This must not be a simple dry-as-dust “history” of the Church, but rather the Amble family’s story over five generations.
Growth of the town
Amble began its life as a hamlet of four farms, in 1801 the population was only 152.
By 1864 the village’s population was growing fast on coal and seafaring, from 714 inhabitants (133 homes) in 1841 to 1,223 inhabitants (283 homes) in 1871. By 1891 the township would have grown to 2,975.
The Blyth Directory for 1869 listed 34 ships in harbour, from Agenoria to Wild Rose. A list of 78 prosperous residents was headed by W.R. Arkless the Principal Coast Officer. A prosperous shopping centre housed grocers, butchers, fish merchants, bakers, tailors and drapers, one of whom kept the Post Office. There were eleven boot makers, two boat builders, a blacksmith and a watchmaker. Mr. Leighton was the colliery agent and J. Henderson kept the gas and salt works. George Rawlings was schoolmaster and Thomas Currie a physician. Fifteen inns bore familiar names: the Schooner, Harbour Inn, Wellwood Arms, Dock and Waterloo. There were however only two places of worship in the town, the Independent and Methodist chapels. Amble, with Hauxley, Gloster Hill, Coquet Island and part of Togston, was included in the parish of Warkworth.
Birth of the church
For many years Rev. J.W. Dunn, Vicar of the Warkworth mother church, had campaigned against the odds for Amble’s independence. At last, in February 1869 an Order in Council designated the town “a separate district for spiritual purposes”. In October 1870 the parish church, a small stone building in Victorian Decorated style with accommodation for 360, was built to the designs of Messrs Austin and Johnson of Newcastle by Mr. Carse of Amble. The newly built church was dedicated to St. Cuthbert the shepherd Bishop of Lindisfarne who died in 687.
Consecration by the Bishop of Durham it was “hailed with much joy.” The first sermon by Rev. Arthur D. Medd promised: “Here we are beginning a church which we hope will be the pride of our posterity for many years to come.” Now it was possible for Jane Cottingham, spinster of this parish, to marry James Pringle, a sailor, on her home ground and for Joshua and Elizabeth Lockey to bring little Mary to their own church for baptism. However, tragically in 1890 the average age of burials was 22. There have been 14 vicars from 1870-2008, an average tenure of ten years.
From the very beginning the parish sprang into action. In 1879 there were 18 communicants at Christmas. By 1886 the Christmas number had risen to 61 with 161 at Easter. In 1921 attendance at the Harvest Festival service was 491and in 1936 communicants numbered 2,047.
Back to top
Building the church coincided with the first Education Act which introduced compulsory education by provision of locally appointed Boards. Amble parish decided by ballot to reject the adoption of a Board School and immediately made its own Church School provision for the next 82 years. The school was also built by Mr. Carse on Cross Street, behind the Church at a cost of £265 4s. 6d. with an immediate attendance of 58 pupils. Mr. John Glass was the new headmaster, working with one Assistant, a pupil teacher, two paid monitors and his daughter as sewing mistress.
Click HERE for Robert Lyall's history of the school.
Evening Class / Library
In 1897, not content with provision of a day School and Sunday School, the parish began an Evening Class which offered Arithmetic, Mensuration (geometric measurement) , Plain and Fancy Needlework, Domestic Economy and Vocal Music for Females to an average attendance of 50 students. A Church Lending Library opened in 1881 with 40 subscribers and 180 books. By 1899 the shelves held 1,831 volumes.
Back to top
The first issue of a monthly Parish Magazine was circulated in January 1870. It cost 2d. a month or 2 shillings (10p) a year. These were very literate booklets; No.1 contained 28 poems and several short stories with black-and-white illustrations. There was also a list of “Hearty Hints to Lay Officers of the Church . A monthly balance sheet of parish income from collections began in 1870 when -
£12 10s. 4½d was received. This paid out for:
- Gas fittings and gas bills (£6 18s. 6d.)
