St Mary the Virgin Church

One of the most outstanding features in Seaham is St. Mary the Virgin Church. Located to the north of Seaham this old Anglo Saxon church has roots thought to date back to the 7th century. Still regularly used for church services and much sought after for weddings, the church is a must for visitors and tourists to the town. The Church is recognised as one of the 20 oldest surviving churches in the whole country.


The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Old Seaham is situated in Church Lane off the B1287 and is North of Seaham Harbour. The earliest mention of the area is in a Land Grant made by King Oswy in 658, then by Witmer in 710, who gives land “in a vill called Daldun” to the Church. Later in 933 King Athelstane, a grandson of King Alfred, renews the lands to the Church.

Recent archaeological digs showed that extensive Christian burials of both sexes took place in the large field to the north of the present Church. The remains were carbon dated to about 700 A.D. The Church in Seaham is described by historians as being one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon Churches in existence. The original dimensions of the Church are typical of the earliest period of Church building. The windows of the Nave are one of the most interesting features. Originally eight in number, these are round headed with a single splay opening. Externally there are two shallow concentric grooves, internally the east window on the north side has two bands of wheatear and cable ornamentation on the soffit of the window head. One window still shows the remains of a groove for a shutter.

    Another distinctive feature is the herringbone working on the exterior of the north wall. This feature is some 6ft. above the plinth along the whole length of the Nave and the pattern reverses near the north door. Alterations and extensions to the Church were made by the various Families associated with the Church:

     

    • 1170-1180 the Escollands added the existing Chancel,
    • 13th Cent. the Hadhams altered some of the windows, 
    • 15th Cent. the roof was replaced and battlements added,
    • 16th Cent. the Bowes added a porch on the south side,
    • 1773 the Milbankes added a sundial.

     

    In 1476 Sir Ralph Bowes sold the Advowsen of the Church and some land to “the right high and mighty Prince Richard, Duc of Gloucestre”. As King Richard 3rd he transferred to property to Coverham Abbey, Yorks. Subsequently ownership of the Church passed to Queen Elizabeth 1st. The Queen Mother acknowledged her link to the Church through the Bowes-Lyons family with a very generous donation in 1961 in support of the Church.

     

    Seaham was still a farming village until the late 18th Cent when Judith Milbanke wrote “A little hamlet where there is neither Coal pit nor even a fishing coble”. All that was to change following the estate sale to the Londonderry family, and changes continue into the present century. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin is a Grade 1 listed building which serves the local community with regular Services, Baptisms and Weddings. Details are available from the Churchyard noticeboard.

     

    Information kindly provided by Mr Ray Armbrister.