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St Hilda's Church, Hartlepool

The Norman knights of the de Brus family came to England with William the Conqueror. For their part in helping to subdue the country they were given lands that included the south-east corner of what is now County Durham. Here they founded the new port of Hartlepool and demonstrated their lordly power, not by the usual building of a great manor house or castle, but by raising the impressive Parish Church of St Hilda.

Building started around 1200. A state-of-the-art design showing the very beginnings of the Gothic style was constructed by the best stone masons available – among them, some who are thought to have worked on Byland Abbey in North Yorkshire. This is an unconventional building. The great buttresses around the tower may be, in part, a response to structural failure, but the western ones flank the ‘Galilee’, once a two-storey porch that perhaps had a courtroom on its upper floor. Since Edward Blore painted the church in the 1820s, the lower chamber of the porch has been restored and a new chancel built on the site of its demolished medieval predecessor.

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