Kirk Merrington

(Maerintun, c. 1083)

  

"...From every side Kirk Merrington, sublime

Reveals to you the County Palatine

Rich in records of an olden time

Of princely prelates in a long, long line,

Serving with reverence and love benign..."

  

Introduction

   

     

  

THE COMMANDING VIEW OF THE TOWER OF KIRK MERRINGTON CHURCH

Author's Photography - 2007

 

The village of Merrington, or Kirk Merrington as it is known today, is situated around 640 feet above sea level on a western ridge mostly built on limestone, with an admixture of sandstone, and slight intrusions of whinstone.  The parish of Merrington once included four constabularies:  Merrington, Ferryhill, Chilton, and Hett.  The tower of the church can be seen from great distances, from Spennymoor, Coundon, Ferryhill west, and still it is a well known historic landmark.

 

Historical Foundations

   

The village stems from Roman and Norman occupancy and this historical knowledge stems from two things: the first is that the road leading from Ferryhill, due east, to Merrington was built straight by the Romans, and secondly, the doorway of St. John the Evangelist Church in Kirk Merrington, has a  zig-zag styled arch, and is Norman in design.

 

In A.D. Mills book "The Popular Dictionary of English Place-names", it is believed that Merrington has its origins from "an estate associated with a man called Maera".  The Viking word "kirk (kikja)" means "church".  The Old-English word "ton (tun)" in Merring"ton" means "small town, or estate".  Around 1083, Merrington was known as "Maerintun(e)" from the "Forged Charters", and in 1331, was called "Kyrke Merington".

  

The Church of St. John the Evangelist

  

Merrington Church has a most interesting history.  In James J. Dodds' book "The History of the Urban District of Spennymoor", it is noted that Benedictine monks had a monastery once located with the village around the year 1083, but its exact location is debatable.  In 1143-4, William Cumyn, trying to usurp of the Bishopric of Durham, fortified the church and manned the tower, but was driven out by three barons of the Bishopric.  This is superbly detailed in John Sykes "Local Records: Volume One" (page 19).  

  

OLD MERRINGTON CHURCH,  (DRAWN BY R.W. BILLINGS)

Robert W.  Billings, "Architectural Antiquities of the County of Durham", 

George Andrews and the Author, 1846.

 

MERRINGTON CHURCH

Author's Photography - 2006

 

The original church (as shown by R.W. Billings illustration in E. Leish's Book "The Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist - Merrington") was almost entirely pulled down, rebuilt using the same stones, and enlarged in 1850-1851 (shown by my photography in 2006).  The transept, formally on the south of the building, was placed at the north side.  The north wall of the chancel is the only part of the earlier church that was left untouched.  The alter inside the church is made of massive oak and is dated from the 16th to 17th Century.  The screen is also of oak and is of a similar age. More information about the reconstruction of Merrington Church can be found in the book: "The Story of Kirk Merrington", which was compiled by Miss. M. Cunningham, Mrs. H, Newman, and Mrs. W. Raine.

      

The roof of the church tower was once used as an observation post by the English during the Battle of Nevilles Cross, in 1346, and again during the First and Second World Wars.

      

THE BURIAL RECORD OF JOHN, JANE & ELIZABETH BRASS  MERRINGTON PARISH REGISTER, 1682 (1683)

Image provided by permission of the Incumbent of the Parish of Merrington and by permission of Durham County Record Office.

  

  

THE ALTER-TOMB OF JOHN, JANE AND ELIZABETH BRASS, AT THE FRONT, SOUTH-EAST SIDE OF THE CHURCHYARD

Author's Photography - 2006

  

 

THE BRASS FAMILY GRAVES (TOMB OF THE CHILDREN, LOWER STONE FOR THE PARENTS, 

AND HEADSTONE OF ELIZABETH HUMBLE [2ND WIFE OF JOHN BRASS])

Author's Photography - 2007

 

The Churchwarden's Account Books date back to 1627, and mostly contains the expenses of the church.  The Parish Registers of Births, Marriages, and Deaths date from 1578, and the mostly notable record in the parish books is the murder of the Brass Children by Andrew Mills in 1683.  Both the Account Books and the Parish Registers are available to read on microfiche at Durham County Record Office. County Hall, Durham (Look under EP/Mer) .

  

The Churchyard

    

The Churchyard of St. John the Evangelist of Merrington consists of four acres of land and intersected with a footpath at the north-west side. 

