BIG DAY: Revd Alison Wallbank is looking forward to a special service which will celebrate the 140th anniversary of St Mary’s Church, Middleton-in-Teesdale
BIG DAY: Revd Alison Wallbank is looking forward to a special service which will celebrate the 140th anniversary of St Mary’s Church, Middleton-in-Teesdale

A SPECIAL service will celebrate an upper dale church’s 140th anniversary.

And by happy chance, the date St Mary’s Church, in Middleton-in-Teesdale, was consecrated coincides with the birthday of its vicar, Revd Alison Wallbank.

St Mary’s was officially opened on October 23, 1879, by Dr Parry, the Bishop of Dover.

To mark the anniversary, newly appointed Bishop of Jarrow, Rt Revd Sarah Clark, will attend a special service at the church on Sunday, October 27.

Revd Wallbank said the church was built on the site of a medieval church, records of which show the rector in 1274 was one Will de Pothon.

The medieval structure was demolished to make way for the new building, which cost about £6,000.

Unfortunately, the congregation ran out of cash before they could build a bell tower and a door to access it currently leads to nowhere.

Revd Wallbank said: “The church is one of only two in the county that has a separate bell tower.”

Those who built the church kept the heritage of the previous structure by using some of the original windows, while others were modelled on the style of those that were beyond being salvaged.

Elsewhere, medieval symbols from gravestones have been incorporated into interior walls and the legs of the current font are also medieval.

Revd Wallbank said: “The piscina is also medieval. It is used for the holy water – any holy water has to go into the ground – we don't want it going into the drain.”

Surprisingly, the church was not designed in a traditional Victorian way.

The vicar said: “It probably appears older than it is because it was built on the style of the original church.”

Other interesting features which show that the people of the time gave great thought to the development include the stained glass windows, which reflect the daily lives of the people of the time with scenes of lead mining and sheep farming.

Explaining one that depicts farming, Revd Wallbank said: “There are the Swaledale sheep, the blue gentian and Jesus the good shepherd.”

There is also a magnificent wood carving of Jesus as a shepherd that overlooks the congregation during services.

Until recently, the church’s fabric was in danger of being seriously damaged due to a leaking roof but a massive fundraising drive paid for urgent repairs.

Revd Wallband said: “That was £80,000 of work and now we are ready to decorate the inside. We have about £10,000 but we will need about £40,000.”

Along with plaster repairs, there are plans to install mood lighting attached to sensors so that they come on when a person enters the church.

A fundraising drive is currently underway to pay for the interior improvements and people who want to contribute can visit stmarymint.

Revd Wallbank is now hoping the anniversary service will be as significant as the original opening.

She said: “The whole village was given the day off – it was such a big thing to have a new church.

“The church was really full then, people wanted to be seen attending church by the [lead] mine owners.”

The anniversary service gets under way at 4.30pm and will be followed by cake, tea and refreshments.