Birdhopecraig Chapel

Carolyn to add her photographs….

The following are pages from the United Reformed Church Northern Synod’s website that are no longer available on-line.

The name above the door of the  chapel is ‘Birdhope Craig Scotch Church’

The article gives a background to the Anderson and Wanless family histories. We know that the Wanless family moved from Scotland but do not know where the Andersons had lived before they appeared at Chennel Mill.  One story is that the local landowner was a Catholic and as he sympathised with persecuted Presbyterians he allowed families like the Andersons to move onto his land.

Matthew and his family who went to Ireland attended the Hollymount Presbyterian church where the daughters were married.

The chapel has been converted into self-catering holiday accommodation.


Birdhopecraig  Church in Redesdale closed on November 6th [2009]. This is an abridged account of the history of the church given by Mrs Evelyn Anderson at the closing service.

At that service the moderator, Peter Poulter, offered prayer, the minister, Pamela Ward, gave the sermon, and a letter from the Vicar of Otterburn was read out. All present shared in Holy Communion, and after the service gathered for a traditional Birdhopecraig tea. In January there is to be a formal service of welcome given by the Anglican congregation in Otterburn to the Birdhopecraig people who intend to worship regularly with them.

Birdhopecraig is probably the oldest Nonconformist congregation in Northumberland. Its roots go back to the reign of Charles II in the 17th century when Presbyterian ministers in Scotland opposed to the introduction of bishops fled across the Border to escape persecution. Some took refuge in the Rede Valley where they began preaching to isolated farming communities. To avoid pursuit and arrest their services were held secretly, at remote open-air meeting places known as ‘Kirks’ – Chattlehope and Deadwood near Catcleugh, the Huel near Rochester and Peden Hill near Otterburn.

The accession of William III in 1688 brought religious toleration, and by 1728 a proper meeting house was established on Birdhopecraig. But the site was so exposed that eventually the ravages of weather made the building uninhabitable for public worship.
In 1826 a new church and manse with outbuildings and a garden were provided here, at Sillsburnfoot. The subscriptions were raised by the then minister the Revd Thomas Rope. Shortly after, following some internal disagreements, several members left and in 1833; founded their own Presbyterian Church in Otterburn. This closed in 1988 and the congregation elected to return to Birdhopecraig. In the meantime, a more momentous event had occurred in 1972, when Presbyterians and Congregationalists came together to establish the United Reformed Church. The Reverend James Schofield, whose first ministry was at Birdhopecraig and Otterburn, was the first United Reformed Minister to be inducted in the country.

Birdhopecraig has been well served by a number of its ministers. Two of the early ministers Joseph Tait (died 1720) and John Chisholm (died 1768) were buried at Byrness long before the Church of St Francis was built. They were joined by Thomas Hope in 1827. Others continued their ministry in foreign lands.

Apart from Thomas Hope, one of the most noteworthy ministers was the Revd Thomas Newlands. The son of a Banffshire farmer, Thomas Newlands was ordained at Birdhopecraig in 1875 and remained there as minister until he retired in 1931 at the age of 89. A man of many talents, he was reputed to understand twenty languages and could read the Bible in twelve of them. He even taught himself hieroglyphics so that he could follow the excavation of Tutankhamen. During the building of the Catcleugh Reservoir he preached to the workforce and their families in the ark and, as a qualified doctor he also looked after their physical well-being. When the army came to Redesdale he became chaplain to the troops.

He could play the fiddle with great vigour and skill. There is a tale that he was visiting a shepherd who had taken to his bed in the belief that he would never get up again. Mr Newlands brought out his fiddle and played so energetically that the shepherd leapt out of bed and went back to his flock the next day. He was a very caring man and regularly visited his scattered congregation using a pony until he was 70, and then a bicycle. He was known as the ‘auld herd’’ and was held in great affection by all the folk in Redesdale.

During the 19th century, many relatives and friends of the congregation emigrated to the colonies, especially to Canada. Lengthy messages from home exhorted them to keep faith and be God’s instruments in building ‘a pure church’ in that part of his earth. Despite this loss of some of the younger members, there were still many who remained to attend Birdhopecraig. In 1837 280 communicants were recorded, in The Revd. Newland’s day 231. By 2000 this had fallen to 40, since when the number of members has steadily decreased with only one new member joining in later years and only four children coming occasionally. Birdhopecraig joined the Pastorate of Thropton and Rothbury, under the ministry of John Salsbury, in 1992.

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