Tunstall Village Road, Silksworth, Sunderland SR3
A good ‘chaste and correct’ Early English church and attached presbytery by George Goldie, set within a burial ground. Unusually for Catholic churches at this time, the church, presbytery and school were paid for by a single donor, the convert Lady Priscilla Beckwith of Silksworth House.
Unlike many of the missions in the Sunderland area, which struggled in the early years, the colliery village of New Tunstall benefitted from a major benefactor. This was Lady Priscilla Beckwith (1806-77) of Silksworth House, who was a member of the Durham Hopper family, noted recusants in penal times. Born an Anglican, Lady Beckwith was a Catholic convert and associate of John Henry Newman (who later presented a silver finger bowl to the church). Her husband, General William Beckwith, had led the hussars in the notoriously bloody suppression of the 1831 reform riots in Bristol. He died in 1871; according to Deacon Barron, he paid for the building of the Anglican church of St Matthew, Silksworth, which opened that year. The foundation stone for the church of St Leonard (there had been a medieval chapel in Silksworth with this dedication) was laid on 12 July 1872 and the church opened by Bishop Chadwick on 16 September 1873. A presbytery was built at the same time. The architect was George Goldie of Goldie & Child, Yorkshire-born and the grandson of Ignatius Bonomi (architect of St Mary, Sunderland and other churches in the diocese). The builder was a Mr Allison of Whitburn. A school was built in 1874, also paid for by Lady Beckwith (replaced in 1971 by a new building designed by Anthony J. Rossi’s practice). Because there was no debt, the church was consecrated early on, on 10 October 1875.
An account of the 1873 opening of the church in The Tablet (quoted in the parish history) stated as follows:
‘The style is Early English and the chasteness and correctness of the architecture have elicited much admiration. The buildings consist of a spacious nave, sanctuary, porch and bell turret, with a commodious presbytery for the priest. Accommodation is provided in the church for a congregation of 300 persons. The church is well lighted by three windows on each side, a beautiful west window, and five lancet windows in the apse. The centre window in the apse is of stained glass from the manufactory of Messrs Wailes of Newcastle. It represents the Resurrection and is a memorial to the late General Beckwith of Silksworth. The altar is of Bath stone, finely sculptured by Mr S. Ruddock of Pimlico. A statue of the Blessed Virgin by the same artist is a well wrought figure of the Ancilla Domini. The fittings of the altar are handsome and in good taste’.
Mr Ruddock’s high altar, and a sense of the original stencil decoration of the walls and window surrounds, is indicated in an early photograph in the centenary history of 1973. The altar was reduced in size in a post-Vatican II reordering, when a new forward altar was formed using the old font, and part of the altar rails was used in a new lectern.
The church is in Early English Gothic style, and is built of rock-faced stone (a darker stone is used for the dressings), with a slate roof. There is an attached contemporary presbytery to the east, of the same materials. On plan the church consists of unaisled nave, apsidal sanctuary and southwest porch. A projection on the north side of the nave houses a sacristy with a gallery and organ loft above (with a cheaply-built single storey addition on its eastern side), and there is a polygonal bell turret at the southwest corner.
The south elevation faces the street, from which a path gives access to the gabled and buttressed south porch, its boarded doors with strapwork hinges within a plain pointed archway. The porch gable is crowned with a stone cross. The nave elevations have a high stone band with paired lancets in plate tracery openings, with plain hoodmould over. These and all the windows are protected by polycarbonate sheeting. An attached buttress marks the junction with the canted apse, which has single lancet windows on each face. At the west end, an attached polygonal bell tower occupies the southwest corner. The louvred belfry stage is surmounted by a tall polygonal slate-clad turret. The west elevation is dominated by the west window, of four lights with quatrefoils and an octofoil above.
