Building » Alnwick – St Paul

Alnwick – St Paul

Percy Street, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66

A mid-nineteenth century church by Anthony Salvin, acquired for Catholic use in the 1980s. As the Church of England’s 1980 report states, ‘The church is a large, straightforward and serious minded essay in the Decorated style which is more striking for its size and dignity than for any ingenuity in detail of plan’. It is important historically for its place in the nineteenth century expansion of Alnwick, which was supported by the Third Duke of Northumberland whose fine cenotaph remains in the north chancel chapel. The church is a prominent feature in the Alnwick Conservation Area. The previous Catholic church, built in 1836 from designs by John Green Junior, is now a local museum.  

Alnwick’s Catholics were served by itinerant priests in private homes until 1725, when the Rev. Robert Widdington SJ regularly said Mass at the home of the Coates family in Bondgate Without. A legacy from Mrs Mary Butler in 1752 ‘to support a priest in Northumberland at the choice of the Jesuit Superior’ initially funded a series of  priests but from 1757, Fr John Parker SJ was resident in a house in Baliffgate, bought by Ralph Callaly for £157 on behalf of the Jesuits. The chapel was on the upper floor of the house and a plan of c.1820 in Jesuit archives shows it had grown to fill almost the entire upper storey. It was accessed by a courtyard staircase reached through a side passage off Baliffgate.

On his appointment in 1832, Fr John Fishwick planned a new church and presbytery on the Baliffgate site and St Mary’s was opened on 8 September 1836. It cost £2100, £550 contributed by the Jesuits. The church was one of two Catholic churches designed by the prominent Newcastle architect, John Green Jnr (out of a total of twenty one churches). It is in the lancet style, without aisles or windows but top-lit with three ridge skylights, a large basement, sacristy to the east and an east apsidal recess. A new high altar and reredos by Hardman, designed by Elphege Pippet was built in 1872, displacing a large painting of the Epiphany purchased by Fr Fishwick (which was then hung on the south wall). A drawing of 1978 by O. M. Farrell in the diocesan archives shows both these features and the 1920s Stations of the Cross.

In 1865, the mission was transferred to the diocese. An elementary school had been started (in an 1845 school built for ‘dissenters’) and in 1890, Fr Edward Robert introduced four Sisters of Mercy from Guernsey to begin a secondary school for girls. Their convent is still adjacent to the church, but they no longer work in what has become the Duchess Girl’s School next door (which is soon to move to another site).

By the early 1980s, St Mary’s required a lot of repair work and was too small. With its piers and railings, it had been listed grade II in 1977. Fr Joseph Marren transferred the parish to the redundant Church of England parish church of St Paul. Reordering to allow for modern Catholic liturgical practice was undertaken by Jack Lynn of Newcastle. The dedication ceremony was performed by Bishop Hugh Lindsay on 11 December 1982. St Mary’s is now the Baliffgate Museum of Alnwick and its district, with a floor inserted into the former church.


The church of St Paul is well described in the list entry (below). It was built in 1845-46 by Anthony Salvin for the Third Duke of Northumberland (d.1847), whose cenotaph by J. E. Carew is in the north chancel chapel. As part of the Church of England Pastoral Measure (redundancy) process, a detailed description was prepared for the Council for the Care of Churches (CCC) by Donald Findlay and a set of black and white photographs taken by the National Monuments Record. Copies of both are in the diocesan archives. 

The main changes made in 1982 were the introduction of an altar platform at the chancel arch with Salvin’s 1846 stone font placed to the north side (it was in a mid-nave position); the replacement of the original 1846 holy table by a free standing faceted metal and marble tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament and the creation of a Lady Chapel at the east end of the north nave aisle. The latter re-uses most of the Hardman reredos from St Mary’s, but with the central tabernacle removed so that the centrepiece is now a pair of ogee’d panels. The 1920s Stations of the Cross from St Mary’s now hang in the nave aisles.

Salvin’s pews are solid and well designed with good foliage decoration and Decorated style tracery panelled fronts. Those in both aisles face into the nave and the plainer pews to the west of the nave doors are marked FREE. At least five of the short benches that used to fill the central nave aisle can be found in the chancel. The tower gallery housed the original organ (replaced in 1887 by the present instrument to the south of the chancel). The screen below is interrupted by a protruding ‘porch’ that seems to be made of different woodwork than the screen or pews. The side panels were once doors and the upper panel on the south is also hinged, suggesting that this part of the tower screen came from elsewhere. The upper arch was crudely filled with hardboard and the gallery area behind used for storage before 1982. In 2002 an accessible toilet was inserted into the northwest corner of the tower base, when accessible ramps were also introduced to the west door. This is the main entrance as the stone vaulted north porch (clearly designed to be the main entry as it faces the town) is now used for storage and its entrance blocked with wood and glass.

The former choir vestry (being refitted as a meeting space at the time of the visit) is an eastern extension to the priest’s vestry off the south chancel chapel, probably of the late nineteenth century. Sandwiched between it and the chancel is a semi-underground space now used for storage and the caretaker’s workshop. The area to the east of the organ in the south chancel aisle is the sacristy (with furniture from St Mary’s) which at the time of the visit was being improved. 

List description:


Built 1845-6 to designs by Anthony Salvin.

MATERIALS Squared stone rubble, slate roofs. 

PLAN Nave with N and S aisles, W tower and N porch. Chancel with N and S chapels and S vestry.

EXTERIOR The church stands in an area of early C19 housing, and is situated in an attractive churchyard fringed with trees. The exterior is substantial and plain, in a Decorated style that is simple, but reasonably archaeologically correct. Large and tall W tower, as wide as the nave. Of four stages with diagonal buttresses, it has a C14-style W doorway of three chamfered orders, with a two light window above it. The third stage is very tall and has paired windows, and there are large Decorated-style bell openings in the upper stage. Blocky, embattled parapet. The aisles have two light windows with flowing tracery with buttresses between. The S porch has an outer doorway with a moulded arch on grouped shafts flanked by cinquefoil headed niches; there are trefoiled lancets in the side walls. Inside is an ambitious stone vault with foliate bosses on head corbels. The nave, aisle and chancel roofs are steeply pitched, without parapets, and the clerestory windows are a uniform two-light design. The chancel has diagonal buttresses and mostly paired lancet windows. The five light E window has curvilinear tracery with good archaeological precedent. Above it, in the chancel E gable is a circular window with swirling tracery. The N chapel is shorter than the chancel and has paired lights in the N wall and a two-light E window. The S vestry and chapel are distinguished by a cross-gable on the vestry.

INTERIOR Like the exterior, the interior is in a Decorated style. The five bay N and S arcades are uniform and have quatrefoil, clustered piers and double chamfered arches, and the chancel arch is in a similar style. Tall tower arch. Both the N and S chancel chapels have arches to the aisles, and the chapels open to the chancel arches with labels with head stops on the inner faces. The nave windows have very deep, almost straight-sided, reveals. The nave has a timber vault, resting on short colonettes springing from head corbels, that was inserted c1865. The aisle roofs are boarded and have curved braces. The chancel roof is panelled, and has closely spaced arch braces on corbel heads.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES Exceptionally fine E window of St Paul and St Barnabas preaching of 1856, inserted in memory of the 3rd Duke of Northumberland: designed by the noted artist William Dyce (1806-64) and executed in Munich by Ainmüller. Octagonal stone font of 1846 with cusped tracery on the bowl and ball flower on the lower edge. The timber altar of 1846 has timber arcading along its front. Reredos and gothic-style sanctuary panelling with blind ogee arches of 1859. Octagonal oak pulpit with traceried panels, probably also 1846. Choir stalls with poppyheads and open traceried fronts. Altar rails with trefoil arcading. The fittings of the lady Chapel, the reredos and stations of the cross were brought to the church when it became Roman Catholic. The monument of the 3rd duke of Northumberland, d.1847 by J E Carew shows the aristocrat, resplendent in his coronet, asleep; he is buried elsewhere.

HISTORY St Paul’s was built in 1845-6 to serve a growing residential district, and cost about £12,000. It was paid for mainly by the 3rd Duke of Northumberland. The architect, Anthony Salvin (1799-1881) was a significant figure in the late Georgian and early Victorian Gothic Revival. Born in Worthing, he was a pupil of a little-known architect named John Paterson (d.1832) and worked in the office of John Nash. He set up in independent practice in 1828 and early on showed his ability to create buildings in an impressively authentic medieval style. He is also well known for a range of country house work, most notably his work on Alnwick castle, where he worked for the 4th Duke of Northumberland between 1854 and 1860. The E window, installed in 1856 as a memorial to the 3rd duke, cost £1,639 5s, of which £816 2 1d was raised by public subscription. The rest was paid by the 4th Duke of Northumberland. The designer, William Dyce (1806-1864), was a very influential artist who also executed the cartoons for the historical wall paintings in the Houses of Parliament and the decoration on the E wall of All Saints, Margaret Street, London. There was further refurnishing in the chancel in memory of Edward Bryan, curate, who drowned while bathing at Alnmouth in 1859. The church became redundant in 1979, and was converted to the Roman Catholic use; some re-ordering has gone on in recent times.

SOURCES Pevsner, N., Buildings of England: Northumberland (2002), 133-4 Council for Places of Worship report, unpublished (1979).

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION The church of St Paul, Alnwick, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Parish church built 1845-6 in a Decorated style to designs by Salvin and funded by the 3rd Duke of Northumberland * Exceptionally fine E window designed by Dyke and made by Ainmüller of Munich, and a notable ducal tomb. * It forms part of a contemporaneous development, showing the role of the 3rd Duke in the expansion of the town, and his eagerness to provide spiritual welfare.

Heritage Details

Architect: Anthony Salvin

Original Date: 1845

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*