The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin

Morpeth Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, the oldest of the three church buildings in the Parish, stands on the Kirkhill approximately one mile out of the town of Morpeth. With its natural position and architectural features it is one of the finest and largest 14th century churches in the County of Northumberland. 
St Mary's was Morpeth's main Parish Church until the 1840s, when church attendance was falling, due in no small part to its location, on the southern boundary of the town. The walk, particularly in winter, was proving too much for parishioners, so it was decided to build a new and more suitable church in the centre of the town. The building of St James was begun in 1844 and completed in 1846. This short guide to the church shows some of its features, but to appreciate fully its beauty, a visit is highly recommended.


Many people have played a part in establishing a church on this ancient site of Kirkhill. There was an unknown evangelising monk, companion of Aidan or Cuthbert. Ranulf, the grandson of William de Merlay, one of  William the Conqueror’s officers, whose reward for quelling the rebellious Northumbrians was the Barony and lands of Morpeth. There was a group of monks from Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire where Ranulf had sought shelter in his travels, who at his invitation came north to build Newminster after the Conquest. The stone masons in the employ of the Baron may also have played their part in founding the church. Despite the devastation wrought by Scandinavian, Scottish and Cromwellian vandals and thanks to the faithful restorers of the 14th, 17th and 19th centuries, the present church, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, stands witness to the gospel which has been proclaimed here for almost 900 years. However recent study has suggested that there may have been Anglo Saxon activity on the same site.

The Exterior

St Mary's Church Tower TOWER: Some of the oldest architecture of the church. A buttress of the east end of the south aisle rises to its full height without any stages, then dies away into the wall in a very long setoff; this is a sign of the Transitional Period 1160 - 1190. The north side contains the stairway to the tower. The masonry is probably of two periods, the lower late 12th c., the upper 14th c. St Mary's Church Porch PORCH: This was added to the main building probably between 1500 - 1600. On the east wall is a list of Rectors from 1129. There are numerous graffiti monks from ancient days. 
A small niche, which may have held a lamp, can be seen in the wall.
Detail from the Priests' Door PRIESTS DOORWAY: South side of the chancel, a beautiful Early English door of fine workmanship 1200 1272. The deeply undercut string course of the wall runs over the doorway as a hood moulding, giving deep shadows. The fittings, shown here, are of excellent quality.
St Mary's Lychgate and Yew Trees LYCHGATE This was erected by the Fenwick family of Netherton in 1861.
 A line of Yew trees stretches from the Iychgate to the entrance of the church on the south side . They were traditionally thought of as an emblem of immortality. Most ancient burials ore found on the south side of the church because people disliked the shadow of the church on the graves.

The Interior

View of the Nave facing East NAVE The main arcades with pointed arches are late 12th century. The pillars of the south arcade are shorter than the north arcade and there are tracings of mediaeval painting in red and black on some. In the north joint of the chancel arch is a squint or hagioscope, probable for the priest to see the High Altar and coincide with the mass. View of the Nave facing West to the Tower NAVE (West) View to the tower area, which is the oldest part of the church in the Transitional Early English style, 1160-1190, with a fine vaulted roof (see picture below). Several masons’ marks are to be found in the church giving a positive link with the builders of Newminster Abbey in 1188. 
The Nave vaulted roof The Nave vaulting, looking east, toward the Chancel Stone vaulting in the Tower Roof TOWER ROOF
The exceptionally fine stone vaulting in the tower roof, with Decorated groining.
South Aisle East Wimdow & Tomb Niche THE WOODMAN WINDOWS The south aisle east window has the oldest most important early 14th century glass in the tracery lights,  (the upper part of the window). The lower part of the window is a memorial dedicated to his wife by Mr W Woodman in 1870.  There is also a fine tomb niche visible in the south wall.  14th Century Stained Glass in the Woodman Window  S AISLE E. WINDOW (detail)
Christ in Majesty is holding an orb in his left hand depicting three continents, all that was known to the medieval world. The lower figure inscribed on the left is St Denys of France, protector of cattle, and St Blosius, protector of sheep, is  on the right. The Woodman window was restored in December 2000.
 The east window of the chancel is the chief glory of the church, depicting Jesse’s dream. The heodstops supporting the hood moulding of the east window may represent Edward Ill and Queen Philippa, so the dating would be before 1377
Detail from the Jesse Window JESSE WINDOW (detail)
Sedilia in the Chancel South Wall CHANCEL SEDILIA
 To the right of the east window, the sedilia may be 14th and 15th century and show some evidence of Cromwellian vandalism. To the east of the sedilla ore a piscina and the remains of a credence.  
Angel Headstop in the South Chancel CHANCEL STONE CARVINGS
One of the finest carvings in the church, this carved angel, playing a stringed instrument is one of the head stops on the south side of the Chancel.
Carved stone figure on Sedilia Detail of  one of the stone figures decorating the arches of the sedilia in the Chancel. Carved stone figures on Sedilia Two further figures on the sedilia arches. Note the evidence here of possible damage during the Cromwellian period.

Emily Wilding Davison

 Emily Wilding Davison (1872 - 1913) is remembered as the woman who died by "throwing herself" under the hoofs of Anmer, King George V's horse on June 4, 1913 at the Epsom Derby in support of the British suffragette movement. She was trampled and died a few days later, never having regained consciousness. She is is buried in St Mary's the church yard and her gravestone bears the WSPU slogan, "Deeds not words". 
Emily Davison was born in Blackheath, London, and had a university education, obtaining  first-class honours in her final exams at Oxford, though women were not at that time admitted to degrees. She joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906, and immediately involved herself in their more militant activities. She was arrested and imprisoned for various offences;  went on hunger strike and was force-fed in Holloway prison, where she attempted suicide as a protest. Emmeline Pankhurst believed that it was her experiences in prison that brought Emily Davison to the conclusion that only the ultimate sacrifice would bring any success to the Suffragettes. Emmeline wrote in "My Own Story" that Emily decided that only the loss of life "would put an end to the intolerable torture of women." 
Film of the incident shows her stepping out in front of the horse, Anmer, as it rounded Tattenham Corner, with Davison carrying the banner of the WSPU. But instead of stopping, Anmer trampled her, knocking her unconscious. Eyewitnesses at the time were divided as to her motivation, with many believing that she had simply intended to cross the track, believing that all horses had passed; while others reported that she had attempted to pull down the King's horse. She died four days later in hospital, due to a fractured skull. 

Emmeline Pankhurst described Emily Davison's death in her autobiography 'My Own Story', as follows:. 

Emily Davison clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women. And so she threw herself at the King's horse, in full view of the King and Queen and a great multitude of their Majesties' subjects. 

Mary Richardson was with Emily Davison at the Derby in 1913. Mary Richardson wrote about the incident in her book 'Laugh a Defiance'. 

A minute before the race started she raised a paper on her own or some kind of card before her eyes. I was watching her hand. It did not shake. Even when I heard the pounding of the horses' hoofs moving closer I saw she was still smiling. And suddenly she slipped under the rail and ran out into the middle of the racecourse. It was all over so quickly.

Emily Davison Funeral Cortege in Morpeth

Crowds line the route to St Mary's
 for Emily Davison's funeral procession

Memorial on Davison grave in Morpeth Churchyard

One of the stone memorials on the Davison grave, inscribed to
'A Veritable Princess of Spirituality
from A Loving Aberdeen Friend'

Emily Davison Funeral leaving Morpeth Station

The funeral cortege leaving Morpeth Station