Building » Prudhoe – Our Lady and St Cuthbert

Prudhoe – Our Lady and St Cuthbert

Highfield Lane, Prudhoe, Northumberland NE42

A church with an interesting history, the fabric having moved site (the chancel rebuilt twice). A good building that shows what the local firm of Dunn, Hansom and Dunn could do with strong patronage.

Our Lady and St Cuthbert’s church is reverse oriented, with the high altar at geographic west. For the purposes of this report, liturgical locations are used, i.e. with the high altar at the east.

Prudhoe only developed as a town after the mines were opened in 1860 and the first Catholic mission was based in the chapel for Prudhoe Hall. This was built 1868-70 for the then mine owner, Matthew Liddell and his wife Susanna, by Archibald Dunn (who came to live on the opposite side of the valley at Wylam). In photographs of c.1870 the house is to the north of the chapel (if the apse was at the east), there was a small gabled south annex apparently with the two-light window of the present sacristy and a north annex that appears to be the present south mortuary chapel, but is known to have contained a gallery for the family.

That chapel was just the present chancel and so clearly not large enough for use by the growing Catholic population. In 1889-91, Dunn, Hansom & Dunn built a new chapel on a new site for Susanna Liddell, rebuilding the 1868 chapel as the new chancel and adding a nave with northwest bell turret and porch. Photographs show the house to be to the south of this enlarged chapel, with a first floor link from the house to the west gallery where the family now sat. This was presumably when the church began to be reverse oriented. The mortuary chapel with the baptistery to its west is now on the south side and the sacristy to the north, as they are today. Perhaps Matthew Liddell’s death in 1881 had prompted his wife to create a family vault below the north chapel. She died in 1894 and was buried in the vault beside him.

On the sale of the Hall to a Protestant family in 1904, John Liddell had the chapel moved to its present site to the north side of Prudhoe, near South Road where Matthew Liddell had built a school and teacher’s house (Edward Hansom, 1875) and soon after, the Reading Room (now the St Matthew’s Social Centre). Charles Walker of Newcastle was the architect for this move and Rt Rev. Richard Preston, Auxiliary Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle laid the foundation stone on 23 July 1904. Another Auxiliary Bishop, Rt Rev. Richard Collins opened the church on 5 October 1905.  The sacristy was enlarged to the west and to suit its new site, linked to the new presbytery built to the northeast with a single storey passage. The bodies of Matthew and Susanna Liddell were also brought from the Hall to this site. The legal parish was created in 1918 and on 4 October 1951 the church was consecrated by Bishop McCormack.

Fr Hugh Berryman undertook a re-ordering c.1976 but major works of repair, conservation and improvement were undertaken by Fr Paul Zielinski 2004-05 at a cost of £600,000 (including an EH/HLF grant) under the direction of John Curtis of Napper Architects of Newcastle. It was re-opened by Bishop Kevin Dunn at the centenary service on 5 October 2005.


The church is built of local ashlar internally and externally, with sandstone chancel windows and dressings and a Westmorland graduated slate roof. The chancel ridge has delicate iron cresting, the nave terracotta intersecting round arches, reflecting the two different original build dates. For although the church was built on this site in 1904-05 under the supervision of architect Charles Walker, the French mid-thirteenth century style chancel was originally built as a modest chapel for Prudhoe Hall by Archibald Dunn 1868-70 and the nave was part of a large new Hall chapel built 1889-91 in a French Flamboyant style by his successor firm, Dunn, Hansom & Dunn. Five-bay nave with northwest porch and octagonal northwest bell turret, two-bay chancel with polygonal apse and south stone vaulted mortuary chapel with baptistery to its west overlapping the nave and north sacristies and link to the presbytery.

West facade with four-light window over three small square windows lighting the space under the west gallery. Octagonal bell turret with open traceried bell cage (single bell by Taylors of Loughborough) topped by large grotesques and a short stone spirelet behind an openwork tracery parapet. Two light square nave windows (set within pointed rere-arches internally) set between deep buttresses, with French Flamboyant style tracery. The continuous string course above the window is interrupted with large grotesque sculpture by Boulton of Cheltenham, including signs of the zodiac. The southwest porch side windows have similar tracery; the entrance gable has three layers of traceried quatrefoils. Two of the grotesques to the west of the porch are thought to be portraits of Susanna and John Liddell.