The interior is almost a single volume, broken only by the wide chancel arch. The walls are plastered and painted, and there is a projecting band around the interior at sill level. The windows are set within deep splays. The chancel arch is supported on corbels bearing plain shields, perhaps intended for painted decoration. Above the chancel arch is a painted text (‘Glory be to God on high and on earth peace to men of goodwill’) surmounted by a representation of the Trinity. Braced collar rafter roof over the four-bay nave, the braces pierced with trefoils. Giving off the south side of the nave are two doors with shouldered heads, one leading to the sacristy and one to a stair to a first floor gallery and organ loft. A large pointed arched opens from the gallery to the nave, with a projecting stone front bearing shields and supported on bracketed corbels. The gallery front is surmounted by a decorative iron balustrade. To the east, the apse is rib vaulted, the ribs picked out partly in gold, and the interstices painted blue with gold stars. A door leads from the sanctuary to the sacristy, and there is a simple Gothic stone piscina to the right of the high altar.
List description (the church, presbytery and enclosing walls were listed in 2016, following Taking Stock)
Summary: Roman Catholic Church, presbytery and enclosing walls, 1872-3 to designs of George Goldie of Goldie and Child. Early English Gothic style.
Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Leonard with attached presbytery and associated stone walls, of 1872-3 by George Goldie, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a well-executed and well-detailed church in Early English style, which uses contrasting materials to good effect; * Architect: a handsome design by George Goldie who was one of the foremost C19 Catholic architects in England ; * Fixtures and fittings: the (reduced) high altar is well-detailed and the original font and altar rails remain, as does stained glass to the sanctuary by William Wailes of Newcastle; * Degree of survival: the buildings have largely intact exteriors, and the inevitable minor re-ordering of the sanctuary does not detract significantly from the church’s overall interest; * Group value: the church and attached presbytery were built as a piece and form a complimentary and coherent design of much character.
History: St Leonard’s church and presbytery were the gifts of the Catholic convert Lady Priscilla Beckwith (1806-77) of Silksworth House, who was a member of the Durham Hopper family, noted recusants in penal times. The foundation stone for the church was laid on 12 July 1872 and the church opened by Bishop Chadwick on 16 September 1873; it could accommodate 300 people. The presbytery was built at the same time. The buildings were to the designs of George Goldie of Goldie and Child. George Goldie (1828-97) was one of the foremost C19 Catholic architects in England. The builder was a Mr Allison of Whitburn. As there was no debt the church was consecrated early on in October 1875. An early photograph of the church interior depicts the original high altar, sculptured by Mr S Ruddock of Pimlico, and the stained glass windows of the apse. The central window was given as a memorial to her husband by Lady Beckwith and is by Wailes of Newcastle; it is considered that stylistically the remaining four apse windows are also by Wailes. Extensive stencilling to the walls and window surrounds is also featured. Post-Vatican II reordering led to the reduction in size of the high altar, the insertion of a new forward altar utilising the original font and the re-use of part of the altar rails in a new lectern.
Details: Roman Catholic church, of 1872-3 to designs of George Goldie of Goldie & Child. Early English Gothic style. MATERIALS: both the church and attached presbytery are constructed of rock-faced stone with darker coloured stone dressings and slate roofs. PLAN: the church has an un-aisled nave with apsidal sanctuary and a south-west porch and polygonal bell tower; a projecting range to the north side of the nave houses a sacristy with a gallery and organ loft above. A presbytery is attached to the sacristy at the east side by a linking range. EXTERIOR: the church faces towards the main road and is set within a large garden and burial ground. All windows and door openings have pointed arches and there is a moulded sill band and a chamfered plinth to all but the north elevation. There are stone cross finials to the sanctuary, porch, sacristy range and west end. The apsidal sanctuary has a semi-pyramidal roof and each of its five sides is marked by alternate quoins and there is a single lancet to each face; a foundation stone dated 1872 is set low down in the sanctuary wall. A buttress to the south face of the sanctuary marks the junction with the nave, whose south side has three paired lancets in plate tracery openings with plain hoodmoulds over. At the south-west corner there is a projecting, gabled and buttressed porch with a plain pointed archway fitted with double-boarded doors with strapwork hinges and an impost band. The attached two-stage polygonal bell tower rises above to the left and occupies the south-west corner; the louvered belfry stage is surmounted by a tall polygonal slate-clad turret. The north wall of the nave also has three plate tracery windows with hoodmoulds, and at the east end there is a gabled, two-storey projecting sacristy range with attached lean-to stair turret, both with prominent quoins. The sacristy has a pair of lancets to the first floor and a square-headed window to the ground floor. The buttressed west end of the church has a large, four-light window with quatrefoils and an octofoil above.
