Today’s Object of the Week was born in a vast tropical swamp millions of years ago.

STANHOPE’S market place is overlooked by Stanhope Castle and the old church of St Thomas.

The pretty church with its short, subtle tower, is part Norman and part Early English 12th century.

A curious feature of the church is found in a gap in the churchyard wall – a 320 million year old fossilised tree stump.

According to a plaque on the churchyard wall it is a species called Sigillaria and grew in a tropical forest in the Carboniferous period and is an ancestor of modern clubmosses.

It was found in a quarry near Edmunbyers Cross in 1915 and was brought to Stanhope in pieces and reassembled in the churchyard in the 1960s.

Another fossil tree, which was found in the same quarry in 1914 was taken to the Hancock Museum – now called The Great North Museum: Hancock – in Newcastle.

Another tree went to Muggleswick, near Consett. Yet another fossil tree, which was discovered in later years by a bulldozer driver at Edmundbyers Cross, was taken to Durham University.

The story of the Stanhope stump goes back to the Carboniferous Period when the are we now know as the North Pennines lay almost on the equator, covered by rainforests.

For millions of years it was part of a vast, tropical swamp which contained some of the earliest large land plants..

The Stanhope stump is a relic of a huge primitive tree that grew in that Carboniferous forest.

When the tree died, sand from a river filled its rotten trunk and roots and then hardened into sandstone which now forms a perfect cast of the original tree. You can even see the impressions of the bark on the trunk.

The Norman church of St Thomas the Apostle, in which the fossil tree stands, is more than 800-years-old with evidence of an earlier Anglo-Saxon building.

The Grade 2* listed building has a well-preserved Roman altar, ancient fonts, beautiful woodwork and superb medieval glass.

Stanhope, itself is the ‘capital’ of Upper Weardale and its name means ‘stony valley’.

Like many towns in the North Pennine dales, Stanhope grew most significantly in the 19h century as a lead mining centre, but is unmistakably a dales town with stone houses lining its main road and market place.

Other features of the village include Stanhope Castle – in fact a house built in 1798 – the Durham Dales Centre and the popular Bonny Moorhen pub.

* Thanks to David Simpson of the England’s North East website – – for his help in compiling this feature.