St Martin's Church was built in 1878 to replace an earlier one on the same site, which had been erected in 1789. Prior to that the Parish Church had been on the site of a Roman fort a mile and a half away to the north west, beside the River Irthing. The restored remains of the Old Church are also worth a visit; the keys are available at the adjacent farm.
The present church is a splendid example of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. This is the only church built by the architect Philip Webb and is adorned by an exquisite set of stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by William Morris.
Webb intended the structure to reflect the history of this ancient border town; hence the church's fortress-like appearance and battlemented parapets. But at the same time the church was to blend in with the surrounding houses. Note the cottage-like appearance of the vestry at the north-east corner of the church. It is widely spacious with an immediate feeling of symmetry, but a glance at the roof structures over the North and South aisles reveal such feeling of symmetry to be false.
The involvement of such prestigious craftsmen to work on a church in a remote corner of England was due to the keen interest and kind patronage of the Howard family at nearby Naworth Castle, particularly Charles and his son George, who later became the ninth Earl of Carlisle.
George Howard was an able artist and friend of the Pre-Raphaelites, and a keen patron of Philip Webb, who had built two houses for the Naworth Castle Estate. George worked in close collaboration with Henry Whitehead the then vicar and their drive and energy saw the work through to its completion. The church was consecrated on 11 November 1878. Map reference: NY 529610