- Washing surplices (7s. 6d.)
- The Church Building Fund (£2 7s. 6d.)
- Whitewashing the School room (9s. 6d.)
- Gifts for the poor (15s.)
- Extra Christmas present for the poor (10s.)
By 1896 the Magazine’s circulation was 620.
In the 1960s the format was modernised with interesting black-and- white photographic cameos of church life on the coloured cover.
The Sunday school grew from 1876. Here is a prise awarded to Eliza Bartle, Enid MacKay’s Aunt. Eliza was a member of the Third Class Girls Division and recieved this book as a prise for Regular Attendance and Good Conduct in 1896. The Rev. James Fairbrother was vicar at this time.
Back to top
A Vicarage was built on an acre of land opposite the church. Its garden was to be “a joy or headache to incumbents until 1990 with the departure of Rev Athol Simpson. A strip of land on the front road was given to make the bus stop opposite the church and a new tarmac drive was laid down. The original iron gates with their Ironwork initials SC were moved to the south front door.
In 1923 the proposal of building of a Church Hall was considered for eight years before the foundations were laid in 1931 at a cost of £300 to accommodate 450 people. Next year monthly Church Socials with an orchestra were organised there. A Girl Guide Company and badminton group followed suit. Best of all, in 1932 a Dramatic Society called “St. Cuthbert’s Players” played to packed houses with plays like “Middlewatch”. Mrs. Enid MacKay has lively memories of these plays at the Church Hall, for which, as a schoolgirl, she sold tickets.
St. Cuthbert’s has always been vigorous in organizing social activities, fetes, flower festivals and sales of work, all these with generous charitable results. In earlier days there was an occasional touch of the exotic. In 1900 the programme of the Annual Sale, which raised £222, included Jarley’s Waxworks, a dancing group from Radcliffe and demonstration of “a Grammaphone” In 1925 a Japanese Tea at the Garden Fete included entertainment by a Pierrot group. These are interesting comparisons with the present day activities such as the ‘Main Street Jazzmen’ and a talk given on the situation in Palestine.
Back to top
Fabric and furnishings of the church
Work on the fabric and furniture of the church went on year by year. The oak chancel screen, reredos and altar were installed in 1928 and the small choir vestry was added to the north end of the south wall in 1929. In 1922 a proposal to install electric light had been turned down. The lectern was presented in 1932 and the impressive choir stalls were a gift from the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Radcliffe after the village’s destruction; they are dated 1892-1942.
The organ, said to be suited to a small cathedral has its own memorial brass in remembrance of John Richard Scott, for four years Curate, who died on 26th June 1875, aged 42 years. The organ was dedicated to him by parishioners and friends,
Back to top
The beautiful East window first lit the chancel in 1927.The central panel shows Christ with St.Cuthbert and Cuddy ducks on his left and St. Oswald, crowned, on his right. The inscription, in the right hand corner, is in memory of John Thomas Carse of Amble (1851-1904) whose affectionate and respectful brass memorial had been placed on the North wall. John predeceased his wife Mary Ann who survived until 1927 when the window was dedicated to them both.
A curious small window hides on the South wall of the chancel by the altar. Delicately coloured, it shows a sunny scene where a crowned King and mitred Bishop wade ashore from a distant small ship. They encounter a saint (with halo) on the beach. They will persuade Cuthbert to return from his isolation on Farne Island to accept high office.
The first window of the nave, on the south wall, shows The Good Shepherd on the left and the Blessed Virgin on the right. This was installed in 1888 in memory of Elizabeth Jane, wife of Rev. Thomas Appleton, curate of this parish who died aged 97.
The second window of the nave, on the south wall has two dedications:
1.The window on the left shows St John and this was dedicated to James Young by his wife Matilda and children.
James Young was born in Leysdown Isle of Sheppy Kent in 1820, his Father was a labourer. He married Matilda Matthews in Dover in 1853 and they went on to have 10 children.
