Like every other place in Britain, no settled way of spelling its name existed until modern times. In the mid 19th century, Vicar JB Roberts thought that ‘Shilbotel’ was the authentic spelling, and this has been in the ecclesiastical parish’s formal title since then. But no one else took much notice, and it’s ‘Shilbottle’ to everyone – except when the wags decide to adjust the road signs on the A1 with one tiny stroke of a brush!
We don’t know when people first came to live in Shilbottle, though a few early finds that probably date from the 5th century have been excavated. The Saxons would have had a wooden church, but nothing remains of that. The Normans rebuilt in stone, and we still have their south door arch, font and chancel arch (though now set over the organ). On the outside of the north wall can be seen two of their tiny window frames. It was rebuilt and repaired through the generations until local landowners decided that something new was required. Our present building dates from 1885 and was designed by Newcastle architect WS Hicks. It is a striking building, containing features from its predecessor and some excellent 19th century carved woodwork. All eyes are drawn towards the altar. The window above it is the community’s War Memorial and the names of those who died in 20th century conflicts are inscribed on the reredos.
Its surrounding churchyard has been in use for a thousand years and gravestones continue to relate some of the hardships of life here in the past. Shilbottle Parish Council now maintains the adjacent Cemetery, in three sections.
The first wedding in the rebuilt church was of Dorothy Widdrington of the Hall at Newton on the Moor. She married Sir Edward Grey, later Lord Grey of Fallodon, British Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of World War 1 and renowned for the words “The lamps are going out all over Europe – we shall not see them relit in our lifetime.”
Next door to the Church is a Pele House which is medieval in part and was the Vicarage between the 16th and 20th centuries. Some of the farm houses in the parish have sections dating from as far back as the 12th century. Many of the older cottages in Shilbottle are built around a group of central fields (rather than a green), with Pants strategically placed to provide a supply of water.
The majority of the parish is land farmed, mainly for crops. Much of it is owned by Northumberland Estates and leased to tenant farmers, some of whose families have farmed this same land for well over 100 years.
Coal was mined here from medieval times but this became a major industry from the late 18th century onwards with the ‘old’ pit at Bilton Banks, succeeded by Shilbottle Grange (developed by the Co-operative Wholesale Society) and Whittle Collieries which were among the last to close in 1982. Shilbottle coal was highly prized and was reputedly used in Buckingham Palace. The practice of ‘importing’ miners and their families from other pits has made Shilbottle a more cosmopolitan society than it might otherwise have been!
By 1751 there were Church schools both in Shilbottle and in Newton on the Moor. The buildings of Shilbottle’s ‘Top School’ (at the top of the village) belonged to Northumberland Estates and reverted to the Duke on closure in 1981. Meanwhile, ‘Bottom School’ – Shilbottle Grange Primary School was opened in 1926 providing places for many children who moved into the parish as the CWS pit at the Grange was developed. Although never a Church School, relationships with the Church have always been warm and continue to be so.
Other churches in the community
For about thirty years, a Methodist congregation met in a Chapel in Hawthorne Terrace, closing in the 1950s.
Gateway Church Northumberland meets on Sunday afternoons in Shilbottle Community Hall (info: 575196). It is associated with the ‘Newfrontiers’ collection of congregations. https://gatewaychurchnorthumberland.co.uk/
Local History Group
A group of people interested in recording aspects of Shilbottle’s past have started to meet to gather information and recollections from fellow residents and research available documents. An early project of the group will be to design ‘storyboards’ illustrating Shilbottle’s past for display in St James’ Church.
Contact person: Margaret Weaver Tel: 01670 760163