Bellingham - St Oswald

Bellingham, Hexham, Northumberland NE48

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The church dates from 1839, the Catholic mission from 1794. The church is a lancet Gothic design by Ignatius Bonomi and is a valuable ‘full-stop’ to the village settlement, taking full advantage of its corner site and forming a group with the presbytery and school. The interest is primarily external, the interior plain and simple. 

From at least the early eighteenth century, Benedictines served the Catholics of a wide area around Bellingham from Hesleyside Hall, about two miles west of the village and  home of the Charlton family since the Middle Ages; or Tone Hall about five miles east. The mission is documented as being founded in 1794 and a chapel was created but abandoned by 1808. The last Benedictine chaplain left Hesleyside Hall in 1833 and a priest only came to live in Bellingham after the church and presbytery were built in 1839. The £1250 cost was mainly funded by the Charlton family but £300 was raised from public subscription by the first priest, Fr Brown. It was opened and blessed by Bishop Briggs on 26 June 1839, but not consecrated until 10 May 1950. The church was built to the designs of Ignatius Bonomi, architect of Durham and is one of six Catholic churches attributed to him - the grandest being St Paulinus at Brough Park, North Yorkshire. He was a distant relative of the Charlton family and worked at Hesleyside in 1847.

The school (with its house, now St Oswald’s Cottage?) was opened in 1849, funded by Francis Charlton, the then county surveyor.

In 1869, Bonomi’s bellcote sited over the east gable was removed and the present larger west gable bellcote erected to the designs of A. M. Dunn. A report of an undated excursion to the area in the Northern Catholic History Magazine states ‘enlarged in 1869’ without further explanation or reference to Dunn’s work

In 1981 Fr James Costello reordered the sanctuary to designs by David Brown and the altar was consecrated by Bishop Lindsay on 26 January 1982.

The church has a reversed geographical orientation but in this report conventional liturgical points are used. The high altar is therefore described as being at the east end, whereas it is geographically to the west.

The list entry (below) is brief, and does not describe the interior. It has confused orientations, misnames the memorial sculptor and needs to credit A. M. Dunn with the 1869 bellcote.

This simple rectangle building of coursed local stone roofed in blue slates is in the Early English or lancet Gothic style, of three bays externally but divided into six bays internally by the roof trusses. A southwest gabled porch contains a simple memorial tablet of 1841 signed G. Green Newcastle (not John Green as in Pevsner and the list description) and the arms of Pope Gregory XVI are over the door. Sacristies link to the large presbytery on the northeast corner.

The east and west facades are formed of three staggered lancets, with small glazed trefoils above the outer lancets lighting the roof space. The west end bellcote by A.M. Dunn is a very assured piece of 1869, corbelled out and rising to a high gable. The single bell was cast by Taylors of Loughborough. The south wall towards the road is blank, but the north wall has two paired lancet windows separated by a thin buttress.

Internally, the collar tie roof is plastered to form a three sided ceiling with an exposed purlin to each side. The trusses rise from painted stone corbels with stencilled decoration; bizarrely, two trusses rise from corbels in the thin wall separating the north side lancets.

The eastern lancets are linked with arches, probably of timber applied when the lower half of the central lancet of the east wall was infilled with plasterboard, presumably in 1981. The altar brought forward from the east wall has been widened so that the right half of the stone is new but well matched to the old (which must be later then 1839). The supporting marble shafts are re-used (they match the reredos) but the sides and back of the altar are of 1981. The scars of lost wall panelling suggest that these pews are not original and their style is late Victorian. The fourteen Stations ‘were erected September 9 MCM in memory of Rev. John George Flint by his faithful housekeeper Margaret Swallow’.

There are a number of modest Charlton memorial tablets, but the family members are mainly buried elsewhere. 

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Roman Catholic Church. 1839 by Ignatius Bonomi. Dressed stone and Welsh slate roof. Nave and chancel in one and east bellcote. 3 bays with, on south side, 2 sets of paired lancets under dripstones and a gabled porch with foliated cross finial. North wall is blank. East end has 3 stepped lancets under continuous dripstone, 2 trefoil windows above side lights and fanciful bellcote supported on moulded corbels; gable has a roundel with a pierced trefoil, crocketed pinnacles and a foliated cross finial. Monument by John Green in south porch. Plain interior.

Diocese: Hexham and Newcastle

Architect: Ignatius Bonomi

Original Date: 1839

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II