The village of Bywell in Northumberland was once a busy medieval market town, yet little remains of the settlement now. I was told many years ago this was due to the plague, though I haven’t been able to confirm this by any recent research – it may have been cleared by the landowner for agricultural purposes at some point in history. What makes the place remarkable is what does remain.
The medieval market cross still stands atop a stepped plinth but where shops and houses may have crowded together behind it there is now just green fields. A little way to the north lies the 15th Century gatehouse tower of Bywell Castle, but it is to the South and West of the cross that you may find something extraordinary for separated by no more than a few yards you will find not one, but two churches with Anglo-Saxon origins.
St Andrew’s has the more complete features of the period; the high pointing roof, defensively thick walls, and the best Anglo-Saxon tower in all of Northumberland. It is no longer used as a church though the building is conserved. Although improved and extended in the medieval period its origins go back to the mid ninth century.
St Peter’s was the reason for my visit today as I will be photographing a wedding there very soon. It was probably built even earlier than its neighbour and is believed to be the site where Bishop Egbert of Lindisfarne was consecrated. There is less evidence of the Saxon church left here, it having been substantially altered in the 13th Century.
Trying to understand the meaning of old names is often a challenge. I grew up in a part of Sunderland (another Saxon settlement originally) called Fulwell. Some would tell you that this means exactly what it says; that there was plentiful water there, whilst others would say that it derived from “foul well”, meaning that the water was poisoned or unclean. Two very different interpretations!
Bywell is not quite so extreme, but good old Wikipedia states that it means “bend in the river”, which would make sense since it is situated precisely at such a location, where as others take it more literally to mean “by the spring”. Personally I would question the latter – why would a spring have such significance with the river so close at hand?
Anyway back to St Peter’s where I was meeting bride and groom to look at the possibilities for photography that the church provided. This would have gone very smoothly… had we not activated the security alarm as soon as we opened the door! There may not be many people in the area, but they all knew we had arrived! Just as the alarm reset itself we were joined by Maddy and Joe who will be singing at the wedding. They rehearsed a couple of songs and were doubtless glad not to be accompanied by the wailing of the alarm.
- Ladies Charity Salmon Day for Breast Cancer 8th June (ladiesfishing.co.uk)