Landmark In Stanhope, County Durham
An historic market place in the centre of Stanhope and the location of the Market Cross, a Petrified Tree Stump, the War Memorial and St Thomas Church.
Stanhope town square or market square sits at the centre of the village of Stanhope, which means “stone valley” in Upper Weardale. For such a small area it is packed with history and worth visiting if you are in the area.
In the space of a few meters you can find the Church of St Thomas, a fossil tree, the village war memorial and market cross. The Church of St Thomas dates from around 1200AD, though there is some evidence an even earlier church was on this spot, and is Grade II* listed. Although it is mostly from the 12th and 13th century it was restored in 1663 and again in 1867 so it is quite a mix of styles and ages. On the day we visited it was closed so we couldn't access the inside but if you are lucky enough to gain access you will find a Frosterly Limestone arcade and font, a Roman altar with inscription as well as a second font from the Saxon period. The windows include stained glass from between the 14th and 16th century which is of national importance. Externally there is a sundial on the aisle of the south chancel with the motto “Ut Hora Sic Vita” which roughly translates to “As an hour so is life “, it dates to 1727.
Within the churchyard of St Thomas', or the boundary at least, you can find an unexpected piece of local history, a fossilised tree trunk. This tree trunk would have been growing in the area 320 million years ago when the North Pennines was a tropical swamp. This was during the Carboniferous Period. The trunk itself comes from a plant called Sigillaria which is an early ancestor of club mosses that can still be found today as house plants.
The trunk was discovered in 1915 in a sandstone quarry at Edmundbyers Cross and was moved and reconstructed in its present location during the 1960s. Interestingly it is not the only record of a fossilised tree being found at that quarry and one of these finds went to the Hancock Museum in Newcastle while another went to Durham University.
The War Memorial can also be found in the Market Square adjacent to the fossil tree trunk. Dedicated to those from Stanhope who lost their lives in both World War I and II as well as later conflicts, it has a roll of honour and is made from sandstone. It is not currently listed but is certainly of interest.
The final point of interest in the market square is the market cross. This is a Celtic cross on top of a stone shaft set in a socket at the top of a stepped plinth. This cross is a bit of a mix of ages but in short, the base, which is still in its original position, dates from when the cross was erected in 1669 by Bishop John Cosin, while the shaft and cross date from the 1871 restoration of the monument. The shaft from the 1669 cross can be found stood in the churchyard of St Thomas' around 5m inside the entrance gate. The market cross and original 17th century shaft are Grade II listed structures. The first markets were held in Stanhope in 1418 after Bishop Langley granted their permission for every Friday and two annual fairs on May 6th and August 29th.
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If parking on Market Place cross the road and head towards St Thomas Church.
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There is roadside parking along Front Street and on Market place itself.
Contributed by Andrew Gardner
I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.
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