Myths, Legends, Stories and Inspiring People.

Did you know?

Here you will find myths, stories and notable people from the Whickham's past. The stories tell of the development and richness of a community which, being powered by passionate hearts continues to grow, inspired by lasting legacies.

Pen Portraits

Brief notes on some of the distinguished characters in the history of the Parish of Whickham.


THOMAS WOOD - Rector (1635-1692)

At the age of only 28 he was the youngest of all the Rectors, and eventually became Chaplain to King Charles I. He was ejected from Whickham during the Cromwellian rebellion, but he was restored to this parish in 1660 and presented to the canonry of Durham Cathedral by Charles II, who made him his chaplain. Later he became Dean of Lichfield, and in 1671 was made Bishop of Lichfield.


WILLIAM SHIELD - Musician (1752-1829)

Was born in Swalwell and became one of the most notable musicians of his generation. Among his many musical compositions are "The Flitch of Bacon", "The Thorn", and "The Plough-boy". The well-known melody which eventually became "Auld Lang Syne" was used in his ballad-opera "Rosina" in 1783. William Shield was buried in Westminster Abbey beside Clementi. There is a memorial to him in our churchyard.


The 'lost' opera 'Rosina' was rediscovered in Gateshead Central Library archives by John Treherne in 1997. John was then of Head of Gateshead Music Service, and remains a good friend of St Mary's. The strong relationship between 'Rosina' and 'Auld Lang Syne' received national media attention. Please view the PDF file below for a fuller account of the discovery.


The Auld Lang Syne Question.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 180.0 KB

JOHN TAYLOR - Genealogist (1778-1882)

When he was a young man John Taylor entered the Herald's Office in London, and there soon distinguished himself in the study of Genealogy and Heraldry. He was a good friend of Robert Surtees, author of "The History of Durham". There is a tablet to his memory in this church.


CHARLTON NESBIT - Engraver (1775-1838)

Was the son of a keelman and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to Thomas Bewick the famous wood-engraver. He produced many masterpieces including "The Bird’s Nest". He provided wood-cuts

for Grey's edition of Butler's "Hudibras" and Hume's "History of England". He was the best of Bewick's pupils and was a man of outstanding ability.


SAMUEL WHEATLEY - Soldier (1763-1845)

Wheatley enlisted in the 61st Foot Regiment and served throughout thePeninsular Campaign. He was one of the heroes of the memorable retreat to and the Battle of Corruna, where fell the gallant General Sir John Moore. Samuel Wheatley is buried in this churchyard.


JOHN ENGLISH - Lang Jack (c.1800-1860)

Born Chester-Le-Street about 1800, John English moved to Whickham in 1830 to work on the Scotswood Bridge. A stone mason by trade, he worked on many local building projects. Being 6ft 5inches tall he literally stood out among his contemporaries and was given the nickname Lang Jack. He was well known for his

feats of strength. He built his own house on Woodhouse lane often carrying the stone and materials used over considerable distances. Just before his death the village erected a stone monument in his honour; it now stands in the centre of the village.


RALPH CARR-ELLISON of Dunston (1805-1884)

A member of one of the most notable families in the district. He was the eldest son of John Carr, of Dunston Hill and Hedgley, and was educated at Harrow and Oxford. He became a very wealthy man and identified himself with a great number of philanthropic causes. He was an accomplished scholar and a member of the most of the learned societies of the North East of England.


HARRY CLASPER of Dunston (1812-1870)

Harry started work as a pitman but soon became a wherryman on the Tyne. He built a reputation as a

good oarsman. At this time competitive rowing was a popular sport and Harry soon became the champion of the Tyne and won numerous events around the country; even winning a world team championship with his brothers and uncle. His fame grew and he held a place of celebrity in the hearts of his followers. At his funeral 130 000 people came out to line the route of his last journey.His grave lies in Whickham churchyard and is marked with a notable memorial.


JOHN BOWES of Gibside (died 1885)

John Bowes was the owner of Gibside Hall and Streatlam Castle and served as M.P. for the Southern Division of County Durham for many years. In 1852 he married the Countess of Montalbo, a French lady of great charm. It was at her request that he built the wonderful French Renaissance mansion at Barnard Castle which later became the Bowes Museum. He was a typical squire and a keen sportsman. It is the Bowes-Lyon family that

links Whickham with Her Majesty the Queen.


HENRY BYNE CARR - Rector (1812-1898)

Henry Byne Carr was ordained by Bishop Maltby in 1836, and after holding several curacies was appointed Rector of Whickham in 1846. He was the third son of John Carr of Dunston Hill and was made Canon of Durham in 1883. He was Rector of Whickham for fifty years, and rendered exceptional service to this parish. His life and work are recorded on a memorial tablet in the Chancel. He resigned the living in 1896 and died at

Exmouth in 1898.

Legendary stories

Fire! Fire! Fire!

On the afternoon of Sunday 14th November 1841, the church was almost completely destroyed by fire. This was caused by the overheating of a stove which set fire to one of the box-pews. This spread to the galleries, and the roof was soon ablaze. It is reported by the local newspapers that when the alarm was raised at about 3pm, the Revd. Robert Chatto was very quickly on the scene, "and by his own personal exertions stimulated the inhabitants, who soon mustered in numbers and effectually subdued the flames." 'The Newcastle Chronicle' reported...."On Sunday afternoon last (14th November) the ancient and beautiful church of Whickham was nearly destroyed by fire. It appears that the flues from the stoves had become overheated, and had set fire to the fittings up to one of the pews, and the conflagration so far gained a head that the flames burnt from the roof. The Revd. Robert Chatto, the clergyman of the parish endeavoured to gain an entrance to the door, but without effect. The parish engine was procured, but on its arrival it appeared it had been so long out of use, it would not act. A second engine was obtained, but with similar success. It was so damaged as to be useless. 


The inhabitants at length effected an entrance by breaking in the north window, and by dint of perseverance and the most laudable exertions, the fire was subdued. We understand that about eighty pews were destroyed." The extensive damage caused to the fabric of the building, made the church unpleasant and unsafe, and so in the following years much restoration was carried out. The north wall of the nave was taken down, and rebuilt with the addition of the second aisle. It was also at this time that the galleries were removed from the church.

The Legend of Quykham Church
Green man.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 30.8 KB

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