Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

A-Z of Jarrow by Paul Perry

In the Saxon word Gyrwe, long since corrupted into Jarrow, there is considerable historical as well as etymological significance. A translation loosely means marsh or fen, from which we may discern that Jarrow took its name from what we know as the 'slake', a body of water. It is probable this marshland covered a far larger area than it has done in more recent years. Twice it was used as a haven by the Romans who anchored their vessels at the mouth of the River Don, and by King Egfrid who sheltered the whole of his fleet, and afterwards the Viking longboats from two notorious invasions. The local history from these times is fragmentary, but what we do know is, the River Don, in ancient times was not the little waterway we know today, being large enough to accommodate the vessels of invaders. Jarrow also claims the honour of having been a former Roman station and village. This we can ascertain from the Roman inscriptions found during the rebuilding of the church in 1783, and the discovery of two square pavements of Roman stones. The station, allegedly built by Agricola who erected forts from the mouth of the Tyne to the Solway Firth in AD81. In AD681 King Egfrid gave to Abbott Benedict Biscop, a grant of land, upon which to build a monastery at Jarrow, and this was to commence the history of our town.

Dedication stone at St Paul's Church. (A-Z of Jarrow, Amberley Publishing)

The names carved on the stone dedicated to St Paul's church in AD685 and the king and priest whose names are recorded among them have been partially obliterated, over thirteen centuries. The words themselves may still be read on the stone located above the west arch of the tower. Much of the primitive structure of the church still survives, including the oldest example of stained glass in Europe, and is entitled to hold the honour of being one of the oldest buildings in the country. At the time of the churches' dedication when it, together with the monastery rose from the flat marshland, the winding River Don, then a crystal stream rippling past and opening into the swelling Tyne, must have been a matchless scene of tranquil solitude. Meanwhile growing up in the Abbey of St Peter at Wearmouth there was a child called Bede who had been devoted to the service of the Lord and was called by Him to greater things. Bede commenced his education at St Peter's and by the age of twelve was installed with the brothers at the monastery at Jarrow. The child whose whole life was spent within the cloisters and church at Jarrow, grew up to be a man of great knowledge, humility and piety, saint, scholar and a man of science. In his cell was the lamp of English learning which attracted scholars from all parts of England and Europe. Bede's own works are voluminous and varied, mastering all that was known to man. The forty five works he left behind, apart from the various theological pieces included music, philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic and medicine. He was a whole encyclopaedia of knowledge. He was a skilled musician, he wrote and spoke Latin, and possessed the rare accomplishments of Greek and Hebrew, and an advocate of the English tongue, then in its infancy. He was the first English historian and his ' Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation' rapidly spread his reputation throughout Christian Europe.

Bede's Well at Monkton. (A-Z of Jarrow, Amberley Publishing)

From this little insignificant monastery on the edge of Christian civilisation, Bede dominated the intellectual brains of Europe for four centuries. His final work, the translation into English 'The Gospel of St John'. This was carried out under painful suffering and ailing health. This great man who toiled for the benefit of the English nation and his fellow brethren died from asthma on 26 May AD735, aged 62. He was buried in a porch at the church he cherished so dearly. Pilgrims flocked from all parts of England and Europe to pay homage at the tomb of the 'Father of English Learning'. Today, Bede's relics remain at Durham cathedral in a sepulchre befitting a man of such great wisdom and knowledge, who gained respect throughout the literary world.

The names of the abbots of Jarrow, or Donmouth as it was often referred to, are recorded in the book, 'Lives of the Abbots of Jarrow', written after the monastery was plundered in Danish invasions, when the twin monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow were looted, Jarrow so severely it had to be abandoned and lay desolate for some 150 years. The Saxon Chronicle said of the invasions, the heathens ravaged amongst the Northumbrians and pillaged Ecgferths monastery at Donmouth, one of their leaders was slain, and some of their vessels wrecked by a great storm, resulting in severe loss of life. In the eleventh century, the Jarrow monastery was occupied by just a few brothers, when three monks from Durham, having fled from an army of William the Conqueror, sought shelter for themselves and the body of St Cuthbert. Aldwine, Ealfwin and Kinfrid were sent by William Walcher, Bishop of Durham in 1075, to restore the monastery but this was unsuccessful. As the centuries passed, further attempts were made to restore the crumbling cloisters, but by this time had suffered irreparable damage. Its Roman and Saxon ruins have lain undisturbed for centuries.

Paul Perry's new book A-Z of Jarrow is available for purchase now.