Escomb Church – 13th to 15th Century

Escomb, having been mortgaged, with other parishes, to a Northumbrian Earl in c 990, was sold back to the See of St Cuthbert at Durham at an unknown date. The See had been formed in AD 1000 and had previously been the See of Lindisfarne.

The next mention of Escomb is during the episcopacy of Bishop Bek (1283 – 1310).

“The Bishop did sumptuously build and incastellate the ancient manor place of Auckland (Auckland Castle?)…….and erected a godly chapel there of well-square stone and placed in the same a Dean and 12 prebendaries, viz one of Auckland, Auckland and Binchester, four of Eldon, one of Shildon, one of Witton upon Weere, one of West Auckland, one of Hampsterly, one of Byers and one of Escomb.

From this point Escomb became a chapelry of the Collegiate Church of St Andrew’s Auckland, endowed by Bishop Bek in 1292, where it remained for many centuries. It is likely that there was no resident vicar in Escomb until 1848, services being conducted by clergy working out of St Andrews. In 1501 Escomb parish was united and annexed  to the Deanery of Auckland by Bishop Fox. After the Reformation it is thought Escomb became a chapel of ease served by a succession of curates, who lived in Bishop Auckland.

Considerable building work was undertaken in Escomb church around the 13th century. This may have been before Escomb came under the sway of St. Andrew’s Auckland, and when there was probably still a resident priest. The foundations of a building, possibly a priest’s house, were found against the East wall of the churchyard during the excavations in the 1960s. In the 13th century 2 large lancet windows were inserted in the South church wall; one in the nave and one in the chancel. The extensive wall paintings were also believed to date from this period. The church walls had probably been whitewashed since the church was built, as this seemed to be a common early practice.  After 667 St Wilfrid  had restored a church, built in 627, by repairing the roof, glazing the windows and washing the walls “whiter than snow” (Eddius Stephanus – Ch 16). The porch is now believed to be of a later date, probably the 14th century.

In village life the Bishop of Durham remained the major landowner with land ordered under the feudal system. Tenants continued to provide service of money, produce  and work to the Bishop as their baronial Lord. Coalmining, mentioned in the Bolden Book, continued in Escomb with mines found on Etherley Moore, More Close (now Wigton Walls), Escomb Hirst, the town fields of Escomb and Etherley Dene.

There were no surviving written records kept for Escomb church in this period.  Some extra parochial records for the See of Durham mention the following:

1283 to 1310 Bishop Antony Bek granted lands in Escomb to Walter de Bermeton.

1342   John de Escomb received the first tonsure from the hands of Richard Bishop of Bisaccia, acting for the Bishop of Durham, at Auckland, 21st December.

1406 to 1437  Cardinal Langley “seized of an acre and a half in Escomb called St Wolfrid’s (Wilfrid’s) acre, besides 8 acres of meadowland called Hocklonning, 89 acres called Seireslykerand and 22 acres known as Shaylefield.”

1457 to 1476,  in the time of Bishop Laurence Booth, Hugh Forster held a toft and a croft of the Prior of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England.  At the Reformation the Order was suppressed and land passed to the Bishop of Durham.


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