St Ebba's Church stands in the centre of the main part of the village of Beadnell in Northumberland. The church's door is at its west end, in the foot of the tower, and it looks out onto a broadening of the main road through the village, forming what might at one time have been a market place. Rather oddly, the eastern extension of that same road passes immediately along the north side of the church.
It is difficult to see how this could have been the original intention of the architect of the church, but equally difficult to see how things might in the past have been very different. St Ebba's Church was built in about 1740, and was enlarged in 1792, at which time the tower and spire were added. At the time the church was built, Beadnell Hall, on the opposite side of the road to the north, was already standing (if not in exactly its modern form), and as a result we are drawn fairly inescapably to the conclusion that the road running between them must have already been in existence when the church was built. As a result of this arrangement, the church stands at the very north western corner of the plot it occupies, with the remainder given over to the graveyard.
As noted above, entry to the church is through the porch in the base of the tower. This opens out into the nave, which is a simple rectangular space without aisles. At the far end, the chancel arch is partly obscured by a screen in the form of a wooden walkway (that appears to stop short of actually being a walkway) above columns. The chancel is relatively small compared with the nave, and is home to attractive dark wood panelling and stalls. At the east end is a large stained glass window above the altar.
Looking west down the length of the nave brings home just how unadorned the west end of the church really is. All you see is a plain stone wall, without windows or any other form of adornment above the low level wooden panelling. The interior of the church as you see it today largely dates back to work undertaken in the 1850s and 1860s. At this time a number of windows were added or changed in shape, and stained glass also became more prevalent. It was in about 1860 that the existing spire had the octagonal crown or screen added, which is such an striking feature of the external appearance of the church.
Some of the stained glass on view is very attractive. We were especially impressed by a window in the south wall of the nave depicting St Oswald and St Ebba. The window was installed to serve as a war memorial to those lost during the 1939 to 1945 war. The reason why the window features St Oswald and St Ebba is an interesting one. Christianity had briefly gained a foothold in Northumbria in the 620s, but it really flourished after the accession to the crown of Northumbria of King Oswald in 634. He had spent much of his youth in exile in what is now Argyll and had converted to the distinctive brand of Celtic Christianity which had taken root there after initial development in Ireland. Oswald wanted his subjects to share his religion, and ensured that this then happened. He was later venerated as a saint.
St Ebba, to whom the church is dedicated, is sometimes also known as St Aebbe. She was the sister of Oswald, and was also converted to Christianity while in exile. St Ebba/Aebba became a nun, and later founded a monastery on the site of an old Roman fort at Ebchester. In about 635 she established a much better known religious house, probably on a rocky headland known as Kirk Hill. This lies immediately south of St Abbs Head, later named after Aebbe. Though this is now well within Scotland, at the time it was in an area that was firmly part of Northumberland.
The dedication of the church you see today to St Ebba reflects her close links with the area. It also follows a long-standing tradition. It is known that a chapel dedicated to St Ebba stood on a promontory called Ebb's Nook near Beadnell Harbour. This appears to have been built in the 1100s, and possibly on the site of an even earlier Anglo Saxon church. It isn't clear when that chapel went out of use, but it is possible it was directly replaced by the church built in the location you see today, three quarters of a mile to the north west, in 1740.
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Grid Ref: NU 230 292