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Expressing regret after a constitutional split

illuminated address to Lightfoot on the division of the diocese of Durham
Farewell address from Northumberland clergy to their former bishop, 11 October 1882 (Reference: DDR/BP/PER/5/4)

The start of November was due to mark the division of the European Union, with the UK's exit following the 2016 referendum. That division has (at the time of writing) been again deferred, but for our November item we look at a document arising from the division of Durham diocese in 1882. This is an illuminated and bound farewell address, written by the clergy of the new diocese of Newcastle, to the bishop of Durham (and their former bishop), Joseph Barber Lightfoot. Lightfoot had been enthroned as bishop of Durham in May 1879, so would have served as bishop to the clergy of the new diocese for three years before the split. This address was written 5 months after the division of the diocese in May 1882, and over 4 years after the passing of the legislation that formed the new bishopric in August 1878, so current Brexit debates have some time still to run to match that timetable!

The tone of this month's item could not, however, be more different from our debates in Parliament. The clergy of the new diocese "cannot witness this parting of the See of Durham without a public and united expression of their regret at one inevitable consequence - the loss of your Lordship's personal care and oversight..." After another page of similar text, this farewell address is signed by the vicar and curate of Eglingham (the former, George Hans Hamilton, being also archdeaon of Lindisfarne) and dated 11 October 1882. There then follows 12 pages of signatures from the rest of the Northumberland and Newcastle clergy: these have been signed originally on separate pieces of paper (perhaps a circular letter), before being cut out and mounted onto boards, which have been decorated with a gilt-effect edging and bound into a volume by Andrew Reid of Newcastle upon Tyne. The volume has itself been decorated with an image of the lantern tower of Newcastle St Nicholas (made a cathedral for the new diocese) glued onto the upper board, and with a stamped image of Durham cathedral and riverbank on the lower board, with both boards decorated with gilt tooling incorporating the cross of St Cuthbert at each corner, and all edges of the leaves are gilded. The gilding has almost completely faded on the upper board and the spine (also decorated with Cuthbertine crosses) is badly damaged, but when first presented to Bishop Lightfoot, it must have made quite an impression.

The farewell address to Bishop Lightfoot is just one of a number of decorated and illuminated addresses to the bishops of Durham which survive among the Durham Diocesan Records. Others can be found within the Personal Papers section of the Durham Diocesan Records (ref: DDR/BP/PER). The earliest of these date from Lightfoot's arrival in Durham in 1879, and the latest is addressed from the mayor, aldermen and burgesses of West Hartlepool to Bishop Maurice Harland in 1956, but one of the most attractive must be the address from the scholars of Winlaton church elementary school to Bishop Handley Moule in 1901, decorated with an image of roses and edged round with green ribbon ("We are but children, but we have been taught to regard the visit of a Bishop as the greatest event that can happen in a parish." Ref: DDR/BP/PER/7/13).

As we draw comparisons with the (possibly) imminent parting of the UK from the European Union, we should perhaps take note of an address from the successors to the same clergy, a generation later. In 1919, they petitioned the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral for fairer treatment, believing that they were being overlooked by the Dean and Chapter (who had maintained a right to present clergy to 12 parishes within Northumberland). This petition survives within the Durham Cathedral archive, and is accompanied by a letter from the then bishop of Newcastle (Herbert Wild), in which he comments, "the petition voices a strong feeling throughout the Newcastle Diocese of which I have long been conscious." The petition text suggests that the "clergy of the northern portion of the old diocese" have not been tret on equal terms with those in the current diocese of Durham, and backs this up with a statistical analysis of appointments made to the parishes concerned since the division in 1882. The draft reply from the Dean of Durham recounts at some length their legal rights and the history of their retention of patronage to the Northumberland parishes in 1882, while appearing to reject any suggestion that they have not been fair to the Northumberland clergy. The tone of both petition and reply remain respectful, but far removed from the beautifully illuminated farewell address from the Northumberland clergy a generation earlier. It can be found within the catalogue of Chapter acts and documents, at reference DCD/B/CC/210.

Every month we showcase here an item from our Heritage Collections.