St Hilda's Church is simply magnificent and people need to see it

Hartlepool’s greatest architectural treasure is something that people from outside the town are usually - and unfortunately - unaware of.

Sunday, 17th November 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Sunday, 17th November 2019, 8:05 am
The magnificent St Mary's Church on the Headland should surely be more famous.
The magnificent St Mary's Church on the Headland should surely be more famous.

The wonderful HMS Trincomalee reels in its fair share of tourists; and a great thing this is too.

Yet even the oldest British warship still afloat with its 200 year history is a comparative toddler compared to the stunning St Hilda’s Church on the Headland, which is more than 600 years older still.

But not every Hartlepool native is aware of the fascinating history of the church. Some, for reasons best known to themselves, have never been in it.

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We respectfully advise anyone who falls into this category to rectify this state of affairs and guarantee they won’t regret it.

You needn’t be religious to admire something this beautiful, any more than you need astronomy qualifications to gaze appreciatively at the moon.

A brief history is as follows, with apologies to Mail readers who don’t need to be told any of this.

St Hilda herself was, between 648 and 658, the abbess of a monastery on the Headland. Vikings have been blamed for destroying that monastery in the 9th century. But no archaeological evidence supports this claim. It takes more than a longboat and horned helmets to frighten people in Hartlepool.

The church named in Hilda’s honour was built in the late 12th century. But according to its website: “The south doorway shows in its decoration that it belonged to an earlier Norman church, probably erected in the time of Robert de Brus (Bruce) II.”

Legend has it that in the 1140s Robert was visited by St Malachy, who asked him to pardon a thief in the days before ASBOs. But Robert hanged the bloke instead. Charming. Nevertheless, there is a Bruce chapel and tomb.

That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the 800 years of history. For reasons of space we must now move on to the building itself.

Unsurprisingly St Hilda’s is a Grade I listed building: the Premier League of listed buildings.

The late Alec Clifton-Taylor, a big noise in architectural history, described it as: “An architectural gem” and “a glory of early English architecture in its earliest and purest phase”.

He wrote this in his 1974 book English Parish Churches as Works of Art. For a work of art is what St Hilda’s is: inside and out.

The Historic England reference to the church mentions that: “The tower has quadripartite vaulting to lower stage and tower arches on three sides.

“The north arcade of nave has five rolled and keeled orders on compound piers with circular abaci and octagonal bases.”

It is not known if Historic England offers some sort of prize to anyone who can guess what on earth they are talking about. Anyone with a preference for plain English can arrange a tour by contacting the church.

So tell your friends, family and, if necessary, yourself about this enviable Hartlepool asset. As if engineered for tourists, St Hilda’s is close to the Heugh Battery and the Andy Capp statue. Something for every day tripper there.

Let’s mention this more … and more.

Visit www.hartlepool-sthilda.org.uk