Embleton Church, more formally known as Holy Trinity Church, stands on the southern edge of the village of Embleton, some three quarters of a mile from the Northumberland coast. You approach from the east through the churchyard and your first impression is of a series of pieces built at different times which have been assembled in a very attractive way.
As you near the church your attention is taken by a castellated building on the south-west corner of the churchyard. This is the old vicarage, and is an example of a "vicar's pele", originally built in the 1300s as a defensible home for the vicar and his family. This gives a clue to the early origins of the church, whose oldest standing structure is the lower part of the tower. This is Norman in style and thought to date back to the 1100s.
You enter the church via the porch built onto the south side of the nave. Before doing so, take a look at the alcove above the gated entrance to the porch. The niche here would presumably have been home to a statue of the Virgin, removed in the Reformation. Today it houses a rather impressive sculpture symbolising the Holy Trinity, by Chris Hall of Jedburgh, which was placed there in 1999.
Before entering the church itself, it is worth looking around the interior of the porch, added in the late 1400s or early 1500s. Built into the walls are a series of medieval grave markers, in complete or partial form. These seem to have been placed here for protection against the elements, and would originally have been located above the graves they were marking in the churchyard. Less obvious is the medieval roof boss in the form of a "green man".
From the porch you proceed into the south aisle of the church. Beyond is the nave, while beyond that is the north aisle. The best place from which to get a feel for the whole church is by the font, which stands near the west end of the nave. If you look towards the chancel arch and chancel, with the tower behind you, you suddenly realise that something isn't quite right about the basic geometry of the church. The chancel at Holy Trinity is nearly as long as the nave, and is aligned slightly differently. The result is a slight kink at the chancel arch, something that adds considerably to the character of the church and certainly helps make it memorable.
The nave arcades date back to around 1200, and originally separated the nave from narrow aisles built on either side. The aisles were widened in the 1400s. Built onto the north aisle at its east end is the Craster Porch, the traditional burial place of the Craster family.
The chancel is actually the most recent part of the church, at least in the form you see today. This was rebuilt in the 1860s, on the foundations of (and to the same slightly odd alignment as) an earlier chancel. It seems likely that there was a church in Embleton from the 700s, and it is possible that this later became a stone building which in the 1100s became the chancel of a larger church.
The architectural evidence suggests that a substantial church already stood here when King Henry III awarded the barony of Embleton to his younger son, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, in 1269. In 1274 Edmund granted the advowson (the right to appoint the vicar) to Merton College in Oxford, though within a few years this was causing conflict between the earldom and the college. The argument was sufficiently important to reach the King for adjudication in 1327, and it got as far as the Pope in 1369, who took it upon himself to appoint a vicar over everyone's heads. Since 1394, the vicar has always been appointed by Merton College, and it was they who funded the rebuilding of the chancel in the 1860s.
This arrangement has produced some interesting characters. Mandell Creighton was a history don at Merton College appointed to the post of vicar in 1875. He apparently took the post so he would have the time to concentrate on writing a six volume "History of the Papacy". Despite this he seems to have taken his duties in Embleton very seriously, and he remained in post until his appointment as Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University in 1884. In 1897 he was appointed Bishop of London.
Not immediately obvious to visitors is Embleton Church's magnificent peal of bells. Comprising six bells cast by Mears and Stainbank at the Whitechapel Foundry in London, they were installed in October 1892 for the total cost of £500, of which £388 was for the bells themselves. This continued a tradition of bells at Embleton which dated back at least as far as 1341.