The History Of Our Wonderful Little Church


 Byers Green is situated some four miles north east of the ancient town of Bishop Auckland, tucked into a fold of the hills and away from the general gaze of the public. To some extent this has always been the case and even today it is bypassed by traffic and public alike retaining that quietude so beloved by the country dweller. It consists of a main street with houses lining it for about 3/4 of a mile and just about merging with the tiny hamlet of Todhills. The River Wear lies to its north with a winding road leading to a modern bridge crossing the Wear at an angle making connection with Willington.

The village of Byers Green was, prior to the mining expansion, a very small hamlet without church or chapel of ease. By 1801 only 77 residents were recorded but by 1837 2,500 were in residence, quite dramatic. Most were housed in cottages put up by the colliery owners.

A contemporary account describes the lack of a church as a serious omission that allowed for the moral decline of the residents. It went on to say that the houses were poor and the roads even worse. A petition was raised to arrest the decline of morals and to build a church. Even so it took another 7 or so years for the morals to drop even further before work started to have an ecclesiastic building in the village. This was due to the lack of a suitable site but finally a plot was set aside as a gift from the Bishop of Durham to the south end of the road leading into the village presenting a long walk for folk housed at the north end. (The Methodist Chapel is in the centre so some went there instead to worship).


Internal Features


Several things strike the visitor on entering the Nave. Firstly, the whitewashed walls creating the impression of a large space. Secondly, the stained and painted glass, especially on a sunny day, which cast their bright colours onto the white walls give a truly beautiful effect. Thirdly, the arched frieze and surrounding frieze iterating the Lords Prayer, although not a unique feature it would be difficult to find a better preserved example. The simpleness of the furnishings and the height of the roof give the interior a pleasant overall appearance. Nothing is over fussy. A splendid organ sits in the Nave adjoining the vestry. All the main floor areas are carpeted in a lush red.


The Altar is raised on a plinth and is in timber but is often hidden under the usual assortment of Altar clothing which is changed for the ecclesiastical calendar year. The front is panelled and has a Celtic type cross in the centre panel.  Ogee raised and ornate spandrels relieve the panelling very well and seem to relate to that of the Reredos implying similar date and craftsmen. The raised work is picked out in gold paint but is not overstated.

A Reredos dating from 1944 lines the east wall below and partly in front of the east windows. This was a memorial gift from the daughters of Thomas and Emily Orton and replaced the original Reredos of the 1840’s (see photographs). The decorative mouldings are picked out in gold paint. The brass centre cross and side candle holders look well displayed against the higher level of the central section of the Reredos. The cross being a gift of the church choir in 1943. Displays of flowers are often rested on the top shelf, a nice touch as they appear at Christ’s feet.  

The Communion Rail is again in oak and is from a different period to the other timber work described, and may be original from 1845.

Behind the Altar is the Bishops chair gifted by friends of John Charles to St. Aidens church, Bearpark in 1972. Once again oak has played its part in its construction and it fits in well with the other timber work. The raised back panel decoration is similar in style to the Altar raised work only no attempt has been made to enhance it with paint.

The Offertory plate is a large beaten brass circular dish with pronounced figuring and pattern work, some restoration has taken place.

A small Piscina is located in the north wall protected by a brass cover but remains hidden from view by a small curtain.

The east windows, in a triple format, show the crucifixion of Christ and are in stained glass. This was a gift from the Rev. John Hick in 1850 and represents Victorian high art. Unfortunately the dedication and lower section is hidden by the Reredos nonetheless the figure of Christ is quite arresting. The Early English style stonework has been painted in a light cream around the windows and is quite pleasing to the eye.

The Altar furniture consists of two candle sticks and a small lectern all, in polished brass. The Altar lectern is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Kell and carries an incised pattern in black. As this is usually covered by a book of prayer the pattern is rarely seen. The candlesticks are a dominant feature and are heavy items with intricate patterns around the wax traps with the columns in turned work. All are supported by triple claw feet. Engraved around the bases are the dedications to the memory of John William and Margaret Marley, a gift from their son George, and on the other it is to the memory of Albert William Cartwright and gifted by his Parents, brother and sister in 1939. As no date appears on the first candle stick described, yet they are to all intents and purposes are identical, it can be safely assumed that they are from the same foundry and of similar age.


