Building » Sacriston – St Bede

Sacriston – St Bede

Front Street, Sacriston, Co. Durham DH7

An economical brick design of 1878-81 by Dunn & Hansom, with a contemporary presbytery. The church contains a number of furnishings of note, installed about the turn of the twentieth century.

The Rev. Patrick Matthews was put in charge of a new mission at Sacriston in 1867, serving Irish pit workers and their families. A school had been opened in 1865 in two cottages in Front Street and this served as a chapel until the church was built. Work was started on this in 1878 by Fr Matthews’ successor, the Rev. Michael Gilligan. The church and adjoining presbytery were built from designs by Dunn & Hansom, the builder was a Mr Laws of Durham and the joiner possibly William Towns junior of Esh. Work was suspended early on because of a lack of funds, but the little church, seating 300 and costing £1,000, was finally completed and opened by Bishop Bewick on 5 June 1881. In 1882 the burial ground behind the church was opened, and soon after that the school was built.

The next priest was Canon Henry Gillow, for whom in 1891 a scenic artist ‘stranded in Sacriston’ (Lenders, History of the Parish of Sacriston, 1930, 46) painted ‘a picture of some merit, which is a reproduction of a painting in the Vatican’ (ibid) over the sanctuary arch; this is now lost or covered.  Canon Gillow also built the conservatory addition to the presbytery. However, much of his efforts were directed towards paying off the church’s debt. It fell to his successor, the Rev. Edward Costello (1897-1905) to furnish the church properly. Stained glass windows were fitted in the sanctuary in 1899, with pews and a west gallery with organ by Nelsons of Durham added in 1901 (Fr Costello was an accomplished musician, and sought the advice of F. J. Swinburne of Birtley on the construction of the instrument).  In 1903 a new high altar was installed, bought in Belgium for £100 with the help of Fr Jules du Floer (responsible for the magnificent Belgian altar at St Benet’s, Sunderland).  About the same time a baptistery was formed at the west end of the church under the new gallery. In 1904 Fr Costello acquired a fine set of Stations of the Cross in Belgium for £68 3s 5d.

Fr Costello’s successor, the Rev. Thomas Hartley, installed electricity in the church, a wooden communion rail (since removed) and replaced the flagstones in the aisle with stone paviours and clay tiles. He obtained new carved timber pedestals for the statues of Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, St Joseph and St Bede.

Post-Vatican II liturgical alterations involved the separation of the high altar from its gradine, removal of the communion rails and relocation of the font towards the east end of the aisle, near the Lady altar. At the west end, the underside of the gallery has been enclosed in recent years to form a lobby. The church is now served from Chester-le-Street and the presbytery is largely unoccupied.  The colliery closed in 1986.


A small, economically-built church by Dunn & Hansom, of red brick with roll moulded brick dressings and a slate (now mineral fibre slate) roof. The church is in a simple round-arched style and consists of a nave and south aisle, with a slightly narrower sanctuary and a southwest porch. There are the remains of two ventilators on the main ridge, but a timber bellcote over the chancel arch shown in old photographs does not survive. The west front has a central round-arched entrance with paired boarded doors, stepped string course above, three arched windows at gallery level, and a circular window in the gable. The tumbled brickwork in the gable projects in the manner of quoins, or a crow-stepped gable in reverse. There is a small buttressed porch to the north side, with a second entrance on the west front and paired windows on its north face. On the north elevation, the four bays of the nave are marked by stepped brick buttresses, with paired windows in each bay and roll moulded sill band, hoodmoulds and eaves detailing. In the sanctuary the sill band steps up, and there are again two windows on the north side. The east wall has two arched windows and a circular window above; this elevation and the east wall of the aisle/sacristy have been cement rendered.  The presbytery adjoins on the south side; it is of three bays and two storeys, with a central stack (reduced in height). It retains its timber bargeboards but the windows have been replaced in uPVC. Between the two buildings is a timber and glass conservatory of the 1890s, with leaded windows with trefoil heads and false timber framing in the lean-to gable end.

The entrance doors lead into an entrance narthex, formed by the enclosure in recent years of the underside of the gallery. The main body of the church has plastered walls and an open timber scissor-braced roof. The nave is separated from the south aisle by braced timber posts. There is a plain unmoulded chancel arch, and a boarded canted roof to the sanctuary.

The fitting out of the church dates mainly from 1899-1904, as described above. Fittings of note include:

  • The high altar and reredos (separated at the time of post-Vatican II reordering), timber and Gothic in style, of Belgian provenance, with panel paintings in Nazarene style: on the reredos, the Annunciation and the Nativity, on the altar frontal the Last Supper with flanking angels
  • Fine Stations of the Cross, with polychrome scenes in low relief, in Northern Renaissance style, also from Belgium, with Gothic frames
  • Stained glass in the sanctuary: St Bede and St George, 1901, and an angel in the roundel, maker(s) not established
  • A small marble font with white marble circular bowl, porphyry marble columnar stem with yellow marble columns around
  • Statues of St Joseph and St Benedict by Mayer of Munich, and the Sacred Heart, also possibly by Mayer, on octagonal timber pedestals with Gothic tracery designs (installed by Fr Hartley)
  • A timber holy water stoup in the narthex, of similar character to the pedestals
  • Simple open-backed pine pews, with chamfered and elbowed ends, 1901
  • Organ of 1901, by Nelsons of Durham.
Heritage Details

Architect: Dunn & Hansom

Original Date: 1881

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed