Bishop Auckland - St Wilfrid

Hexham Street, Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham DL14

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A stone-built Gothic church from the early days of the resurgence of Catholic church-building in the 1840s, with later nineteenth century additions, notably of 1890. It is fairly conventional architecturally but has a wide and impressive interior space. The church and its linked Gothic presbytery of 1867 make a positive contribution to the Bishop Auckland Conservation Area. 

There appear to be records of a room being rented for Catholic worship in 1750-51 and references to Jesuit priests being in the town until about 1800. But then, until the 1840s, the nearest place for Catholic worship was Croxdale, some eight miles distant. The first regular services were held in the assembly room of the Shepherd’s Inn in Fore Bondgate in 1840. The following year another room in Peacock’s Yard, High Bondgate was made available. As the Catholic population increased, fuelled by the arrival of Irish workers seeking employment in the coal mines, permanent provision was made with the building of a church in the north-western part of the town overlooking the River Wear. The church was built from designs by Thomas Gibson of Newcastle, and opened on 13 October 1846. The cost was approximately £1000.

In 1857 the church was enlarged by forty feet to the west, so as to accommodate a further 200 people. The gallery was reconstructed and (according to Morris/Gooch) a south porch added. The architect for these additions has not been established, but they are seamless in character and it is possible that Gibson was recalled to design them. A school was built in 1861 and a presbytery followed in 1867 (according to the parish histories) or 1869 (Morris/Gooch). In 1879 an infants’ school was erected. Dunn, Hansom & Dunn carried out a major restoration in 1890, when the walls were raised by two feet, a new roof and additional porch built, along with a new sanctuary arch, heightening of the sanctuary walls and extension of the sanctuary four feet into the nave. New altar rails, seating, Stations of the Cross and a pulpit were provided. The church was reordered c.1970. 

Built of coursed, roughly dressed local stone under a modern (artificial) slate roof. The church consists of an unaisled nave, a lower, two-bay sanctuary, sacristy (south), and western porch. It is designed in an Early English Gothic manner, mostly with single lancet windows (but also with a few Y-tracery lights).  Inside, the walls are plastered and whitened: they also have a tongue-and-grooved dado. There is a large chancel arch, dating from 1890, with a moulded head. The nave roof is steeply pitched and has slight, arch-braced trusses, with scissor-bracing near the apex: in the sanctuary the roof has scissor-bracing to its central truss. Either side of the sanctuary arch is a crocketted stone niche. At the west end is a deep gallery which stands on two iron columns at the front and with timber supports halfway back.

Fixtures and fittings:

  • Stained glass: there is an extensive display with all windows being glazed with figures of saints. The quality is variable.
  • Stations of the Cross: well executed Stations on copper panels, 1890.
  • Seating: conventional but well-made square-ended benches of pitch pine, 1890.
  • Altar: stone altar against the east wall with a carved front (Agnus Dei in the centre).

Diocese: Hexham and Newcastle

Original Date: 1846

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1857; 1890

Listed Grade: Not listed