,by Robert Bruce in 1312, and in 1346 by David II of Scotland...” Phew! Corbridge was no place for the peaceful life, it seems.
The first church here may have been built in around AD674 by St Wilfrid, one of the giants of first millennium Christianity in England. He had established nearby Hexham Abbey a couple of years earlier. It was certainly no later than the late eighth century because there is documentary evidence that a Bishop of Mayo was consecrated here in AD786. Much of the stone at Corbridge was filched from the abandoned Corstopitum. Much of this original foundation remains- the lowest part of the tower that would have at that time constituted a west porch, and the nave walls that are now pierced by later arcades. The tower was later raised but still before the Norman Conquest. The original west porch had buildings beyond it and these were probably monastic buildings. Indeed, most stone churches at that time would have been monastic. The original west doorway can still be discerned but has unfortunately been in-filled with an ugly three light window. This doorway has massive stone blocks each side laid successively upright, flat, upright, in what is known as “Escomb Style”. It is nearly ten feet high in keeping with the Anglo-Saxon love of height in their churches. Best of all , perhaps, is the tower arch within the church. It was apparently taken in its entirety from Roman Corstopitum.
The south door is Norman from about 1128 but most of what we see today is Early English period extension of the original Anglo-Saxon plan, although there was considerable restoration work carried out in 1864-7. The exterior, as with so many churches in this area, is largely Early English in character with a predominance of tall lancet windows. These give the interior of the church a rather dark and foreboding atmosphere, somewhat in keeping perhaps with the town’s beleaguered history! The chancel arch of around 1220 is of extraordinarily tall proportions. We should not be surprised because the nave clerestory was cut into the original north and south walls of the church: it was not added later. Again, we see the Anglo-Saxon love of height. This arch leads to an Early English chancel which covers the Anglo-Saxon original. It is extraordinary for being both longer and wider than the nave. The arches of the arcade were, again, inserted into the original church walls in around 1250. Given the weight of the massive walls this was no small engineering achievement.
Next to the church is a Pele Tower. That’s as in orange peel, by the way, not as in the Brazilian footballer! This is a “Vicar’s Pele” and the best surviving example of its kind. It is perhaps mid-fourteenth century and Corstopitum again donated the stone! Pele towers are common in the border region and offered protection from the marauding Scots. You see them standing alone or as part of old farm complexes. Vicar’s peles, however, are a peculiarly Northumbrian concept.
Corbridge is well worth a visit for its town and not just for its church. It’s a quiet place but it seeps history from every pore and the church is very much part of that atmosphere.