Bernard Gilpin was born at Kentmere in Westmoreland, his ancestral home for 400 years. At the age of 16 years, in 1533,
he went to study at Queen’s College Oxford and was eventually elected a fellow of the College and later, of Christchurch. In 1552 he became Vicar of Norton, at the invitation of his uncle, Bishop Tunstall but resigned to travel and study on the continent. On his return he was made both Archdeacon of Durham and Rector of Easington, then Rector of Houghton. Here he stayed and refused preferment both to the Bishopric of Carlisle and the Provostship of Queen’s College, Oxford. It was his custom whilst at Houghton to preach in Northumberland in the Redesdale and Tynedale Valleys during the Christmas Holy days. He was reputed to have quelled a riot in Rothbury Church between two feuding families. At another church he is said to have preached against challenges, having found a Gauntlet hanging in the church. A horse thief is said to have returned Gilpin’s horses upon discovering the identity of the owner.
After preaching against corruption before Bishop Barnes of Durham, the Bishop exclaimed that Gilpin was better qualified to be Bishop than he himself. Bernard Gilpin spent a large proportion of his income feeding and educating the poor. He maintained at least six scholars every year at Oxford. Pupils attending his school came not only from the locality but also form Redesdale and Tynedale. In setting up his school he enlisted the help of John Heath of Kepier, who doubled the original endowment. The charter for Kepier School was finally granted in 1574. Bernard Gilpin and John Heath were appointed Governors of the Free Grammar School and Almshouses of Kepier.
Bernard Gilpin suffered much ill-health in his final years after being knocked down by an ox in Durham Market Place. He died on the 4th of March 1583 at the age of 66 years.
St Michael and All Angels Church
The magnificent St Michael and All Angels Church dates back to Norman times and contains the tomb of Bernard Gilpin. It stands just off The Broadway in the centre of Houghton and is the annual venue for our Christmas Carol Concert. Click on the crest to find out more about the church's fascinating history.
In the first two weeks of October the town of Houghton-le-Spring holds an ancient festival - Houghton Feast. Dating back to the 12th century, it was a dedication festival to the parish church of St Michael & All Angels.
The format of the festival has changed over the years and now involves a fairground, fireworks, lights, parade and the roasting of an ox (to commemorate the feeding of the poor by Rector Bernard Gilpin).
For more information on the Houghton Feast, click on the image below.