Building » Sunderland – Immaculate Heart of Mary

Sunderland – Immaculate Heart of Mary

Springwell Road, Sunderland SR3

A striking design of the 1950s, although some of the quality of the brick detailing is poor on closer inspection. The interior is notable for its pointed parabolic arches in the nave, perhaps a mid-twentieth century homage to E. S. Prior’s church of St Andrew at Roker. 

The church was built in 1954-5 from designs by Reavell & Cahill of Alnwick. Designed to seat 330, it was opened by Bishop McCormack on 23 November 1955. The account in the Northern Catholic Calendar states tantalisingly that the wooden fleche over the church is ‘of French origin, ingeniously constructed and with interesting history’. According to the QIR, this was reconstructed in the 1990s. In 1995 plans were prepared for the reordering of the church by Vincente Stienlet, but these were not fully implemented.


The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east end.

The church is a striking design of the mid-1950s, built of brown brick laid in stretcher bond on a darker brick plinth, with concrete or reconstituted stone dressings and a steep tile roof. At the west end are two projecting and gabled pointed-arched entrances flanking the west wall of the nave, which contains three square windows (to a western narthex) and a tall lancet window (to the nave). Attached to the southern entrance is a single storey link to the presbytery. The side elevations have tall lancet windows to the aisles, breaking through the eaves into gabled dormers. At the east end the end wall of the sanctuary is windowless, and has a large inset brick Celtic cross which appears to double up at the top as a chimney stack. The end wall is flanked on either side by projections housing a side chapel and sacristy. On the main ridge, at the point of the chancel arch below, is a tall timber-clad fleche, reconstructed in the 1990s.

The western entrances lead into a western narthex below a gallery. The main body of the church consists of a nave of six bays with narrow circulation aisles and a sanctuary flanked by a Lady Chapel to the north and sacristy to the south. The internal walls are of bare brick, except in the sanctuary where they are plastered and painted. The bay divisions of the nave are marked by tall pointed parabolic arches, perhaps a mid-century homage to E. S. Prior’s church of St Andrew at Roker. These are painted red. The side walls of the arches are pierced by narrower pointed arches for the passage aisles.  The chancel arch is spanned by a beam with an opening of lunette form over (possibly intended for a rood?). Within the sanctuary, the original painted wooden canopy for the high altar remains against the east wall, but the sanctuary furnishings are otherwise of more recent date and not of particular note.  The nave seating consists of plain oak benches, and at the west end there are some well-detailed doors with cruciform window openings.

Heritage Details

Architect: Reavell & Cahill

Original Date: 1955

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed