Gravelly Bank, Rothbury, Northumberland NE65
A decent and well-lit building, marrying post-War techniques and ideas with traditional materials and making the most of a difficult site.
Although Catholics are documented worshipping in houses around Rothbury from the seventeenth century, the mission was established at the next river crossing at Thropton just to the west. From 1922, Mass was said in an upstairs room of a stable block in the Front Street home of Miss Livingstone.
Dr Arthur Hedley left enough in his will for the purchase from the Duke of Northumberland at a nominal price of a triangular piece of sloping land at the west edge of the town. St Agnes’ church was built to seat 130 people and was opened on 30 June 1959. Designed by Edward Gunning of Newcastle, it cost £10,500 and was built by Willie Brown, of an old Thropton Catholic family. Some of the external stone facing is re-used. The dedication recalls the chapel at West Oak Tree House in Rothbury, which was named after Agnes, prioress of Holystone, an Augustinian nunnery about six miles west of Rothbury with a holy well. The freestanding altar in the reordered sanctuary was consecrated on 20 December 1984.
The church is built of brick with external stone facing, topped with concrete gutters and natural slate roofs. Five bay rectangular aisleless nave with narrower sanctuary with three closely spaced windows. Northeast sacristy block and hexagonal west entrance porch. All the lancet-type windows have triangular heads cut into the square lintel with prominent triangular hood mouldings and cills. The steel window frames are set directly into the stone.
The large, almost freestanding porch dominates the west approach; above it are three stepped windows and a somewhat incongruous cusped iron cross sits on the roof ridge. Another such cross stands over the blank east gable wall, decorated with a large recessed cross. The corners of the nave and sanctuary have ‘buttresses’ to support the overhanging concrete wall top gutter.
The porch functions as a tiled foyer, with the longer east and west walls containing doors; double on the west, two doors separated by a window on the east. The intention was to leave the porch unlocked for people to see the tabernacle. The north block contains sacristies, an accessible toilet and a confessional. There are therefore three doors into the church on the north side of the nave, leaving just two windows to the west. Five windows to the south. The segmental roof is formed with arched laminated beams and five continuous purlins dividing the ceiling into bays with matchboarded panels running north-south. All is in light oak. There are panelled high level square statue niches in all four nave corners.
The sanctuary has a similar roof, with a twenty-panel oak canopy suspended over the site of the original high altar, decorated with stencilled foiled shapes around sacred symbols. The oak wall panelling has trefoil arched heads. There is no stained glass and the furnishings and fittings are all modern, except the Victorian Gothic wooden lectern, brought from Thropton.
Architect: Edward Gunning
Original Date: 1959
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed