Annitsford - St John the Baptist

Annitsford, Cramlington, Northumberland NE23

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A remarkable interpretation of a French Rayonnant church in English architectural dress. The interior is tall and narrow with a handsome roof, culminating in a chancel with Belgian woodwork.

A mission was founded in Annitsford in 1863, the priest coming from Seghill. In 1866, a half-acre plot was purchased and a school/chapel building erected by Mr Foggin, builder of Newcastle, to the design of Archibald Dunn. Emmaline Shawe Storey of Arcot Hall Cramlington (now a golf club) became a Catholic in 1900 and in 1902 called on the priest at Annitsford, Fr Scott. She paid off the debt of £473 16s 4d on the school and gave him a cheque for £7000. ‘Take the field half a mile to the north of the village and build a church where the people can pray in peace and quiet’.

Fr Scott’s successor Fr Chapman (priest 1904-07) engaged a Newcastle architect and took him to Ostend in Belgium, as he is said to have wanted his church to be a replica of the cathedral, then newly rebuilt there. The name of the architect is given as J.C. Parxour in the list entry and by Pevsner, whereas Down your Aisles gives it as Mr Parkous; however it seems more likely that J. C. Parsons (cf St Oswald, Wrekenton, Gateshead 9, qv), was responsible.

The cathedral in Ostend, St Peter and St Paul, was built in 1896-1908 by Louis de la Censerie (1838-1909) of Bruges, after its predecessor burnt down. It is said to have been modelled on Cologne Cathedral, so is very large and ornate, with twin west towers and spires. But it has an apsidal east end and is very vertical inside (as might be expected of any French Gothic church). The connection is not obvious, but is it possible that Fr Chapman had been inspired by a visit to the incomplete church in Ostend?

There was already a small cemetery here but as the area could have been subject to mining subsidence, a concrete raft foundation was laid. The foundation stone was laid by Auxiliary Bishop Collins on 7 October 1905 and he opened and consecrated the church on 22 June 1906. The contractor was J. Ferguson of Newcastle but the furnishings are of Belgian oak and made by Belgian craftsmen.

In 1959, the original chairs with straw seats were replaced by Robsons of Newcastle for £900 (though a letter in the diocesan archive gives an original estimate of £1291). An architect, Mr Burke (presumably Robert Burke), is also mentioned in the letter.

Before he left the parish in 1992, Fr Tomaney created the present sanctuary platform with a free-standing wooden altar. He removed the altar rails and formed the lectern from the pulpit taken down from its original position mounted on the eastern column of the north arcade. 

The list description (below) gives an adequate account of the building, but makes no reference to the great height of the building and the narrowness of the nave/chancel space, both French concepts. The ‘ambulatory’ around the east end mentioned in the list entry is externally square and is actually formed of a series of separated sacristies and a chapel; it is not therefore a continuous aisle around the high altar as the word ambulatory suggests. It is better described as a single storey block containing sacristies that wraps around the polygonal apse, forming a square east end, with an axial east doorway with a bellcote over.

Other points:

  • The northeast and southeast clerestory windows of the apse are pointed traceried lancets; the ‘vesica’ shape is within the tracery (unlike the true vesica window of the west end)
  • The east bay of the south nave aisle also has a small porch and there is a transverse chapel to the south side of the chancel, possibly built as an organ chamber
  • There is a brick passage linking the church to the presbytery
  • A wooden Paschal candle appears to incorporate an old, possibly seventeenth century wood capital
  • The large plaster Stations of the Cross are signed Maurice vanPoulle, London
  • The only stained glass in the apse windows is reported to have come from the old chapel, but the coloured glass and decorative leading of the remaining windows is attractive
  • Although his memorial is a simple brass plaque, mention might also be made of the opera singer Owen Brannigan, OBE born in Annitsford in 1908 and buried here in 1973. 

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Roman Catholic Church, 1906 by Parxour. Snecked stone with flush ashlar bands and dressings; Welsh slate roof with red tile cresting. 6-bay aisled nave with south-west porch and north-west baptistery; 3-bay aisled chancel with canted apse within ambulatory. French Gothic style. Chamfered plinth, buttresses with stepped coping. Shouldered doorways to south porch, in projection to east and at east of ambulatory. Aisle and baptistery windows mostly of 2 shoulder- arched lights. Lofty west end shows 2 tall lancets with buttress between and vesica over; large moulded finial cross. Clerestorey of quatrefoiled circles, with cinquefoiled circle on east above ambulatory, flanked by pointed lights with cusped vesicas above. Nave/chancel division marked by octagonal pinnacles springing from aisles and clerestorey walls. Baptistery has steep pyramidal roof with wrought-iron finial cross; similar finial to apse. Bellcote with finial cross above east door of ambulatory.

Interior: Arcade arches narrow and steeply pointed, especially in chancel. High arch-braced timber roof on corbelled shafts; chancel arch is simply a more elaborate stone truss on triple shafts. Panelled sanctuary. Carved screens in chancel arcade. Tall carved reredos with 6 painted panels of saints and central figure of Christ in niche under pinnacle. Similar but smaller carved reredos in north Lady Chapel. Carved pulpit with figures of saints in pinnacled niches. Good wrought-iron baptistery rail.

The church is said to be modelled on Ostend Cathedral, which the architect and Father Chapman visited; it was built on a concrete raft to counteract mining subsidence. Both wood and craftsmen were brought over from Belgium.

Diocese: Hexham and Newcastle

Architect: J. C. Parsons of Newcastle (unconfirmed attribution)

Original Date: 1906

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II