Building » Stanley – St Joseph

Stanley – St Joseph

Thorneyholme Terrace, Stanley, Co. Durham DH9

A large Gothic Revival church by Charles Walker of Newcastle, set within an earlier burial ground. The Towneley family gave the land and donated several furnishings. Subsidence problems due to underground mining works prevented the later addition of a tower. The interior is decorated with high-quality carved woodwork and several stained glass windows by Mayer & Co of Munich. In the burial ground is a communal grave for thirty eight victims of the Burns Pit Disaster of 1909.

The history of the church is summarised in the list description. The following additional details may be mentioned:

  • The site of the school, church, graveyard and presbytery was acquired from the Towneleys, a notable Lancashire Catholic family, who owned about 1,400 acres of land in Stanley. They also donated several furnishings to the church.
  • The church was opened on 19 June 1902
  • Early designs differed slightly from the executed building. The Northern Catholic Calendar (1902) states that ‘Mr Walker has designed a noble structure. Mr Johnson and Mr Mordue have crystallised his design…’ The small spire over the chancel arch was built and is visible in a photo of 1929. This may be identical with the turret said to have been over the baptistery (according to the 2002 history) where a peal of tubular bells was installed in 1908 and which was removed in 1931.
  • A proposed war memorial tower was designed in 1920 by Messrs Broderick and Lowther. Although Walker, the original architect, had warned against the building of a heavy tower on land known for its subsidence problems, it was the opposition of the Towneley family which finally put an end to the plans. 
  • In 1921, the sanctuary platform was extended forward with screens on either side which were removed in 1986 together with the altar rails and the pulpit. (The architect for the re-ordering was Dietz-Lyons Associates of Newcastle.)
  • The church was originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart and St Joseph; the former dedication was dropped at the time of the consecration in 1929.
  • In 1937, a fire destroyed the north transept roof; this was later repaired and the interior repainted.
  • A rood cross erected in 1907 was removed in the 1950s.
  • A moveable forward altar was installed in 1976.


The church building, its fittings and furnishings are fully described in the list description (see below). There are only a few omissions:

  • The high altar reredos was given in 1911 by Mrs Murray (née Evelyne Towneley).
  • Two windows on the north side of the nave have stained glass depicting St James and the Holy Family. Two stained glass windows on the south side of the nave include a depiction of St Francis (1966) and Our Lady of Lourdes. The west window in the north transept has a single lancet on a Pentecost theme, erected in 2002 for the centenary of the church. There are further stained glass lancet windows depicting saints in the baptistery, in the porch and below the gallery.
  • The organ in the south transept is no longer in use as the water table has risen over time and affected the organ fan in the chamber below the Lady Chapel.
  • The pews were originally much longer, covering the full width of the nave. They have been cut down in length twice.
  • Another set of Stations from the closed church of St Mary, South Moor, is currently stored in the baptistery.
  • The painted Sacred Heart statue in the porch is by Ferdinando Stufflesser.
  • The baptistery screen dates from 1908.
  • The Stations are fine framed reliefs, which were made in Lyons and erected in 1911. 
  • A former confessional in the north transept has been converted to a toilet.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1898-1902 by Charles Walker. Built in Gothic Revival style of local coursed rusticated white sandstone with ashlar dressings. The pillars and shafting are in Galloway red sandstone; pitch pine roof.

PLAN: Nave and apsidal chancel under a single roof of slate, with apsidal side chapels, projecting baptistery and porch on north and south sides at west end.

EXTERIOR: The chancel is a five-sided apse with a hipped roof and an eaves cornice and is lit by five lancet windows set within full height shallow segmental pointed arches. The foundation stone of the church, recording the date 1899, is set in the east wall of the chancel. The side chapels are 5-sided apses under conical roofs and are lit by three lancet windows. The transepts are gabled with angled buttresses and single 3-light window with geometric tracery and sill band; plain hood mould with carved representations of heads for stops. The south transept is surmounted by a carved cross. The nave has six bays and an eaves cornice; paired multifoil windows in the west bay, and single lancet windows with geometrical tracery and drip mouldings between buttresses in other bays. The main entrance is on the south front through a gabled porch in the west bay of the nave. A multiple chamfered pointed arch with hood mould and carved stops springs from plain splayed reveals; it contains paired doors with carved rectilinear tracery to door and fanlight above. The main entrance is flanked to the right by a pointed arch window comprised of three trefoil-headed lights, the hood mould continued around the main door. South porch has continuous hood and drip moulds with carved heads as stops and blind arcade on left return. The west end of the nave contains an elaborate wheel window with radiating tracery set within a shallow pointed arch on two pillars of red sandstone and flanked by buttresses with blind arcading below. It is surmounted by a carved cross.

