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Holy Island Parish. 1855

Extract from: History, Topography, and Directory of Northumberland...Whellan, William, & Co, 1855.



HOLY ISLAND is a parish, comprising the townships of Holy Island, Fenham, and Goswick, whose united area is 8,296 acres, and its population in 1801, was 601; in 1811, 675; in 1821, 760; in 1831, 836; in 1841, 809; and in 1851, 908 souls.


FENHAM is a township and small village locally situated on the mainland opposite to Lindisfarne, but still forming a part of the parish of Holy Island. The township contains three farms, a public house, a corn mill, and a few scattered houses. John Joliffe. Esq., of Essex is the owner of the entire township. THE VILLAGE. of Fenham is situated five and a half miles north by west of Belford, and three miles west of Holy Island. The sands which extend from this place to Holy Island, are known by the name of Fenham Flats, and are fordable at low water.

DIRECTORY John Black, farmer, Fenham Hill; William Cornet, vict. farmer and cornmiller, Mill Inn; John Edminson, farmer, Fenham Moor; and Thomas Mathison, farmer. 


GOSWICK is a township and hamlet situated contiguous to a small bay of the North Sea, and occupying the entrance to the fordable sands between the mainland and Holy Island, on which account it is supposed that this place and Fenham are retained in the parish of Holy Island. 


Carr John, vict. Salmon Inn

Dinning Mr. Henry, Broom House Dinning Mr. John, Broom House

Dunbar William and John, farmers, Buttery Hall

Embleton John, auctioneer, appraiser, farmer, and seed merchant, Broom House, near Haggerston, by Berwick-on-Tweed 

Smith John, farmer 


HOLY ISLAND, a township and village in the parish of the same name, is situated in the German Ocean opposite to Kyloe, and is more properly a peninsula than an island, being insulated only during high water. It was formerly the seat of the bishopric of Lindisfarne, and at present gives name to the district of lslandshire in which it is situated. It is distant five miles N.N.E. from Belford, and nine S.S.E. from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Holy Island is connected with Northumberland by a narrow isthmus, left almost dry at the ebb of the tide, when it can be reached by horses and carriages from the mainland, which is two miles distant, though to avoid the quicksands in the way a long detour is necessary, which makes the distance almost double, but at the flow, the isthmus is entirely covered with water : - 

"The tide did now its floodmark gain,
And girdled in the saint's domain;
For, with the flow and ebb, its stile 
Varies from continent to isle;
Dryshbd, o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrim to the shrine finds way; 
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.'' 


This island is about two and a half miles long by one mile and a half broad, and about nine miles in circumference. The northern side consists principally of barren sail and sandhills, and, when north-easterly winds prevail, large quantities of sand are frequently driven to a considerable distance from the shore. The cultivated part of the island is one continued plain inclining to the south-west, and previous to the year 1792, it was used as a stint common, but at that period it was enclosed and cultivated. Upon the southern and most elevated point of the island there was formerly a castle of great strength, beneath which is a harbour, where a life boat is kept, for the preservation of shipwrecked mariners, and which, on a signal being made from Bambrough Castle, instantly puts off to sea in any weather. Limestone is abundant on the north side of the island, and iron ore is also found, though not in any large quantities. In the year 941, this island suffered very much from the ravages of war, and also in 1061, when Malcolm, King of Scotland, plundered and harassed the inhabitants. During the civil wars in the reign of Charles I, the island was retained and garrisoned by the parliament, and after this troubled period nothing remarkable occurred in it till 1745, when it was seized by Launcelot and Merk Errington, for the Pretender. The Erringtons, having decoyed the whole of the garrison, consisting of twelve men, on board their ship, rendered them powerless by drink, and by this means were enabled to seize the castle, from which, however, they were speedily dislodged by a party of the king's troops sent from Berwick. The period of the castle's erection is unknown, but, from the great strength of its situation, it was, no doubt, used as a place of refuge by the monks, shortly after the erection of the abbey. Guns remained upon this battery till 1810, when they were removed by order of the government.

