Sunniside Local History Society

St Cuthbert's Church Marley Hill


A History of Marley Hill Church By Jean Mackie on the 12th January 1993

Brought up to date by Janice & Martin Garfoot on the 12th January 2005

In olden times the site chosen for a Church, was often on the top of a hill. Everyone could see it and it was 'above' other buildings. When St. Cuthbert’s was built there would be many more houses around the Church than exist today, i.e. Old Marley Hill, Andrews Houses, The Hole, a thriving pit - and consequently more people.

The Church Registers date from 1868 when the area within the present Parish boundaries was recognized as a Conventional District, and was served by a Priest in Charge. The first priest was licensed as Minister of the Ecclesiastical District of Marley Hill, on 23.11.1874. The St Cuthbert’s building was commenced in the mid 1870s and was consecrated by the Bishop of Durham, Charles Baring, on 15th November 1877 whereupon the Ecclesiastical District automatically became a Parish. Prior to the building of St Cuthbert’s worshippers had the use of three “tabernacles” one sited where the old Church Hall now stands, one in a field near the main road at Byermoor and one at the bottom of Elm Street West in Sunniside; these were served by the vicars of neighbouring parishes.

The new Parish of St. Cuthbert’s, Marley Hill, was formed from portions of the ancient parishes of Whickham, Tanfield and Lamesley and included Marley Hill, Andrews House and Byermoor Collieries; the hamlets of Crookgate, Sunniside, Tinker Fell and Streetgate as far as Fugar Bar Bridge in Ravensworth; also part of Fellside; all of which were formerly remote portions of Whickham, Lamesley and Tanfield Parishes. The total area was about 2,600 acres although some minor changes have been made to the Parish boundaries over the years it remained much the same until the formation of Hillside Parish in 2004.

St Cuthbert’s is built in the Gothic style and originally contained 254 Sittings. (Gothic being the long period of Architecture which existed from the 12th to the 15th Centuries, and embodied the early English and Decorated styles. The original influence was the Architecture of 12th Century France). The building cost £3000, the money being raised by public subscription.

A list of the Vicars (V) and Priests in Charge (PC) of the Parish follows: -

WHITE (V) The Revd Samuel 23rd November 1874 - 1891

WINGATE (V) The Revd William John 28th June 1892 - 1896

CROUDACE (V) The Revd William Darnell 27th February 1897 - 1898

ARBUCKLE (V) The Revd John 4th February 1899 - 1928

PROBERT (V) The Revd Francis William 21st October 1929 - 1958

SCOTT (V) The Revd Gordon 1st September 1959 - 1962

GALES (V) The Revd Alan 22nd May 1963 – 1994

RADLEY (PC) The Revd Stephen Gavin 12th September 1996 - 2001

HOPPER (PC)* The Revd Robert Keith 14th April 2002 - 2004

HOPPER (V)** The Revd Robert Keith 1st March 2004 -

* Also Vicar of Lobley Hill ** Vicar of the new Parish of Hillside (Lobley Hill and Marley Hill)

Only the current registers and records of Baptisms, Declarations of Banns, Marriages, Burials and Services are kept on site, the remainder having been transferred to the Durham County Record Office. The first recorded Baptism (Herbert W. COATES) took place on 18th November 1877; the first funeral (James LITTLETON) on 17th December 1877; and the first marriage (William Spencer TELFORD and Mary Gray THIRLAWAY) on 16th January 1878. The first Sexton (gravedigger and bell ringer) was William Howe DYE who was killed in an accident at Marley Hill on 14th May 1880.

