A SHORT HISTORY OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST, ULGHAM
The Church of St John the Baptist belonged to the Morpeth Rectory until 1875, when it became a separate parish. However, it is believed that a church has stood in this place since Saxon times. The church was dowsed in 1985, showing a building on the present nave (minus the north aisle) with an apse extending just over half the way into the present chancel area. The alignment of the church was north of east; this may indicate a Saxon church because, according to current theory still being tested, the Saxons did not know about magnetic north. If the Saxons had built a wooden church, later demolished by the Normans, the Normans would probably have used the same foundations. If they had built on virgin land the alignment would have been true east. It is suggested that the first church was early 11th century and would have been served by the itinerant monks of Lindisfarne. However, the church site at Ulgham is ancient, as can be shown by the height of the burial ground around the church and its proximity to the Manor House.
Two window-heads survive from the Norman church. One has been built into the external wall below the belfry and the other is inside the church on the east wall of the north aisle (see the illustration on our home page). The Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments dates the latter carved window around 1100 AD.
If there was a Saxon church and then a Norman Church, then the present building is the fourth church. It is not known when the third church was built, but a description of the church written in the 1800s states "it is impossible to describe its style except as an unhappy example of Carpenter's Gothic". The present church was completed in 1863. The Rev. Francis Grey was responsible for rebuilding the chancel and the Curate of Morpeth and Ulgham, the Rev. John Bolland, wanted the people of Ulgham to rebuild the nave. However, he died on a journey to Jerusalem in 1857 and it was the Rev. Francis Grey who was responsible for encouraging the people and raising the money to build the nave some years later. There is a cross in the churchyard of Morpeth parish church in memory of Mr. Bolland. Money was collected for the cross in Morpeth and any remaining money was put towards the rebuilding of the nave at Ulgham. There is a smaller cross, near the path to the church door at Ulgham, which was given in memoriam by Mr. Bolland's brothers. The chancel is distinguished from the nave, inside and out, by an architectural detail of small carved stone crosses inside a circle. This motif does not appear in the nave but is repeated on the pulpit and font. It is not known if the stone basin in the porch was a font purchased in 1745 or perhaps a holy water stoup, as it has been attached to a wall at some time in the past.
There is a memorial window to the Hon. and Rev. Francis Grey that was dedicated on 21 March 1891, the first anniversary of his death. The other Victorian stained glass windows are all memorials to members of the Fenwick family who lived at Ulgham Grange. The reading desk, hymn board and font cover are all memorials to former worshippers. More recently the church has received a stained glass window dedicated to the Sim family, a wafer box, processional candle, bible bookmark, memorial table, prayer book and ciborium in memory of worshippers and their relatives. The kneelers were worked by members of the congregation and many of them are in memoriam, or celebrate weddings or special anniversaries. The brass cross at the altar came from St Cuthbert's Church in Newcastle upon Tyne when it closed.
A triptych used to hang on the wall behind the altar, partly obscuring the windows. This now hangs as three separately framed pieces on the south wall of the chancel. It was given to the church by Miss Ada Currey, who visited Ulgham from Surrey in 1887. The inscription on the back tells that it is a copy of the Arundel Society's reproduction of Perugino's fresco in the cloisters of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi at Florence.
The carved stones on the windowsill in the north aisle have been identified as being part of a monument from the 17th or 18th century, possibly relating to the Lawson family. The full inscription can be seen on a wooden board above the church door. The Coat of Arms above the board appears to be that of the Lawson family.
St John's church continues to be a place of regular worship, and the current parishioners are contributing to future history by their dedication and hard work to ensure that the worship that has taken place on this site for several centuries continues in the third millennium.
Most of this information has been taken from "Ulgham, Its Story Continued" by Janet Brown.
Thanks to Mrs Jean Dawes for allowing the reproduction of her drawing of St John's.