THE VILLAGE of Lindisfarne is situated at the south-west corner of the island, where the land gradually descends towards the sands, which afford excellent accommodation for sea bathing, and for mooring the fishing boats here employed in catching cod, ling, haddock, etc., which abound on the coast, and whence they are shipped in large quantities to the London market. Many new houses have recently been added to the village, which is now much frequented, and whose beautiful and romantic scenery, solemn walks, ruined cathedral and abbey, as well as healthy situation, are highly appreciated. 

The time worn ruins of the cathedral and abbey of Lindisfarne, though they have frequently been plundered for the erection of houses in the village, are yet magnificent, and show very plainly the former grandeur and magnificence of the "sacred isle," where Christianity was first permanently established in Northumbria. The cathedral, like most others in the country, was a cruciform structure: the nave and chancel are still standing, but the other parts of the edifice are a heap of mouldering ruins. The greater portion is in the rude and heavy style of the early Saxon architecture, though there is strong evidence that the structure was erected at different periods. Some of the arches are circular and the columns massive, like those of Durham cathedral, but they are much richer in ornament. From the pointed arches still remaining on the north and south walls, we may ascribe that part of the building to the reign of the second Henry, and it is evident that the square tower was erected long after the completion of the other portions of the edifice. The pillars which supported the tower are clustered and possess plain capitals, while the windows are narrow and ornamented with pilasters and mouldings. Of the large central tower the only remaining portion is the south wall, which is about fifty feet in height; the corner tower at the west end of the church remains in good preservation, and the main walls upon the north and south sides are still standing, though they have shrunk nearly a foot from the perpendicular. A double row of massive pillars separate the nares from the aisles; these columns have richly ornamented shafts, twelve feet high, and five feet in circumference. Besides the church, many remains of the abbatial buildings are still visible; and in the days of its pride it must have been a glorious structure, meriting well the description given of it by the author of Marmion : - 

"A solemn, huge, and dark red pile,
Placed on the margin of tidal isle.
In Saxon strength that abbey frowned.
With massive arches short and round,
That rose alternate, tow and row,
On ponderous colums, short and low,
Built ere the art was known,
By pointed isle and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alley'd walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls, the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain;
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand
Winds, waves, and northern pirates' hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Showed where the spoiler's hand bad been;
None but the wasting sea breeze keen
Had worn the pillars' carving quaint,
And mouldered in his niche the saint,
And rounded with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower:
Yet still entire the abbey stood
Like veteran, worn but unsubdued."

By the clearing away of the wreck and rubbish of the fallen part, in 1814, the windows and the great western door, which had been hidden for many ages, were brought to light, and the general appearance of these venerable ruins much improved. The architecture of the doorway is the true Saxon, highly ornamented. Subsequently buttresses were erected to support the walls, and various means were taken to preserve the venerable relic of antiquity. The first monastery erected here was in a plain and unpretending style, but it was afterwards, when Lindisfarne became a bishop's see, superseded by an edifice of greater architectural pretensions. Soon after the departure of its inmates, in 882 the monastery was totally destroyed, and the church reduced to ruins, but subsequently a cell of Benedictine monks, subordinate to the priory of Durham, was established here, and its annual revenues at the disastrous period of the Dissolution, amounted to £48 18s. 11d., according to Dugdale; and to £60 5s. according to Speed. Its possessions were granted by Henry VIII. to the Dean and Chapter of Durham.


