Patronage has both benefits and pitfalls

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In the Mitford chapel, in the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, is a newspaper cutting or similar, dated 1895.

It states: “The Parish Church...stands in the demesne of the head of the Mitford family, Lt. Colonel Osbaldeston-Mitford, who lives like a patriarch among his tenants and retainers; while they, with him, attend church with unfailing regularity.

“Venerable for his age and personal character and lifelong churchmanship, Colonel Osbaldeston-Mitford, as churchwarden, collects the offertory alms every Sunday, assisted by his bailiff, Mr Thomas Blair, who is also churchwarden.

“The venerable Colonel, whose brown hair is still untinged with grey, reads the lessons in church on Sundays, and without spectacles; and rides on horseback as he did half a century ago.”

Not only did Colonel Mitford “live like a patriarch”, he spent over £10,000 in restoring the parish church. Nor was he alone in this.

On November 24, 1878, Lord Redesdale wrote to him from Goucestershire: “My Dear Colonel, I have long wished to see the living of Mitford improved; partly because holding the larger portion of the ecclesiastical tithes the income of the vicar appears unduly small; and...may render the tenure of the preferment by anyone who has not private means, inconvenient to the owner of Mitford and to the parish.

“I have had the Bishop of Durham sounded, and having offered to give £3,500 Consols, which will produce an annual income of £105 (free from all charges except income tax) he has agreed to transfer the advowson.

“Now I will not do anything in the matter without your concurrence. In the first place I offer that, if so inclined, you should obtain the patronage yourself by making the abovementioned grant instead of me.

“If not disposed to this, I hope that you...will not object to my carrying out the arrangement, but if you prefer that matters shd. remain as they are, I will, though with much regret, give up the scheme altogether.

“Pray let me know your wishes. Believe me, Ys, very sincerely, Redesdale.”

The Colonel replied the next day, and in haste.

“My Dear Lord Redesdale, I have just returned from a conference with the Vicar on the subject of yr letter...& I am glad to find you are disposed to encrease (sic) the value of the Living.

“The Vicar of Mitford wd. be poor indeed if he were without private means. I have spent so many thousands in the restoration of the Fabric...that I do not feel disposed to make the grant of £3,500 myself.

“I often regret (being) Patron of five livings. They are a cause of great anxiety from time to time. Mitford should be in the fmly.

"I hope as the present Bishop is in declining health and wishes your proposal carried out that as little time as possible may be lost & that at an early day we may hail your L’ship as Patron of Mitford.”

Kelly’s Directory for 1914 says that the living was in the gift of Lord Redesdale, and was held by the Rev Roderick Charles MacLeod.

Paternalism also had its downside. The Reminiscences of the late Mr George Brown of Mitford, ref. NRO 4427, are held at Woodhorn.

Mr Brown tells how the squire, Capt. R.O. Mitford, was in dispute with Canon McLeod. He sat in church with a watch set for ten minutes, at which point the Canon would stop and come down from the pulpit.

One day: “Captain Mitford called upon my father with a note he had written, calling for the dismissal of Canon McLeod because he had defied him. The form was signed by a villager who would sign anything that would please the squire.

"When my father read the note he tore it in two and gave it back to the squire and told him to behave himself and go along to the vicarage and give his apologies to Canon McLeod.

“The squire said, ‘I knew you would say that John’, whereupon he went along to the vicarage and ended the controversy.”

Changing the subject, the foliated capital is the only one that survives and gives an idea of how sumptuously the original Norman church was decorated. The painting of a dove represents the Holy Spirit descending upon the person being baptised.

The unusual gateway into the vicarage garden is of about 1840. It was put there in the restoration of 1874. It shows that the earlier restoration, following some time after the fire of 1705, was not merely utilitarian.

In Hodgson's picture, you can see the blocked Norman arches, and the west window, later to be restored, with what is now the garden gate.

Bertram Reveley's tomb is ornate, but not very skilfully carved. It is, however, a touching memorial.

The inscription reads: “Bartram to us so deutiful a sonn. If more were fit it should for the be done, who deceased the 7th of October Anno Domini 1622.”

The 18th century tombstone carries the symbols of death: a winged hourglass, crowned skull, and crossed bones.

The inscription on the other side records the death in 1724 of John Pots, son of Robert Pots, aged 30.