Wooler - St Ninian

Burnhouse Road, Wooler, Northumberland NE71

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A well massed building taking advantage of its hillside setting and with a somewhat severe architectural character not usually associated with its architect, George Goldie. Inside, it holds a fine group of Wailes stained glass windows and the sanctuary unusually retains its complete high Victorian altar and reredos on their original tiled steps.

Wooler is not far from Yeavering and originally included Holy Island and Bamburgh within its mission, all important places in the seventh century kingdom of Northumbria. The Catholic faith was kept going through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by priests based with families like the Haggerstons at Haggerston Castle. However, the mission in Wooler was founded by Mrs Jane Silvertop in 1792, when she brought her priest from Stella to live in the house she renamed St Ninian’s and converted the top floor into a chapel. This building became the presbytery after her death until Bishop Hogarth established a Diocesan Mission Centre in it in 1850. This lasted until a fire in 1856, when it returned to being a presbytery. The chapel storey was removed in 1858 after the church opened and after various changes, it was sold in 1974 to become the Loreto Guest House (as it still is) and the link to the northeast sacristy removed.

The church was built for £1305 to the designs of George Goldie, a grandson of Ignatius Bonomi. It was opened by Bishop Hogarth on 24 June 1856. The Tablet described it then as a severely simple building in harmony with the wild scenery around it’and Pevsner, ‘In the late Geometric style and not without personality’.It certainly masses well on its triangular wooded site just above the main centre of Wooler and has a rugged external character. The bell tower was designed for a ring of eight, but has only ever had one bell, which has not been rung for many years.

During World War II the presbytery was used as an emergency hospital store and services held for the many Catholic prisoners of war held in local camps, including Poles, Germans, Italians and Latvians.

Fr Timney reordered the sanctuary after his arrival in 1974 by re-siting the wooden altar from the north Sacred Heart chapel to its present place behind the chancel arch, leaving intact the High Victorian stone altar and reredos, with its central canopied tabernacle. He also carried out many improvements and repairs before his retirement in the mid 1990s.

In 2012 the wooden tracery screen below the west gallery has been glazed and a central double door copying the original tracery inserted. An accessible toilet has also been built into the northwest corner and quartzray heaters installed in the nave.

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Roman Catholic Church. 1856 by George Goldie. Snecked stone with Welsh slate roof.

Nave, chancel, south-west tower, south aisle, north chapel and vestry. Geometric style. Doorway, in tower, has multi-moulded pointed arch. 3-light window over with gabled hoodmould over blind centre light. Bell stage has paired cusped lancets. 2-storey clasping stair projection with pent roof. Steeply-pitched gabled roof with quatrefoils in gables.West end of nave has 2 cusped lancets separated by buttress with niche. Rose window over.4-bay nave has 2-light traceried windows on north side; similar lower windows to south aisle and quatrefoil clerestory windows.2-bay chancel with cusped lancets and 5-light traceried east window. Steeply- pitched gabled roofs.

Interior: south arcade with double-chamfered pointed arches on octagonal piers. Stained-glass window in south aisle in memory of George Goldie the architect. East window by Wailes.

The list description offers a brief description of the building, but contains some inaccuracies and can be augmented:

  • Line 2; Nave, chancel, south-west tower porch, south aisle, north chapel and sacristy
  • Line 5+; Bell stage has paired cusped lancets with quatrefoil between. 2-storey south west square clasping stair projection with pent roof. Steeply-pitched saddleback roof with quatrefoils in gables and cast-iron ridge cresting
  • Line 9; Roundel over, with Geometric tracery incorporating three quatrefoils
  • Line 11; ...similar shorter windows...
  • Line 13; ... transverse gabled roofs to north chapel and northeast sacristy
  • Line 14+; Interior: south arcade with slightly chamfered pointed arches on square piers with similar slight chamfers to the corners. Very tall chancel arch of two broadly chamfered orders, the inner order rising from angular corbels. High six cant scissor truss roof with infilled vertical wall struts. South aisle ends in polygonal east Lady chapel with boarded ribbed roof behind an almost triangular entrance arch. West organ gallery over tracery screen (glazed in 2012); 1856 square stone font. North transeptal chapel with tiled altar platform and wooden reredos; the wooden altar now in the sanctuary. Chancel with seven cant collar truss roof. High Victorian stone reredos and altar remain on the east wall, with four statue niches and central canopied tabernacle. Three seat sedilia with stone arm rests enclosed by a round arch that meets the piscina to the south east corner. Sacristy door in the north east corner and tall chamfered arch to the north wall. 1856 east window and windows in the south aisle by Wailes, including one given by George Goldie the architect and his wife Madeleine de Kersadier. North window to Alderman Weidner d.1934 and his wife Isabella, d.1922 includes a portrait of Mrs Weidner in the apex light (photo above bottom right).

LIST

Diocese: Hexham and Newcastle

Architect: George Goldie, of Weightman & Hadfield

Original Date: 1856

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II