After many years at sea he became head boatman to H.M. Coastguard and was first stationed at Burnmouth near Eyemouth in 1855, then he went on to Craster, then Alnmouth until finally he became stationed at Amble. He died after accidentally falling from scaffolding in 1873.
His two youngest sons Neil and Fransis took up a painting and decorating trade and founded N&F Young's shop here in Amble. The shop first opened on Church Street.
2.The window on the right shows St Stephen and this was dedicated in June 1890 to James Fairbrother a rector of this church by his parishioners.
The third window shows St. Michael and St. Gabriel. It was erected by Thomas and Jane Douglas of Wynd House “in memory of our dear children. Dorothy who died aged 4 on 21 st July 1879. Margaret Ann aged 18, who died on 29 th March 1891.
This wealth of traditional stained glass is lifted into a modern dimension by the wide West window. This is a clear, transparent set of two pairs of lights which tell, in 12 coloured medallions, the legend of St. Cuthbert.
- At the head of the left window arch the Bishop’s crosier and mitre refer to his induction to the seat of Lindisfarne in 684.
- At the head of the right window arch there is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Its flames extol Cuthbert’s missionary zeal.
- The extreme corners of the first and fourth panel bear the Bishop’s Northumbrian pectoral cross.
- Centrally in the second and third panels are two Celtic versions of this breastplate. These are silver Maltese crosses, the left with four blue mounts, and the right in red.
- Viking ships and flames at the head of the second panel recall the heathen invasions which destroyed the abbey of Lindisfarne in 792.
- Next to this, at the head of the third panel, is a seagull which is Cuthbert's symbol as a St. Francis of the North and reminds us of his sanctuary on Farne Island.
- In the middle of the first panel a sheep and crook remind us that in his early days Cuthbert kept his flock by the river Lauder. The badge of Melrose Abbey, a mallet and a rose, commemorates his two periods as a monk there. He entered the monastery in 651 but was appointed to Ripon as guest-receiver He was expelled from this post for rejecting Roman usage. He returned to Melrose as prior in 664, having repudiated his earlier commitment to the Celtic Church. (This was in recognition of the final decision of the Synod of Whitby’s rejection of Rome in 664.)
- In the middle of the third panel a bearded crowned head links Cuthbert anachronistically with St. Oswald (605-642) the first Christian King of Northumbria who helped St. Aidan convert the eathen north.
- At the bottom of the second panel the bishop’s crosier is superimposed on a strange little green and blue map of Holy Island.
- At the bottom of the third panel stands the dun cow which was the legendary pilot for monks seeking Cuthbert’s final resting place in Durham in 1104. The Cathedral building forms the background.
7: On the North wall towards the pulpit is a memorial window dedicated to Private Robert Henry Pringle (Northumberland Fusiliers), aged 24 who was killed in France in 1916. This was given by Robert’s mother in 1917
Back to top
This has always been a charitable church, with many calls upon its generosity. Sadly, on Christmas Day 1878 the offering from 49 communicants was needed for the Amble Soup Kitchen. In 1882 the Rev. James Fairbrother regularly gave the offertory receipt to “the poor and needy”. When two miners drowned in 1885 money was given to their families in Radcliffe.
The Two miners were Cuthbert May and John Mosley who were employed as coal trimmers at Amble harbour. One morning they left the harbour with a cargo of coals bound for the Coquet Island lighthouse. Sadly, when they were about halfway out, their barge suddenly sank without a moment's warning. Cuthbert May was only 35 at the time. He left behind a wife and six children.
At this time grants were often made to the schools and in 1887 there was an allocation to strikers’ families.
Life and work in Amble has never been entirely free of hardships, these not confined to “olden days”. In 1969 in view of unemployment in Amble and the doubtful future of the town, the Churches were asked to make suggestions for improving its image.
