was a cold, grey day in November of 2008 when my daughter and
her fiancé brought me to Hartlepool. They wanted me to see the
seaside and this old church on the Headland. As we approached
the old Norman church, I was astounded at the beauty and
condition of the church. It was almost a replica on the exterior
to that of Roslyn Chapel in Scotland.
The head stones of the graves look ancient
but in fact only approximately 150 to 200 years old. St. Hilda’s
is right on the coast line of the North Sea therefore the head
stones are weather beaten from the sea brine.
beauty of this church captivated me enough for me to leave Tyne
and Wear and move to Hartlepool. I wanted to find out the
history of this church because of the strong resemblance to the
famous Knights Templar Chapel of Roslyn.
My first trip to St. Hilda’s was a beautiful
sun shining winter day. It was December. The inside of the
church was decorated in Christmas trees from every school in the
Hartlepool area. Each tree represented a special message from
each of the schools. The elegance of a fine old parish church
along with the nurturing of the old building from its
parishioners’ gleamed through every stained glass window in the
The volunteers of the church were so warm and
welcoming. The senior deacon of St. Hilda’s was on hand to give
me a tour of this very special church. I only regretted
nothaving a camera at the time because I was soon to learn one
of my ancestors was supposed to be buried there. The great
grandfather of Robert the Bruce actually owned the land of Hart.
He had died while in Hart before the Bruce’s gained a Scottish
first Bruce to own the lands of Hart was Adam de Bruce, the son
of the first Bruce who came with William the Conqueror from
I returned to do an official story of St.
Hilda’s to be published on
church was started at least 1000 years ago. The front entry door
will show the architecture from 900 to 1000 AD.
This gentleman is an American visiting the
church. His group of tourist were very friendly.
church took a hundred years to complete. William de Bruce wanted
to celebrate his faith. He was a proud man and needed a
beautiful place to build his glorious tribute.
There was no better place than over looking the Hartlepool bay
is what a History of Durham County says about the land grants to
the de Bruce’s.
overlordship of Hart was inherited by Robert's eldest son, Adam,
lord of Skelton, who married Ivetta, daughter of William de
Arches, and died in 1143. (fn. 58) He was succeeded by his son
Adam, who married Agnes daughter of Stephen Earl of Albemarle.
The date of his death is uncertain, but it was before the end of
1198, when his son Peter paid a fine for his father's lands.
In 1200 it was
agreed between William de Brus of Hart (see below) and Peter de
Brus, lord of Skelton, that William should hold the manors of
Hart, Stranton, and Hartlepool of Peter for the service of two
knight's fees. (fn. 60) Peter son of Peter de Brus of Skelton,
(fn. 61) while the manor was in his hands as guardian of Robert
de Brus, a minor, disputed the Bishop of Durham's right to wreck
upon the shores of Hartness, but lost his case (1228–37). (fn.
62) After the death of the last Peter de Brus, lord of Skelton
in 1272, (fn. 63) the overlordship was claimed by the
representatives of his sister Lucy, wife of Marmaduke de Thweng,
to whom the fee in Hartness was assigned in 1281, and also by
Walter de Fauconberg, who married Agnes the eldest sister and
co-heir, who succeeded to Skelton. The king, in asserting the
rights of these claimants to the custody of the manor after the
death of Robert de Clifford in 1314, came into conflict with the
Bishop of Durham. (fn. 64)
Robert de Brus
II, lord of Hart, otherwise called Robert le Meschin, married
Euphemia, and died about 1194. (fn. 65) His son, Robert de Brus
III, (fn. 66) had died before 1191, (fn. 67) and Robert II was
succeeded by his younger son William de Brus. (fn. 68).
We know the oldest
parts of the church were Norman. William used an existing
structure and added to it.
You can see the
difference in the stone work from the alter area and the rest of
the church. The alter benches are said to be 1000 years old and
from an old monastery that was once nearby St. Hilda’s.
I was intrigued as
I walked through and took pictures of the people or saints who
played a roll in shaping the Hartness Lands.
The Bruce Family
Matilda de Clifford aka St. Hilda
Hilda’s Church survived the split of the Bruce’s going to
Scotland and Edward the Longshank’s confiscation of all the
Bruce lands in England.
