The First Church

In 1273 Sir Thomas, Lord of West Herrington donated to the Prior and Monks of St. Cuthbert another of his Manors, that of Houghall.

It was not an entirely disinterested act, he received in return chantry masses to be said for him in the Cathedral and two chantry priests. One of whom was to say mass in the Chapel of Blessed Mary at West Herrington for the souls of his parents and his deceased wives and, ultimately, himself.

The Priest’s well on the North side of Herrington Hill must surely derive from this establishment. It led in a later century to a dispute with the Houghton Rector, jealous of his privileges, but from this we learn that mass was said three days each week.

Here then, we have a record of the first celebration of the great act of Christian Worship, the offering of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, which after the vicissitudes of centuries is celebrated in Herrington nigh on seven hundred years since this first record.

This Chapel of Blessed Mary is considered to have stood on the rising grass grown mounds at the eastern end of the village but no real vestiges remain. Likely it was swept away at the dissolution of the Chantries on the eve of the Reformation, if not earlier. The tiny population who then, perforce had to trek the two miles to the parish in Houghton must have felt its loss. Not until the opening of the railway and collieries was the need evident for a place of worship in the vicinity.

Accordingly in 1839 the Rev. Thurlow, Rector of Houghton, agreed at his own expense to erect a “Chapel of Ease” – a truly appropriate expression – and the foundation stone was laid on the 26th September. The following year it was consecrated and served the village until New Herrington developed at the centre of the mining district. Its design was similar to that at Wingate of around the same date.

Ernest Weightman at St. Cuthbert’s

Here the tiny number of worshippers were joined also by those of East Herrington who also used its burial ground. The first marriage was solemnised in 1841 when William Stonehouse, son of James the Blacksmith of East Herrington married Ann Rodgers, daughter of a farmer at Middle Herrington. Twenty four weddings took place in the first half-dozen years – the names are familiar from early Victorian Directories – Ralph Wallace, Farmer; Thomas Seymour of Low Haining; John Ramshaw, Joiner; Henry Story, Tailor.

In later years the use of this Chapel was infrequent, but because of its dedication it was always opened on St Cuthbert’s Day (20th March) for private prayer.

Miss McLaren of 1st Herrington Scouts fought to keep the church open but in March 1975 the Church Commissioners declared it redundant and it was demolished, not without some “owls of protest” from a family of Barn Owls clearly upset at the intrusion into their adopted nursery under the eaves. The semi-circular altar rails and pew benches were destroyed and of little loss but the simple Victorian glass of three panels showing the Crucifixion scene was, alas, also destroyed and might have been removed elsewhere.

Here in the Churchyard are monuments to several families belonging to the village’s agricultural past. The McLarens from Herrington Hill, John Stonehouse’s family tombstone – the man who discovered the fire at Peat’s Hall and who worked the smithy at the Board Inn. Appletons; Currys; Edwards of Herrington Mill; William Melvin, Farmer; Thomas Robson, Church Warden; Tennents; Ramshaws.

Also the families who emigrated here in the early days of Railway Building and the sinking of Philadelphia pit – John Stokoe, manager for the Earl of Durham’s railways; Thompsons; Dunns; Edward Martin, agent for Lambton Collieries; Pearsons; Erringtons of Hexham; Fawcetts; Dawsons – names from whom the succeeding generations of New Herrington have sprung.

Margaret Wheatley’s grave

Of particular significance is the grave of Margaret Wheatley, the New Herrington girl who gave her life to rescue an animal and after whom the RSPCA named its highest award, the Margaret Wheatley Cross.