Controversy is meat and drink to churches. Just as St. Cuthbert in 661 was expelled from the Monastery of Ripon for rejecting Roman usages, so in 1921 the League of the Church Militant sent a letter to all PCCs urging them “not to consider appointing women to the Ministry.”
In 1920 Amble’s PCC numbered 36 when the Council was authorised to influence selection of incumbents, make alterations in the church service and act as communicating body with the Bishop. In 1939 the Church’s first wartime problem was the inability of the PCC members to attend their meeting in the blackout. Moonlit nights were essential. It was not until 1940 that vestments were introduced to the incumbents who in 1882 included three Curates. Their successors’ licenses continued to be issued from 1883 to 1939.
Back to top
The nave today contains a worthy selection of memorials. These all show evidence of deep feeling. Justice of the Peace, Private soldier, Able seaman, bereaved parents and dead children, Boys' Brigade, two head teachers, a curate, churchwarden, a DCM stretcher bearer, and 401 mothers: these are all members of the Amble family.
Brass Memorial and Pulpit
A brass memorial by the pulpit was dedicated, not by family only, but by the workmen of John Thomas Carse JP who died on 5th May 1904: “As a token of their affection regard and deep respect.” John Thomas Carse J.P.of Amble (1851-1904) He
was head of the family building firm that built our church. The builders yard, with the joiners work
shop, is still to be found off Wellwood Street although the family firm has long since gone.
The beautiful carved oak pulpit was given by Mrs Winifred Carse in memory of her husband Edwin. Edwin was the son of John Thomas and Mary Ann.
The last Carse to run the family firm was Edwin's brother Earnest.
The brass lectern was placed in 1932 in memory of John Hooson Roberts second headmaster at the
church school from 1890 to 1908.
John Hooson Roberts was born in Bagilt in Flintshire his father was a collier. After school he continued his education and eventually became headmaster and choirmaster at St Teclas in Llandegla in North Wales where he met his wife Mary Hughes, they married in 1875 at St Teclas, he moved to Llandullas School where again he was headmaster and choirmaster for the Church, his wife also became school mistress there.
Eventually John applied for the job in Amble, when he took up his position as choirmaster and headmaster of the church school, his son John had moved with him, his wife sadly died in Wales and then all his family moved to Amble, eight children in all.
(Jeannie, Gwladys, Adelaide, John, Victor, George, Owen, and Hugh)
The daughters joined the local amatuer dramatics. See below some pictures taken of them in costume.
i wonder if this amatuer dramatic society was the St Cuthbert's Players, and also where these pictures were taken?
One of the sons is believed to have married the Bishop of Durhams daughter. Victor served in the flying corps in WW1, Hugh & George in the Northumberland Fuseliers. George is named on the Role of Honour in Amble, he died in 1917 in France. Hugh went on to be a grocer in Warkworth, and secretary of the local Golf Club.
John Hooson Roberts died in 1908 and is buried with other members of the family in Amble Cemetery.
Back to top
The Literny Desk
Mr, Robert Ronald Scott Martin was deputy head and brought the church school to a high standard of games and sport. Mr Martin died suddenly on 13th October 1930. The litany desk was given in his memory by the pupils in 1931. Each pupil was asked to give a penny out of their pocket money to put towards the desk. The pennies were duly collected in and taken to Mr Dixon (third headmaster at the school) by two pupils. Mrs McKay was one of those pupils and remembers it well saying,"Every time I look at the desk I think one of my pennies from my pocket money went to pay for that." George Cram was the other pupil and sadly, as seen on the memorial plaque, he lost his life at Dunkirk.
In 1891 the Mothers’ Union began. A poignant Book of Remembrance, handsomely bound, rests on a special table at the front of the nave (south) under a page from the Parish Magazine of 1891. It lists 104 Mothers from Alice Cook (1945) to Dora Roberts (2008)
First World War
The largest marble tablet on the South wall is surely one of the most appalling First World War death-tolls in any small town. Given by Mr. E.M. Lawson Smith in memory of two sons who fell, it was installed in February 1921. 155 names are listed. These include Able Seaman James Sanderson Pratt aged 30, son of Andrew and Jane of 9, Bede Street. He served in the Dardanelles with the Howe Battalion, R.N.D. and is buried in Poperinghe British Cemetery in Belgium. James’s memorial tablet will be found on the South wall.
