Thank you for helping us embark on the restoration of our little country church of St. Cuthbert’s here in Bewcastle.
My heart sank, when three years ago, our architect told us that following his inspection, we should either close the church immediately for safety reasons, or if we still wished to worship God, should do so wearing tin hats! But this is Bewcastle! So we rose to the challenge, took a deep breath and launched an appeal with its memorable caption geared to our farming community, “If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.”
The only way to describe the result would be amazing. We were told that we needed to raise a minimum of £30,000. In the event, due entirely to people like you (and with a little bit of help from the taxman) we raised just over £72,000.
In 60 years’ ministry I have never known anything like it. And what has made it so special is that it has been almost entirely an individual or community effort. No grants. Just kind and generous people chipping in as best they could.
Tellingly one of our first gifts was a generous donation from our local Christian colleagues in the Knowe Church. There followed the inevitable concerts and coffee mornings. One local farm took its equivalent of the gift of a lamb, and invested it to organise a community event which raised over £1,000! We appeared on Border TV when a local farmer, Thomas Carruthers proved himself a natural star! But for me perhaps the most memorable were two ladies who had collected £1,000 in a local pub which they brought to me in two plastic bags! (They were rewarded with a very large dram!)
In broad terms, so far we have spent £36,000 repairing the roof, a task that involved replacing rotten timbers and broken slates, repairing and refixing all the ridge tiles. But inevitably, as the work progressed, unexpected though critical issues were identified – the tower leading and slates had to be replaced; the same was true for the east gable pointing (in itself a rather large job), together with stripping out all the old plaster from inside the tower to allow the stonework to breathe. Most of this was done by one local, dedicated and skilled craftsman. But work was done too by three local volunteers. Two of them took down all the gutters and downpipes, sand-blasted them and then gave them two coats of paint before putting them back while a third brilliantly constructed a new weather vane. What’s more, one of these volunteers acted as project manager, on site with the builder every day. And notably it has been a project involving both regular God-botherers and not.
Most of the architect’s urgent concerns have now been met, but he has warned us that more work still needs to be done. Our greatest challenge may prove to be the little museum in the churchyard where the history of our community has been so skilfully interpreted, and which is hugely appreciated by all who visit it.
Currently we have £ 36.000 still in the repair kitty which should go a long way to help. But this is NOT a second appeal. The fact that you are reading this letter proves that you have kindly already done your bit! It comes simply to say “Thank you” and to tell you what we have achieved so far.
The church (Grade 11*) together with the Bewcastle Cross (a scheduled monument), the castle and Roman fort on which all of these stand, are part of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. Our Bewcastle Cross is unique. We live over our unique, hexagonal Roman fort. Our much loved church goes back all the way to St Cuthbert himself so no wonder several thousand visitors come here each year. Many of them sign the visitors book in the church, where I have just noticed this comment, “Apart from Iona, I know of no place with such a “Wow” factor!” That says it all.
If you come here to visit please make yourself known. We would love to welcome you and to say thank you in person. What you have made possible has been just brilliant!
I write on behalf of all 400 “Bewcastlers”!
Bishop John Richardson
Bewcastle in North Cumbria is an isolated village steeped in Roman and Border history. The church, farm, and castle occupy the site of a Roman out post fort which guarded the Maiden Way, the main Roman road north from Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall some 10km (6 miles) to the south.
The fort was dedicated to a local deity, Cocidius, and is unusual in having six sides, rather than the more usual rectangle or square. The fort was probably built around 122AD and occupied until AD 343. Bewcastle Cross is said to be the finest Anglican Cross in Europe. Dating from the 7th century, it is dedicated to Alcfrith, son of Oswiu,King of Northumberland who ruled from 641 – 670 AD
The stone castle was constructed between 1340 and 1360 using much material from the old Roman fort. During the 15th and 16th century it provided sanctuary for locals during Scottish raids. This area was much fought over by the Border Reivers; feuding, lawless, local families who raided each others farms taking livestock, goods, and possessions.
To protect themselves families built peel towers and Bastle houses. The old reiver family names survive today: Armstrong, Graham, Elliot, Musgrave and Nixon.