ANCIENT BISHOPRIC OF LINDISFARNE. The Christian religion established in Northumbria by the preaching of Paulinus and the zeal of King Edwin, became almost eradicated after that monarch's death, and idolatry again prevailed, until the reign of St. Oswald, who, as soon as he ascended the throne sent to the Scots, among whom he had dwelt during the period of his exile, desiring they would send him a bishop by whose instruction and ministry his people might be taught the advantages of Christianity, and receive the sacraments. His request was at once complied with, and Aidan, a monk of Iona, was consecrated bishop and sent into Northumbria, to reconvert the inhabitants to the Christian faith. The king himself assisted the missionary in his apostolic labours, travelling with him through his kingdom and interpreting the holy bishop's discourses to the people, so that by the exertions of the bishop and the king, Christianity was soon re·established in the country. Aidan received from the king the island of Lindisfarne, since called Holy Island, in which he built a monastery, from which all the churches of Bernicia, from the Tyne to the Tweed, had their beginning, as had also some of those of Deira, from the Tyne to the Humber. Lindisfarne was probably chosen by Aidan as a secure retreat from the ferocious and unconverted states by which he was surrounded, and also for its proximity to Bambrough, the royal residence, and principal fortress of the Northumbrian kingdom. After an episcopacy of seventeen years the good bishop Aidan died, and was succeeded by Finan, a Briton, and a member of the same community as Aidan. During the time that Finan held the see, he had the happiness of baptising two royal converts- Peada, son of Penda, King of the Mercians, and Sigeberct, King of Essex; both of whom returned to their respective kingdoms, accompanied by missionaries invested with episcopal powers. Finan also erected a church after the Scottish manner in the island of Lindisfarne, the seat of his bishopric. This church was not constructed of stone but of hewn oak, covered with reeds, and was dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle. Finan died in 661, having been bishop ten years, and was succeeded by Colman, or the same monastery, who resigned the see at the end of three years, having for his successor Tuda, who died of the plague in the year 664.

The fifth bishop of Lindisfarne was Eata, a most reverend and meek man, who was succeeded by St. Cuthbert, "who”, as Bede tells us, "from his very childhood had always been inflamed with the desire of a religious life; but he took upon him the habit and name of a monk when he was a young man. He first entered the monastery of Melrose, which is on the banks of the river Tweed, and was then governed by the Abbot Eata, a meek and simple man, who was afterwards bishop of Lindisfarne." Cuthbert was afterwards made abbot over that monastery, where he instructed many in regular life, both by the authority of a master, and the example of his own behaviour. After remaining fourteen years at Melrose he was removed by Bishop Eata to Lindisfarne, of which place he was made prior; an office which he filled with exemplary piety for a period of twelve years. But yearning after a closer communion with God, and desiring more time for meditation and prayer than the duties of his position in the monastery all-owed him, he retired, with the permission of his superior, to the largest of the Farn Islands, opposite to Bambrough, where he led the life of an anchoret. He had a cell and a small oratory, both of wich were enclosed with a wall so high, as to cut off his view from every sublunary object. He lived this life of solitude for nine years, when he heard with the deepest sorrow, that he had been unanimously elected by the synod of Twyford, to be bishop of the church of Hexham. After much opposition on his part, he was induced by the prayers of the king, the archbishop, and the whole body of the clergy, to receive the episcopal consecration, but from his great predilection for Lindisfarne, he was allowed to exchange sees with Eata, who, for that reason, was translated to Hexham.

