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Hart, County Durham

St Mary Magdalene Church, Hart

Last Updated:

8 Aug 2023

Hart, County Durham

This is a

Church, Place of Worship

54.708800, -1.271290

Founded in 

12th century

Current status is

Extant

Designer (if known):

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Listed Grade I

This is St Mary Magdalene at Hart, just outside Hartlepool.

Hart is one of the oldest settlements in the region, with evidence of occupation noted from 6000BC, with general activity increasing from 1000BC through to the 7th century. A timber church at this site was built here in the 7th century, though much of what we see is dated between the 12th and 19th century. Like most medieval churches - a real patchwork of eras, but does include an Anglo Saxon arch, Anglo Saxon window and the original 14th century font inside.

The font is made of magnesium limestone, and is carved with the figures of the four evangelists. Against our perspectives on "Romanised" design, the Puritan Vicat of Hart John Bowey reputedly destroyed it a it was far too decorative and inconsistent with his views. Instead, a 12th century Norman font was used. This one also still exists, and has four colunbs carved from a single block of sandstone. This one is no longer in use.

There is a carving of St George and a dragon dating from around 1500 on the side elevation. I’m baffled as to how it isn’t more weathered, and testament to the great care taken in looking after this church over the centuries.

Listing Description (if available)

Church, having Anglo Saxon nave, C12 north arcade, chancel arch and tower; C13 south aisle, C15 north aisle and piers and responds of north arcade and chancel arch; south arcade and porch of c.1600; chancel of 1806. Restored in late C19, 1927/34 and 1977/80; roofs renewed c.1930. Squared random limestone rubble, coursed to chancel, south aisle and tower; squared quoins. Late C20 stainless steel nave roof; Lakeland slate to chancel and porch roofs. Nave with aisles, south porch, chancel and west tower. Tower of 3 stages with chamfered step-backs has c.1800 straight parapet stepped out at eaves and ogee angle finials. Louvred rectangular belfry openings to west and south faces; other tower openings are lancets. C13 and C15 windows in east and west walls of nave; other windows altered 1806 and in late C19. Round-headed south doorway of 2 moulded orders. Coved cornice below straight aisle parapets; angle and diagonal buttresses. Gabled porch has segmental-arched doorway with double hollow chamfer. Carving of St. George and Dragon of c.1500 to south face of chancel. Off-centre semi-circular tower arch has roll mouldings, impost bands and nook shafts. 2-bay north arcade has semi-circular triple-chamfered arches; 4-bay, slightly pointed double-chamfered south arcade. Both arcades have octagonal piers and responds with moulded caps and bases. North face of north arcade has remains of Anglo-Saxon window in spandrel,and mask rafter corbels. Semi-circular chancel arch of 3 chamfered orders on ½-octagonal responds. Remains of Anglo-Saxon arch in wall above, and contemporary opening higher above. Window in north aisle has stained glass of c.1898 by K. Ayll & Co., (Leeds). Square C12 font with angle shafts and plain sides. Octagonal C14 font has figures and emblems of saints, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, in panels around the bowl, and figures of saints in ogee niches in the stem; putti heads at angles of plinth. Pre-Reformation altar mensa. Monument of c.1783 on south wall of chancel, possibly of Coade stone, painted: aedicule with reeded pilasters, broken pediment and flaming urns as acroteria. Saxon sundial, fragments of grave slabs and other carved stones in north-west corner of nave, below pulpit, and built into west wall. C13 piscina in south aisle. 6 carved masks built into porch walls. V.C.H., Durham, Vol. 3, 1928, pp. 259-62.

The two maps above illustrate the village of Hart in the latter half of the 19th century.

The first was surveyed in 1857, and shows the settlement much less dense. The church and manor house ("hall") still played a central role in the village, which had grown to include a post office and smithy located just south of the church. Local agriculture and milling still reigned supreme, with Hart Windmill located a few hundred yards south. There was also a limestone quarry which had stopped operating shortly before the survey. A limekiln was still in situ.

The village did grow somewhat in 40 years. A number more public houses and amenities popped up such as a second smithy and a school. The Post Office had also moved located into a newer set of terraced properties. The mill was also still producing corn at this time.

There was very little alteration during the next couple of decades. At this point it is worth noting the illustrated depression north of the church. This is a medieval fish pond, which was part of the Manor estate and is listed. It has since been dried out though the earthworks remain. At this time, it was still filled.

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The church in 2023 facing north west. The generations of construction are evident here.

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The 14th century carving of George and the Dragon is in surprisingly excellent condition.

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A postcard of Hart Church, undated. Source: Hartlepool Libraries

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