Building » +Newcastle-upon-Tyne – Cathedral Church of St Mary

+Newcastle-upon-Tyne – Cathedral Church of St Mary

Clayton Street West, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

The cathedral church of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, built from designs by A. W. Pugin as a ‘large parochial church’ on the three-aisled hall church plan adopted by Pugin at St George’s, Southwark. Later additions of note include the upper stage of the tower and spire, Dunn & Hansom’s first architectural collaboration. The interior has been altered several times, with recent changes seeking to reinstate some of the richness and colour, which had been diluted in earlier post-Vatican II reorderings. Recent additions include stained glass by Joseph Nuttgens and a new gallery and organ at the west end. Externally, the cathedral and its associated structures occupy an important position in the central conservation area, close to Dobson’s railway station. The tall, slender spire is a city landmark. 

In July 1838 a public meeting of Newcastle Catholics passed a resolution that ‘it behoves the Catholic Body to endeavour to erect a large and handsome Church, that may be at the same time an honour to their religion, an ornament to the Town, and capable to afford sittings for about twelve hundred persons’. A committee was set up to oversee the project, led by Fr James Worswick. By 1842 £6,500 had been raised and a site purchased. The leading Catholic architect of the day, A. W. N. Pugin, was commissioned to prepare designs, and a contract was let to George Myers, Pugin’s builder of choice (who also did the stone carving on some of the main furnishings). Pugin’s plans included a tower and spire, but the budget did not allow for these to be built immediately.

The church was opened on 21 August 1844, and the first resident priest was the Rev. William Riddell, who had some months earlier been appointed auxiliary to Bishop Mostyn, Vicar-Apostolic of the Northern District.

After the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, St Mary’s became the cathedral church of the new Diocese of Hexham (from 1861 Hexham and Newcastle). The cathedral was consecrated on 21 August 1860.

In 1853 a rood screen with suspended rood figures was installed at the chancel arch, from designs by George Goldie. It was the gift of Miss Riddell of Felton Park.

In 1863 an altar tomb was installed in memory of Bishop Riddell, from designs by A.M. Dunn.

In 1872 the upper stages of the tower and a spire were added from designs by Dunn & Hansom, made possible by a bequest from Elizabeth Dunn, who had died in 1870. This was Dunn & Hansom’s first architectural collaboration.

In 1894, at the time of the church’s Golden Jubilee, the interior was greatly enriched with stencil decoration (later painted over) and a tiled frieze by Atkinson Brothers bearing the names of Northumbrian saints and English Martyrs added at sill level. In 1902 the baptistery, built from designs by Dunn, Hansom & Fenwicke, was opened. This had new iron gates and contained a white marble Boer War memorial (removed in the course of 1980s reordering).

The cathedral suffered bomb damage in the Second World War, when stained glass on the south side was blown out.

A reordering scheme of 1982 involved the removal of the rood screen and the relocation of the restored crucifixion above this to the side of the sanctuary. A new cathedra was installed, the old one being placed in the presbytery. The sanctuary floor was raised, a forward altar installed and the Sacred Heart Chapel reverted to being the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

In 1985 the Cathedral Centre opened; three years later it was renovated and reopened as ‘Café Cathedral’.

In 1999 the 1853 crucifix was returned to its original position under the sanctuary arch. E. W. Pugin’s statue of Our Lady was returned to the former Lady Chapel.

In 2002 the Cardinal Hume memorial garden was opened by Her Majesty the Queen. The bronze sculpture of the Newcastle-born Cardinal is by Nigel Boonham.

In 2003, the panels depicting saints Aidan, Cuthbert, Benedict Biscop and Bede, which had been housed in the cathedral café for the previous twenty years, were returned to their original (1902) location in the stone reredos in the sanctuary. In the same year the new Diocesan Books and Media Centre and Cloister Café were opened, and a new cloister built between Cathedral House and the former baptistery, creating an enclosed courtyard.

Stained glass additions in recent years have included a window by Cate Watkinson to Private Adam Wakenshaw VC (d.1942, unveiled in 2004), and three sets of windows by Joseph Nuttgens: a three-light window in the Blessed Sacrament chapel commemorating 150 years of the work of the Sisters of Mercy in the city (2005), a two-light window in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel depicting two post-Resurrection scenes (2006) and a three-light window on the south side of the cathedral commemorating Newcastle’s industrial heritage (2006). In 2006, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was given Pugin-style stencil decoration and a neo-Gothic brass screen installed across the entrance, from designs by Kevin Doonan of Doonan Architects.

A further reordering of 2009-10 included the re-tiling the entire floor surface of the cathedral, reordering of the sanctuary and the re-siting of the font (architect Kevin Doonan).

In May 2012 work started on the building of a choir gallery at the west end of the cathedral, to hold a new three manual pipe organ built by Kenneth Tickell (architect Kevin Doonan).


The cathedral is described in the list entry, below. The description of the interior is very thin for a building of this importance, and requires updating to take account of changes that have taken place since the listing, some of which are outlined above. The cathedral holds a good collection of glass by Pugin, Wailes and others; there is a full inventory in McCombie 2009, p.61 and further information is available on the cathedral website.

The presbytery is separately listed. The first phase of the house is of 1858 by E.W. Pugin, extended in 1884 by Dunn & Hansom, and in 1938 by E.R. Burke.

List description

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: I

List Entry Number: 1024913

Date first listed: 14-Jun-1954


District: Newcastle upon Tyne (Metropolitan Authority)

National Grid Reference: NZ 24476 63908


22/184 Cathedral of St. Mary 14/6/54

G.V. I

Roman Catholic Cathedral. Circa 1844; a major composition by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Tower completed c. 1872 by A.M. Dunn and E.J. Hansom. Coursed squared sandstone with ashlar dressings; roofs of graduated slates with overlapping stone gable copings; stone spire. Aisled nave and chancel without division; south-west polygonal chapel now entrance porch, and to east of this the tower. Decorated style. West double door with elaborate hinges in moulded and shafted surround; 5-light window above flanked by niches with figures; reticulated tracery to 3-light west aisle windows under gables; gabled buttresses. South door, in tall tower, similar to west door; upper stages of tower have cusped lancets, slits and 2-light belfry openings under crocketed dripmould with fantastic beast finials; quatrefoil pierced parapet has corner pinnacles with spirelets; tall octagonal spire has crocketed lucarnes, weathercock finial. 3-light aisle windows, 6-light at east.

Interior: plaster above boarded dado with tiled frieze; angel corbels support scissor – braced roof trusses; round piers to 7-bay nave and chancel, with moulded arches. Caen stone altar and reredos with much carving; similar style lectern and pulpit.

Heritage Details

Architect: A. W. N. Pugin

Original Date: 1844

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade I