Greystead, Greystead Institute 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

The Old Church tower has just opened in October 2023, following a full year-long restoration, and gives access to the viewing platform at the top of the tower, via a specially commissioned black metal spiral staircase. At the same time the 1818 wooden louvred windows, which were suffering from dry rot, have been replaced ‘like for like’, while four new glass lancet windows have allowed light into the tower for the first time ever! Similarly, the original and by now rotten pitch pine flooring has also been replaced ‘like for like’ with reclaimed pitch pine boards. The tower was then redecorated, and is now being furnished.

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!

Greystead Institute

Greystead Institute was built on land at the bottom of Greystead’s nineteenth century Walled Garden in 1895, after the Rector’s neighbour, Peter Lockie Clark of The Hott - the farm seen across the fields from the Institute windows – gifted it to the Church of England for use as a Sunday school for local children. The surviving document or ‘indenture’ recording Clark’s gift makes it clear that the aim was to provide religious instruction in the Anglican faith within the Parish, and the Institute’s use for general education was specifically forbidden: the land, and future building, were for use by the Rector as a “Sunday School or Schools for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring manufacturing and other poorer classes in the parish of Greystead”. Teachers, who had to be members of the Church of England, were appointed by the Rector or officiating minister. Peter Lockie Clark was an ‘Engineer Engine Maker’ from Sunderland, so his life up the North Tyne valley is still something of a mystery!

As well as a Sunday School, the Institute could also originally be used for church services, for meetings of the clergy or societies with “religious philanthropic charitable or benevolent” purposes, or indeed for any meetings which had “in view the spiritual intellectual moral or social wants of the neighbouring population”. These stipulations confirm the Institute’s specifically religious and charitable purposes at the time it was built.

The parcel of land which Lockie gifted for building the Institute is recorded as being a “piece or parcel of land containing Four hundred and thirty eight and eight ninths square yards or thereabouts situate at Greystead in the parish of Greystead” Major donations towards building the Institute were made by local landowners, including Lockie Clark himself, who contributed £145. We know that the building contractor was paid £349.7 and the Architect £22.16. The total cost was £400.8.5.

Only in the twentieth century did the Institute’s role in the local community become more general, involving activities such as dances, whist drives, and – at least in one case - a wedding reception, although a minstrels’ gallery, together with a piano which was purchased for £32 for the new building, suggests that musical activity was intended from the start. A very damaged scene painting was found during the 2018 restoration, suggesting that some theatrical performances were held here in the twentieth century. At least early in the twentieth century, sports were played in the farmer’s fields outside, so the building was very much a focal point for who lived near Greystead. The Moorcock Inn, only a few doors away, also offered a convivial centre point for the parish of Greystead.

By the 1970s, however, Greystead had long ceased to be a parish, and was now part of neighbouring Thorneyburn parish. As a result, the church Institute had fallen out of use, and in 1975 the Church of England sold the building. It was bought by two members of the local community who lived nearby, so they used it only for storage, and the building became dilapidated. Our family had always hoped to add the Institute to our other holiday cottages at Greystead, so when it was offered to us in 2016 by the executor of the two sisters who had owned it for forty years we were thrilled to be able to purchase and restore it. By this time the Institute had become a complete time warp, filled with old newspapers, tins for biscuits and cocoa, and other 1970s memorabilia. In early 2018, after our architects Kevin Doonan of Hexham had drawn up plans, and planning permission had been granted, our builders arrived, and the Institute opened as a holiday cottage in May 2019. In March 2022, the Institute came under new ownership and continues to operate as a holiday let.

The conversion aimed to restore and convert this Victorian Church Hall into a deluxe holiday cottage on the same site as Greystead Old Church and Greystead Coach House. We were able to keep many of the original key features including the Victorian fireplace, beams, original-style windows (recreated in their original form) and Victorian pine floor, and above all to retain the large, open-plan spaces of the original. The central oak spiral staircase, specially commissioned for the room, leads up to a new mezzanine level which echoes the original Minstrels’ Gallery, although inevitably larger in size in order to accommodate an upstairs bedroom and en suite. The slate-tiled Hall and Conservatory/dining room are housed in a stone-built extension which occupies the ‘footprint’ left by a lean-to, corrugated iron shed.

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.

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