Berwick-upon-Tweed - Our Lady and St Curthbert

Ravensdowne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland TD15

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An architecturally modest church externally, which demonstrates the history of Roman Catholicism in Berwick by being hidden away from the street in 1829 and almost doubled in size and embellished in the 1880s. The wooden tracery of the nave windows is a relatively rare survival and the stonework of the apse and the quirky 1925 Sacred Heart Chapel are of a high quality.

It seems that there were fewer resident Catholics in Berwick in the eighteenth century than there were in the surrounding rural area. However, by 1749 Mass was being said in various places by Jesuit priests from Berrington and Haggerston. In November 1799, a property was bought in a yard off Church Street by the Haggerston family and two French priests were resident from 1799-1810 saying Mass in a chapel attached to the house. This was used as a school after the present church was built in 1829, and then replaced in 1884 by St Cuthbert’s School, now the parish centre.

Benedictine priests then served Berwick and one of these, Fr William Birdsall, again with financial help from the Haggerston family, bought the Ravensdowne land. He built the nave of the present church to seat 300 people in 1829; it opened on 25 June 1829. James Grieve of Ord House presented a large oil painting of the Agony on the Garden in 1852, having been given it by King Charles X of France and Navarre. It was used as an altarpiece which suggests a new sanctuary was created at this date. The main lights of the present east window have stained glass of an earlier style than the other apse windows which could be re-used from a c.1850 window.

The present stone apsidal chancel was built around 1880 as the north window was erected in 1881; it has a timber chancel arch. It is likely that the two eastern bays of the nave were added at this time and from the stylistic similarities e.g. the wood wall tracery, the nave was given its diamond panelled wooden ceiling with the traceried wall decoration on the north side at the same time. Somewhat improbably, it incorporates the oil painting from the altarpiece. A redecoration of the church is documented in 1886.The panelled front of the west gallery appears to be of about the same date, but it rests on chamfered wooden posts that are some distance in front of the thin iron posts at mid point, suggesting that the 1829 church had a narrow west gallery. It may have been accessed from what is now a cupboard in the north wall under the gallery. The present staircase access beyond the west end of the 1829 church is also late nineteenth century and the c.1870 OS map shows the church then to be totally separate from the presbytery, suggesting this link building was built in the 1880s too.

The stone front entrance archway from the street was built between no. 64 (the presbytery) and no. 60 Ravensdowne in 1887. The Stations of the Cross were introduced to the nave in 1910.

A small barrel vaulted side chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was erected off the south east corner of the nave in 1925, the displaced and shortened south nave window becoming its west window. A small window with distinctly 1925 tracery is set into the original rere-arch above the chapel entrance. The chapel was built by the Liddell-Grainger family in memory of Alice Paton (née Liddell-Grainger), d.1917 and contains a large alabaster statue of Christ and a recess in the middle of the south wall that may have contained water? Its quirky detailing suggests a thoughtful architect.

A 1988 re-ordering carpeted the sanctuary platform and the new altar, lectern and tabernacle re-used elements from the late nineteenth century fittings.

The list description is an adequate description but requires the following corrections and additions:

  • The description calls the southeast sacristy building a ‘porch’. It is a former free standing stable, attached to the church when the nave was extended in the 1880s and the apse added. The crenellated south west porch is probably an early twentieth century addition, but the two-storey link to the presbytery behind it is likely to be of the 1880s
  • Line 4 should therefore read ‘Simple rectangular plan with canted east end, south east sacristy and 1925 chapel and south west porch and west link to the presbytery
  • Line 6, the apse windows have ‘c1320 style Kentish- cusp’ (not Geometric) tracery
  • The small window over the 1925 chapel is not ‘cross-mullioned’
  • Lines 9-11 should read ‘....wooden Y- tracery.  The projecting sacristy has a southwest doorway and hay loft door above with a three-light pointed arch tracery window like the apse to the left. This was displaced from the south nave wall when the Sacred Heart Chapel was built at the junction of the sacristy with the nave. Small window with curving cruciform tracery above the chapel roof then a three-light pointed arch window with tracery like the apse. The east wall of the sacristy has two twelve pane sash windows and a later flat roofed eastward extension with small east window.’
  • Line 16 ‘Gothic’ not ‘Gothick’ and the tracery is primary so delete ‘re-sited original screen or arcade’
  • Line 18 ‘Raised chancel has marble altar and lectern both incorporating nineteenth century elements
  • To the INTERIOR should be added; ‘South east nave Sacred Heart memorial chapel added in 1925, with tripartite stone entry arch leading to brick barrel vaulted chapel with stone arcading and west window re-sited from the south nave wall’.

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Roman Catholic church. 1829, altered and extended c1880. Dressed stone with ashlar dressings and slate roof with ornate terracotta ridge tiles, 2 square louvred ventilators and an iron cross finial. Simple rectangular plan with canted east end and small porch to south. Gothick style original building with Gothic Revival style additions. Blind west and north walls build against adjoining buildings. Canted east end has three 3-light, pointed arch, Geometrical tracery windows with continuous cill band. South wall has a single pointed arched glazing bar sash with Gothick glazing, then 3 similar pointed arch windows with wooden y- tracery , beyond a small cross mullion window above the porch, then a 3-light pointed arch Geometrical tracery window and to the east a narrow lancet. The projecting porch has a southwest doorway and to south a short 3-light pointed arch Geometrical tracery window.

 

INTERIOR has moulded and pointed chancel arch with triple shaft responds and traceried wooden panels in the spandrels. Gilded and painted wooden rood suspended from the chancel arch. Boarded wooden roofs with diamond pattern panelling to nave and built-in former altarpiece painting (associated with the exile of King Charles X of France from 1830) to chancel. Wooden Gothick tracery arches applied to north and east walls (re-sited screen or arcade). Wooden west gallery with Gothic panel front. Wooden pews and Minton tile floor. Raised chancel has marble altar and lectern plus ornate dado panelling. This is an important example of the plain and simple type of church built by Catholics immediately after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. It was later extended and redecorated in the Gothic Revival Style.

Diocese: Hexham and Newcastle

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1829

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: c.1880

Listed Grade: Grade II