INTERIOR: The pentagonal chancel with wooden vaulted ceiling has a pointed Gothic arch carried on red sandstone pillars; three of its five lancets contain stained glass by the Munich firm Mayer and Co. depicting the “Sacred Heart”, St. Thomas a’Beckett and St. George and the Dragon. The reredos depicts “The Last Supper” and “Thomas Meeting Jesus” and is flanked by matching oak panelling with applied Gothic tracery. The centrally placed altar bears the tabernacle with a Crucifix above. The Sacred Heart Chapel to the left has three stained glass lancet windows. This chapel is a memorial to the fallen of the First World War in the form of an altar, reredos and matching oak panelling throughout; a brass tablet on the left wall of the chapel records the names of the fallen. The Lady Chapel is to the right with three stained glass lancet windows contains an altar with reredos containing a carved wooden Madonna, and matching panelling. Three light windows in the north and south transepts are filled with a Crucifixion scene and Christ in glory surrounded by the Saints by Mayer and Co. and the south transept contains the original organ re-sited in 1908. The plain nave with terrazzo floor bears the Stations of the Cross along both walls; double pointed arches at east end supported centrally on a red sandstone pillar carry the nave wall across the transepts. The pews are largely open backed benches with ornate bench fronts surmounted by carved wooden fleur-de-lys. The pitch pine vaulted roof is supported on a decorative timber blind arcade and is braced with metal ties across the nave. Ornately carved wooden west gallery with panels of Gothic tracery separated by plain stiles with moulded sill below. The west window of stained glass is of wheel form with radiating tracery; at its centre is a depiction of the Crucifixion with Our Lady and St. John. There are two three-light windows below. Opposing openings at west end of the nave lead into the baptistery and south porch; the baptistery is shielded by an ornately carved screen designed by M. Zens of Ghent with white marble statues of St. Theresa and St. Joseph to the front. The west porch is entered through paired doors with rectilinear applied tracery; a Holy Water stoup is set into the wall to the right of the doors. The attached presbytery is not of special interest and does not form part of the listing.

HISTORY: In order to fulfil the needs of the expanding Catholic population of Stanley, land was acquired in 1892 for the construction of a presbytery and church adjacent to the school of 1873; the presbytery was completed in 1893 and the foundation stone for the church was laid in 1899. St. Joseph’s Church, accommodating 650 people, was completed in 1902 at a cost of £6000 and it was consecrated in 1928. The stained glass was mostly provided by Mayer & Co of Munich, a firm working on an international scale at this time and who had achieved the status of a “Pontifical Institute of Christian Art” by Pope Leo XIII in 1892. Soon after completion, large cracks were noted in the fabric of the church, believed to be subsidence caused by underground mine workings. In 1911, some restoration work was carried out to the nave and presbytery, but the instability in the church fabric remained. After the First World War, plans to erect a tower as a memorial to the fallen were shelved in favour of an altar which was inserted into the Sacred Heart Chapel. In 1922, a settlement of £2300 was agreed with regard to damage caused by subsidence. This allowed the repair of the north transept window, several nave windows and the replacement of parts of the transept walls. Following the Second Vatican Council, minor changes to the church interior were made in order to accommodate the Roman Catholic New Liturgy; these included the installation of a moveable altar facing the congregation, the removal of altar rails, side screens and the pulpit.

This Roman Catholic church of 1898-1902 retains its historic setting of adjacent cemetery, near-contemporary school and presbytery. It is of special architectural interest as a Gothic Revival church, which was designed with an overall high level of architectural quality, including a collection of stained glass by Mayer & Co. of Munich. This is enhanced by the survival of a little altered interior with good quality fixtures and fittings; the deft detailing of the woodwork, manifest in the elaboration of the reredos, the roofing and west gallery in particular, is noteworthy. The quality of design, execution and decoration, combined with relatively low levels of alteration mean that this church fully meets the criteria for listing in a national context.

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Walker

Original Date: 1902

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II