St Michael’s Avenue, New Hartley, Northumberland NE25
A pleasant and uncomplicated church which fits into the surrounding housing estate and serves its present congregation well. However, its architectural and artistic interest is modest.
Dating from 1895, New Hartley was the last of the missions founded by the Benedictines in this area. Like the rest, it was created to serve the mainly Irish coal miners of the area. (The Hartley Colliery Disaster had claimed the lives of 220 miners in January 1865; the eighteen Catholic miners aged 10-30 were buried at Cowpen). It was staffed by Douai monks until 1982, the first diocesan parish priest appointment was in 1986 and from 1994 it has been served by the priest at Cramlington.
The foundation stone (next to the pulpit on the north nave wall) was laid on 19 March 1895 by Bishop Williams. It was built and designed by Cecil McGann, architect and builder of Malvern, and cost £1300. He had previously built the schools at Blyth. The bricks came from Blyth and were carried here by parishioners. Some work was carried out by Fr Curran 1924-33 (perhaps the sanctuary panelling or external rough cast?) and the sanctuary has been reordered more recently.
In 1999/2000, the ground floor of the presbytery was converted for use as a parish centre with the first floor made into a flat with a stair lift for retired priests.
The church was built by Cecil McGann, architect and builder of Malvern, in 1895. Roughcast covered brick with some local stone dressings, blue slate roof with bands of paler slates. Six-bay continuous nave and chancel with a southeast sacristy block linking to the large presbytery and two bay southwest porch. In the churchyard is the iron cross that used to stand on the ‘bell tower’ until removed in the 1960s. As both end gables have their copings and gable crosses, was this a roof ridge construction? There is no obvious gap in the roof slates or the internal roof.
Although the south porch door is centrally placed under an ashlar gable, the internal south nave door is in the west nave bay and the eastern half of the porch is a separate space off the nave, probably the original baptistery but now a small chapel for private prayer. The whole exterior has been covered in roughcast, including the chamfered plinth. The bays are separated by buttresses and have a lancet window with painted stone arches and sills. The two paler roof bands have a decorated lower slate and this feature continues on the link and the presbytery, both also covered in roughcast.
The east elevation has a large spheric triangle window, with three trefoils, like Lichfield Cathedral nave clerestory (that Mr McGann from Malvern may have known)? The west elevation has three stepped lancets.
Internally, the nave and chancel are separated by a plastered chancel arch. The scissor truss matchboarded roof rises from long wall posts on stone corbels and has three passing purlins and a ridge; all the timbers are chamfered. The nave walls are articulated by moulded plaster triplets of pointed arches between each roof wall post. The larger central arch surrounds the lancet window, the smaller flanking arches frame large Stations of the Cross (varnished paintings on thin board). The panelled dado is decorated with linked triangles that bear no relationship with the simple pews and includes cast iron heating pipes at ground level. The west gallery is supported on two timber uprights with roughly seventeenth century style tracery spandrels and reached by a domestic looking southwest staircase. All the windows are filled with tinted glass with coloured borders, but with alternating diamond and rectangular quarries.
The sanctuary is quite dominated by the east window. The panelling to the walls is possibly of the 1930s or 1950s and was altered when the sanctuary platform was created. The 1895 Gothic wooden reredos remains, but its table has been dismantled to form the present altar and a shelf for the tabernacle. The circular pulpit on the north is a curious blend but parts seem to go with the panelling.
Architect: Cecil McGann of Malvern
Original Date: 1895
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed