ONE of the most remarkable stories that Memories has covered in 2018 has been that of Edwin Boyle, the 22-year-old First World War parachute pioneer who died 100 years ago when he jumped out of a plane over London testing his own invention.

Edwin was born in Spennymoor and lived in the town until he was about 10. Even though he was a civilian, his name is on the war memorial in St Andrew’s Church in Tudhoe Grange.

But Edwin is not the only remarkable story to be found in this church. Martin Roberts emailed from West Auckland to draw attention to the astonishing altar – “a real joy” – that is to be found in the church’s Lady Chapel.

Bear in mind that St Andrew’s is a late 19th Century Anglican church with an austere Gothic exterior whereas the gleaming marble altar dates from the 17th Century and comes from Spain and so is probably Roman Catholic in origin.

So how did it get to Spenny from Spain?

St Andrew’s was built in 1883 in the middle of the chimneys and furnaces of the ironworks on land owned by the Weardale Coal & Iron Company.

The company had been formed in 1846 with Barings Bank, of London, as its principal shareholders. Five years later, apparently by coincidence, the Rt Rev Charles Thomas Baring became Bishop of Durham – so the company had a double reason to give the land to the church.

The bishop’s eldest son was Thomas Charles Baring – known as “TC” to his friends – and he was MP for Essex South and the City of London for 15 years. He played a prominent role in 1890 in rescuing the bank from collapse when it was over-exposed to risky investments in South America.

TC died in 1891, and in 1895 a chapel in his memory was added to the Spennymoor church – even though it is unclear how close a connection he had to the town. The centrepiece of the chapel was the altar, donated by his widow, that TC had somehow acquired from Spain.

It seems to have laid in pieces for some years in the ironworks, exposed to the weather. A sculptor from York had skilfully restored it so that The Northern Echo was able to report that it had “a beautiful-coloured Spanish marble”.

The history of the church, written in 1984 by Neville Baker, goes further, pointing out that the altar includes a tabernacle – a vessel which Catholics use to store the Holy Eucharist but which has no place in the Anglican tradition.

“This would suggest that originally the marble was designed for the private chapel of a noble Spanish Roman Catholic family probably sometime in the 17th Century,” says Mr Baker.

It would be magnificent if someone, after all this time, could explain from which part of Spain the altar originally came.