The tiny hamlet of Bolton in Northumberland stands a mile and a half east of the A697 as it makes its way north towards Scotland, and five miles west of Alnwick. It serves as a chapel of ease to the Church of St John the Baptist in Edlingham, saving parishioners living around Bolton the three mile trek south to the parish church
Bolton Chapel has an ancient history which is only really hinted at by what you see today. The chancel arch is very simply in design and very worn, and probably dates back to the first stone church to be built on the site, which is known to have been standing here in 1175. It is possible that the walls of the chancel are also medieval, but the current form of the nave and the north transept seems to date back only as far as a complete restoration (or rebuild?) in 1860, while the chancel was restored in 1868 by the Reverend Matthew Burrell. The highly ornate ceiling in the chancel dates back to this time, as does the stained glass window which dominates the east end of the building.
The story of Bolton Chapel probably begins in the 900s, when a wooden chapel could well have been built here at the time the Parish of Edlingham was established to serve the village, which already existed. The chapel entered the historical record in 1175 when its ownership was transferred, along with that of Edlingham Church, from St Albans Abbey to Durham Priory.
It is recorded that King John of England met King William I of Scotland at Bolton in 1209. In 1225 Robert de Ros, Baron of Wark-on-Tweed, and his wife Isabella, daughter of King William I, founded a leper hospital at Bolton dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr. The chaplains at the hospital were granted a licence to build a chapel at the hospital for their own use, and this seems to have been a way of restoring to use the existing church here. Less positively those running the hospital seem to have been amongst the earliest Border reivers, as in 1285 the master and a number of the chaplains were accused of burning houses and stealing goods in the village of Branxton, close to the Scottish border.
In 1295 the army of King Edward I of England gathered at Bolton before advancing north into Scotland. In 1343 a dispute between the master of the hospital at Bolton and the Vicar of Edlingham led to the master seizing the service book, vestments and chalice to stop them falling into the hands of the vicar. September 1513 found another English army camped at Bolton. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and his senior commanders celebrated holy communion in the chapel two days before they inflicted a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Flodden on the Scottish army of James IV, and killed James himself and an entire generation of Scottish nobility.
The hospital of St Thomas the Martyr at Bolton was dissolved during the Reformation in 1547. Bolton Chapel appears to be all that survives of it, and following the Reformation it seems to have again become a place of worship for those living in this part of the Parish of Edlingham.