The church is dedicated to St Cuthbert, the seventh century monk who died on the Inner Farne Island on 20th March 687. Lindisfarne was the place where Cuthbert loved to be. A typical Northerner, small, tough, impulsive and warm hearted, but willing to tell you straight, if he did not approve. His remains are now in Durham Cathedral, where there is a shrine to St. Cuthbert, his original coffin and pectoral cross are now on display in Durham Cathedral treasury. In years gone by on the nearest Sunday to the feast of St Cuthbert (20th March) there would be an annual pilgrimage of parishioners and friends to his shrine in the cathedral for communion and the sharing of a meal afterwards

Entry to St Cuthbert’s Church is through the PORCH, which has doors at the north and at the south end. The north door, which was the one used until the 2004 refurbishment for main access, is reached by a series of steps. The south door, which is the traditional entry direction, was for many years sealed off and that end of the porch used for storage: the provision of a tarmac path to this door enabled us to use this as the main access point to the church building. Oak double doors lead from the porch into a comfortable and versatile room at the back of the church, here you will find a modern TOILET and KITCHEN area and display notice boards; this area is used for post service refreshments, socializing and meetings. Separating this area from the NAVE is a glazed screen with double doors. The nave is the main body of the church where the congregation traditionally sits. This area, like the whole of the building, is fully carpeted with seating for 120 people on comfortable upholstered seats. Passing through the double doors will also pass through the ROOD SCREEN, which has been re-sited at the back of the nave. This screen originally stood between the pillars of the chancel arch forming a barrier between the nave and the chancel. The Rood Screen also serves as a memorial to those who fell in the First World War. To the right as you enter the nave is the Second World War memorial and the Marley Hill Miners Memorial along with the case for the books of remembrance. To the left is the desk that controls the audio-visual displays that are used during services instead of hymnbooks and service sheets. The stained glass windows on the north (left) side of the nave are dedicated to the memory of Cuthbert Berkley (d 27th January 1912) and depict Christ in the centre flanked by St Peter (with the keys of heaven) and another unidentified saint who is generally thought to be St Paul. The south side windows are in memory of Cuthbert Berkley, his wife Barbara and eldest son Richard William, they depict the Angel of Resurrection flanked by the Angels of Faith and Hope. Cuthbert Berkley lived in Marley Hill House at High Marley Hill and was the Viewer and Mining Engineer for John Bowes & Partners. He had formerly been an Agent for Marley Hill Colliery. In 1862 Cuthbert was a Churchwarden at Whickham and he was a leading figure in the forming of Marley Hill Parish.

At the end of January 2016 we said goodbye to Bob and Val Hopper. Bob was our vicar for 33 years and his final weekend with us was one of very mixed emotions because, for many of us, Bob was not just our vicar but a longstanding friend. Bob and Val are now enjoying a well-earned but extremely busy retirement with a variety of new projects in sight as well as the joy of spending more time with their grandchildren.


The Nave & Chancel

To the left at the front of the nave is the ORGAN, built by Nicholson of Newcastle c.1870; the quality of music produced by this instrument has improved tremendously since the refurbishment when a new blower was fitted. Contemporary instruments are used nowadays at most of the regular services but the organ is played for most weddings and funerals and at the carol services. Up two steps is the CHANCEL, which was formerly separated from the nave by the Rood screen and cluttered by the choir stalls; it is now a comfortable, open and versatile space that has many uses. Within this area the LECTERN normally is placed. A further step up is what used to be the SANCTUARY, which was separated from the chancel by a rail; this was removed during the refurbishment of 2004 to allow full access to all areas of the building by worshippers. Here are found the ALTAR, PASCHAL CANDLE, FONT and a CREDENCE TABLE all used at various services throughout the year. The lectern, altar, font, credence table and candle stand were all handmade in oak by local craftsman, Chris Winn, a member of Hillside Church. The east end windows were dedicated, on Palm Sunday 1893, to the memory of Samuel White the first vicar, and illustrate visiting the sick and feeding the hungry, above the oval window shows the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. Through a door to the left is the VESTRY; this is now another comfortable, warm and well lit room that is used for small meetings and prayers. A door of this room leads to the boiler room, which was created by partitioning the old vestry during the 2004 refurbishments.

