By A. J. FRAIN Some interesting facts regarding the history of the Faith around Hardwick, co. Durham, may be recalled following the announcement in Tyneside edition of the Catholic Herald last week that a new church is to spring up shortly in the parish of Hardwick.
The present school-chapel is just across the road from Hardwick Hall, an ancient manor house which formed part of the estate of the Bishopric of Durham in the 12th century. The family of Maire, who acquired Hardwick Hall in 1558, always retained the Faith and there is every reason to believe that Mass was celebrated at the manor right through the penal days.
In one of its rooms can still be seen a fireplace at the back of which a sliding panel gives access to a priest's " hiding hole." In the grounds outside almost hidden by bushes is a rock chapel-a cave containing an old altar and a credence table hewn from the rock.
Tradition has it that a secret tunnel ran from the hall to the nearby seashore to enable priests to escape when hard-pressed. Investigation of this story, however, has been unsuccessful.
When in 1825 the Maires were compelled to sell Hardwick Hall and it fell into Protestant hands, the light of Faith threatened to die out altogether in South East Durham. The Reverend Thomas Augustine Slater, a young priest who had been chaplain to the Maires since 1823 (he was their first secular one, all the previous chaplains at Hardwick having been Jesuits) sought means of keeping it alive. With the aid of his former patrons and after several rebuffs he secured a plot of 11 acres of land adjoining the main Stockton to Sunderland road at Castle Eden, some four miles from Hardwick, whereon to build a church. It is on record that the land was purchased from the Duke of Cleveland for £50.
In founding the mission of Hutton Henry (now known as Hutton House) Father (afterwards Canon) Slater was helped by his mother, Mary Lucy Slater.
Catholic Directory's Note
Father Slater celebrated the first Mass in his new church on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, 1825, and it was then the only Catholic place of worship between Wear and Tees. A Catholic Directory for 1826 draws the attention of visitors to the " watering places " of Hartlepool and Seaton to its existence.
The same directory gives particulars of only eight other Catholic churches in the County of Durham (there are now well over 100), while baptismal registers still preserved at Hutton House show that children were brought there to be baptised from places as far apart as Seaham and Stockton.
The mission of SS. Peter and Paul's, Hutton House (of which Fr. Slater remained pastor for over 50 years), cele brated its centenary in 1925. About the same time St. Joseph's, Hardwick, the latest but probably not the last of its many offshoots, became a separate parish. The progress of the new mission since then is eloquent testimony to the continued growth of the Faith in S.E. Durham.