Two Altar Attendants chairs are positioned at the end of the choir stalls with a pair of individual pews and kneelers. The chairs are not dedicated but the style is definitely “Arts and Crafts” period (c.1870-1914) and is an excellent example of that movement.

The attendant miniature pews are gifts. One from Harriet Armstrong dates it at 1942 the other is from Jenny Watson in 1944. These are rare examples of individual Pews and are incredible gifts from a difficult period when materials and craftsmen were in serious short supply.

Two double row choir stalls line each side of the Chancel and were originally in undecorated oak. In the 1990’s they were painted to represent the colour of mahogany with the carved end pieces picked out in gold. Whatever the thinking behind this work was probably appropriate for the times but now they look quite stark with the dark colour against the white of the walls. A pair of pew fronts in arts and crafts style were situated in the choir stalls but these were tragically disposed of in 1997.

The Chancel floor is raised higher than the Nave floor and photographic evidence shows it to have been in tiles or stone. Currently a carpet in red covers the Chancel, Altar Floors and the main pedestrian areas of the Nave. The carpet is rich in colour with a cross pattern woven into it and looks quite homely. It replaced another carpet in blue, again in the 1990’s.

The Chancel roof is a few feet (about 1 metre) lower than the Nave roof and has exposed timber beams supported on internal corbels giving a traditional yet quite cosy appearance.

Apart from the three east windows there are another four, one in the north and three in the south wall. As are the rest of the windows all are stained or painted glass. The north window is a depiction of St. Peter, from which Saint the church was dedicated in 1845, holding the key to heaven. The dominant colour is blue set off by an orange border. There is no indication of how old this is but it probably dates from the 1850’s.

The south windows commence with a depiction of Saint Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland. This window positively glows when the sun shines through it throwing orange, cream and brown light upon the walls. There is no dedication shown therefore the age is undetermined but again is probably a match with the St. Peter window. Both these windows are slightly shorter in length than the other two in the Chancel.

The last two are very faded painted glass and are quite nondescript. One can only hazard a guess of their age or significance and the author welcomes suggestions as to origin.

The north west corner of the Chancel is furnished by a glass topped table within which lays the Book of Remembrance.

The other corner has a Credence Table dedicated to the memory of Mary Ann Harrison gifted to the church by Horace Harrison and family in 1988. Upon it rest a silver tray and Cruet Set gifted in memory to Horace Harrison in 2006 by the bereaved family.

A long ash handled candle snuffer leans against the Reredos and is in cast brass and well polished. This is another gift to the church in memory of Margaret Elizabeth Cummins (nee Cowan) given by her parents and sisters in 1943.

There are two processional brass crosses set into the choir pews. The version showing the figure of Jesus on the cross came from Binchester Church and was gifted in memory of John G. Graham on 3rd January 1932. The second cross is slightly larger in beaten brass with raised plain edging and is used to open each Sunday service. It was gifted by Mrs C. Craddock and family in memory of Alfred J. Craddock in 1952. 

The last item of significance in the Chancel is the Pronouncement lectern. This is of timber construction, probably oak, and is a ‘refugee’ from the Binchester church recovered when that place closed. It was a gift to that church by William Charles and Judith Wilkinson in memory of their Father and Mother in 1944.


The Nave   


Internally the Nave measures some 60ft (18.5 metres) x 34ft (10.5 metres). With walls in white rendered stonework and high roof line there is a great feeling of space. Originally built to house up to 350 souls recent work in the 1990’s has reduced this to 200. A small circulating area is now at the rear where Baptism’s can take place in comfort on the right and after service gatherings on the left. All the main access areas were carpeted throughout in lush red in the 1990’s.

The exposed roof beams help the acoustics and, when full, the singing of hymns fills the Nave with excellent sound.

