In 1863 a new parish church and churchyard were built at the top of the hill in Escomb, to accommodate the increased population, which had risen to nearly 4,000 as reported in the 1861 census. It is likely the intention was to demolish the old church. In an address to the British Archaeological Association in 1886 (after the restoration of the Saxon Church) Bishop Lightfoot said, “It will interest you to hear that the other day I stumbled upon a report made by a Rural Dean to my predecessor, in which he states that it (the Saxon Church) is in a sad state of decay and would be better removed if it could be done.” The Saxon church was in fact restored in 1880-81 from public subscriptions.
The move to save the old church was claimed by the Victorian antiquarian and vicar of Byers Green, the Revd. Dr. R. E. Hoopell LL.D, D.C.L, FRAS. In a paper to an antiquarian society Hoopell wrote, “ ….a perfect Saxon church, entirely overlooked by and unknown to archaeologists until a few weeks ago….It was the good fortune of the writer to be the first to recognise and make public the true character of the building.”
A letter from Thomas Lord , dated 5th September 1893, was read out at a meeting of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries and puts the record straight.
My Dear Sir,
It was known soon after I came to Escomb twenty five years ago that the church was Saxon. There was at that time so much to be done in the parish that no help was to be had for the old church. About 13 or 14 years ago I saw my way towards having the church restored. I named the matter to a few friends – among others to Mr Boulton of Bishop Auckland, who at once suggested that his friend Mr Longstaffe should visit the church as his doing so would give publicity to the matter and lead to my obtaining subscriptions.
After Mr Longstaffe had been to Escomb there happened to be a clerical meeting at my house. Dr Hoopell and others who were present said they would like to see the old church. Some time after that Dr Hoopell sent a paper on the subject to a meeting held at Yarmouth in which he speaks of himself as being the first to see this and that. I was rather amused at the whole affair and would have taken no notice of it but Mr Longstaffe and others asked me to correct the Doctor’s statement. Hence a paper war on a small scale. In spite of all that has been told him the Doctor sticks to his text – that he was the first etc.
I write this in confidence as I would not like to have the subject opened out again. I have always thought it a most childish affair.
Yours very truly,