St Peter’s Church

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Bywell is a tiny settlement at the end of the road in a loop of the River Tyne. The Romans had a bridge here and in the Middle Ages it was a flourishing town with a thriving iron industry, mainly making stirrups, buckles, swords and other iron work for horsemen. The area was subjected to raids from the north and cattle and sheep were brought into the town at night time and a guard was set to watch the ends of the single road through the town.

Now only the castle, medieval market cross, the hall and the two churches are left. The population began to drop in the C18th and in the late C19th, the Beaumonts of Bywell Hall decided to clear the village, situated between the two churches, to create a more attractive landscape to surround the hall. The old village and inhabitants were moved across the river. St Andrew’s vicarage was demolished.

The churches stand a short distance from each other and both predate the Norman Conquest. The presence of two churches may reflect pre-conquest land ownership. Now only St Peter’s is still used. “St Andrew’s”: is redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The oldest part of the church is the plain north wall with its four high windows dating from 1030-1060. The rest of the church is late C13th. The chancel, north chapel and south porch are C19th.

It is a large church set at the end of the road with a massive but low west tower with battlemented top. This was designed for defence and has a blocked doorway high in the west wall. Another blocked doorway can be seen inside the church, now partially obscured by the roof.

The nave and chancel are tall compared with the tower. On the south wall is a C12th scratch sundial. The lines mark the times of the main church services.

There is level access into the church through the south porch. This has a stone bench on either side and there are carved Roman stones set in the walls as well as old tombstones.

It feels a big church inside with whitewashed walls and a flat wooded roof, supported on stone corbels. An arcade of round pillars with pointed arches separates north and south aisles. At the base of one of the arches is a small carved head, thought to be Edward I.

Octagonal pillars with pointed arches separate the nave and the north chapel. This was built in the C19th and served as the village school. It is now a chapel with a simple altar set under a large C19th Stained glass window.

At the back of the nave is a simple round medieval font with a tall wooden crocketted spire cover.

A tall pointed arch leads into the chancel with massive oak choir stalls with large arm rests. The simple altar has a frontispiece with embroidered lilies and is set under three long thin lancet windows with C19th glass. Red tapestry kneelers have either the keys of St Peter, or three fishes.

This is a well cared for church but lacks the character of “St Andrew’s Church”: It is open daily between 9-4 and is only a short walk from St Andrew’s. Together they make an interesting visit.

There are more pictures “here.”:

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