Externally the building is very much as it would have been built, an extension was made to the vestry in the early part of the 20th century and changes were made to the access to the porch as part of the 2004 refurbishment. The building has two bells, probably cast by Taylors of Loughborough, housed in a small belfry above the roof, it is understood that the last time these were rung was around 1977. One of the bells is known to be cracked and the operating mechanism for both is broken at some point within the roof space, repair would require removal of part of the roof and cost a five-figure sum so it is unlikely they will be repaired. The graveyard is full as far as we know (no accurate plan exists), because of this and the fact that the ground is completely waterlogged the graveyard has now been closed for burials with the exception of the Garden of Remembrance, which is used for the burial of cremated remains. Study of the inscriptions on gravestones can reveal some of the history of the families who have lived and died in the area although, as old photographs reveal, there are very few gravestones remaining today; over the years many have broken or fallen or have been laid down for safety reasons.


The New Nave & Chancel


During the latter part of the 20th century the Church of England faced many problems, falling congregations, reduced income and falling numbers entering the priesthood. In Marley Hill the numbers in the congregation had remained static for many years and began to decline as people grew older and older and eventually died. When Stephen Radley left the parish it became clear that there would never be a permanent full time vicar in the parish. The opportunity arose to take radical action to secure the future of the church in Marley Hill; the Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) of both St Cuthbert’s and All Saints’ Lobley Hill decided that there was an opportunity to create a new parish – something almost unheard of – which would cover the areas of the old parishes of Lobley Hill and Marley Hill. The necessary legalities were put in train and the Parish of Hillside (Lobley Hill & Marley Hill) came into existence on 1st March 2004.

The radical thinking (for the Church of England at least) continued in relation to the Marley Hill CHURCH HALL. The Hall, the brick building next to the churchyard along St Cuthberts Road was built in 1961 following a donation by Sarah Dale, has been used over the years for many activities – Girls Friendly Society, Church Lads Brigade, Boxing Club, Mothers Union, Table Top Sales, Mother & Toddler Group and various social functions such as quizzes, bingo, amateur dramatics, dancing, barbecues. By the 1980s virtually all of these had ceased to function and it was doubtful if the operation of the hall had ever broken even. Towards the end of the 1990s the hall was unused and in a very dilapidated state whilst still costing the church a great deal in terms of insurance and safety maintenance. At around the same time it became clear that if St Cuthbert’s church was to be of any use to the church and parishioners it would need considerable modernization, the Disability Discrimination Act was also due to come into force which would have necessitated essential work being done. The PCC decided to sell the hall and use the proceeds to fund a refurbishment of the church building. This was done and work started on the refurbishment in January 2004 and was completed in March 2004; much of the work was done by a competent team of church members under the leadership of the vicar, with structural work being done by a local firm of builders. The inside of the building was completely modernized and the internal spaces made flexible by the removal of all fixed obstructions; the introduction of carpeting throughout, full central heating, comfortable seats, bright lights, a toilet, and a proper kitchen area, none of which were in place before. The dilapidated vestry was converted partly into a new boiler room and partly into a very comfortable meeting room.

The building was re-opened by the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, in April 2004 and is being used regularly by more people than have used the building for decades, services are now lively and joyful and attract a wide spectrum of people but the essential atmosphere of the original church has not been lost. And the cost? – the sale of the hall realized almost exactly the same amount that was spent on the refurbishment, proof if anyone needed it of the Grace of God!

If you have found this brief history interesting you may wish to visit us at one of our services at Hillside Church, either at St Cuthbert’s Marley Hill or All Saints’ Lobley Hill, details can be found on the church notice board or on our website on the address below, you will be made very welcome.


