The road from Seaton Delaval village down to neighbouring Seaton Sluice is full of surprises. At the end of a straight, tree-lined avenue, you turn a corner and come upon Seaton Delaval Hall, Sir John Vanbrugh’s masterpiece of design. Another corner, and you’re looking down to the unspoiled dunes of the wild Northumberland coastline. But tucked away, just beside the Hall, is a hidden jewel of Northumbrian history: The Church of Our Lady in the Parish of Delaval.
This tiny Norman church is reached by a short walk through a single gate and on down a country path. At first glance, the church is plain and small, with a homely look, perhaps explained by the fact that this was the private chapel of the Delaval family for over seven hundred years. Although it has been given permanently to the Church of England, for the ‘spiritual welfare’ of the people of Northumberland, the links with the Delaval family still remain. Shields bearing different coats of arms adorn the walls; and examination of these reveal many interesting facts about the history of the family. For example, the arms of Sir Francis Blake Delaval (1727-1771) show a Knight holding a scroll bearing the words ‘Magna Charta’. This recalls that his ancestor,Sir Gilbert de laval, was one of the Barons who held conference with King John, at Runnymede in June 1215, when the text of the Magna Carta was agreed upon. More striking though, are a pair of effigies - stone figures representing a Crusader Knight and his Lady. It is amazing to think that this Knight actually took part in the Crusades -and his Lady would have waited and wondered about him at home. The effigies originally guarded the Delaval Family vault, which is situated beneath the church, and although chipped and worn, provide a very solid reminder that history is about the lives that our ancestors lived.
Inside, the church is sparse by modern-day standards, with stone floors, plaster walls and high-backed wooden pews at either side of a central aisle. Closer inspection reveals details such as ornamental arches, with a zigzag pattern typical of Norman design. But the overall plainness adds to the atmosphere and feeling of history within the church - this small, simple place of worship has been standing for over 900 years, and is still in use. An old-fashioned feeling of community surrounds the church too - with the ‘Friends’ acting as guides in the summer, and holding fund-raising events supported by the patronage of the current Lord at the Hall next door. Local brides book early to marry there, and the newest members of the congregation are welcomed to the parish at the annual carol service. Often the church is full, and the small pews encourage friendly conversation with the people nearby, whilst regulars are unembarrassed to bring rugs to protect against the cold.
History, architectural interest, community, continuity and spirituality blend together to give the Church of Our Lady a special atmosphere. It’s well worth making the trip.