Building » Gateshead – St Joseph

Gateshead – St Joseph

High West Street, Gateshead NE8

The mother church of Gateshead and a powerful design by A.M. Dunn. Inside, the church is of lofty proportions and contains many furnishings and fittings of note, including the original high altar reredos and a good collection of stained glass by H.M. Barnett of Newcastle.  

There had been Catholic families in Gateshead after the Reformation, but no places of public worship before 1851, when a temporary chapel was opened above a warehouse in Hillgate (served by a curate from Newcastle’s St Andrews church in Pilgrim Street), but it  was destroyed in the famous 1854 Gateshead fire. Catholics then met in the assembly room of the Queen’s Head Inn on Bottle Bank, and a building fund was instituted. 

The population of Gateshead grew from about 8,500 in 1801 to over 25,000 by the middle of the nineteenth century. Of these, it is estimated that about 3000 of these were Catholics, half of them Irish-born. The foundation stone for the present church was laid by Bishop Hogarth on 25 May 1858 and the church blessed and opened by the bishop on July 5, 1859. The architect was A.M. Dunn and the builder James Hogg. The original intention had been for the church to be dedicated to Our Lady and St Wilfrid, but this was changed to St Joseph to reflect the working class make up of the congregation (and perhaps also to avoid confusion with the cathedral).  The church was built to accommodate 1000, and cost about £3000.  According to the Northern Catholic Calendar (1960) it was originally intended that there should be a 200-foot spire on top of the baptistery. This seems unlikely, and the architect’s perspective of c1858 shows a conical roof not dissimilar to that which exists today. It also shows a bellcote at the west end, which appears not to have been built, and a different design for the presbytery.  The latter was not in fact built until 1864, at the same time as a school (notes on Dunn at the RIBA say that the presbytery was in fact built in 1876).

The original sanctuary furnishings were wooden, but were replaced in 1907 by a marble high altar, pulpit and communion rails, the gift of Alderman William John Costelloe, Catholic mayor of Gateshead in 1910 and 1911. The Lady altar was installed and consecrated in 1928; it incorporates a Renaissance oil painting of the Assumption. In the 1950s the church was re-floored, and the pitch pine pews replaced with oak benches. The church was consecrated on 6 May 1959, in its centenary year, by Bishop Cunningham.

In 1982 the church was reordered; the altar was brought forward, the communion rails and pulpit removed (some of the marble was reused in the new lectern and presidential chair) and the font moved from the baptistery to the central aisle. 


The list entry (below) is brief, and does not describe the interior. It states that there is an unfinished tower at the northwest, but this is the original baptistery and was never intended as a tower.

St Joseph’s is a fine stone church in the Gothic style, with a traditional plan and orientation. There is a solid rock-faced high plinth around the exterior; all openings have two-centred arches, and windows have decorated tracery, sloping sills and drip moulds, some with block stops. The roofs are steeply pitched; stone gable copings have cross finials and gabled footstones. The six-bay nave and buttressed aisles have at the northwest angle a small buttressed stair turret to the organ loft, and north of that, the octagonal baptistery with high slate-covered roof. In the gabled west elevation, a double boarded door, beneath small round window in the gable peak; and the pent south aisle has a wide west buttress and three-light window. The east elevation has a high polygonal apse with paired lights; high roofs to side chapels and a lower two-bay link to the presbytery, with shouldered lintels to two-light windows.

Inside, the nave measures eighty six feet by twenty four feet; the north and south aisles eighty one by fifteen feet, the chancel twenty eight feet by fifteen feet, with flanking chapels. The nave arcades have high pointed arches and slender octagonal piers; above the high chancel arch is a twentieth-century painted rood and above that, a traceried roundel. Clerestory windows have chamfered rere-arches; long wallposts between them have shafts and moulded corbels. A large five-light traceried window fills the west end of the nave. The roof has scissor braces and two levels of purlins. At the west end, the screen below the gallery has been brought forward to make a bigger narthex. The gallery has elaborate cast iron panels forming the balcony front. In front of the screen is the octagonal stone font. Two steps to the sanctuary and two to the elaborate high altar; re-ordered sanctuary furniture of white and ochre marble is of 1907. The altar is separated from its original reredos; it has a carved frontal with two angels crowning the IHS monogram.  Two side chapels, one the Sacred Heart, one now the Assumption of Our Lady, the latter incorporating what appears to be a Renaissance oil painting. The parish archives have a drawing, unsigned, showing the reredos with a reference number. The south chapel contains a Gothic pipe organ which appears to have been originally water-driven.

The church contains much good stained glass by the firm of H. M. Barnett, of Bath Lane, Newcastle:

  • In the sanctuary, the central light depicts the Holy Family, flanked on the left by Saints Patrick and Cuthbert and on the right by saints Saints Edward and Henry
  • In the Lady Chapel, the Annunciation and Coronation of the Virgin
  • In St Joseph’s chapel, the Last Supper
  • Sacred Heart window in the chapel of that name, given in memory of William Montgomery (d.1883)
  • In the west window, the Nativity and the Assumption
  • In the clerestory, roundels of saints.

The Stations were installed at the time of the centenary and consecration of the church in 1959. 

List description


Coursed dressed stone with high pitched slated roof. French Gothic style. Nave, aisles, short transepts, east chevet with swept pointed roof. Base for a tower at North-west corner but tower apparently not built. Gabled south-east chapel. Much elaborate tracery. Low south link to Presbytery, of similar materials. Three storeys, three bays in modified Gothic style with shaped window heads. Built to house three priests.

Heritage Details

Architect: A. M. Dunn

Original Date: 1959

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II