We first hear of the church in Chatton from a document issued sometime before 1184, where William de Vesci is said to have granted the church of Chatton to Alnwick Abbey and this community of the Abbey possessed the church until 1539.
In 1236 the Bishop of Durham, Richard le Poor, ordained a vicarage in Chatton by agreement with the Abbot of Alnwick, the vicar being Richard de Vesci, Canon of Beverley.
With the dissolution of the monasteries, the possession of the Church passed into hands of the crown. Much of the monastic lands were sold or given away, and in 1604-5 the Rectory was dismembered and the parcels of the same were granted to various individuals. The patronage of the Holy Cross was then given to the Earldom of Percy, the Dukes of Northumberland.
As the patron did not reside in the parish of Chatton, the chancel, which it was traditional for the patron to keep in order to set up his pew and in which to bury his dead, was neglected after the Reformation. By 1636 it was in such a sorry state that it was abandoned to ruin and the chancel arch was built up in front. In 1681 the church was reported to be "out of repair" and in 1710 it is said to have been burnt down, the walls, however, surviving the fire. Before 1714 it had been restored, but apparently in a rather temporally manner as in 1736 it had just been plastered, whitewashed and flagged. William Burrell, then vicar introduced several improvements. He restored the choir to the state in which it was possible for him to be buried in it on his death in 1752; although in 1758 Archdeacon John Sharpe reported that the church had been in ruins for a long time. It is possible that there was another fire, as in 1765 a "brief" was issued for collections in churches in the diocese of Durham "for Chatton Church" and in 1770 the nave and tower were rebuilt and possibly the choir also. The church was rebuilt in the early gothic revival style, and has some rather quaint and interesting details.
In March 1814 a sexton was digging a grave on the north side of the church when he found a stone coffin containing the remains of a human body, about ten inches below the surface. It was secured and neatly covered with three stones. The skull was also perfect, but nearly full of water, the teeth of the upper jaw were a full set, and the thigh bone measured eighteen inches. The earth being carefully examined a Robert the Bruce silver penny was found, together with a steel spur, and several relics of ornamental brass and iron work, supposed to be the remains of the helmet of the warrior who had been interred in the coffin. The Reverend Joseph Cook, the then vicar of Chatton, offer the following remarks on the discovery of this ancient stone coffin;
"In 1318 Robert Bruce and his adherents had been excommunicated by the Pope for contumacy to the messengers of his holiness and having assaulted and taken the fortress of Berwick, as well as the castles of Wark, Harbottle, and Mitford, and laid waste all the intervening country, it is probable that the warrior now alluded to, fell at this juncture, and that the vicar of Chatton, on the strength of the above named anathema, refused sepulchre to his remains in any other part of the consecrated ground, than that of the north side of the church, the place in those times allotted, I believe for the unhallowed interment of excommunicated remains"
Although this is a plausible theory other writers have suggested that no-one of enough importance to be buried in a stone coffin would have been buried in an open churchyard on the north side of the church, and so have posited the view that there must have been at one time that chapel at that side of the church. Indeed, in the present baptistry (on the north side of the church) there are pieces of stone from the tomb(s) of a Knight(s) templar. The templars were mercenaries who were known to have fought at various times on the side of both Bruce and Edward. It is not known whether the stones in the baptistry are the same as those discovered in 1814, but it would seem only natural that the aisle built by the Duke of Northumberland sometime after 1763, should be built on existing foundations and perhaps ruins. This would seem to add weight to the evidence that there was a chapel dating from the thirteenth century.
Between 1822 and the end of the nineteenth century successive vicars gradually transformed this eighteenth century church into a pastiche of mediaeval detail, raiding from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth century in "periods" and producing on the whole quite a good effect, if one can forget its essential falsity.
© 2016 Holy Cross Chatton