St Andrew's Church stands on the north side of the Market Place in the centre of Corbridge. The main (but not the only) access to the churchyard is through the lych gate built in 1919 to serve as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War, and from there a path leads towards the porch, surprisingly one of the most recent additions to the church, being built the year after the lych gate.
The porch was added to give protection from the weather to the Norman entrance arch. This probably dates back to the 1120s, when the chaplain to King Henry I was vicar here. The spectacular glass door with its beautiful knotwork decoration was a gift of the Atkinson family in 2008.
The interior of St Andrew's is remarkably complex, and in part this reflects a building with an immense history. At its heart is an alignment of a nave and a slightly broader chancel, each of about equal length. The base of the tower extends this alignment to the west, and is home to the font. The nave has been given aisles to the north and south, and there are large transepts to the north and south: with that on the south side being aligned slightly differently to the rest of the church.
Further elaborations on the basic layout come from the fact that the north aisle is L-shaped, and also acts as an aisle to the north transept; from vestries in the angle of the tower and nave and in the angle of the north aisle; from the Lady Chapel on the north side of the chancel; and from the organ, housed in the angle between the chancel and the north transept. Interestingly, what looks to be a very complex layout from a plan of the church actually feels much more straightforward as you wander around it.
You can tell a great deal about a church from the way it "feels", almost from the moment you walk into it. St Andrew's Church has a lovely feel: at once welcoming and embracing. And there is also something less definable here, a sense of great antiquity.
The age of St Andrew's is hinted at by some of the detail on view. The floor of the south transept is home to a damaged and repaired medieval cross slab dating back to the late 1200s. This is highly unusual in that it commemorates a woman, Lady Alicia de Tynedale. Not far away, a window ledge provides a location for a Finial Cross which is thought to have originally stood atop one of the church's gables and may well date back to the Saxon era.
The best hint of the true age of parts of St Andrews can be found in the semi-circular arch that separates the west end of the nave from the base of the tower. Close analysis has revealed that the stones forming the arch are Roman in origin. No, no-one is suggesting that the church itself dates back to the Roman era, but in constructing it, someone found a fine re-use for an arch that originally graced a building at Corbridge Roman Town, half a mile to the north west.
And they did so at a very early date. A church was established in Corbridge by Wilfrid, the first Saxon to serve as Bishop of York, in 674, just two years after he founded the monastery at nearby Hexham, which went on to form the nucleus of Hexham Abbey. The earliest parts of the standing structure of St Andrew's probably don't date back quite this far, but it is believed that there was a stone church standing here by 786, the year in which Bishop Adulf of Mayo was consecrated in the "monastery which is called Corbridge" by Archbishop Eanbald of York.
The earliest parts of the church you see today are the bottom of the tower, and parts of the nave (those not punched through later to form arcades), and these could easily be over 1200 years old. This first stone church seems to have been badly damaged by the Danes in 875, and in 914 and 918 there were two battles at Corbridge involving Northumbrians, Vikings and Scots, after which it was said that only the stone church was still standing. During the 1100s the benefice (estates and income) of the church at Corbridge was granted by Henry I to his chaplain, Richard d'Orival and it seems that significant work on the church during this period included the insertion of the Norman door.
Much of the rest of the church you can see today can be dated back to the 1200s. Corbridge was a very wealthy burgh at the time, and a series of expansions saw the building of the chancel; then the north aisles on the nave and chancel; then the south aisle; then the transepts; and then the west aisle of the north transept.
Corbridge's prosperity, and the campaign to expand its church, came to an abrupt halt in 1296 when Scottish forces under William Wallace virtually destroyed the town. It is said that pink staining that can still be seen around the Norman doorway into the church is discolouration caused by the burning of the church during this attack. The church was eventually repaired, but it took Corbridge centuries to flourish again. In some ways this has greatly benefitted the church. It meant that during the middle ages, when you might have expected more changes to be made to the existing structure, the money to make them simply wasn't available. As a result the older church remained largely unspoiled.
The only significant later change that did take place was the replacement of the upper part of the Saxon tower in 1767. Meanwhile much of the detail of what you see today at St Andrew's can be dated back to a major, thankfully fairly sympathetic, restoration undertaken in the years between 1864 and 1867.