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Help and advice for Anglican Parishes and Chapels of Ease in Northumberland

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Anglican Parishes and Chapels of Ease in Northumberland

Since the beginning of the Church of England in the 16th century, every county has been subdivided into non-overlapping areas called "parishes", each one served by a parish church and a clergyman called a vicar or rector, sometimes assisted by one or more curates. A parish generally takes its name from the parish church, e.g. "Allendale, St Cuthbert". In some instances, particularly in large or populous parishes, there may be one or more additional churches, called chapels-of-ease.

However, the parish structure immediately after the Reformation was very different from the parish structure today. Over the years parishes were subdivided to create new parishes - sometimes based on an existing chapel of ease, sometimes based on a new church. A new parish could be formed from part of a single existing parish, but could equally be formed from adjacent parts of two or more existing parishes. Conversely, particularly in recent years, a parish may have merged with an adjacent parish to form a larger parish. Mergers may be accompanied by the closure of one of the parish churches, but sometimes both continue to function and share the parochial duties. The name of the merged or combined parish may include both former parish names e.g. "St Cuthbert with All Saints", or "Allendale and Whitfield", but not always. Many new Chapels of Ease have been established over the years, and several have closed, but as mentioned earlier, these churches simply provide additional facilities within an existing parish, so the parish structure is not affected when such churches open or close. As explained above, however, a Chapel of Ease could be elevated to parish status, and would then acquire a portion of one or more existing parishes as its own parish.

Theses pages attempt to illustrate the changes in parish structure in Northumberland from the 16th century up to about 1970, later in some cases, but these changes were very complicated and I cannot guarantee that every change is mentioned here or that every detail is accurate.

All the above references to the term "parish" relate to the "Ecclesiastic Parish" of the Anglican Church (Church of England), but there is another use of the word which may cause confusion. The confusion stems from the fact that until 1866 the same parishes were also local government administrative units, and these were often subdivided into "townships" for administrative and practical convenience. However, in 1866, a new local-government administrative unit was established called the "Civil Parish". A Civil Parish was sometimes identical to an existing ecclesiastic parish, but more often they were formed from existing townships - thus an ecclesiastic parish could have include one or several civil parishes. However, since 1866, the civil and ecclesiastic parishes have been quite separate, so changes in one were not reflected in the other. Today, after a 130+ years of independent changes, the boundaries of the two types of parish are very rarely related in any way.

Two other terms need explanation:- "Extra-Parochial Place" and "Parochial Chapelry".

An Extra-Parochial Place was an area which was not included in any parish. Invariably an area with this special status had at some time been the site of a Religious House such as a priory which was not considered to need the services of the parish clergy. Institutions like this were swept away in Henry VIII's reforms, but nonetheless the areas remained outside the parish system. This meant that these areas were also completely outside the jurisdiction of local government, and the residents - just ordinary secular citizens - didn't pay tithes or local rates (taxes) and avoided other duties and controls too. For church purposes only, most Extra-Parochial places were associated with an adjacent parish - in practice if not in theory. For local government purposes some Extra-Parochial Places had lost their special status by the early 19th century, but the vast majority of those remaining were abolished in 1858 and became Civil Parishes. In fact the first Civil Parishes, because no others were formed until 1865. In theory any remaining Extra-Parochial Places were abolished in 1894, but the only such area in Northumberland at that date was the Farne Islands and that remained Extra-Parochial until 1955!

A Parochial Chapelry is a half-way-house between a chapel of ease and a parish. The actual relationship between the parochial chapelry and its "mother" parish varied considerably, some were completely independent, some were not, but for the purposes of this list I have not distinguished between Parochial Chapelries and Parishes.

Churches which did not have parochial status are indicated by square brackets. Dates following a church or parish name indicate the date of building or creation and/or the date of closure or abolition (AP = "Ancient Parish" ie a parish existing immediately after the Reformation). A year in brackets is the date of the earliest known register (this can be earlier than the parish creation date if the parish church was previously a chapel of ease).

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