Following the example of the apostles, he became an ornament to the episcopal dignity by his virtuous actions, for he both protected the people committed to his charge, by constant prayer, and excited them by most whole some admonitions to heavenly practices. Previous to the elevation of St. Cuthbert, the northern churches had received but few endowments, but several munificent donations were afterwards made by the Northumbrian kings, nobles, and others. He received a grant of all the land from St. Peter's at York, round to the south wall of the city, and also the village of Craike, where he founded a monastery. He was also invested with the city of Carlisle and the lands for fifteen miles around it. Here the pious bishop restored a decayed nunnery, and instituted a public school. But the value of these, and many other gifts received by the saint, were greatly enhanced by privileges and immunities subsequently annexed to them. Having spent two years in his bishopric, he returned to his island and monastery, where he died two months afterwards, in the 39th year of his monastic profession, A.D. 687. So highly was the memory of this saint revered in the north, that more than forty churches and chapels were dedicated in his honour, and King Alfred even had the saint's name stamped upon the coin of the realm. Often did the name of St. Cuthbert rouse the men of the north to the defence of their country, and often did his banner lead them on to victory. Shortly after the demise pf St. Cuthbert, Eadbert was consecrated bishop. He erected the Cathedral of Lindisfarne, and on the right side of the high altar, caused a beautiful tomb to be constructed, in which he deposited the remains of his sainted predecessor. Bede informs us that on the opening of the grave, eleven years after the saint's death, the body was found whole, as if it had been alive, and the joints pliable, more like one asleep than a dead person; besides, all the vestments the body had on were not only found, but wonderful for their freshness and gloss. Eadbert died in 698, and the succeeding bishops of this see were Eadfrid, a learned man, who made a translation of the gospels into Latin; he died in 724, and was succeeded by Ethelwold, abbot of Melrose; - Cignewolf, who was consecrated in 740, but afterwards incurred the royal displeasure, for having refused to give up to King Eadbert, the assassinator of Offa, a person of the royal line, who had taken refuge in the church of Lindisfarne; -Highbald, during whose episcopate the church of Lindisfarne, and many other religious establishments in the north were plundered and desecrated by the pagan Danes, whose course, in 797, was marked by the mangled bodies of monks, and priests, and nuns, whom they had violated and massacred; Egfrid, who became bishop in 830, and contributed largely to the honour and opulence of the church; and Eardulph the sixteenth and last bishop of Lindisfarne, who died in the year 900. He possessed the see at the time of the second Danish invasion, when they pillaged and destroyed Tynemouth Priory, and afterwards proceeded northwards, destroying and plundering almost every church and monastery in Northumberland. Ere these barbarians could reach Lindisfarne, the bishop and monks had fled, taking with them the body of St. Cuthbert, and many other precious relics, together with their sacred vessels, and away they went wandering through the country like the Israelites of old, not knowing where they might find rest. The Danes on their arrival at Lindisfarne, being disappointed of the anticipated booty, immediately set fire to the sacred edifices, and thus an end was put for ever to the glories of Lindisfarne. 

THE PRESENT PARISH CHURCH, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, is a neat small edifice erected from the ruins of the ancient monastery of Lindisfarne. It is situated a short distance to the west of the cathedral, and had formerly annexed to it the chapelries of Ancroft, Kyloe, Tweedmouth, and Lowick, but they are now exempt from its jurisdiction, and have become parochial. The living is a perpetual curacy in the archdeaconry of Lindisfarne, and deanery of Norham; gross income £207. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Durham. Incumbent, the Rev. A. Watson. Here is a school containing upwards of forty children; it is endowed with three-fourths of an acre of land, a house, and £5 per annum from the trustees of Lord Crew's Charity. 

POST OFFICE, HOLY ISLAND, John Bell, postmaster. Letters arrive from Berwick per foot post, as the tide permits, and are despatched per return of postman. 


Brigham George, cartwright

Cromarty Thomas, shoemaker

Gibson Thomas, & Co. lime burners

Grey John, pilot 

Grey Mr. Ralph

Lilburn Lieut. James, R.R., R.N.

Lilburn Mrs. Phillis

McDonald Captain

Smith Mr. Joseph

Stamp Robert, schoolmaster

Straughan George, tailor

Taylor George, blacksmith 

Thew Thomas, tailor

Watson Rev. A. incumbent

Wilkinson Mr. Thomas

Wilson Ralph, pilot

Wilson William, harbour master 

Young James, mason



Bell James Brigham James 

Dickinson Margaret

Dickinson Robert

Garden George 

Hall Michael

Rankin William

Fish Curers

Holmes Ralph 

Landreth Chapperton, & Co.

Steel George

Willis John 



Bell John, and baker

Bell Thomas 

Grey George 

Mclntosh R.

Mossman W. 

Smith Margaret

Smith William

Wilson Samuel 

Yates Elizabeth 


Inns, Hotels and Taverns 

Anchor, Jane Rankin

Britannia, George Grey 

Castle, Thomas Thew

Fisherman's Arms, William Rankin 

Iron Rails, Robert Straughan 

Northumberland Arms, William Wilson 

Selby's Arms; Roderick McIntosh 

Ship, John Beadnel

Swan, Margaret Bowmaker


CARRIERS.- To Berwick on Saturdays, Robert Yates, Henry Pattinson, and - Lilburn. 


See the related section from this book: "Origins and Progress of the Monastic Life"

Holy Island Civil Parish Islandshire, 1855 Northumberland Parishes and Townships - 1855 Origins of Monastic Life


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