Station Road, Ashington, Northumberland NE63
An early twentieth century church built by the Benedictines, from designs by Charles Walker. Although economically built, the building has clean, almost austere architectural lines and stands well on its corner site; it is the largest building in this part of Ashington. The spacious interior was richly embellished in the 1920s with woodwork by the Italian firm of Stuflesser.
Ashington began to be developed as a mining town in 1852, growing to more than two thousand by 1890, with about forty Catholics who travelled to Bedlington or Morpeth for Mass. Twelve men formed a group that persuaded Fr Fossato in 1892 to come from Morpeth to say Mass at a public hall in Ashington and to establish a mission. His successor, Fr John Placid O’Hear OSB said Mass in the Co-operative hall from 1893 until the completion of the elementary school in February 1895. The adjacent presbytery was completed in August 1895 and weekday Mass was said there (in what has become the parish office) until 1905. A further half-acre plot of land to the south across Park Road was obtained from the Duke of Portland in 1899 as a parish cemetery, also housing an infant school (on the site of the 2004 St Cuthbert’s Care Centre) and the present Parkhead Parish Centre.
The foundation stone of St Aidan’s was laid by the Abbot of St Edmundsbury on 25 February 1905 and the church was opened by Abbot Taylor of Douai Abbey on 25 September, the sermon preached by the Bishop of Port Louis. It was designed by Charles Walker, architect of Newcastle and built by R. & G. Brown of Amble for about £3000. It was possibly intended to have aisles, but only a short south transeptal chapel was built.
From 1921-27, Fr William Connolly OSB (1917-36) oversaw the enhancement of the church interior, including the erection of the west gallery. He purchased oak fittings from St Mary’s Cleator Moor in 1921, to form the altar rails, gallery front and side screening below the west gallery. The installation of the memorial stained glass in the east gable rose window in 1923 (by Atkinson Bros.) initiated a campaign to enhance the sanctuary with woodwork by Ferdinand Stuflesser of Ortesi, northern Italy, installed in 1925 after redecoration by the parish. An iron girder had been installed across the chancel arch in 1923 for structural reasons and this was covered in carved wood by Stuflesser in 1925 to form a rood beam supporting the Rood figures. In 1926, the area under the west gallery became a baptistery with the laying of the mosaic floor by Rowells of Newcastle and fittings by Stuflesser.
In 1924/5 the north chapel was built, with new sacristies to the east and a confessional added to the south chapel; the altar to Our Lady removed to the gable wall. In 1925, the displaced high altar of 1905 (by Charles Beyaert of Bruges) was erected against the gable wall of the north chapel forming the Sacred Heart Chapel.
In August 1948 the Benedictines transferred the parish to the diocese.
Fr George Foster (1961-70) reordered the sanctuary, when the altar was brought forward, the rails removed and a carpeted platform built. In 1985, the Abbot’s stall and canopy was removed from the south wall of the sanctuary and about this time glass doors were added below the west gallery for use by a crèche and the nave parquet floor carpeted. A Millennium project saw the blank panels of the high altar panelling painted with Old Testament saints by Paolo Maiani. In 2002 the font was removed to the north chapel and the under gallery area became the parish piety stall. The 2005 centenary of the parish was commemorated with the commissioning of a statue of the Good Shepherd from Stuflesser Studios (seventh generation), set under an oak canopy on the north nave wall.
The church has a reverse geographical orientation but in this report conventional liturgical points are used. The high altar is therefore described as being at the east end, whereas it is geographically to the west.
The church is built of red brick with a continuous slated roof. Seven-bay unaisled nave (the windowless eastern and western bays are really only half bays) with north and south chapels off the second bay from the chancel arch, southwest gabled entrance porch and two-bay chancel of the same height. The north chapel with the sacristies to its east and the eastern confessional off the south chapel were only built in 1924-25, of the same local brick. The exterior walls are enlivened with a pointed wall arch in a softer red brick sprung over the single lancet window between the buttresses (not present on the later north chapel); a similar motif is present inside. This has perhaps led to the local belief that the church was meant to be aisled.
The east elevation is unarticulated because a workshop and then the Regal cinema stood very close. There is an octofoil round window in the gable. The west end is grander as it faced the main approach from the town centre on this corner site. Tall two-light plate tracery windows either side of a central buttress with a small octofoil roundel in the gable. The only entrance is through the southwest porch; double doorway with three continuous chamfered mouldings under a gable. The internal glazed double door was installed in 1921, in the same campaign that saw the west gallery built as a choir gallery; the organ came in 1925.
The chancel arch is very tall with two orders of continuous chamfered mouldings and a hood mould. The arches to the side chapels (Sacred Heart to the north, Lady Chapel to the south) follow the shape of the internal wall arches so are simply chamfered; the two arches to the doors of the south confessional are similar.
The roof is quite a dominant feature, as the roof is at least 50° in pitch. Scissor trusses are mounted on top of hammerbeams decorated with large cusps standing on long braced wall posts on timber moulded corbels defining the bays. The iron rods seem to have been there from the start. Both chapels have boarded three-cant ceilings, the north with a central wall post and arched collar brace, the south just a shallower ceiling. The chancel has a six cant boarded ceiling with chamfered principal trusses, without wall posts.
Apart from the original high altar by Charles Beyaert of Bruges (now in the north chapel) and the statues either side of the chancel arch, all the fittings are by the north Italian firm of Stuflesser, imported in the mid-1920s and fitted by Ferdinand Stuflesser himself. The other exception is the woodwork of the gallery (and the infill on the east wall where the high altar once stood), which Fr Connolly bought for £100 from ‘St Mary’s Cleator Moor’ in 1921 , presumably the E. W. Pugin church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (1869-72). Some of it was made into an altar rail, which survived to c.1970. The east octofoil is filled with 1923 glass by Atkinson Bros. of Newcastle. The small octagonal font is of unpolished Tournai Belgian marble.
Architect: Charles Walker
Original Date: 1905
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed