Oldgate, Morpeth, Northumberland NE61
A well-proportioned exterior of character with some interesting sculpture. Inside, the 1850 Wailes glass is of good quality, the 1860 statuary helps articulate the nave and the c.1920 altar rails by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott are particularly fine.
Although various places had been used by Morpeth Catholics from the mid-seventeenth century with support from the Jesuits at Longhorsley, the first chapel is recorded in 1767, when eighty five ‘papists’ are listed and worshipping in a rented house in Buller’s Green. In 1778, a house opposite St Robert’s church was purchased and St Bede’s Chapel and a priest’s house built for £850 by Thomas Riddell of Swinburne Castle. He endowed the mission and in 1779, Benedictine priests (especially from Douai Abbey) began their almost 200-year association with the parish. From here, they established further missions.
In 1848, Fr Lowe started to collect money for a new church and on 20 August 1848 began the foundations on a site opposite St Bede’s. By 13 September 1849 the church was opened and the altar was consecrated by Bishop Hogarth on 1 August 1850. A drawing of 1848 ‘drawn and etched by C. Brown’ shows the church as built, so Pevsner suggests he may the architect. Down your Aisles states it was ‘designed by T. Gibson’, and the building does indeed bear similarities with other churches by Gibson at Bishop Auckland and Gainford (qv). No architect is mentioned in Fr Lowe’s detailed account, although ‘Mr White the Surveyor’ is credited with the design of the pulpit, altar and font (none of which survive) and also credited with making the benches at 32s each. As Pevsner also suggests, Fr Lowe may have had a hand in the design.
The stained glass is by Wailes, the wooden chancel screen (removed by 1891) was by the local joiner Mr Manners and the organ brought from an old chapel in Newcastle by Mr Davies of Newcastle. The church took another three years to be decorated by Mr Gill. The total cost was £2400, of which Fr Lowe contributed £1004 himself.
In 1857 the Stations of the Cross were erected. They were apparently black and white ‘pictures’ because when they were replaced in 1948 with the present Stations, they were copied in oil and placed in Bath stone frames. The twelve statues of the Apostles above them were erected in 1860. The floor had to be renewed in 1864 because of dry rot, but a heating system was installed. When Fr Lowe died in 1869, the parishioners erected the memorial statue of him in the tower porch, by Beale of Newcastle. From the facial resemblance to the statue, one of the south nave hood stops is also likely to be him. The woman’s head on the same window might be Mary Bell, a leading subscriber who was buried in the same vault as Fr Lowe (now under the playground).
In 1895, the church was re-opened by Bishop Wilkinson after decoration by Atkinson Brothers of Newcastle. A font was installed and a new high altar by A. B. Wall of Cheltenham (the present east wall altar) was erected in 1898 by Bishop Hedley as a memorial to his mother who had lived in Collingswood House. This was rented at various times by the parish from 1902 and finally bought by Douai Abbey in 1948 (from the Conservative Club) as the presbytery. In 1961 the back parts were converted into a parish clubroom under a first floor hall.
Electric light was installed in 1904 and the marble and bronze altar rails by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott erected in the chancel arch as a First World War memorial. A pulpit was installed in 1965 and the church redecorated in 1966 when the large wooden cross over the chancel arch was erected by a local joiner. In 1967, the ‘old slate floor’ was taken up to create a central aisle, ‘industrial lino’ laid and new benches installed. The following year gas-fired heating and a loudspeaker system were installed. It has not been established exactly when the present sanctuary was created, but it was by Fr Wilkinson (1969-79), the first secular parish priest after the Benedictines left in 1969. The organ is also quite recent and the west gallery (accessed from the tower spiral staircase) appears to have been rebuilt for it.
The list entry (below) says very little about the interior and may be amended and augmented as follows:
Roman Catholic Church. 1850. Rock-faced stone with Lakeland slate roof. Early English style. Porch-tower with spire, nave, chancel and vestry. Porch-tower: 2-storey square lower stage with multi-moulded, pointed-arched doorway, angle buttresses with niches containing saints, and lancets on 1st floor. Broached corners lead to high bell stage with a tall lancet on each side and triple-shafted columns at the angles; gablet above each side. Tall octagonal needle spire. 6-bay nave has lancets under labels with head stops. Buttresses between each bay. West end has arched door; above 7-light stepped lancets, alternately open and blank, with shafts and shaft rings. 2-bay chancel with 3-light Decorated east window. Single-storey vestry attached to chancel by short linking passage. Decorated 3-light window flanked by 2 saints and niches.
Architect: T. Gibson
Original Date: 1850
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II