Wednesday, February 18, 2009

St Mary's Staindrop, home church of Nevilles

St. Mary's Staindrop, west end
Twelve hundred year-old St. Mary’s church, in the village of Staindrop near Raby Castle in County Durham, seems an unlikely place to hold the tombs of the powerful Neville family. It’s just a few miles down the road from the beautiful Raby Castle, built by my ancestors the Nevilles, and now a palace for Lord Barnard and his family.

Many aristocratic families buried their dead in abbeys, priories, and large, impressive churches--and those edifices were destroyed at the Dissolution by Henry VIII, or in the English Civil Wars in the mid-17th century. But Staindrop St. Mary's has survived intact, perhaps because it was small and out of the way.  "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first."

In fact, St. Mary’s at Staindrop was a very important abbey church from Saxon times. My ancestors through Robert Fitzmaldred, a Saxon lord who married Isabel de Neville, go back to Saxon and Scottish royalty. Isabel’s de Neville’s ancestors go back to Neuville-sur-Touques, Normandy, about 1000 AD. The church predates both Robert and Isabel by 300 years.

Staindrop church in present-day shape.
The nave was square in the 11th century, rectangular in the 12th,
and in 1343, Ralph Neville (who is buried in Durham Cathedral!)
enlarged it to a square again by adding the Lady Chapel
on the south for the Neville women's burials.
 The marriage of Robert Fitzmaldred (1172-1242) and Isabel de Neville (1176-1254) brought the Norman Neville name, estates, and influence together with the Saxon landholders of Raby, in a family that would strongly influence English history for hundreds of years – and 800 years and 27 generations later, result in the author of this blog.

Two couples of Nevilles are entombed at Durham Cathedral: Lady Maud de Percy (1335-1378) and husband Lord John Neville (1328-1388); and Lord Ralph Neville (1291-1367) and his wife Lady Alice d’Audley (d. 1374). They were patrons of Durham Cathedral and donated the magnificent carved-stone Neville Screen in the chancel of the cathedral. Several generations of Nevilles were buried at Coverham Abbey near Middleham Castle, which the Nevilles inherited.

Those with medieval effigies in the Staindrop church:

…Margery de Thweng Neville, 1st wife of Baron Ralph Neville (1291-1367 who is buried at Durham cathedral with 2nd wife Alice d’Audley). Margery died childless.
…Isabel de Neville, 1176-1254. Her husband Robert Fitzmaldred’s burial place is unknown.
…Euphemia de Clavering Neville, 1267-1339. Her husband Randolph Neville was buried at Coverham Abbey in Yorkshire. For a lovely description with excellent photos of Euphemia's effigy, visit http://anhrefn.blogspot.com/2011/06/euphemia-de-clavering.html
…Ralph Neville, 1st Earl Westmorland, 1364-1425. (Ralph’s effigy and tomb is here, plus both wives’ effigies: Margaret Stafford was buried at Brancepeth Castle and Joan Beaufort was buried at Lincoln Cathedral). This Ralph, in 1408, was granted the license to found a college at the church, with an endowment the equivalent of today’s £300,000.
…Child’s effigy, unknown name. Perhaps this effigy represents one child, or many infants or children who succumbed to stillbirth, illness, or injury, who are buried in the church.

The Staindrop roof has been raised, and you can see a steep pitch in the stonework above the chancel, below the nearly-flat beamed ceiling. The red-ochre and black floor tiles are medieval, and similar colors and style may be seen at many medieval churches across England, including Lincoln, Gloucester, Winchester, Tutbury, and Merevale. The original Saxon church was a cruciform plan, but was enlarged in the 1200s and 1300s by the Nevilles’ sponsorship, and is now nearly a square because the aisles were enlarged by creating space to the west of each transept. The aisles and west end of the nave hold the memorials to the Lords of Raby over the centuries.

The font is Egglesone marble from late 15th century, and carries the arms of Edward Neville, 1st Lord Bergavenny (d. 1476), son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl Westmorland.