The organ was made by Harrisons of Durham City and could be from the 1880’s. Located at the join of the Chancel it has a pine case in dark brown, a patina resulting from its age. Regularly serviced the sound is quite good in the right hands. The air flow is controlled by electrically driven mechanical valves which in emergency can be worked by hand.

Turning to the right the visitor can see the fine pulpit erected in 1945 as a centenary memorial to the rectors who have served the Parish since its opening (see separate notes regard these people). Situated in the corner and balanced on a wooden centre boss it has five sides reached by a short staircase. Good quality oak has been used on the panelling and each panel carries a carved emblem with that of St. Peter being in the centre. These have been picked out in various coloured paint and add a certain charm to it. Recently (2000) the addition of a brass plate etched with the names of rectors serving the Parish since 1945 has been attached, this compliments the inscribed oak panel at the pulpit entrance giving the names from 1845 to 1945.

All the pews are in deal or oak but in recent years (1990’s) have been painted a mahogany red as an attempt to bring some uniformity to the interior colour; the ends are mounted with the same pattern of Fleur-De-lis. There is nothing of merit in them.

Considerable effort was made towards the end of the twentieth centaury by the congregational volunteers to improvements in the church and, as a result, there are a number of intricate designs on the kneelers all done in embroidery. These are indeed a testament to the craft skills inherent in the Parish and reflect the dedication that ordinary people are prepared to give to their local church. It is worth the visitor having a browse around the kneelers, there are 72 in total.

The other main dominant feature of the centre of the church is the enormous brass lectern, a truly magnificent example of the Brass Founders art. The eagle is very well detailed and looks quite real. The turning and twisted fluting of the support column mounted on a circular splayed base with octagonal boss above is exceptional. An inscription is etched into the base and reads: - “Presented by Jane Gillies in 1901 in memory of William Gillies who died in 1895”. It is therefore another recovered piece from another church. The inscription also indicates that it was originally donated to the church of St. Columbia, Darlington in 1901 and subsequently used by another church in Gateshead. The church recovered it when that church closed.

The font was a gift of Charles Thorpe to the restored church of Merrington in 1851. It was moved to the Mission church at Middlestone Moor in 1939 and subsequently to Byers Green in January 1998. The font cover is in memorium to the memory of Sarah Hedley who died in October 1971.

A tall candle stand in wood is located at the rear of the church. This is dedicated to the memory of Jack and Marion Bell 1993.

A pair of ebonised and silver mounted Church Wardens processional sticks are also to be seen. One carries an inscription “presented by Arthur and Edith Parker 1943”; the other was “presented by Lorraine and Nelly McWaters 1943”.

Beside the organ is a plain bookcase given in memory of George S.Robinson, 5th June 1979. The plain brass Newfield church cross sits upon it.

A linen chest of drawers completes the furnishings of the Nave and is situated in the circulating area and is dedicated to the memory of Muriel Robinson and is dated 1994.


The Nave Windows


Commencing at the south wall near the pulpit the first window is dedicated to one of the earliest rectors, David Hick. who died on the 9th of August 1857. The Rev. Hick was a great champion of St. Peters and it is fitting that a window in stained glass be so dedicated. It depicts Christ in discussion with six of the Disciples. There is great detail in the work some of which is painted.

The next window on the south side is the “Last Supper” window erected by a few friends of John Robson Esquire of Durham who died on 20th April 1857. Again there is a mixture of stained and painted glass and the detail is quite exquisite. 

The third south wall window is a uniformly patterned window with no religious connotations; its dominant colour is green. Dedicated to the memory of Graham Henry Dobson, son of John Dobson of Whitwell. Unfortunately the glazed dedication has been partially hidden and gives all the appearance of alteration to fit the space. Is this a window intended for Whitwell church but not fitted?

The fifth is a depiction of John the Baptist and was installed in memory of William Purdy who died on 12th June 1859. Its position is most appropriate being near the font. It is well detailed with pattern work and the depiction of John the Baptist is typically romantic Victorian.

The sixth and last south wall window is quite dominant with the figure of Christ. This is pure unadulterated Victorianism at its best for a small country church. Dedication is to Thomas Corner who died on 13th April 1868.

Turning now to the west wall we encounter the Faith Hope and Charity window paid for by Mrs Spenser of nearby Hemlington Hall. The dedication is on the window sill and reads,” This window was erected in



grateful acknowledgement to Mrs Spenser of Helmington Hall for her many benefactions to this church. 1871”.  Three scenes are depicted showing acts of faith, hope and charity. The painting is well done and again is in keeping with the high Victorian ideology of the time.

Above the vestibule door is another window set high up. The viewer will need to step back to halfway along the aisle in order to appreciate it. It is dedicated to Thomas Wright the local mathematician and astronomer who worked out the Milky Way and its relationship to the solar system. The window was installed in 1999 and was dedicated by the Bishop of Durham. It is stylised and oval in shape, quite modern in appearance.

The right hand window on the west wall is another Victorian painted version that has not stood up the ravages of strong sunlight very well and is fading. Three scenes are shown related to Christ’s resurrection. It is dedicated to Mary Ann Corner by her husband. She died on 20th August 1864.

The north windows are undedicated except the final one towards the organ. The first one is heavily patterned with a small figure of Christ two thirds up. The second shows Jesus in the manger in several depictions. The detail work is well executed and demands more than a second look. The cost of it must have been high yet no dedication of benefaction is extant, more’s the pity!

Thirdly we look at a window showing another manger scene. This is another window that has suffered over the years and detail is slowly being lost.

Finally we come to the window dedicated to the memory of  Mary Butler who died 2nd of December 1868. This is yet another Christmas scene window with a mix of patterned and stained glass.




The Vestry


Situated behind the organ and reached through a small doorway there is nothing of merit in the room except the pair of windows. These are a thank you for the life (a short one) of Lynne Harle who died on 12th April 1999. Showing stylised angels against a regular pattern there is a serene quality about it in a quite traditional approach.


The Graveyards


There are three yards. The original surrounds the church and has a range of old and modern stones that relate to the departed of the area. Some graves remain unmarked. A lot of traditional shaped stones are worth a browse by the visitor. A few have fallen to the ravages of time whilst others have become the growing point for trees.

The second yard is the first overspill yard and again is similar in the stones variations found in the main church yard.

A large modern overspill yard is behind the second yard and this has become subject to the modern thinking of smaller monuments with plainer wording.


 Rectors serving the Parish. 1845 to 2006


A D Shafto


J W Hick

1845- 1875

R G Hooppell


J Crenwell


P Y Knight


F E Loxley


W B Blackett


R Cartwright


A L Russen


J E Whelpdale


H H Wilcox


A C Hague


N Proctor


D Hilbourne


J Stephenson


G Harper


A L Bell


P T Allinson


W Scott



Chris A. Davies, Newfield, June 2006


Note: - If you have any other information that could enhance this archive please get in touch via the email address on our Visitors page. 

Assistance in putting this little booklet together in terms of information snippets and advice is duly acknowledged. Particular thanks are given to Rev. Bill Scott for help with the layout and printing, Roland Johnston for identifying certain aspects of the furnishings, Ann Cook for the information regards the kneelers, Robin and Sylvia Bestford for information on the organ, Jennifer Harbour and Hilary Dryden for photographic assistance and information on changes to furnishings and lastly my wife Yvonne for reading the proofs and offering suggestions to improve the presentation. 


If your name is not on this list and you have helped in any way then I offer my apologies.

This Work Was Produced By Our Dearly Departed Husband, Brother and Friend,

 Christopher Arthur  Davies 

Date of birth: 11 November 1946

Date of death: 25 June 2014

 Gone To Be With His Dear Lord and Saviour But Not Forgotten By His Loving Wife Yvonne  and our Dear Friend and Sister and indeed us all Here at St. Peters in ByersGreen.

R.I.P. Christopher.  Amen.



                                                       Chris A. Davies.