Church Hill, Crook, Co. Durham DL15
A substantial Gothic Revival church of the mid-1850s by E.W. Pugin, with an interior of much beauty. The church contains important, rich, early work by J.F. Bentley, seriously compromised in the reordering of 1980-81. The contemporary presbytery is also by Pugin. Together the buildings have a fine presence on the outskirts of Crook, and make a positive contribution to the local conservation area.
The mission was founded by Fr Thomas Wilkinson, a convert Anglican clergyman whose father was squire of Harperley Hall and a well-known barrister. Thomas converted to Catholicism in 1847 and would later become Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. He also founded the missions at Wolsingham and Tow Law. His desire was to provide a place of worship for the increasing population which was being swelled by Irish immigrants coming to work in the local mines. The foundation stone was laid on 8 September 1853 and thirteen months later, on 25 October 1854, the new building was opened. The architect for the church and presbytery was E.W. Pugin.
In 1864 a high altar was installed from the designs of John Francis Bentley. Within the alabaster panels of the frontal were three inlaid mosaic scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, by Westlake. The panels of the reredos had painted representations of archangels, all crowned with a cornice rising to the window sill. Bentley also designed the throne, crocketed canopy, tabernacle and altar candlesticks. He later distanced himself from this early work, writing to a later rector ‘the less you say about that altar the better – I was but a boy when I designed it!’ (he was twenty five, and had become a Roman Catholic two years earlier).
In 1897 the tower was added, from designs by Dunn, Hansom & Fenwicke of Newcastle. The cost was £1269.
At reordering in 1980-81 (by Gerald Murphy of Burles Newton & Partners of London and Southend-on-Sea)the sanctuary was extended into the nave, while the side chapels were incorporated at the same level as the sanctuary. The altar was given a new mensa and the reredos was relocated to a new Blessed Sacrament chapel. At the west end a new gallery was formed, using the altar rails, screens and organ from the recently-demolished Pugin & Pugin church at Port Clarence. The total cost of the reordering was £106,000. It was described in the Northern Catholic Calendar (1983) as ‘one of the most interesting’ reorderings in the diocese but, thirty years on, the separation of Bentley’s fittings seems deeply regrettable.
In 2010 a former school building adjoining was renovated and converted to St Cuthbert’s parish centre.
The church is oriented southwest-northeast; all directions given are liturgical.
The church is described in some detail in the list entry (below). It is a Gothic Revival design in the style of around 1300, constructed of local stone with Painswick dressings. It consists of a nave, short sanctuary, nave aisles, and a north chapel: it is 93ft long internally.
In terms of fittings, attention should be drawn to those by J.F. Bentley and described in the list description; these are important as early work by this major Catholic architect. His tabernacle is particularly ornate High Victorian work, making much use of diverse stones and lavish carving. The high altar frontal has painted scenes from the Life of the Virgin.
Other points not covered in the list entry:
Roman Catholic parish church. Foundation plaque dated 1853; by Edward Welby Pugin; tower completed 1897. Irregular courses of squared sandstone; upper stages of tower hammer-dressed; ashlar dressings. Roofs renewed in slate-coloured asbestos tiles. Aligned south-west/north-west. Aisled nave with ritual north porch and south-west tower; chancel with north Lady Chapel and south vestry link to presbytery. Decorated style; tower Tudor Gothic. Steeply-gabled porch has double boarded door in moulded arch with elongated 2-centred head; steps up to 2-centred-arched west door, with foliage-decorated hinges, flanked by filleted shafts with vine-carved capitals under drip-mould with mitred head-stops; cusped niche above has statue of Our Lady. Decorated tracery in 2-light aisle windows, 4-light west and large 5-light east windows. Spherical-triangular clerestory windows have 3 cusped lights. Tall 3-stage tower has 2-light west window, cusped lancet at top of high first stage on east, steps up to boarded door on south; high plinth and clasping ashlar buttresses. Upper stages offset, with pinnacled clasping buttresses flanking clock under drip-mould, and tall traceried belfry openings; pinnacled parapet has corner blind-traceried battlements on flower-bracketed frieze with corner gargoyles. Steeply-pitched roofs of nave, chancel and Lady Chapel have stone cross finials.
Interior; painted plaster above painted boarded dado; ashlar chancel and dressings. Painted scissor-truss roof and painted panelled keeled chancel roof. 5-bay arcades, the west bays filled with screens and the arches boxed in to form south porch and north children’s room, have moulded 2-centred arches on quatrefoil columns with varied foliage capitals; high, shafted chancel arch with flower-stopped drip-mould. Other arches to chancel and doors either depressed 2-centred or elongated 2-centred. Chancel has angle-bracketed ashlar balcony on south. West screen and gallery have Gothic tracery with crested balustrade. High altar 1864 by J.F. Bentley now separated into 3 parts, the tabernacle in the Lady Chapel, the altar under the chancel arch and the reredos in the original position, all of alabaster with enamel and gold inlay and painted panels, in Gothic style. East brass foundation plate dated 1853. Glass in east window by Hardman; other glass includes some by Atkinson Bros., Newcastle, commemorating 1862 arrival in the parish of the Sisters of Mercy.
Architect: E.W. Pugin; Dunn, Hansom & Fenwicke
Original Date: 1854
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II