The ceiling of the choir is decorated with the Neville arms, and off to the left of the choir is a small viewing window high up, which is a hermit’s view of the altar and Eucharistic ceremonies, according to the signage there. The description of “anchorite” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorite seems to fit the Staindrop cell better than that of “hermit,” and I found a reference to an anchoritic cell at Staindrop: “… a chamber with an ancient fire-place over the vestry of this church. At the head of the stone newel staircase is a square-headed window of three lights, the mullions of which are cut askew from east to west in order to command the high altar.” http://www.historyfish.org/anchorites/clay_anchorites_seven.html

"The [Staindrop] Church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is a most interesting structure, and bears traces of great antiquity, many distinct evidences of a church of early Saxon foundation being still in existence. The church, in its present form, consists of nave, north and south aisles, both of which are wider than the nave itself, chancel, with spacious vestry, and priest's house or "domus inclusa" [anchorite cell] over it, a north transept, an engaged western tower, and south porch. Traces of an early Saxon church are to be seen in the spandrils of the three eastern arches of the nave on each side, and in the eastern wall of the nave, as high as the springing of the Early Pointed roof. The material used in these ancient fragments of walls is coarse rubble, thickly patched with original moss, decisive proof that a great part of it has not been quarried, but won from the surface." [From History, Topography and Directory of Durham, Whellan, London, 1894] Source: http://www.joinermarriageindex.com/pjoiner/genuki/DUR/Staindrop/index.html

I confess to rushing through the church tour, so as to get to my objective: photographing the effigies of my ancestors. So in addition to my observations, I owe some of Staindrop’s history (and the floor plan drawing) to a pamphlet I purchased at the back of the church, St. Mary’s Staindrop, An Illustrated History and Guide, by Clifton Sutcliffe, William K. Trotter, and Rev. David R. Jones.

Also, a hearty thanks to the pastoral staff of Staindrop for leaving the church unlocked during the day so visitors (on pilgrimage from California!) can enter for worship, for study, for reverie, or paying respects to their dusty ancestors.


  1. I stopped of at Staindrop Church to look at the Neville tombs, and whilst there, was telling one of the workmen working on repairs of the church, a very brief history of the Earls.
    He pointed out that the tomb of the last Earl of Westmoreland, leader of the Rising of the North in 1569, who died in poverty abroad was made of wood, whilst the other tombs for both the Earl and the Duke of Cleveland were made of marble.
    Sounded plausible to me - do you know anything about them?

  2. I didn't pay too much attention to memorials of non-ancestors! My Nevilles after about 1482 married into the Gascoignes and Plumptons of Yorkshire.

    Here's what the "St Mary's Staindrop" booklet says:
    '...The Neville dynasty at Raby ended in 1569 with the family's disastrous involvement in the Rising of the North. This was when the house of Neville joined with the house of Percy in opposing Elizabeth I's new English Prayer Book. The rebellion was unsuccessful and Charles Neville, the sixth earl, escaped to Flanders. St. Mary's has the distinction of being the last English parish church to celebrate the Roman Mass in Latin...'

    The booklet goes on to say that in 1626, Raby was purchased [from the Nevilles or the Crown??] by the Vane family, ancestors of the current Lord Barnard.

    That's the best I can do from southern California! Good luck in your research and travels.

  3. Hello
    We love your blog! We are looking for a drawing of the Raby Castle as my Grandfather spent time there and my Daughter is doing a model of the Castle. Any information you may have would help as we can't seem to find any dimensions.
    Also I have been looking for one of my ancestors Mary M. Grundon Hutchinson wife of William Hutchinson who lived near the Castle about 1890 if you have any ideas on finding her. Keep up the great work. Lisa Finder

  4. Thank you, Lisa. Glad you like it. My blog is different from other genealogy blogs because my interest lies in finding who our ancestors were in personality, their life details, and where they lived and died. My other blog (see sidebar column at right) contains inspirational articles.

    Have you looked at the Raby Castle website? www.rabycastle.com They may have books or prints available online, the same as they sell in their gift shop. I bought a guide book to the castle when I visited, and would help you if I could--but I'm moving house and it's already packed. Don't know when or where I'll unpack it.

    As for your other questions, I'm not very helpful because ALL my ancestors were American by 1659. However, there's a relatively new website/network you may enjoy: http://www.genealogywise.com/ where you can post just such questions! Good luck.

  5. PS to Lisa:
    You're in Gilbert, AZ??? Wow! I'm moving back to Phoenix-metro, my native city, around Feb 2010. We should keep in touch, and when we're "neighbors," I can share what Neville/Raby info I have with you. Too late for your daughter's project, but not too late for curiosity's sake.


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