Bernard Gilpin is one of the true icons of the history of the North-East of
He was born in Kentmere in what we now call the England Lake District, but earned his
fame as Rector of Houghton-le-Spring during 1558-1583.
Gilpin was born into a well-to-do family in 1517 and attended
where he became a student of religious doctrine. Prior to his
appointment at Houghton-le-Spring he moved through various posts and places
during what was, of course, a period of turbulent religious and political
manoeuvrings (the 1540s and 1550s). He even spent a spell on the continent
during the reign of Queen Mary. Oxford University
On his return to
he was invested with the archdeaconry of England by his
mother’s uncle, the Bishop of Durham (in 1556). Gilpin, though, had a history
of attacking clerical vices – a stance which brought him many enemies. Twice at
around this time he was openly attacked by his peers, but defended by the
Bishop. It was then that he was handed the attractive post at
Houghton-le-Spring. Attacked again thereafter he was summoned to Durham , but was
saved possible martyrdom by breaking his leg en route and the convenient death of Queen Mary. So off he toddled
back to the North-East. London
During his long tenure as Rector at Houghton-le-Spring he gained a reputation for great benevolence. The richness of his office enabled him to entertain the great and the good – as well as the poor. Every Sunday from Michaelmas to Easter he kept open house, providing dinner for all who came. He also aided in the education of the local children, including the building of a grammar school in the town.
Gilpin, though, gained his reputation proper by travelling widely across the region, from Northumberland to
Yorkshire and from to
Teesdale, where he spread the word of God and became the so-called ‘Apostle of
the North’. He was offered other posts, including the See of Carlisle, but
preferred to carry on the work he had started from his base in
In 1583, aged 66, and much weakened by a recent accident with an ox in Durham Market, Bernard Gilpin died, and was laid to rest in his church. His tomb still adorns the interior.
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