Front Street, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland NE64
A pleasant and well-kept modest building of value to its congregation and with a quirky origin.
From 1926, Mass was said at a number of locations in Newbiggin, until in 1934, Fr Connolly bought ‘Wellmeadow’, a house at 24 Front Street. Like its neighbours in what is now called the ‘Suburban Extension’, it was two-storeyed, double fronted and built of stone in the late nineteenth century (possibly by Thomas Gibson). It was conveyed to the Trustees of Douai Abbey on 26 April 1935. A bomb dropped nearby in 1941 wrecked it, but the parishioners continued to worship in the bombed out house until the arrival of Fr Sheedy in 1948. He resolved to build a proper chapel and convinced the War Damage Commission to fund it.
For it to qualify for their grant, the Commission stipulated that ‘one yard of the original building had to remain all round’, the new chapel had to be built within the footprint of the house and as much as possible of the original materials were to be re-used. Work on the house site continued throughout 1952. Two adjacent plots of land were purchased in 1950 to enable the sanctuary with sacristies to be built in 1953 by another contractor, who also built the porch. After difficulties with the high altar, the church was opened in September 1954. Although occasional curates have lived nearby, there has never been a resident priest and this chapel of ease continues to be served from Ashington.
The church is parallel to Front Street and the coastline running northeast to southwest, so the two altars face northeast. For the purposes of this report, conventional liturgical orientation will be used.
The church was built by a local contractor on the footprint of an earlier house in 1952-53. The lower courses of stonework do appear to be of that building as they are of larger stones than the walling above. On the south wall, there is an offset about three feet off the ground, marking the start of raised quoins to the neatly coursed upper wall. There may also be the scar of a removed bay window in this plinth. The original work is especially clear on the north facade, where the blocked basement windows can still be seen, but there is no plinth. The main floor of the house was reached by a short flight of stone steps, the arrangement visible on neighbouring buildings. As the stonework is uniformly less finished and more random on the north than on the south, it is more obviously re-used. The church is a rectangle, with a short sanctuary set to the north side, allowing a Lady Chapel to be set against the east wall to the south. The sacristy is to the northeast, with a vestry north of that with a toilet set on its west side. The small courtyard on the north is lower than the surrounding properties as they rise away from the sea.
The south (road) facade has a southwest porch and three large wooden cross windows with raised stone frames. There are four similar windows on the north facade, but without raised stone frames, just stone sills. There are no east or west windows, but the sanctuary has a rectangular window to the south wall. The windows have been re-glazed in reinforced polycarbonate with a lozenge pattern. The wood framed double south door is rather low (especially for carrying coffins through). The roof is slated to a low pitch.
The tidy interior is lower than might be expected because there is a shallow pitched false ceiling with a raised longitudinal central section. There was a stove in the northwest corner and the sixteen oak benches were supplied by Cabinets (Warwick) Ltd at a cost of £500 with other furniture costing a further £500. The high altar reredos was commissioned for £1150 from Ferdinand Stuflesser of Ortisei in northern Italy, the firm that had supplied the much admired 1920s sanctuary fittings at Ashington. It seems it was not quite what Fr Sheedy had thought he had ordered; in particular the censing angels are facing away from the tabernacle. Nevertheless it is a finely worked piece, if rather old-fashioned for 1953. The reredos of the Lady Chapel is an oil painting on four wide horizontal boards copying, in reverse, Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi. It is possibly early nineteenth century and is of reasonable quality, though clearly touched up more recently.
Architect: Not established
Original Date: 1954
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed