I set off to explore. What better use of a sunny Friday afternoon, than to visit a beautiful old church. But first I had to find it! My SatNav took me all over Ryton Village but nowhere near the church I was looking for! Anyway, after searching and driving around for a bit, I spotted a signpost to the church – problem solved. And it was so worth it!
Ryton Holy Cross Church is hidden amongst massive old trees, a short walk up from the gate. It can’t be seen from the road, as the pathway to the church bends through the trees, but once you walk around the bend, a spectacular view awaits you. The churchyard is peaceful, tranquil and inviting. One could easily sit under one of those magnificent trees and soak up the calm for hours. But I had exploring to do.
The History of Holy Cross Church
The church was built on the “bailey” of an old motte and bailey castle, around 1220. The Old English style is clear in the construction, with relatively few changes over the years. The spire was added around 1360 and some windows in the nave have been enlarged. What is exceptionally interesting is the spire. This type of spire is called a “broach spire” and is not that common in the North of England. In the South East of England, broach spires are plentiful, but in the North, Ryton Holy Cross Church boasts one of only two.
One further change was made in 1886. A large extension was built to house the organ chamber and two vestries, North of the Chancel.
In the West wall as well as the South wall of the Chancel, there are brilliant examples of original single Lancet windows. Another item not to miss is the Chancel Screen (in oak), which is a rare survivor of the civil war. But the thing that really excited me can be found at the font. Lying upside-down at the foot of the font is a fragment of the medieval font bowl. This original font bowl was destroyed during the civil war, by Roundheads who took offence at the elaborate carving all round it. The present bowl was fitted soon after the restoration in 1660.
Tolling the Bells
During my visit to Ryton Holy Cross Church, I met Edrac and Beryl, two of the churchwardens. It turns out that Edrac is one of the bell ringers and he invited me up the very steep stairs into the bell chamber. He has a wealth of knowledge and explained how the bells work and even gave me the opportunity to toll one of the eight bells (it is much more difficult than one would think!). I was also fortunate in that Edrac showed me up another ladder into the spire. This area is not normally open to the public so I am very grateful for the chance to see the medieval beams and construction of the inside of the spire. All that bell tolling was thirsty work, so I was thankful for a delightful cup of coffee and slice of cake offered by Beryl, once we were back down from the spire.
The Churchyard at Holy Cross Church
It was getting late and I was worried that I’ll not have enough daylight if I didn’t go exploring in the churchyard right away, so Edrac went with me and pointed out several really interesting gravestones. Being a stonemason can not be easy. For one thing, once you’ve done the work, it is not that easy to rectify mistakes! On one gravestone, it is clear that the mason made a mistake and needed to “blank out” the date and then insert the correct date. This made me chuckle.
Ryton Holy Cross Church is absolutely worth a visit. Steeped in history, beautiful and I have certainly had a wonderfully friendly welcome.
- Site visit and observation
- Interview with Edrac and Beryl (wardens)
- Holy Cross Church website