Blackhill - Our Blessed Lady Immaculate

St Mary’s Street, Blackhill, Consett DH8

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A large Gothic Revival church and the earliest church by A.M. Dunn, a prominent Catholic architect of the North East. The main decorative features are the paintings on the chancel arch and on the chancel ceiling (both 1860s). The church also has some original stained glass and statues by Mayer of Munich. The tall bell tower, whose upper stages were a later addition to the church, is a local landmark.

In 1841, the Derwent Iron Company (from 1864 Consett Iron Company) was established, the ironworks and subsidiaries of which were the major employers in the area until their closure in 1980. Many of the workers in the 1840s and 1850s came from Ireland, escaping the Potato Famine. The mission at Blackhill was established in 1854 when Fr Kearney of Brooms bought three roods of copyhold land and a cottage in the township of Benfieldside for £480. (The mission was originally called Our Lady Immaculate, Shotley Bridge, and later Benfieldside.) The foundation stone for a church was laid by Bishop Hogarth on 24 August 1854. However, the unfinished building by the architects Weightman, Hadfield & Goldie of Sheffield was destroyed in a storm on 7 February 1856. (Only a small part survived which was apparently incorporated into the sacristy of the new church.) A new church was started immediately, this time from designs by the young architect Archibald Matthias Dunn (1832-1917) of Newcastle, this being his first church commission. The builders were Gibson & Stewart and Wait & Howe. The church was opened and blessed by Bishop Hogarth on 24 July 1857, with Cardinal Wiseman giving the sermon. The church then included an aisled nave, a porch, the apsidal chancel, the sacristy, a Lady Chapel in the base of the tower, and the lower two stages of the tower.

In the 1860s, the sanctuary roof and the chancel arch were decorated respectively with wall painting and oil on canvas paintings of largely Marian subjects. In 1862, St Mary’s school was built by John Finn of Consett adjacent to the church. (The building was sold in the late 1990s.) In 1864, the presbytery was built. The Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle moved in 1869 into the former presbytery which in 1871 was enlarged by A. Dunn and E.J. Hansom. The upper stages of the tower and the spire were built later (in 1872 according to the list description, in 1884 according to the parish history of 2007). A peal of six bells was blessed by Bishop Bewick on 20 January 1884. (The Buildings of England entry describes the church as ‘disappointing after [the] display’ of the ‘swagger’ tower.)

In 1897, Dunn & Hansom constructed a pitch pine gallery over the main entrance to accommodate the organ, which previously was housed in a chamber under the belfry. In 1901 the church was restored at a cost of about £1,000. In 1906 the altar rails were blessed. In 1919, the war memorial was erected outside the church. In 1930 the font was presented to the parish by the Franciscan Tertiaries. In the early 1930s, unemployed parishioners helped to prepare the church for its consecration on 11 July 1934 by Bishop Thorman: they replaced the church floor, repointed the stonework and fitted electric lights. In 1957, the sanctuary was extended and the Lady Altar replaced. After the Second Vatican Council, a plain forward altar was installed. In 1986, the church was reordered by the architect Jack Lynn with the contractors J. & W. Lowry. A new altar was installed, the altar rails removed, the font moved to the east and the pews restored. The church was reopened by Bishop Swindlehurst on 11 December 1986. In 1988, a new organ was bought from St Anne’s Convent, Summerhill Close, Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1997, the war memorial was repaired and the names of those parishioners added who had died in the Second World War.

The church is facing north. The following remarks use the liturgical orientation (as does the list description).

The church is described in the list entry (see below), which requires a few corrections and updates.

  • The date of the church by A.M. Dunn is 1856-57. The list description gives the year of the foundation stone laying in 1854 which, however, was for a different building by a different architect.
  • Exterior: There are five clerestory windows on the south side and six on the north.
  • Interior: The ‘dim pictorial panel’ on the chancel arch has been cleaned and depicts Our Lady Immaculate flanked by four angels. The paintings on the chancel ceiling depict various saints and Marian scenes. The former organ chamber at the southeast is now boarded up but the timber gallery front remains in situ.
  • Furnishings: The reredos appears to have been modified, leaving only a tall, pinnacled canopy over the tabernacle. The walls of the sanctuary are panelled in timber with blind tracery. The communion rails have been removed, as have the enamel pew end plaques noted in the list entry. The timber lectern is of a similar design as the forward altar; both probably date from the 1986 reordering. The octagonal stone font is placed at the northeast. A large copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper by Mr Horn hangs on the north side of the sanctuary. The Lady Chapel at the southeast has timber rails and an early-twentieth-century timber altar with reredos and a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Stations are unframed reliefs. Statues include a pieta and a Sacred Heart by Mayer & Co of Munich.
  • Stained glass:  The west window has small roundels of religious symbols such as the Pelican and the Agnus Dei, set within clear glass. Beside the font is a modern stained glass window depicting the Sacrament of Baptism (by Michael Ramsay Studio, Stanley), in memory of Fr J.F. Kennedy (died 1997). Three apse windows have stained glass, depicting St Henry (given in 1857 by Henry Silvertop of Minsteracres), St Patrick (given in 1857 by George Dunn of the Brooms), and a decorative panel at the centre (part-replaced, formerly Our Lady Immaculate). The eleven cinquefoils in the nave depict the apostles.

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Roman Catholic parish church. 1854-7 by A. Dunn; spire 1872. Coursed squared sandstone with ashlar plinth, quoins and dressings; Welsh slate roof with stone gable copings. Aligned north-south. Aisled nave with ritual south-west porch and south-east tower in south aisle; chancel with north link to presbytery attached to north-east. Early English style. West front has double boarded doors in shafted cusped arch and moulded 2-centred-arched surround; 3 tall lancets above and trefoiled roundel in gable peak; south-west door in 2-centred chamfered arch under gable with statue in niche; lancet windows, paired in aisles and tall in each of 3 sides of east apse, and paired in south wall of lower chancel; 5 cinquefoil clerestory lights. Steeply-pitched roofs with cross finials. 3-stage tower has triple south lancets and plate-tracery 2-light east window in first stage, under relieving arches; string below second stage with statue in niche under clock on south, and tall slender paired lancets on east; set-back third stage has paired bell openings under cinquefoils in panels with foliage-carved cornices. Parapet with corner and centre gargoyles at string course; pyramidal slate roof has large lucarnes and wrought iron cross finial. 4-stage octagonal north-east stair-turret has small door with shouldered arch and window with shouldered heads; top stage, on string with gargoyles, has lancets under gabled drip-string on gargoyle stops. Tall stone spire with small lucarnes and cross finial. Gabled buttresses to aisles, angle buttresses to tower, tall coped west buttresses.

Interior: painted plaster over boarded dado; painted ashlar dressings; panelled chancel. Arch-braced scissor-truss nave roof with side struts on moulded corbels; chancel roof of painted panels with medallions. 4-bay north and 5-bay south arcades have high 2-centred chamfered arches to porch, chapel and continuation of north arcade under west organ gallery on wood brackets. East nave wall covered in painted canvas, with Gothic-lettered border to chancel arch, and dim pictorial panel. Gothic-style wood reredos; late C19/early C20 traceried altar, communion rail and pulpit. Chamfered square pew ends have oval enamel number plaques. In porch a wall stoup under a cusped arch, and painted cast-iron Gothic-style pillar stoup.

Diocese: Hexham and Newcastle

Architect: A. M. Dunn

Original Date: 1857

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II