Not until 1937 was it deemed essential to hang the Union Flag over the memorial but the ladies of the parish had already embroidered their own flag. This was blessed at Evensong on All Saints Day, 1916, a service attended by 424 people. (Whatever happened to that precious relic?)
An outstanding and unusual memorial to another Amble soldier is inconspicuously placed behind the South porch. A framed illuminated address by Thomas Tulley town council Chairman, the Treasurer and Secretary “expresses our esteem and admiration” of Sgt. R, R. S. Martin DCM a stretcher bearer in the Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.” Sergeant Martin had shown gallantry on many occasions in tending wounded under fire and the Council felt that he had brought honour to our town.” Mercifully, his name is not recorded on the war memorial.
Nor can we forget the 68 soldiers and sailors who were sacrificed to War again from 1939-45. Sadly, many of the familiar Amble family names on both memorials are repeated from one generation to the next. There is no end to mourning for the war dead and no limit to the loss.
The Togston Table
A memorial table at the west end reminds us of an ordinary family’s totally unpredictable loss. The Robsons lived in North Togston. Tragedy struck on Dec 2nd 1943 at 22:40 when several bombers returning from mine laying operations off Denmark were diverted to RAF Acklington because of poor weather conditions. Sadly a Stirling, on its second approach, crashed into the farmhouse of Cliff House Farm and wiped out the upper floor, whilst the five children slept. These innocent wartime casualties were Sylvia (9), Ethel (7), Margery (5), William Matthew (3) and Sheila aged one. The aircraft's crew were also killed except the mid upper gunner, 20 year-old Sgt Kenneth Gordon Hook.
As well as the memorial table a living memorial can be found on the south side of town. There, Robson Way opens into five neat closes, each named after Sylvia, Ethel, Margery, William Matthew and Sheila. Sit there sometime – and reflect.
Seated at worship under two Union flags and British Legion banners, recollections of world war are always with us. Today, in proper regimental style, the churches well-tended flowers are always beautiful and the carpets and brass-work immaculate.
Oddly enough, and possibly the most consistent, repetitive time-warp in St.Cuthbert’s story concerns problems with the heating. From the start, in January 1871 the weather “was intensely cold, and the heating was most inadequate”. The solution was summed up in 1924 by A.E. Green, Registered Plumber, who advised: “The heating apparatus must be lit on Thursday for Sunday service and never let to fall below 40 o F.” And, as you shiver, should you wonder why the weekly bundle of service sheets, newsletters, hymns, prayers and readings falls to the floor whenever you stand for the Gloria, refer to instructions to the carpenter in 1892. When 200 new hassocks were ordered he was told to cut 1½ ins. from the front of the seats and ½ inch from the backboard shelf. This was to compel you to kneel for prayer in the Victorian fashion of our ancestor.
It is a tempting fallacy to think and speak of St. Cuthbert’s as “a small church.” In fact, the more you learn about it, the more it grows.
A collection of St. Cuthbert’s parish records (1870-1984) will be found in the Norhumbrian Collections (County Record Office) at Woodhorn Museum Archives.
(Ref: CES 1-15 etc. and EP92 (42 files) Diocesan records of the church from 1870 to 2002 are filed as DN/A, DN/E etc
Most of the facts, details and dates included here will be found in a Centenary Book (1870-1970) (Ref:EP 92/42 ) Modestly, the author does not identify himself, except as the son of Rev. Albert Simpson, Vicar in 1970.
Thanks are also due to friendly parishioners who have offered information based on a lifetime’s experience of Amble and their parish church.
The webmistress would also like to thank John West for compiling this history of our church.