The original sacristy has a steep gable and two-light plate tracery window with a roundel filled with a carving of the Agnus Dei. A two storey flat-roofed block was added to its west in 1904, as was the single storey stone-faced link to the presbytery with large wooden windows.

The chancel has Geometric windows of two lights below a cinquefoil, those to the apse set within gables. All have red Mansfield stone shafts with large foliated capitals.

The axial window has in the main window lights marble statues of the Virgin and Child and St Cuthbert standing on projecting corbels within gabled trefoil niches, the gables decorated with ball flower and separated by a bust of a praying angel.

The south mortuary chapel is similarly ornate, with three blind arches on the east containing heraldic devices (though only the central has been carved). At ground level is a central roundel containing a cross, since 2005 carved with the names of Matthew and Susanna Liddell, whose bodies lie in the vault below. The chapel has a steep-sided stone slab roof (now covered with a copper roof) and a large octofoil roundel in the south gable. The somewhat austere looking baptistery to the west has two square headed rectangular windows.

The interior has been recently re-limewashed, but is faced with ashlar. The lower nave walls are panelled, the chancel lined with stencilled zinc panels. The west gallery is now approached from the northwest stair turret. Terrazzo and parquet flooring. The panelled nave roof is matchboarded on four cants, with arch-braced collar beams with delicate tracery infills to the ridge. The ribbed and panelled boarded ceiling of the apse and chancel is completely painted and finely stencilled with much use of gold, by Laidler of Glasgow, who had also worked at the Hall. There is no figurative glass, but all the windows contain grisaille and coloured glass with some roundels that Fr Zielinski has identified as the work of Daniel Cottier, whose glass can also be seen in the Hall. He trained in Glasgow, but opened offices in London and New York, where he is thought to have been an influence on Louis Tiffany.

The 1889 font ((by a Mr Beall, stonemason of Prudhoe) is based on the fifteenth century font at Shadingfield in Suffolk, home of Susanna Liddell’s Craddon family. In 2005 the floor was raised to bury the two-step pace. The reredos on the east wall of the mortuary chapel has a painting of Heaven, Earth and Purgatory, including portraits of Matthew and Susanna Liddell. On the north wall is a large brass commemorating them. The mortuary chapel has delicate stone ribs.

The high altar and reredos (also by Beall) was cleaned and regilded by Charles McReavy of Gosforth in 2004, who added the row of griffons to its lower register. The paintwork of the 1870 apse apparently survives in the blocked axial window behind it. McReavy also restored the 1913 Stations of the Cross. The 2005 sanctuary furniture was designed by John Napper, but executed in white Chinese marble from Sichuan Province by Chunkai Trading of Fuzhou for Classic Masonry of Newcastle. The ministerial chair is loosely modelled on the Frith Stool at Hexham Abbey. 

List description


R.C. Church. 1891 by Dunn, Hanson and Dunn. Ashlar with Lakeland slate roof. Nave, chancel, north transept, south vestries, south porch and south-west turret 5-bay nave has 2-light windows with mixed Perpendicular and Flamboyant tracery. Similar tracery to glazed sides of porch and to large 4-light nave east window. West end (ritual east) is polygonal apse having shafted 2-light windows with Geometric tracery. Figures of Christ and Virgin and Child in carved tabernacles beneath west window. Fine carving also to capitals of window shafts and to 3 niches with shields and foliage in transept west wall; and many ornamental gargoyles. Gabled nave roof with steeply ridged coping, and ridge tiles in form of intersecting round arches. Octagonal bell turret with cusped openings, gargoyles and spirelet. Interior has finely painted chancel roof.

Heritage Details

Architect: Dunn & Hansom (Archibald Dunn); Dunn, Hansom & Dunn; Charles Walker

Original Date: 1870

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II