West Road, Longhorsley, Northumberland NE65
A modest and small Gothic church by John Dobson, a valuable adjunct to the sixteenth century tower house, formerly home to two notable Catholic families.
St Thomas’s church was built north-south in relation to the sixteenth century Longhorsley Tower. For the purpose of this report, conventional compass points will be used, i.e. the altar at the east.
The large sixteenth century tower house at Longhorsley has been owned by Catholic families since at least the mid-seventeenth century. The Widdringtons funded a Jesuit mission here in the eighteenth century until the Tower came into the hands of the Riddell family of Felton in 1792, when Benedictine priests were introduced. The third floor of the Tower has a chapel and there are at least two hiding holes.
The church of St Thomas of Canterbury was built in 1841 and is attributed to John Dobson. Plans of 1926 in the diocesan archives make clear that the church was only ‘joined’ to the Tower by a garage, even though the parish priest was then living in the Tower. What is now the reconciliation room on the north side was a sacristy and the present sacristy on the south was a side chapel. Henry Riddell sold the Tower in 1926 and it remains in private hands. At the same time, the diocese bought some land to the south of the church and built a presbytery and link to the church.
The lancet windows are irregularly placed and some glazing is set directly into the wall without any stone framing. The use of hood moulds and cast plaster heads for hood stops internally is also irregular. The southeast porch looks to be secondary as it blocks a window. Its west window was glazed with stained glass by Leonard Evetts in 2007.
The sanctuary was reordered in the late twentieth century, when the present stone altar and sanctuary furniture were introduced.
The church of St Thomas of Canterbury was built beside Longhorsley Tower in 1841, but was not joined to it. The list description (below) gives an adequate account of the exterior, but makes no mention of the interior or of John Dobson as architect.
The interior has plastered and painted walls, with plaster hood moulds and cast plaster hood stops to some of the windows. Five collar roof trusses on wall posts and a continuous purlin to each slope create large plastered panels with no visible ridge or wall plates. There is a shouldered door to the north reconciliation room (a sacristy before 1926) and double boarded door to the south sacristy in an arch that led to a side chapel until 1926. North and south mid-wall niches for statues. Stained glass in the northwest lancet window commemorates Fr William Fletcher d. 1848 (probably by Wailes), while the east windows have the Assumption in the centre lancet, with St Thomas of Canterbury and St Cuthbert in the flanking lights (these are described in the Northern Catholic Calendar, 1917, as ‘recent gifts to the church’). The NCC also states that the stone on the high altar bears the date 1684 and the holy water stoup in the porch is dated 1744.
Roman Catholic Church, 1841. West end squared stone, remainder coursed rubble; slate roof. Cruciform with lateral sacristies rather than transepts, south-east porch. Lancet Gothic. West end has old door with raised design of intersecting panels under pointed arch with hollow-chamfered hood. 3 stepped lancets above with linked hoodmoulds; open-pedimented gable with finial cross. Side walls with stepped buttresses and lancets; porch with 10-panel door under pointed arch. Sacristies each have door with shouldered head, and paired lancets to west. Triplet of lancets to east.
Architect: John Dobson
Original Date: 1841
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II