A brief history of Saint Mary’s Parish Church

Dedicated, like many local churches, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Parish Church owes its foundation in about 1130 AD to Bernard de Baliol, who built the Castle. It forms part of an important town centre group near the Market Cross and Marketplace, contributing to the charm of the unspoilt town centre.

Originally a daughter church of the parish of Gainford, Barnard Castle was in the gift of St. Mary’s Abbey at York until after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Trinity College, Cambridge, then became the patrons, and have appointed the incumbents ever since, In 1866 Barnard Castle became a separate parish with its own Vicar, instead of a Perpetual Curate from Gainford, A great benefactor of the church was Richard, Duke of Gloucester (afterwards Richard ifi), who was Lord of Barnard Castle from 1477-85. He greatly extended and beautified the church at his own cost and intended to found a college of priests here, although the plan was not apparently put into effect. His supposed effigy is on the south side of the Chancel arch, and his wild boar emblem is carved on the outside of the east window in the South Transept .

There are some interesting monuments, including that of Robert de Mortham, a 14th century vicar of Gainford in the North Transept. The entrance porch has memorials to Sir John & Lady Hullock, a local man who became a judge and Baron of the Exchequer, and to an officer who died of wounds received in the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava.

The church plate includes two fine silver chalices dated 1670 and 1680, both still in weekly use.

The font, of stone from the local river known as Tees Marble, is unique, and dates from 1485. The markings on it deft historians’ attempts at interpretation, but are probably a Medieval Guild or Brotherhood Mark.

The South Doorway, which was plastered over in the wall of the South Aisle until the restoration works of the 19th century, is of the Transitional Period between the 12th & 13th centuries. The bases are Early English. The upper order of mouldings has Norman characteristics. Drawings of the early 18th century indicate the presence of an outer porch of Georgian design.

Outside to the west of the South Door stands the interesting table tomb of Humphrey Hopper, of Black Headley, Northumberland.

The Architecture

30 Norman Period: The original church was an oblong nave without aisles or transepts, and with a long chancel. Very little of this now remains. The North Aisle arcade dates from late Norman times (1180).

1300 Early English Period: The South Arcade of pointed arches and octagonal pillars was added and a spire erected on the low tower.

1380 Decorated Period: The North Transept was built and a chantry chapel added.

1480 Perpendicular Period: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, widened and extended the aisles and transepts, raised the walls of the Nave and Chancel and built a rood- loft. The Church reached its present size and approximate form at this time.

1780 George III: The Church was in wretched condition. Burials took place inside the Church no paved floor existed. It was very damp, without light or heat.

1814 George IV & Victoria: Various schemes were carried out. The Nave floor was lowered two feet, pews were installed, galleries removed, the organ loft built and stained glass windows inserted. The old tower was demolished and the present one built at a cost of £2000.

1960 Elizabeth H: Choir screen was removed. The font was moved from the tower porch to form a new baptistry. The organ was removed to the South Transept and the new Chapel of St. Margaret of Scotland was created from the former organ loft.

1983 Re-roofing of the Chancel, Nave and South Aisle and Transept was begun, using stainless steel in place of the original lead sheet covering. This work was completed in 1992.

1986 Aumbry for the reservation of the Holy Sacrament was installed.

2003- Re-siting of organ at West end of the Church

         New heating system

         St Margaret’s Chapel

         Labyrinth

         Lighting

         Toilet and Baby Change

2013 New Entrance Porch