The presbytery is joined to the sacristy by a narrow single-storey range; this has later flat-roofed extensions* projecting from the east and north sides which are not of special interest. The presbytery has two storeys and two bays under a pyramidal roof, with a third bay projecting at 45 degrees to the south-east under a separate pyramidal roof. The south elevation has a gabled wooden porch with a decorative datestone of AD 1872 immediately to the right. Ground floor windows are set within lancet openings with solid tympana, the one on the corner with an inset quatrefoil. The first floor windows are square-headed with ashlar lintels and surrounds and frames are original horned timber sashes with the exception of one to the first floor replaced in uPVC. The north elevation is plainer with an inserted canted bay window to the ground floor and a large six-light window to the right. Attached to the west gable is a lower two-storey two bay addition* with a later, small single-storey lean-to attached* which are not of special interest.
INTERIOR: the church is a single space with plastered and painted walls and a projecting band throughout at sill level. Windows are set within deep splays. The semi-dome of the sanctuary has a rib vaulted ceiling and the five lancets of the apse are well-detailed and have stained glass, representing St Agnes, St John, the Risen Christ, St Peter and St Leonard. The finely carved but reduced high altar is of Bath stone and retains its carved frontal with floriated ornament and central cross, with polished red marble columns to the corners. There is a simple Gothic piscina to the right of the high altar. The inserted forward altar uses the original font as a base, of red and yellow sandstone with a clustered columned pedestal. The stone communion rail has square chamfered panels of pierced quatrefoils with a solid marble top and survives in part to the left and right of the sanctuary entrance, and two square panels have been re-used in the lectern. The wide chancel arch is supported on corbels bearing plain shields, and above is painted text ‘Glory be to God on high and on earth peace to men of goodwill’, surmounted by a painted representation of the Trinity. The four-bay nave has a braced collar rafter roof, the braces pierced with trefoils. A pair of shoulder-arched doors lead through the S side of the nave to the sacristy and to a winder stair to the first floor gallery and organ loft; the latter has a large stone pointed arch opening with a stone projecting gallery supported on corbels and a stone front of shields supporting a decorative iron balustrade. The nave floor beneath the benches is boarded and carpeted elsewhere and the plain pine benches have rounded ends and are considered to be original. The nave windows including the west window have tinted glass with coloured borders and inset geometrical patterns of circles and quatrefoils. The porch has a similar roof to that of the nave, and a pair of holy water stoups.
The presbytery retains its original plan. It has four-panel doors throughout with simple architraves and some windows have timber reveals; there is no plasterwork to any areas. A central stair hall with tiled floor and pointed arch entrances to the linking block and main entrance, gives access to the three ground floor reception rooms, one with a simple wooden chimney piece. The quarter-turn staircase has stick balusters, a simple chamfered newel post and handrail. The three first floor bedrooms retain simple timber fire surrounds, one of which has an arched C19 cast-iron grate.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: set to the south of the church is a low, stepped stone rubble boundary wall with double-chamfered ashlar copings, which retains some railings, and has square, buttressed ashlar gate piers with pyramidal caps to the openings and corners. Access to the west porch is flanked by a similar wall with central openings and gate piers. To the rear of the church there are short stone walls ending in square, pyramidal capped stone piers, formerly providing gated access to the presbytery yard.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.
Other: Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle: An Architectural and Historical Review, AHP, 2012.
Architect: George Goldie
Original Date: 1873
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II