Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

St Hilda’s Church of England, the Headland, Hartlepool, U.K.
By Kelly d. Whittaker

It 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.

The 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 building.

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 Title.

The 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 Normandy.

I returned to do an official story of St. Hilda’s to be published on

The 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.

The 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 area.

Here is what a History of Durham County says about the land grants to the de Bruce’s.

The 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. (fn. 59)

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

Friar Threlkeld

St. 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)

Edward I 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)

Robert, first 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)

Roger, second 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)

St. 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 from vandals.

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

St. Hilda’s is equipped with modern video and sound equipment for all ages!

Land grant information is accessed at:

From: 'Parishes: Hart', A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3 (1928), pp. 254-263. URL: Date accessed: 07 August 2010.

The Main Entrance to St. Hilda’s

St. Hilda offers a nice tea/cake room, in which I thoroughly enjoyed along with some wonderful volunteers.

If you are ever in the North East of England, St. Hilda’s is worth a visit! Best of all, it is free!

Return to our Historic Articles Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus