EXACTLY 150 years ago last week, architect James Pigott Pritchett placed an advert on the front page of our sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, inviting masons to tender to complete the rebuilding of Yafforth church to the west of Northallerton.

The Northern Echo:

Yafforth had had a church since 1208, but it is not the oldest item in the village – nearby is a enigmatic grassy mound which the local landowner heaped up during the troubled reign of King Stephen in the middle of 12th Century and built a timber castle on top. With a moat running round him, he felt safe in his mound while keeping watch as the high road from Northallerton to Catterick and Richmond forded the River Wiske in front of him.

His castle, though, had tumbled down by the time church was built.

The church was nearly 700 years old when Mr Pritchett was called in to restore it, and he threw himself into the project so enthusiastically that he rebuilt it almost entirely – only one small window survives from its earliest days.

Pritchett was one of the North-East’s leading ecclesiastical architects. During his career, he built 28 nonconformist chapels and 25 Anglican churches and he restored another 20. Perhaps his most dramatic rebuild was St Nicholas’ Church at the foot of Durham Market Place in 1854, which the Illustrated London News described as “the most beautiful specimen of church architecture in the north of England”.

Another of his rebuilds was Hurworth, which he oversaw in 1871 - the year that he was building St Laurence’s Church at Middleton St George.

St Laurence’s is now condemned and languishes in dereliction behind safety fencing, as does another of Pritchett’s best projects: the teacher training college in Vane Terrace, Darlington, which closed as the Arts Centre a decade ago.

Yafforth’s rebuild has fared much better. It was reconsecrated on August 11, 1870, and today it sits in an intriguing village. Behind the church is the grassy mound known as Howe Hill and to the side of it is the Old Hall, with diamonds in its brickwork, from 1614.

The Northern Echo:

Inbetween the church and the hall is a field with a grass-topped stone vault – we’d love to know what this is. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk if you can shed any light on it.