A contrast of rural and urban parishes

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Morpeth Rotary Club

John Wylam was Vicar of Alwinton for 15 years and his parish covered the remains of the Roman fort at Makendon called Ad Fines, which means ‘The End’. His job also gave him the title of Lord of the Manor of Kidland, but that is another story.

He told Rotary about how he started as a vicar and the contrasts he came across as Vicar of Byker and then at Alwinton.

When he was born, an aunt said he looked like a proper little curate and she was right. Once he was adult he decided what he wanted to do and talked to a cousin who was Vicar at Monkseaton. He sent him to see Canon Wetherall, of St Chad’s College, Durham, which led to selection for the priesthood.

Training was at King’s College, London, for two years before being sent to Derby as a curate. He was not required to do National Service, but did a sort of gap year to learn about everyday life. He was placed as an electrician’s mate at Scunthorpe Steelworks, where he became a member of the ETU, the union. He had to make the foreman’s tea and because he was trusted not to steal, was made storeman.

He moved back to the North East as Curate at Seaton Hirst, and spent three-and-a-half years at Ashington. His first post as vicar was at St Silas, Byker, which was below Beavan’s department store, not far from the Byker Wall. It was a rundown parish in one of the most densely populated areas of Newcastle.

Many houses were cleared for redevelopment and the church was left on an area of wasteland. Tenants and householders were in constant fear of people breaking in for scrap. There were around 6,000 living in the parish, with 40 attending church regularly. The church had its windows broken every day.

After six-and-a-half years in the Vicarage, the Bishop of Newcastle Alex Graham called one Sunday with an Ordnance Survey map and asked how Mr Wylam would feel about becoming Vicar of Alwinton with Holystone and Alnham. It was one of the most remote parishes in England, covered 120 square miles and had a border with Scotland.

A training course was set up at Kirkley Hall for clergy deployed to a rural area. It covered the basic skills of ‘gathering’ sheep, counting sheep, finding possible escape holes in hedges and fences, inspecting mouths, checking udders and looking after stock.

The parish had an RAF low fly zone and Otterburn Ranges with MOD farms. Some farms had been with the same families for hundreds of years. It had a C of E Aided school, with the oldest building in the county and outside toilets. Some pupils travelled 12 miles to get there.

A last placement before retirement was as Rector of Chollerton with Birtley and Thockrington, which was rural, but not as remote. It had problems with wind farm proposals and mining companies wanting to dig large holes. Chollerton Church has a shed with a horse drawn hearse and there is a church at Thockrington, where Lord Beveridge is buried, which does not have a village nearby.

Although retired, Mr Wylam is licenced to officiate and still preaches along the Northumberland coast.

The vote of thanks was given by Jeff Reynalds, who noted that the monks of Newminster farmed land and had a chapel and mill at Kidland. Baron Umphraville of Harbottle decreed that any dogs brought by the monks had to have a leg removed so they could not catch his game.