Nonconformist Churches In The National Park : P F Ryder
There are only three nonconformist churches within the Park, all formerly Presbyterian (and now United Reformed Church), making it a sharp contrast to the Pennine Dales thirty miles to the south where virtually every hamlet had either a Wesleyan or Primitive Methodist Chapel, and frequently both. None of the three buildings are of outstanding architectural merit, but chronologically they are spaced out through the 190th century, and are each very typical of their era. Birdhopecraig of 1826 is very much an archetypal nonconformist meeting house; it could equally well have been an urban Wesleyan chapel.
Well-built but plain, it is very much a Georgian 'preaching box' with a gallery sweeping around three sides and a hipped roof. It survives relatively unaltered, except for one very typical 20th-century change; the rear part of the gallery, the seating that it offered long surplus to requirements, has been partitioned off to form a separate room. Then comes Harbottle of 1854, now disused. It is not clear whether anything of the internal arrangements survive, but externally this is a building that looks much more like a church; the form is still a simple rectangle but the style is the popular lancet-Gothic, not particularly scholarly, in vogue across the whole country, relatively plain but with exuberant touches in a bell-cote-like turret on one end and a spiky finials on the other.
Finally, Falstone combines the contrasting aspirations of Georgian and High Victorian nonconformity, chaste functionality and prosperous display. The original 1807 preaching box was very much a typical Georgian independent chapel (cf . Glanton) in having a characteristic elevation in which two larger arched windows flanked the pulpit, and originally had a vertical pair of smaller windows to each side, lighting the spaces above and below the galleries. In 1876 it was remodelled to suit current taste, and to give more of the impression of being a church.
The interior was turned round to face one end - admittedly west rather than the Anglican east - rather than the side, and a porch-cum-tower with some quirky architectural detail added, topped by a spire. The galleries were done away with. Later still came 20th-century changes, again typical throughout nonconformity, the altar replaced the pulpit as the central liturgical focus, and declining numbers allowed the rear part of the interior to be partitioned off, like the back of the gallery at Birdhopecraig, to provide a separate room for social functions, or small meetings.
Birdhopecraig United Reform Church
Set back a little from the north side of the A68 road at the west end of Rochester village, this church is accompanied by a fairly plain Victorian house built in 1876 for the minister (but only ever occupied by one incumbent).
The church is a rectangular building with a hip-ended roof, with three-bay elevations and two tiers of windows. The front, facing the road (to the south-west), is of squared close-jointed stone of near-ashlar quality, the other walls of roughly-squared coursed stone with ashlar dressings. quality, with three-bay elevations and two levels of windows. The openings are all square-headed, with chamfered surround; the windows have slightly-projecting sills The central doorway has double doors under a two-pane overlight; above it is a slab with the relief inscription
The windows all now hold 20th century casements. There are a series of moulded stone corbels to the overhanging eaves and the hip-ended roof, of quite low pitch, is of Welsh slate.
The doorway opens into an entrance lobby with its back wall following the curve of the gallery; doors on left and right give access to the body of the church and also to minster's room and gallery stair respectively. The church has its semi-octagonal pulpit set centrally against the end, with a communion table in front and a modern electric organ to the right; there is a boarded dado, set higher on the end wall. The gallery, apsidal in plan, runs round the sides and back of the building and is carried on six square timber posts, with moulded capitals; it has a simple panelled front.
At gallery level a room has been created above the entrance lobby, and separating the usable area of the gallery into two sections. Simple fixed pewing. The ceiling is underdrawn, with a single quite elaborate central chandelier. The gallery has a clock by W Murray of Rothbury.