KILN PIT HILL is one of the most sinisterly atmospheric places in County Durham. Members of The Northern Echo’s Camera Club are drawn to it because its Gothic rooflines should be a filmset for a horror movie and because its massive mausoleum is unlike anything else in the country.

The Northern Echo: Above: St Andrew’s Church and Hopper Mausoleum at Kiln Pit Hill, near Shotley Bridge, by Martyn Dunbar
Left: The Hopper Mausoleum by Marion Charlton. Both photographers are members of The Northern Echo Camera Club

St Andrew’s Church and Hopper Mausoleum at Kiln Pit Hill, near Shotley Bridge, by Martyn Dunbar

A fortnight ago, we told about the grisly grave in Barnard Castle churchyard (Memories 534) which has a carving on one side of the young man inside the grave wearing his finest clothes in the prime of life while on the other side he is shown as he is today: bare bones of a skeleton while holding the scythe of the Grim Reaper.

The Northern Echo: Kiln Pit Hill by Helen Geurts

The Northern Echo: Haunting connections of county's spookiest spot

The before and after of George Hopper, as carved on his tomb in Barnard Castle churchyard

Billy Mollon writes to say how the two haunting sites are connected – and how he, too, was mysteriously drawn to Kiln Pit Hill to make this discovery.

“Years ago, I used to do a lot of cycling, and I was going to Hexham one Sunday morning on the A68 and I noticed what turned out to be a mausoleum on the top of a hill,” he says. “There was a public footpath up the field from the road and something told me to go up there and see what it was.

“Taking the risk of leaving my bike near the style, I had a quick walk up to it, and found out that it was the Hopper Mausoleum next to St Andrew’s Church.

“The following week, there was an article in The Northern Echo about this place I had never been to before. I kept the cutting because I thought it was a funny coincidence, and it says how the church had been closed for 20 years but a couple had got permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury to reopen it so that they could get married there.

“Much later, when I was working out my family history, I found out I was related to the Hoppers in the mausoleum. I’ve always thought it strange how I was drawn to this place of my ancestors.”

The Northern Echo: Kiln Pit Hill by MARION CHARLTON

The Hopper Mausoleum, by Marion Charlton

Kiln Pit Hill is 283 metres above sea level, with panoramic views across County Durham. It is a couple of miles west of Shotley Bridge, and close to the border with Northumberland.

The chapel at this remote spot has medieval beginnings, but nearly all that we see today is from the mid 18th Century and is the work of Humphrey Hopper, who had a thing about spooky stonework.

Humphrey was born in 1677 into a family who had been farming at Black Hedley, a few miles south of Kiln Pit Hill, for at least a century. When he was 16, Humphrey got married for the first time; when he was 19, he got married for the second time (his first wife is believed to have died in childbirth), and he inherited the land of his father and uncle.

His second wife was Jane Hodgson, of Alwent, near Staindrop. Through her Humphrey acquired land near Barnard Castle, which their son, George, was looking after when he died in 1725 aged 23. He is buried beneath the most remarkable tombstone in St Mary’s Church in Barney. On one side, he is shown fine and dandy in a blue coat and yellow breeches, and on the other he is a worm-worn skeleton.

The Northern Echo: George Hopper's tomb outside St Mary's Church, Barnard Castle. Picture: Johanna Ungemach

George Hopper's tomb at Barnard Castle church. Picture: Joanna Ungemach

The tomb is a warning to the living. As one of its legends says: “Death cuts down all, both Great and Small.”

Humphrey, though, prospered. He built himself a hall at Black Hedley, which he covered in crudely carved statues of fighting men. Then he built himself an entrance arch – the Greenhead Arch – which he covered with large fighting men, only one of which survives on a gate pier to Shotley Hall.

In 1746, Humphrey found a more public platform for his art. The chapel at kiln Pit Hill was falling down due to mining subsidence, so he rebuilt it, grievously annoying his neighbour over whose he land he carted the stone, allegedly destroying his crops.

In 1752, Humphrey’s beloved wife, Jane, died, so he erected his finest monument in her honour: the mausoleum, which had six statues in niches and four curious figures reclining on the roofline. Many of the statues have become weathered or been vandalised over time, although one survives which is apparently dedicated to Bishop John Hooper who was burnt at the stake in Gloucester in 1555 by Queen Mary.

The Northern Echo: Kiln Pit Hill by Jacqueline Truby Newby

Hopper Mausoleum at Kiln Pit Hill by Jacqueline Truby Newby

Two effigies survive, representing Humphrey and Jane, although, unlike any other effigies in the country, they are naked to the waist.

Humphrey himself died in 1760, leaving two of the most horrifically haunting memorials in Durham at either end of the county. What a great legacy!

The Northern Echo: Above: The Hopper Mausoleum by Jacqueline Truby Newby 
Right: A view of the church and mausoleum by Ian Maggiore
Left: George Hopper alive (top) and dead (bottom) depicted on his tomb

A view of the church and mausoleum by Ian Maggiore

HAVING been disused since the 1950s, in 1973 St Andrew’s Church at Kiln Pit Hill was taken into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It still suffers from mining subsidence and vandalism.

In 1988, as Billy Mollon’s cutting says, Gail Coates married Steven Carr at the church which was reopened for the occasion. The bridesmaid was Hanah, Gail’s dog.

The nightmarish nature of the overgrown churchyard is magnified by the mid 18th Century hearse house, and the 49 headstones, dating to 1699, which lean at distorted angles.

That of blacksmith John Hunter, who died in 1799, is regarded as a “must-see” and is a Grade II listed building in its own right. It is covered with carvings of his blacksmith’s tools, and its rear bears a poem:

My Anvil and Hammer lies declind

My Bellows have quite lost their wind

My Fires extinct my Forge decayd

My Vice is in the dust all laid

My Coals is spent my Iron gone

My Nails are drove my Work is done

My Mortal part lies nigh this stone

My Soul to Heaven I hope is gone.

A SMALL group of volunteers works with the Churches Conservation Trust to look after St Andrew’s and to arrange events, including an Easter service. The group’s website, which contains plenty of history, is