  

 

A VIEW OF THE WEST OF KIRK MERRINGTON CHURCHYARD

Author's Photography - 2007

 

The oldest graves and tombs are located at the front, south-east side of the churchyard, including the Brass Children alter-tomb.  An original fragment of their tomb (before its restoration in 1789) lays inside the church.  Also in the churchyard is buried Sir Roger de Ferie, who killed the last boar of Brancepeth in 1208.  His tomb marker is now located inside the church for better care from the elements.

  

There was a trench in the churchyard filled with layer upon layer of un-coffined bones.  These could have been the bones of the soldiers killed during William Cumyn's rebellion and siege of the church.  In James J. Dodds' book: "History of the Urban District of Spennymoor", notes a reference that when a thigh stone was dug up in the churchyard with a French coin upon, the Reverend Richard Coulton believed it, due to the age of the coin, to be buried in the trouser pocket of a Scotsman, killed at the time of Nevilles' Cross - the Scottish receiving help from the French at this time.   

 

Farming and Agriculture

    

 

 HALLGARTH FARM (SOUTH OF ST JOHN'S CHURCH)

Author's Photography - 2007

 

Kirk Merrington is mostly rural, and its existence is based upon farm and agricultural living. Three farms are located in Merrington, and these are Hall Farm, Shellham Farm, and Hallgarth Farm (which is located opposite the church).  Hallgarth Farm was built in the latter part of the 18th Century and is Georgian in style.   

  

Population - Census Records

 

1801 = 228

1851 = 504

1871 = 1,313

1891 = 2,128

1959 = 944

 

The decrease in the population between 1891 and 1959 was largely due to the depression of the coal trade in the beginning of the 20th Century.

  

 Housing and Other Buildings

  

In 1938, there was recorded 217 houses built in Kirk Merrington, and 46 of these were adjudged to be substandard.  After the Second World War, these 46 houses were pulled down.  In 1951 , Hallgarth Estate was built by Spennymoor Urban District Council (now Spennymoor Borough Council), on land between Hallgarth Farm and the Vicarage (located at 400 yards east of Merrington Church).  This is a pleasant estate consisting of 42 family homes and 8 bungalows for old people.  

 

Most of the older housing situated near the central part of the village was pulled down and replaced with very pleasant stone-built houses.

 

There are 3 public houses located within the village: The Greyhound, The Fox & the Hounds, and The Three Horse Shoes.  In 1861, a Methodist church, the only non-conformist church in the village, was built and can accommodate about 200 people.  There was two grocers in the village and one public post office.  A national school was built in 1869 and was used until 1925.  It is near the middle of the village and is now the Church Hall.  Another school was built in 1925, at South View, Chilton Road.  It can accommodate 150 pupils and is still the primary school for the village.  Upon completion primary school education, pupils have to travel to other towns, notably Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College, Spennymoor Comprehensive School or Tudhoe Grange Comprehensive School to complete their secondary education.  No records survive of any earlier school establishments built or existed in the village before 1861, although it is believed that the Benedictine monks did have one.

 

Located approximately half a mile north of Kirk Merrington is North Close, a small hamlet created around 1920 onwards.  There are approximately 50 houses in total, which were privately built.

 

In 1933, became the public electric lighting system in the village. Before then, the only methods of illumination was candles and lamps. 

 

It must be noted that without a water supply life in Merrington would never have existed. The most noted stream in Kirk Merrington is "St. John's Well", north of Merrington Church, and is a spring.  It is believed that there were 2 public water pumps located in the village, one on the green and one opposite South View, however these are both gone.  The pumping system at Merrington Lane was built in 1890, and since then piped water was made available.  When Hallgarth Estate was built, a complete sewage system for the village was installed, by which means sewage was piped to the Bishop Auckland sewage disposal plant.

 

Transport Systems

  

People unfortunately have to travel to other towns in order to work, or to be secondary educated, etc. There is no major businesses operating in Kirk Merrington, part from the Post Office.  There is a good public bus system, ran by Arriva, which runs through Kirk Merrington, to Ferryhill, Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland and Chilton.

 

Sources of Information

 

Cunningham, M. et all "The Story of Kirk Merrington".  1960

Durham County Record Office, Merrington Parish Register EP/Mer 2

Dodds, J. J. "The History of the Urban District of Spennymoor", Published by the Author, Spennymoor, 1897 - Republished by A. R. B. Publications, 1992

Leish, E. "The Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist - Merrington", 1947

Sykes, J. "Local Records: Volume One", 1866, Republished 1973 by Patrick & Shotton, ISBN: 903169088

Mills, A.D. "The Popular Dictionary of English Place-Names", Parragon Book Service Ltd, 1996, ISBN: 0752518518

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