In 1198 William
de Brus made an exchange of land in Northumberland with Adam de
Carlisle, and pledged his land in Hartness. (fn. 69) He married
Christina and was dead in 1215. (fn. 70) William's son Robert de
Brus IV, (fn. 71) called the Noble, married Isabel, second
daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, the younger brother of
Malcolm IV of Scotland, and thus brought into the family the
royal blood which gave his descendants a claim to the throne of
Scotland. (fn. 72) Robert the Noble died apparently before 1230,
and was succeeded by his son Robert de Brus V, the first
competitor for the throne of Scotland. (fn. 73)
Robert de Brus
V is mentioned as the tenant of Hartness under Peter de Brus in
1272, (fn. 74) and dated a charter at Hart in 1288. (fn. 75) He
died 31 March 1295, and was succeeded by his son, Robert de Brus
VI, (fn. 76) the second competitor, who married Marjory,
daughter and heir of Niel Earl of Carrick, and thus brought this
title into the family. (fn. 77) Robert de Brus VI died in 1304,
and was succeeded by his son Robert, Earl of Carrick, afterwards
King of Scotland. (fn. 78)
In 1306 Robert
Brus VII murdered John Comyn in the church of the Grey Friars at
Dumfries, and was accordingly outlawed by Edward I, who declared
his lands forfeit. (fn. 79) At this time the king was in the
midst of a quarrel with Bishop Bek, and had seized the
temporalities of Durham into his own hand. He took possession of
Brus's forfeited lands, although the bishop claimed forfeitures
of war within his liberty. (fn. 80)
granted Hart to Robert de Clifford in May 1306. (fn. 81) Bishop
Bek appears to have acquiesced in this, but subsequent bishops
of Durham carried on a long and almost fruitless struggle to
regain possession of the forfeitures. The king, Parliament, and
the law courts were always ready to acknowledge the bishop's
theoretical rights, but practically the lands remained in the
hands of the king's grantees and the king exercised rights of
overlordship. (fn. 82)
Lord Clifford, was killed in the battle of Bannockburn, 24 June
1314. (fn. 83) Bishop Kellaw appointed a bailiff on 19 August to
administer his lands, the custody of which was also claimed by
the mesne lords. (fn. 84) On 2 May 1315 the royal escheator
seized the manor into the king's hands and the custody was
afterwards granted to Humphry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, during
the minority of the heir Roger. (fn. 85)
Lord Clifford, took part in Lancaster's insurrection; his lands
were seized by the king in 1322 and granted to John of Brittany,
Earl of Richmond. (fn. 86) The manor of Hart, with the rest of
the Clifford lands, was restored to his brother and heir Robert
in 1327. (fn. 87)
Robert died in
1344 seised of the manors of Hart and Hartness which had
formerly been held by Peter de Brus, Robert de Clifford, aged
fourteen, being his son and heir. The manor was worth Ł100 and
was held of the Bishop of Durham by the service of two knights'
fees and suit at the court of Sadberge every three weeks. (fn.
88) Bishop Bury at once appointed a keeper of the manor of Hart,
(fn. 89) but as before the king granted out the custody of the
minor's lands there, which he bestowed upon Maurice de Berkeley,
(fn. 90) the brother of Robert de Clifford's widow. (fn. 91) The
young Lord Clifford died before 17 March 1346, when the custody
of his lands was granted to Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of
Warwick, during the minority of his brother and heir Roger, (fn.
92) to whom the earl married his daughter Maud. This grant was
extended to Hart in October 1346. (fn. 93)
Hilda’s survived the upheaval from the split of the Bruce
family. Here is what is left of the tomb of the Bruce, great
grandfather of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland.
This tomb was originally outside on the back wall behind the
alter. This extension was built in the 1700’s to save the tombs
I snuck a few more pictures in of different
displays. (Jane Bell)
You can see the difference in the two stones
A sheriff of Hart, Captain Webb
Sir Cuthbert Sharp, a previous Mayor
Hilda’s is equipped with modern video and sound equipment for
grant information is accessed at:
Hart', A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3 (1928), pp.
Date accessed: 07 August 2010.
The Main Entrance to St. Hilda’s
Hilda offers a nice tea/cake room, in which I thoroughly enjoyed
along with some wonderful volunteers.
you are ever in the North East of England, St. Hilda’s is worth
a visit! Best of all, it is free!