by Jacquie (Hedley) Emerson,
David Goodacre, Vicar of Ovingham, states in his book Offa's Church: St. Mary the Virgin, Ovingham, " The Church has been notable for its lay people, more than for its clergy, which is as it should be." One of those notables was Thomas Bewick of Cherryburn, a famous wood engraver of the 18th century, noted especially for his illustrations of British birds. He was baptized at Ovingham in 1753 and attended the church school in the old vicarage, started about 1750. He is buried in the Ovingham cemetery with the rest of his family.
The Blackett family of Durham settled in Wylam during the 17th century and rose to prominence in industry and politics. They introduced innovative ideas into the operation of the Wylam coal pit, paving the way for the development of the railways. Many Blackett family members are buried in the chancel of the Ovingham church.
The owners of Wylam Colliery wanted to develop a steam locomotive as a cheaper means than horses for taking coal from the colliery. About 1813 experiments by colliery manager William Hedley (1779-1843) and blacksmith Timothy Hackworth resulted in the construction of the first practical steam locomotives, "Puffing Billy" and "Wylam Dilly". They were used by the mines for fifty years to haul coal on the Wylam wagonway from the mine to riverside loading wharves. Timothy Hackworth was baptized and married in Ovingham church.
George Stephenson (1781-1848) was also baptized at Ovingham. He was an acquaintance of William Hedley, and in 1829 his locomotive, the "Rocket," bested competitors in a distance and speed contest and was subsequently used on the Liverpool-Manchester railroad. He and his son Robert went on to play a vital role in the development of of the British railways.
Robert Smith Surtees (1804-1864), an English novelist known for his
stories of hunting life, like Thomas Bewick, attended Ovingham church
which continued to operate until 1963. At that time the Ovingham
church school was replaced by the First School which remains a Church
England controlled school with close ties to its parish church.
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