London Road, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire ST5
An individual and idiosyncratic church of 1833-4, designed by the mission priest, who had created a similarly extraordinary church at Ashley some ten years previously. The main front is an early amateur attempt to echo the splendour of Gothic traceried fronts in vitrified blue Staffordshire brick. The side and rear walls are only slightly less elaborate. The interior is also unusual and of considerable interest. The building is a prominent landmark in the local conservation area.
In the earlier eighteenth century there seems to have been a Catholic centre at Chesterton Hall, the seat of the Macclesfield family, and there is a tradition that in the early nineteenth century Mass was said in a room in the Shakespeare Hotel, Brunswick Street, Newcastle, by the émigré priest at Ashley and by Louis Gerard, the priest at Cobridge. About 1826 the Newcastle mission was taken over by Edward Daniel, the priest at Longton, and in 1831 by the Rev. James Egan, who moved to Newcastle from Ashley, where he had been resident since 1825. Two years before that he had built the present church at Ashley (qv) to his own strikingly unusual design. After arriving at Newcastle, having received an offer from a local brick maker of all the bricks he might require, Egan designed the church himself, including the moulds for the bricks. Work started in 1833 and the church was opened by Vicar Apostolic Walsh on 13 May 1834. The result was described at the time as ‘the finest modern specimen of ornamental brickwork in the kingdom’. It was perhaps no coincidence that in 1834 two Protestant preachers held a public meeting at Newcastle to denounce the Church of Rome.
Initially only the nave was used for the church. The north aisle was bricked off for use as the priest’s house and remained as such until 1849; the south aisle was used for a school until 1864. The church was restored in 1886, a sacristy being then added. There have been more recent additions at the east end of the building.
The list entry (below) gives an adequate account of the exterior and repetition is unnecessary.
Whilst not as extraordinary as the exterior, the interior is nonetheless most unusual in its design. The nave consists of three very wide, arched bays with lozenge-shaped piers formed of clustered shafts; each bay is subdivided into two. From the tops of the piers wall shafts rise to the roof (similarly in the aisles shafts rise to the level of the roof). The capitals to the piers are simply uncarved, plain rings. Each of the main bays has two clerestory windows with Y-tracery. In the spandrels of the main bays are delicate, rose window-like piercings. The nave roof is very shallow and plain. The aisles have low-pitched lean-to roofs. In complete contrast to the side elevations of the nave, its east wall (around the chancel arch) is panelled with two tiers of tall narrow cusped recesses. A similar feature, but in three tiers, fills the walls of the shallow sanctuary. The lower part of the sanctuary walls is revetted with mottled pink and grey marble (no doubt Victorian). The three panels of the sanctuary ceiling are painted with an Agnus Dei and crosses. There is an organ gallery at the west end.
The Lady Chapel (north) and Sacred Heart (south) chapels both have richly carved nineteenth century stone reredoses with niches and numerous pinnacles and retain their contemporary altars. The sanctuary too has an ornately carved reredos (the carved high altar has been brought forward). The Victorian altar rail with open trefoiled arches is a handsome feature running the full width of the church. The east window has nineteenth century stained glass while the rest, in the aisles, is modern (one window with date of death 2005). The sanctuary has patterned Victorian tiling and the nave and aisles woodblock flooring installed after 1964.
Roman Catholic Church. 1834, by the Reverend James Egan. Blue vitrified brick. West front articulated into nave and aisle by full height pilasters divided into traceried panels. Doorway in centre, with stepped brick moulding, and blind arches in end walls of aisles. 6-tier window in giant ogee arch with cast-iron tracery over doorway, 4-tiered lights over blind aisle arches. The entire facade is decorated with tiers of arcading, and ornamented with decorative brick work, displaying a variety of techniques: moulded bricks (bull-nosed etc); bricks with embossed or incised patterns; bricks laid to a projecting diaper pattern. Aisles of 6 bays, divided by pilaster buttresses, and with decorated, embattled parapet. 2-light Decorated windows with cast-iron tracery. Square chancel with 5-light east window containing traceried circle with quatrefoil decoration.
(The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Staffordshire: Harmondsworth; The Victoria History of the County of Stafford: Jenkins J G: A History of Newcastle Under Lyme: Stafford: 1983-: 55).
Listing NGR: SJ8508945731
Architect: James Egan
Original Date: 1834
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II