The Holy Trinity Church
Washington Village


There was a time in the distant past when all roads led to the area in and around Washington. It was an area renowned as a Celtic meeting place. During the iron-age there was a network of Celtic trackways throughout Britain and the head of the Celtic Trackway was in fact at Gateshead, situated  not far from Washington. The name “Gateshead” literally means “at the head of the tracks”; a gate being a way , track or road.

Not far from Washington lies Beacon Lough. It is situated between Wrekenton and Windy Nook. As its name suggests, Beacon Lough was used as a beacon signalling station in Celtic times, it being part of a network throughout Celtic Britain. In addition to the beacon, however,
there was also a Stone Circle at Beacon Lough.

The oak tree was considered sacred by the Celts of pre-Roman Britain, the Brigantes,
who were named after their Celtic goddess Brigantia.

Brigantia (adopted by the Christian Church as Saint Brigit) was the “fire goddess” and as such she was associated with the Beltane Festival, often thought of as the “Fire Festival”. In this light the beacons at Beacon Lough and throughout the length and breadth of Celtic Britain take on a new meaning.

By Audrey Fletcher
Copyright 1999
In places where a Stone Circle had not been erected a clearing within a wood of sacred oaks served the same purpose. Later, in Anglo-Saxon times the Christian Church surrounded by a circular church yard took on the role of the Sacred Grove. This 1857 map clearly shows the Holy Trinity Church surrounded by a circular churchyard ... symbolic of the Celtic Sacred Grove.
The Holy Trinity Church,
Washington Village, Tyne - Wear, England.
An original watercolour by local artist, R. Hillerstone
The area upon which Washington Village now stands was an important Celtic religious centre.
Washington Parish Church 1833 - 1882
It was a sad day for many of the local community when the old Norman Church was razed to the ground in 1832. Gone was almost seven hundred years of history. The vaults below the church had been blamed for the unsafe structure, but I would suggest that the instability was more likely caused by subsidence as a result of coal mining in the area.

By the following year a new church had been erected on the same site at a cost of just over one thousand pounds, and it was officially opened on May 22nd 1833. Not everyone was impressed by the new structure however, and it soon came to be called "The Barn". How beautiful the Norman Church must have been in comparison!

It wasn't until 1882 that the first improvements were made.

The Washington Parish Church, built at a cost of just over one thousand pounds in 1833, was disparagingly called "The Barn"
To view the marriages recorded in the Washington Registers
from 1603 to 1837
Click Here
Improvements to the Washington
Parish Church from 1882 onwards


Improvements to the modern building were carried out in three main stages.

Stage One: 1882/3 At a cost of 1900 pounds extensive remodelling of the basic structure was undertaken. The nave was made longer, the trancepts were built on and the roof was made higher.

Stage Two: 1902 The chancel was made longer and a vestry was added on.

Stage Three: 1962 The old bell tower was taken down and replaced with a less elegant new one.



The new roof added in 1883, complete with the old bell tower, is clearly visible on this old photograph.
Here we see the Holy Trinity Church, complete with new bell tower, all spruced up on a beautiful January morning
Inside the Church

Over the years "The Barn" has been transformed into a beautiful church. As you enter through the west door the Altar lies straight ahead of you in the east ... a reminder of the spiritual purpose of the Church. Behind the Altar stands the imposing War Memorial Window which was completed in 1921, while on the panelling are the coats of arms of the Hilton, Pattinson, Brack and Sanderson families.

Over the years "The Barn" has been transformed into a beautiful church. Here we are looking east towards the Altar and the War Memorial Window.
The Church Yard

Due to the growing population of the town, the Cemetery was long since extended beyond the original Anglo-Saxon circular boundary. By the early 1900’s the cemetery had extended into the orchards to the east of the Old Hall.
The original Anglo-Saxon circular church yard is captured in these photos
of the "Church on the Hill".
As time went by the cemetery was enlarged.
Sadly many of the grave stones have been vandalized.
This view of the extended GraveYard is taken through the railings
next to the main entrance along Glebe Crescent. On the map above,
the entrance would be located directly opposite the sand pit.
This is the most recent part of the cemetery.
It has a serenity all of its own.
With the trees in the background the illusion of a
Sacred Grove is maintained.
The history of Washington Village as a sacred place goes back thousands of years into the mists of history.

To learn more about its origins  
Click here
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Link to "Washington, Tyne-Wear, England"

Link to "Washington Old Hall"

Link to "Bryan Ferry: A Washington Lad"

Link to "Washington Then and Now"
Copyright Audrey Fletcher 1999
All rights reserved

Last updated 2012
Introduction: Our Celtic Past

In 1885 a dug-out canoe was found in the River Wear on the Washington boundary. It was about 4000 years old and made from the trunk of an oak tree.
For thousands of years the area in and around Washington was thick with oak trees. In the Ancient World the oak was considered “sacred”. It was symbolic of the Tree of Life, its branches reaching out and supporting the star and planet studded sky, while its roots reached down into the watery abyss of the Netherworld. The trunk of the Tree of Life represented the World Pillar or Axis Munde, around which the heavens appear to revolve. The World Pillar was considered to be the centre of the universe. Similarly, because of the abundance of oak trees, the area in and around Washington would also have been considered “sacred”,
the centre of the universe.


The oak tree was sacred in the Ancient World
In places where a stone circle had not been erected a clearing within a wood of oaks would have served the same purpose. This clearing was called a “leah”, a name which is retained in place names like Birtley (bright leah). Later,with the onset of Christianity, the Christian Church surrounded by a circular church yard took on the role of the sacred grove. The Holy Trinity Church at Washington Village was no exception.
An example of a Stone Circle
In reality the Beltane or Fire Festival is the Bull Festival (Bel = Bull) and is a re-enactment of the bringing down of the Sun (hence Brigantia, the “fire goddess”) at the close of the Age of Gemini, and its subsequent rising in the Age of Taurus.

To find out more about Washington and the Beltane Festival   Click Here

There is also the possibility that Washington was an important Celtic site not only because of the abundance of sacred oaks in the area, but also because of its swamp (near the Three Horse Shoes) which was drained in 1820. Here was a water supply right next to an oak forest, a sacred forest. Perhaps if one looks hard enough, evidence might be found of a Celtic Lake Village in this area ... not unlike the one at Glastonbury.

The Celtic goddess Brigantes, now known as Saint Brigit, was the "fire goddess"
"The Church on the Hill"
Could this have been the scene on the banks of the River Wear on Washington's boundary 4000 years ago? The dug out canoe found there in 1885, and now in the Sunderland Museum, is not unlike these ones.

It is curious that Washington Village did not have its own running water supply. There was the Village Pond but no stream. Why settle an area which did not have a running water supply? Why not have Washington Village situated on the River Wear? It would have been more logical. The only possible answer is that
the area upon which Washington Village now stands was an important Celtic religious centre. There were some wells dug, but water was eventually ducted from the Mount, between Springwell and Eighton Banks, down Blue House Lane and finally Spout Lane into the Village.
This is A. Forestier's impression of what Glastonbury Lake Village may have looked like (1911).
Perhaps if one looks hard enough, evidence may be found of a similar Celtic Village in Washington.
For more information on Glastonbury Lake Village   Click Here
Water was ducted from the Mount, down Blue House Lane
and finally Spout Lane into Washington Village
Washington historian Fred Hill beside the Font at which generations of Washington were baptized 1183-1376.
"From Washington to White House" by The Vagabond
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Christianity comes to Washington

In 601AD it was decreed by Pope Gregory that Christian churches be built on sites which had been previously used for Celtic rituals and ceremonies. However, in order to retain the Celtic symbolism of the Sacred Grove, (see above) the Anglo-Saxon churches were distinctive in that they were surrounded by a circular churchyard.

Nothing remains of the Anglo-Saxon Church at Washington Village except the distinctive Anglo-Saxon circular churchyard.










It is known for certain that by June 6th 1112AD there was a Norman Church at Washington Village because the Parish of Washington is mentioned in a Charter of Bishop Ranulf Flambard of Durham in that year.

"...2 sheaves from each thrave of the corn-tithe from the Bishop's desmesne in the vill of Wessynton ..."

Some years later, further mention is made of the Washington Church  in The Boldon Book dated 20th March 1183AD. It is in this Book (which is a survey of Hugh du Puiset, the Bishop of Durham's estates) that we learn of William de Hertburn exchanging his lands in Stockton for the Manor and Village of Wessynton,
excluding the church and its lands.

The Norman Church, which was almost square in shape, with the chancel leading off in a narrow oblong section towards the Communion Table in the East, stood for nearly seven hundred years on the crest of the hill in Washington Village.

A Description of the Norman Church at Washington Village in 1785

Hutchinson in Volume 2 of “The History & Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham” 1785, described the Washington Village Church as follows: (the additional references in brackets are from Robert Surtees "History and Antiquities of County Durham
Volume One”, published 1816.)


“The church is built on elevated ground; the village inconsiderable, and scattered on the skirts of the brook: Mr. Brack’s mansion stands a little to the south. There is much antiquity in the architecture of the church, which has two side aisles, each separated from the nave by three columns; two on one side (the North aisle, ref: Surtees 1816) are octagonal, the middle one round; on the other  (the South aisle, ref Surtees 1816) all the pillars are octagonal, the arches are pointed, and with the columns are well proportioned and light:






In Anglo-Saxon times, the Christian Church surrounded
by a circular church yard took on the role of the Sacred Grove.
This 1857 map clearly shows the Holy Trinity Church surrounded
by a circular church yard … symbolic of the Celtic Sacred Grove.
This is an example of how the octagonal columns
in the South Aisle may have looked.
(From Surtees 1816: “A large South porch, the burial place of the old
Lords of Washington, opens into the nave, under a pointed arch, and into the South aisle, through the remains of a mullioned window.”)
Washington Village Church.
The South Porch, at the far left , was the burial place of
the old Lords of Washington.
The nave is eighteen paces long, the aisles are thirteen wide: Many of the windows are modern and sashed. The chancel is separated from the nave by railings and stalls, (Surtees comments in 1816 “the stall and rails are removed”) being six paces in length to the altar rails; the windows have been regular, two to the north and two to the south under pointed arches; one is new sashed: The east window consists of three lights under a pointed arch. The vestry room is singular, and its original use is not now to be discovered; it is vaulted over with stone, with ribbed archings terminating in points, and seems as if it was constructed for a place of internment. On the fourth side of the church is a large porch, called the Lord’s Porch, about twenty feet long and fifteen broad, now claimed as the burial place of the family of Bracks; it is ceiled with wood in panels, gaudily painted, sprinkled over with golden stars, and further ornamented with the arms of the family of James; in one shield the See of Durham is quartered*. Mr. Stonhewer, whilst he was rector between the years 1719 and 1727, built a good rectory house; but the present elegant mansion appears, by the arms over the door, to owe its erection or great improvements to Mr. Talbot, afterwards Bishop of Durham.
On a wooden tablet,
WILL.JAMES of Washington,
Esq; departed this Life the
5 day of April, 1662, at his
Death he gave to the poor
Of Washington forty
Shillings a Year
For Ten
Years.

On a brass plate fixed in a blue stone, within the rails of the altar, in old characters.
Hic jacet Joh’es Jackson, A.D. 1506.”
Washington Village Church.
A view of the east window and the north porch.
In the background is very possibly what is now “The Washington Arms”.
Above ground there is still some evidence of the Norman church. There is the Norman archway at the entrance to the nave,  the grave cover of Alexander de Biddick and the font.

Robert Surtees noted in Volume One of "History and Antiquities of County Durham" published 1816, that in the Washington Church-yard was a stone, " an effigy in a sacerdotal habit: Hic jacet Alexander de Biddicke".

In the same volume Surtees noted:

"On a ridged coffin-lid in the Church-yard, (in Vincent's time,) sculptured with a sword and cross: Hic jacet Jacobus Sanderson”.


Notes by Audrey Fletcher:
* "Church-yard" refers to Washington church yard.
* The sword and cross suggests that not only was Jacobus Sanderson a knight, but perhaps that he had been away at The Crusades or even that he was a Knights Templar.

Unfortunately this coffin lid has not been rediscovered. However there is a reference to a drawing of the grave cover at:

http://flambard.dur.ac.uk:6336/dynaweb/handlist/ant/surtrain/@Generic__BookTextView/4301
Large Folio Volume of tipped in engravings and sketches.
Contents include fine art reproduction engravings, portraits, topographical engravings, memorial tablets, effigies, armorials and drawings of local interest, some of which were used by Robert Surtees in the History of Durham.
f.12. Drawings of grave covers of James Sanderson and Alexander of Biddik in Washington churchyard.

Notes by Audrey Fletcher:
* Alexander de Biddic was alive in 1282
* James Sanderson was the third son of Alexander de Biddic and his wife Jane, the daughter of Richard Chancellor, of Brafferton, Esq. James’surname is derived from “son of Alexander, Alexanderson”.
The grave cover of Alexander de Biddick
Frederick Hill, the local schoolteacher and historian, wrote the following about the Washington Village Church:

“The old church which stood on the present site was demolished by the
Rev. Henry Perceval (Rector 1826-37). Tradition says that the old church was of Saxon architecture, but so far no confirmation has been discovered.
Not only have all traces of the old church disappeared but also many tombs, monuments, tablets and inscriptions which would have been a graven record of our local families.”
In 1830 the decision was made to pull down the Norman Church, on the grounds that the building was insecure.

Rather than subsidence due to extensive coal mining in the area, the cause of the weakened structure was considered to be the vaults which lay beneath the Norman Church … and in these vaults lay the Tombs of the Washington Family.

Do the tombs of the Washington Family still lie in vaults beneath the current Holy Trinity Church? I would like to think that do, but I suspect that they don’t.

Above ground there is still some evidence of the Norman Church. There is the Norman archway at the entrance to the nave, the font, and what is thought to be the grave cover of Alexander de Biddick.
The twelfth century font
(photo courtesy of John Stowell,  former church guide and historian)
This 1857 map shows the “GraveYard” contained within the
original Anglo-Saxon circular boundary.
By the early 1900’s the cemetery had extended
into the orchards to the east of the Old Hall.