are moulded, whilst that of the long side, facing south, was plainly chiselled. From this evidence alone we are almost certain that this slab was originally the altar-stone used in the Church during pre-Reformation days.

In attempting to decipher the symbols, I believed, at the outset, ‘that they had the appearance of cup-markings of pre-historic times; but owing to their neatness of execution, and the unlikelihood of Christian authorities sanctioning and adopting an altar-stone showing Pagan symbols, I abandoned the idea. It is well-known, of course, that pagan stones have been frequently used as walling-stones in Christian buildings, but is there anywhere an example of pagan symbolism appearing upon a Christian altar?

A Probable Solution.
Feeling certain that the markings are of an astronomical nature, I then attempted another method of arriving at a solution, namely, by using the theory discovered by the late Sir J.N; Lockyear, at the same time deriving sympathetic support from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. I finally arrived at a probable solution of this difficult problem.
A long line seen on the stone is a representation of the Eastern horizon. A large I circle below it, the sun before dawn, and small circles, some upon and others above the line, are the risings and settings of the herald stars at the times of the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes, respectively.

I considered that this diagram of the Equinoxes, particularly that of spring time, might have been engraved upon the altar as a permanent reminder to the clergv with regard to the canonical time of holding the Easter festival. This festival, as we know, is of the greatest importance in the calendar of the Church, and since Easter 669 Easter Day has been celebrated on the first Sunday after the full, or Paschal moon following the Vernal Equinox, It was about this time, we are also informed by Bede, that Archbishop Theodore, the parish maker, taught the arts of Poetry, Astronomy and Arithmetic in England. 1 concluded that three circles arranged | triangle wise, as seen on the diagram, were a lithic representation of the Trinity, and were so placed upon the slab as to permanently remind the brethren of this great doctrine of the Christian’s-faith

Authorities’ Views..
Having completed the article briefly summarized here, I submitted it to several authorities for their consideration. Some of them in their reply, I gathered, were sceptical, while others, more sympathetic, declared that there may be something in my conclusions. All agreed in stating, however, that markings of this nature they had never seen before, particularly upon a Christian stone altar. Finally, through the assistance of Mr Reginald A. Smith, of the British Museum, a rubbing and drawing of this stone was submitted to Mr Ludovic MacLellan Mann, of Glasgow, an acknowledged authority upon cup-marked stones, who is about to publish a book upon this interesting subject.

This author now informs me that these markings are of an astronomical character, and are undoubtedly pre-historic. “They represent in the most exact manner certain events which have happened within one lunar year of 354.36 days.” He also states that similar markings have been found all over the globe. Mr Mann has further stated that he hopes to include a full account of the Seaham stone in his forthcoming book on the subject of cup-marked, stones.

As the method of deciphering these prehistoric characters is at present a secret known only to Mr Mann it is impossible to give further detail regarding this unique stone at Old Seaham Church, probably ranking, in the County of Durham, second only in importance to that of the date stone of Jarrow Church.

In conclusion. I would like to make a suggestion. This stone is now lying on the damp earth, and is thereby liable to be trodden on by pedestrians, thus causing the markings to be obliterated, in fact, a portion of the line and one group of the small dots have already suffered injury from this cause. I, therefore, venture to suggest that the slab should be removed from its present position in the chancel, and be re-fixed upon suitable stone supports in altar fashion, placed at the west end of the Church, where this unique relic of combined pagan and Christian craftsmanship may be readily inspected by all visitors to this interesting Saxon Church at Seaham.

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