Building » Bishop Auckland – St Mary

Bishop Auckland – St Mary

Vart Road, Woodhouse Close Estate, Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham DL14

A brick-faced, reinforced concrete church of the 1950s, traditional in plan. The church has a light and welcoming interior, with good stained glass of c1980 by Tom McGuinness. The building contributes well to the character of the local area.

The church was the third to be completed in the parish in three years, the others being St Paulinus (qv) and a now-demolished chapel at Eldon. It was designed by Robert Burke of Newcastle to seat 312 people and was opened by Bishop McCormick on 2 February 1956. The builders were Messrs Edward Pye & Sons of Bishop Auckland. The presbytery and parish hall were built later.

The church was reordered in 1988, with a new altar and stained glass, and with the font moved to the front of the church.


The church has a reinforced concrete frame with red sand-faced bricks: it has artificial stone dressings. The nave roof is covered with Welsh blue slates. It consists of a nave, sanctuary, narrow north and south aisles (under flat roofs), northeast former Lady Chapel (apsidal with apse to the north), and a rectangular tower (with saddleback roof) over the eastern part of the north aisle. The overall width, including aisles, is 41 feet (aisles each 4ft 6ins). The basilican planning of the building follows the popular model of the pre-war period with narrow aisles: in terms of style this also a continuation of the pre-war round-arched model. However, post-war constraints on finance and materials means a reduction in solidity and detail from twenty years before. The aisles have flat roofs. The nave has a clerestory with pairs of round-arched windows in each bay.

Inside, the six-bay nave has rectangular concrete piers, their long edges arranged north-south. The arches to the aisles are semi-circular and are much narrower than the width of the piers, thus creating a good three-dimensional effect in the arcade and making a visual virtue out of economic necessity. This idea is repeated at clerestory level, where further semi-circular arches frame the pairs of windows. At the west end is a small gallery with a bowed front below which is a narthex. The nave roof has thin tie-beam and king-post roof. Over the sanctuary is a semi-circular tunnel vaulted ceiling. The sanctuary arrangements date largely from the reordering of 1988.

Stained glass: this is by Tom McGuiness, one of the Spennymoor Settlement ‘Pitmen Painters’ and dates from c.1988. The series of windows in the former Lady Chapel have updated images of Biblical stories of charm, beauty and interest. In the background to the Last Supper McGuinness introduces coalmine headgear, while in the foreground a dog gnaws a discarded bone. In the oculus over the sanctuary east wall is an impressive roundel of the hands of God reaching down to Earth.

Heritage Details

Architect: Robert Burke of Newcastle upon Tyne

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed