Greystead, and Greystead Old Church
Built in 1814-17, Greystead stands on land once owned by the Jacobite rebel, James, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, who was executed following his involvement in the 1715 rebellion against King George I. On his death his vast estates were confiscated and passed into the care of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. It was the Greenwich Commissioners who employed Henry Hake Seward (c.1778-1848), a pupil of leading architect Sir John Soane, to design all three buildings at Greystead, together with sister North Tyne churches, rectories and outbuildings at Thorneyburn, Wark and Humshaugh. Seward's group of Northumbrian churches are neo-Gothic in style, their simplicity offset by the exceptional masonry. However contemporary controversy was fired by the large sums spent on the buildings.
Greystead and its sister parishes were used by the Greenwich Commissioners to provide comfortable livings for chaplains retiring from the Royal Navy – and our Rectory has spacious wine cellars! However the first Rector of Greystead, whose memorial tablet remains in the Old Church, had served in the Napoleonic wars, and his isolation at Greystead in a parish far from the sea seems to have led tragically to breakdown.
In around 1880, St Luke’s received a fashionable ‘make-over’ with new pews and Victorian glass. Probably around 1910, a magnificent, Victorian-style stained glass East Window was installed in memory of Margaret Spencer of The Grove, Ryton, near Newcastle, who had died in Madeira in 1865 at the tragically early age of twenty-two. Designed by the famous London stained glass firm Powell of Whitefriars, the window was restored in 2013 and now glows in all its wonderful original colours.
Although the Greenwich Commissioners planned large-scale churches, expecting a growing population, they miscalculated, and Greystead and the other churches were never well-attended. The last rector here left in 1930, when Greystead Rectory passed into private hands and Anne’s family purchased it in 1950. The church itself, after years of only occasional use, was deconsecrated and in 1998 we purchased it from the Church Commissioners.
A fine - and rare example - of a Georgian Northumbrian church, the Old Church is listed Grade II. In 2013 it was fully restored and converted to 4-bedroom holiday use after lengthy debates about its future with stakeholders including the Church Commissioners, Rector and Parish Church Council, Diocese of Newcastle, planners and listed building officers, and the local community. The conversion, by architects Kevin Doonan of Hexham, is in an inspirational ‘upside-down’ style, with three bedrooms, some en suite, below a huge new Mezzanine providing open plan living and dining. A fourth, en suite, bedroom in the former Vestry was left largely unaltered but repainted in sympathetic Georgian colours. The centrepiece of the conversion is the spectacular Sitting Room formed from the original East End altar area under the Stained Glass Window. Both the East End and West Doorway remain at their original full-height to enable visitors to appreciate these wonderful Georgian spaces to the full.
The restoration was carried out by specialist Northumbrian firm Historic Property Restoration Ltd, with stained glass experts Iona Art Glass cleaning and restoring the windows.
Opening the Tower
Our next project is to open the Tower. This will provide an enchanting twin room on the first floor and a thrilling viewing gallery above enabling visitors to see the original bell by Robert Watson of Newcastle and to look out over the spectacular views.
Greystead Coach House
Also built from 1814-17, the Coach House was occupied for around 100 years by the coachman and his family, who lived in the space now occupied by the Dining Room and beamed Twin Bedroom. The Sitting Room is converted from the former Stables, with the character Double Bedroom once a Hayloft.
The Coach itself was stored at the centre of the building, the length of the traces requiring a two-storey space. This today provides a perfect space for the Hall, Stairs and Landing. The Coach arch survives as a feature on the exterior, with the original wooden doors replaced by glazing to allow light into the interior. The low stone platform in the drive was for mounting horses. Originally the drive in front of the coach arch sloped to a central point, to allow horses to be rubbed down.
In 1930 the Coach House was extended to include an additional bedroom, and what is today the Kitchen below. The Utility Room beyond is part of the original building however and was in Georgian times a pigsty!
History of the Greystead gardens, churchyard and grounds
The Coach House looks out onto the huge Georgian Walled Garden, which retains its south-facing wall for fruit trees and two of its (original?) apple trees. Originally it functioned as kitchen garden and orchard combined and the Coachman may have doubled as the Rector’s gardener. Today, much of the Walled Garden is lawned to provide recreational space and all-weather tennis court for visitors. On the bank above stands one of two magnificent beech trees almost certainly planted in 1817. The other is in the churchyard.
On the hills beyond, the picturesque group of pines was probably planted around 1814-7 on the church ‘glebe’ lands (now belonging to the nearby farm) to form a striking vista from Greystead – as indeed it still does! Similar pines and beeches survive at Thorneyburn and the other North Tyne churches, suggesting that the Greenwich Commissioners planned the landscapes as well as the buildings themselves, while a number of rare trees suggests an interest in creating an Arboretum.
Greystead Churchyard is a picturesque space with old tombstones, overhanging trees and wonderful hill views. Unlike the church, most of it, apart from the access area for our visitors, still belongs to the Church of England. It remains open to visitors to both our cottages and their dogs, as well as to the general public.