Thieves steal historic helmet from church

05 September 2014

ST AIDAN'S, BAMBURGH

THE Vicar of Bamburgh and Ellingham, Canon Brian Hurst, has vowed to keep his church open despite a raid in which thieves did £5000-worth of damage to a reredos, and stole a historic piece of armour.

The intruders climbed 20 feet up a stone screen by the Victorian designer William Searle Hicks to steal a 17th-century helmet on display at St Aidan's, Bamburgh, in Northumberland.

Canon Hurst said this week: "We are absolutely determined to keep the church open. We work on the basis that so many people pass through and, generally speaking, things don't 'walk'. This has been the exception to prove the rule.

"Ecclesiastical Insurance say an unlocked church is a safer church, but we will review security."

The church, which dates from the 12th century, stands on the site of the first church built, in AD 635, by St Aidan, who brought Christianity to Northumbria. His shrine in the church, and a monument to the Victorian heroine Grace Darling, who lived in the village, attract hundreds of visitors.

"Part of my surprise about this is that we work on the principle of self-policing," Canon Hurst said. "At this time of year - from Easter to the end of October - you will always find someone in church. Somebody has been very bold to do this, or has timed it perfectly at a quiet part of the day.

"We are pretty determined that the place is there for people to come and say their prayers, and it is part of the heritage of Northumberland."

The helmet, in the "lobster-pot" style favoured by Cromwell's Roundhead soldiers, and a breastplate and pair of gauntlets, also on show in the church (above), once belonged to Ferdinando Foster, whose family controlled Bamburgh for several generations. He was said to be a larger-than-life character who died in a street brawl in Newcastle in 1701. The helmet is valued at about £6000.

The theft is believed to have happened between 26 April and 12 July. "It's rather embarrassing that we can't say exactly when," Canon Hurst said. "I am in the church twice a day, but it is up high; you do have to consciously raise your head to see it, and you take it for granted, because it's always been there."

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