Alston parish church, dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury, dates back to at least 1154AD. Sitting on a promontory overlooking the meeting of the Nent and South Tyne rivers, the church occupies a strong and imposing location within the landscape, with main roads and river crossings within its gaze. Coupled with the market place with its cross just beyond the churchyard wall, this church is the medieval core around which Alston market town evolved.
Historic England lists buildings and features of historic and architectural interest and St Augustine’s Church itself is listed at grade 2, as are the Churchyard walls and gates.
Historic England describes the current church building as ‘a reflection of the wealth and ambition generated by the long-abandoned mining industry’.
In the tower are a carillon of 10 bells on which tunes ancient and modern (including David Bowie) are played by volunteer musicians. Click to watch a video of them being played.
The churchyard was closed to burials in 1869, and is now a corridor for wildlife: an island of mature tree canopy that connects natural habitats through the centre of the built up area.
Why St Augustine?
The dedication to St Augustine of Canterbury seems less apparent. A legend tells of how the saint cast out the fiends from nearby Fiend’s Fell with the holy Eucharist, so renaming the hill Cross Fell. Local historians feel it is more likely that the association with the Augustinian monks at Hexham Abbey is the true inspiration.