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Seaham Church Recording Project
A research project of the Department of Archaeology.
In collaboration with the Limestone Landscapes initiative and Durham County Council, the Durham Archaeology ran a community linked project to undertake a drawn survey of the medieval church of St. Mary’s at Seaham in 2013. The purpose of the project was to investigate the origins and development of this historic building over time. Working together with Pam Graves and Richard Annis, Sarah Semple and Charlie Hartfelder worked with local volunteers to create a drawn stone-by-stone record of the church inside and out a hand-drawn and detailed scale plan of the church and its interior. In addition, drawing on expertise from Northumbria University, a full laser scan of the standing fabric was created, capturing a highly accurate digital record of the church. The project is designed as a collaborative venture with community volunteers who were trained on the job in standing building recording techniques.
Seaham Church stands on the headland at Seaham some distance from the modern settlement. The small, round headed, single splayed windows, have long been recognised as possible pre-Conquest features. Some of these have traces of simple decoration. Much of the standing fabric belies its origin as Roman building stone. The builders of the church made heavy use of reused Roman building material in the pre- to post Conquest phases. Other features of note include the north external wall of the nave. Here a large portion of early standing fabric can be identified, with the use of a long stretch of herringbone at about head height, as a string course or levelling device. Debate remains about whether this early fabric is pre-Conquest and early, on a par with the standing remains at Jarrow further along the coast, or if this represents the remains of a much later, transitional church, built around the time of the conquest or just after, that used building stone recycled from an earlier church. The aim of the detailed survey is to find out more and see if the age of this remarkable coastal church can be identified with more certainty. This project parallels excavation work on the neighbouring cemetery. Graves here excavated in the past, have been dated to the 7th and 8th centuries, providing clear evidence of a Christian community at Seaham before the Conquest. A publication is underway.