To the rear of the Church and facing the Altar are memorial plaques to the memory of all local men who fell in both World Wars:

Jonathan Arnold, Joshua Arnold, Jonathan Armstrong, Daniel Arthurs, Henry Atkinson, Alexander Bainbridge, Thomas Bainbridge, Richard Baker, Andrew Batey, William Bell, William Best, Thomas Briggs, Stephen Brown, James Butcher, Thomas Butcher* (*James Albert?), Anthony Cafferty, John Cairns, George Charlton, Matthew Clark, Robert Clark, George Chisholm, Robert Chisholm, Thomas Clifton, Jonathan Collingwood, John Cranney, William Cranney, Albert Croft, Thomas Cumming, George Davies, Edwin Davison, Jonathan Davison, Robert Davison, Thomas Dent, Robert Douglas, George Dryden, Robert Dryden, Matthew Duffy, Walter Dye, Jonathan Ekin, Frederick Elliott, Fred Ellis, Robert Ellis, William Ellis, Thomas Ellison, George Eltringham, Alexander Finlay, Matthew Finlay, Henry Forrest, Thomas Gaul, George Gilhespy, James Darcy Lees Graham, John Hally, Charles Harm, Fred Hasland, Anthony Hedworth, George Hilton, James Hinds, Jonathan Hodson, Matthew Holmes, Joseph Hutchinson, Benjamin Huxley, Joel Kitchenman, Walter Lawson, George Layton, John Leitch, Arthur Mann, John Mason, Robert Melton, George Miller, Francis Murray, James Naisby, Thomas Oliver, Humphrey Ord, Alexander Patterson, Anthony Pearson, George Pearson, Jonathan Pescod, Alfred Pharoah, Kenneth Pharoah, Ernest Porter, Robert Porter, Joseph Pryde, Alfred Rayner, Joseph Reay, Joseph Reed, John Robinson, Alfred Robson, William Robson, Hugh Rowell, Robert Rowell, J W Scott, George Shanks, James Shearlaw, Ronald Shipley, Robert Simm, Ernest Smith, J W Stirrup, Thomas Stirrup, Edwin Taylor, Eric Teasdale, Jonathan Thirlwell, Ralph Thompson, Norman Tucker, F Waddle, George Wallace, Richard Wallace, David Welsh, James White, George Wightman, Jonathan Wilkinson, Thomas Wilson, William Young.

The list of names has been kindly provided by Martin Garfoot.


The above are wall mounted plaques:

Bronze Plaque 1939 - 1945

Thomas Butcher, Albert Croft, Thomas Cummings, Robert Douglas, Walter Dye, George Davies, George Eltringham, Frederick Elliott, Kenneth Pharoah, Ernest Porter, Anthony Pearson, Alfred Robson, George Shanks, Ronald Shipley, Robert Simm, Ernest Smith, George Wightman, Thomas Wilson, William Young.

Brass Plaque Marley Hill Coal Miners 1914 – 1919

George Miller, David Welsh, George Pearson, Noel Kitchenman, Robert Melton, John Davison, Daniel Arthurs, R.W. Rowell, Robert Drydon, Frederick Ellis, Henry Atkinson, William Ellis, John Cranney, J.W. Scott, Robert Porter, John Cairns, James Shearlaw, Anthony Hedworth, William Best, Joseph Hutchinson, Joseph L Wilkinson, James Hinds, James Naisby, Matthew Clark, John Leitch, Edwin Taylor, James White, Thomas Gaul, Arthur Mann, Stephen Brown, Edwin Davison, Matthew Finlay, Alex Finlay, Robert Chisholm, George Chisholm, George Gilhesphy, Walter Lawson, Anthony Cafferty, Francis Murray, William Cranney, Alex Patterson, Henry Forrest, Matthew Duffy, John Hally, Charles Harm, George Hilton, J.W. Stirrup, J.W. Armstrong, J.W. Pescod, Frederick Masland.


The following details of one former Marley Hill coal miner has been researched by a family member.


