Achievements of the Friends of Holy Cross Church

The main aim of ‘The Friends’ was to raise funds in order to maintain Ryton’s beautiful Medieval Church. The Church was built in the 13th century and is a Grade 1 listed building. Their aim was to ensure that it is safely handed on to future generations as a place of contemplation and a community resource.


These are some of our achievements since the Millennium:


* Contribution towards the cost of installing a new ring of 8 bells, which were first rung on Millennium Eve and are heard every Wednesday for practices, Sunday Services and special occasions


* Payment of the professional fees for the renewal of the drains, water supply and relaying of the ancient Church path


* Supporting a major scheme to repair the beautiful and historically significant stained glass windows together with roof repairs and pointing of damaged stonework


* Leading the public appeal and payment of all the professional fees relating to the redevelopment of the West End of the Church to provide new hospitality facilities, including a fully equipped servery, fully accessible inside toilet (the first since1220!) and meeting area with new parquet floor


* Contribution towards the repair of the Tenor Bell wheel and reinstatement of the Westminster Chimes heard across the village every quarter hour, except at night!


* Staging of Spring Concerts attracting a wide variety of musicians to perform in the Church for the entertainment of audiences from across the Region


* Participation in community events such as the Ryton Hirings and Church Fayre


* Playing our part in making Ryton the wonderful place it undoubtedly is!!

The Friends can help trace your family's graves

Richard Taylor, Membership Secretary of the Friends appeared at our door late one morning in August gesturing triumphantly. Heavily gloved, well wrapped up and wielding ferocious cutting tackle for clearing dense creepers. he was like a cartoon Victorian explorer. Was it Henry Morton Stanley, calling by to announce he‘d just ‘found‘ Livingstone?


It transpired Richard, prompted by a request received from Australia seeking information on an ancestor’s grave, had been field testing a copy of a survey he’d recently acquired of Holy Cross Ryton Churchyard carried out in 1975 by Ryton Heritage Group,.


This survey documented legible memorial inscriptions, referencing them to mapped and numbered positions of marked graves.

Since 1975 some gravestones have fallen and become covered by undergrowth. Late August seems to be when undergrowth in parts of the steeper and lower parts of the churchyard is at its densest with briars and stinging nettles.

With increasingly severe Government Austerity cut backs in Local Authority funding, Gateshead, given its statutory priorities, is no longer able to sustain regular environmental management. Currently only key pathways are mown by a retiree volunteer parishioner. ....


So actually Richard was in role as a jungle tomb raider of the Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones genre!

Richard writes:

” I was able to confirm the existence of the grave and its rough position from the 1975 map. I decided to try and hunt it down. I ventured into one of the wilder areas of the churchyard armed with a pair of shears and a scraper to remove undergrowth and moss.”


Proximity to several more prominent memorials to the dead of the important local Simpson family of Bradley Hall helped Richard orientate.

“I was able to cut back the nettles fairly easily to reveal this memorial stone (image 1) . Further hacking back of the undergrowth revealed two other graves Thelma King  (image 2) and Lucy Gibson (image 3) . The Lucy Gibson grave is now quite worn but, according to the work done in 1975, records that she died on 18th /10/1942 in her 66th year.
.A couple of yards further into the undergrowth I could see the edge of another grave (image 4) I hacked down the nettles and holly to see quite a well preserved grave. Eventually with a scraper and small screwdriver I cleaned it up a bit to how I have now left it (image 5) .

The Friends believe there is a project on the churchyard that would help people wishing to trace their family history. We’d like to:

  • Digitise the existing 1975 survey, and include post 1975 memorials to cremations to allow initial online searches.
  • Endeavour to make more graves in the churchyard accessible to visitors.
  • Restore key memorials where practicable.

Volunteers to participate in such a project would be very welcome (please contact Richard Taylor:              Tel No. 0191 4133942



In the meantime the Friends are happy to receive requests that we can respond to using the 1975 photocopies.

Sylvia Barker's 1975 graveyard survey

Sylvia Barker, enjoying the sun ready to welcome visitors to Holy Cross on Sunday afternoons last summer, carried out that 1975 graveyard survey with her late husband Jake.

Jake was a long serving Churchwarden and would recall his unpleasantly spooky twice-daily round of the adjoining former Rectory (Grade 2* listed) deterring vandals during the 7 long years while it lay vacant and at risk.

Sylvia remained a key member of the church choir until very recently.

We who enjoy Ryton's special character have to be grateful to stalwart conservationists like the Barkers.

The restoration of key memorials

The 'Last of The Summer Wine ' team of bellringers re-erecting the table tomb to the SW of the tower in February 2001 after it had been demolished by a 4WD joyriding around the churchyard during the night.

The Churchwardens have had to lock the church yard each evening since that destructive night.

L to R  Edric Buzzard, David Higdon, and Bill Dawson – at that time Bill was also Chair of the Friends of Holy Cross.