St Edwin's Church

St Edwin’s Church, High Coniscliffe

In High Coniscliffe, Darlington, there is a fabulous church that is full of history and character. It is called St Edwin’s Church. As may be deduced from the name ‘High Coniscliffe’ it sits overlooking the River Tees and the surrounding landscape.

Dating back to the 12th Century, it contains in the walls seven pieces of sculpture dating from before the Norman conquest of 1066. This is a prime example of many churches (and other buildings) that uses existing, handily carved stone from nearby sites to help build their structures, quite possibly from the nearby Roman fort and bridge in Piercebridge. The tower dates from the 13th Century and the spire from the 14th Century and is one of only four octagonal spires in the region. Inside, there is an arch which has a rectangular carved panel with a carving of the "Agnus Dei", the Lamb of God above it. Above are the letters ‘AGNU’, and on either side stand angels in long robes, with outstretched wings, trampling underfoot a pair of serpents. Although sometimes described as a Saxon stone, this may be Roman, from the nearby Roman Fort of Piercebridge[1].


St Edwin's Church

St Edwin's Church


In the churchyard, a notable ‘resident’ is Colonel Sir Thomas Howard, son of Lord William Howard. Howard was an advanced guard commander in the Royalist Army during the English Civil War. Howard was killed at the nearby Battle of Piercebridge, 1st December 1642[2]. In November 1642, the Earl of Newcastle's Royalist northern army accepted an invitation from the City of York to move south to counter the threat from the Parliamentarian forces of the Hothams of York and Sir Hugh Cholmley of Scarborough to the east, and the Fairfaxes to the west. The army of about 6,000 to 8,000 horse, foot, ordnance and all their baggage marched south through County Durham along Dere Street and were opposed by a small force of about 500 Parliamentarians under Captain John Hotham at Piercebridge.

Order of march

Order of march

On 1 December, in the assault on the medieval bridge, the advance guard led by Colonel Sir William Lambton's Regiment of Foot and Colonel Sir Thomas Howard's Regiment of Dragoons, swept the opposition aside to take the position and leave the way open for the army to continue its march on York, arriving there on 3 December 1642.

One of those killed on the Royalist side, “…with several other Gentlemen…” was Colonel Sir Thomas Howard, youngest son of Lord William Howard, described as, “…the first man of note slain on either side, since this storm begun”.

Howard (1596-1642) was a Catholic who married into the Eure family of the North East and held lands at Tursdale, County Durham. He raised a regiment of dragoons for the king and commanded the advance guard at Piercebridge, alongside a Regiment of Foot, Commanded by Sir William Lambton. We are told that, “…they performed with so much Courage, that they routed the Enemy, and put them to flight, although the said Col. Howard in that Charge lost his life by an unfortunate shot.”

During this period, it was usual for regimental field officers to set an example for their soldiers by leading them into battle at the head of the unit, so exposing themselves as easy targets to enemy fire and combat. Despite this, many officers survived, possibly through a combination of luck, military skill, protective armour and the ability to escape the field if mounted on a horse.

Howard was buried in the churchyard at High Coniscliffe, a parish where his family held lands, and this is recorded in the parish register:

“Sir Thomas Howard collenoll buried aet (aged) 36 the 2nd of December 1642”

There is also monument to him in Wetheral churchyard, Cumberland, with the inscription.

“Sacred to the memory of Colonel Thomas Howard, son of Lord William Howard, who died valiantly fighting in the cause of his king and country at Piercebridge, December 2nd, 1642“

Losses on the Royalist side were probably heavy, as a direct assault on a defended position was a dangerous action. However, the Parliamentarians claimed, “…not one lost, nor above three wounded…”

If you would like to find out more about the High Coniscliffe area, join us for our guided walk from Piercebridge – Low Coniscliffe on Tuesday 24th April.[3]



[2] The First Great Civil War in the Tees Valley, R Daniels & P Philo 2018

[3] The First Great Civil War in the Tees Valley, R Daniels & P Philo 2018