James Archibald Lennie Shearlaw Lance Corporal S/12831 5th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders

Lance Corporal Shearlaw was born in the St George district of Edinburgh on 2nd January 1892; a son to Adam Shearlaw, Baker, and Mary-Ann Shearlaw [nee Lennie]. His siblings were Margaret McIntyre Shearlaw, Mary A F Shearlaw and Joseph Shearlaw. The family resided at various addresses: 11 Jane Street, Leith during the late 1870s; 18 Dundee Terrace, Edinburgh in 1881; 35 Earl Grey Street, Edinburgh in 1891; 46 Cookson Street, Westgate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1901. In 1911 James was a boarder residing at Prospect Terrace, Sunniside, near Gateshead. He was employed as a Coal Miner Hewer at Marley Hill Pit near Whickham and was single at that time. He later married Beatrice Gill on 16th April 1916 at Gateshead, Durham and they resided at Church Street, Marley Hill, County Durham.

A portion of James’s service records survived, though they are badly damaged, and these along with his medal card, his medal roll entry, his Soldier’s Effects entry, his unit war diary and his CWGC entry have helped me to construct the following brief biography.

During the Great War James enlisted at Edinburgh on 10/09/1914 and he served initially as Private S/12831 in the 1st Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, entering France as a theatre of war on 18/01/1915, his battalion serving in the 1st Brigade, 1st Division. His unit took part in the Battle of Aubers and the Battle of Loos in 1915.

James was appointed Lance Corporal on 20/10/1915. He was admitted to the West Riding Casualty Clearing Station on 14/11/1915 and was then admitted to the 2nd Canadian General Hospital. I’m not certain why but the word “Headache” is written next to his return date to the UK which was 01/12//1915. There may be a clue in the initials P.U.O. written above it which I believe may have stood for “pyrexia of unknown origin” and in some cases it may have been referring to trench fever; that would certainly explain the headaches.

He returned to France on 10/07/1916 and joined his new unit on 27th July 1916, which was now the 5th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, serving as part of the 26th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division. During 1916 this battalion took part in the Battle [or Battles] of the Somme. The last British offensive in the Somme was the Battle of Transloy which took place between 1st and 18th October 1916 and the 5th QOCH took part in this action.

James was killed in action on 18th October 1916, aged 25, and on that day the 5th QOCH took part in an action close to Butte de Warlencourt. They were to capture an area known as the Pimple that had a trench known as Snag Trench and they were then to move on to Gird Trench. The attack was partially successful however the Germans did counter-attack many times.

As mentioned above, James died in this action and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, Pier and Face 15 B. His name appears in a casualty list in The Scotsman dated 20th November 1916. He was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.


Pip, Squeak and Wilfred

Are the affectionate names given to the three WW1 campaign medals — The 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal respectively. These medals were primarily awarded to the Old Contemptibles (B.E.F.). and by convention all three medals are worn together and in the same order from left to right when viewed from the front. The set of three medals or at least the British War Medal and the Victory Medal are the most likely medals to be found among family heirlooms.

When the WW1 medals were issued in the 1920's it coincided with a popular comic strip published by the Daily Mirror newspaper. It was written by Bertram J. Lamb (Uncle Dick), and drawn by the cartoonist Austin Bowen Payne (A.B. Payne). Pip was the dog, Squeak the penguin and Wilfred the young rabbit. It is believed that A. B. Payne's batman during the war had been nicknamed “Pip-squeak” and this is where the idea for the names of the dog and penguin came from. For some reason the three names of the characters became associated with the three campaign medals being issued at that time to many thousands of returning servicemen, and they stuck. Many veterans found the ‘nick name’ offensive.

The Memorial Plaque, pictured above on the right,

Was issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. The plaques (which could be described as large plaquettes) were made of bronze, and hence popularly known as the "Dead Man’s Penny", because of the similarity in appearance to the somewhat smaller penny coin. 1,355,000 plaques were issued, which used a total of 450 tonnes of bronze,and continued to be issued into the 1930s to commemorate people who died as a consequence of the war.