Building » Sunderland – St Cecilia and St Patrick

Sunderland – St Cecilia and St Patrick

Ryhope Road, Sunderland SR2

A plain brick and portal-framed church of the 1950s, designed by a local firm. 

On 8 April 1926 a chapel-of-ease to St Mary’s on Corporation Road was opened by Bishop Thorman. This ‘tin tabernacle’ was built by Hudson & Sons of Sunderland, at a cost of £1,750. St Cecilia’s became an independent parish in 1927, and a large plot adjoining the church was later bought from Wearmouth Coal Company, on which to build a permanent church, presbytery and school.

Despite wartime bomb damage, the temporary church continued in use until the 1950s. By this time, development of the area meant that Corporation Road was no longer suitable as a site for a church, and the site in Ryhope Road was acquired from Captain Leonard Scott-Briggs. The vendor made it a condition of sale that 1,200 parishioners should sign a petition objecting to proposed changes to the course and conditions of the Grand National at Aintree. Work started on the church and presbytery, built by D. and J. Ranken from designs by S. W. Milburn & Partners of Sunderland, in June 1955. The completed church and presbytery cost approximately £30,900 (including furnishings) and the church was opened by Bishop McCormack on 27 February 1957. The 1952 tabernacle from the old church was placed in the new church.

In 1963 alterations were carried out to the Lady altar, described on p.15 of the parish history (1977). In the same year a pulpit was purchased, and work began on the building of a meeting hall behind the church, which opened in June 1964. In 1966 a portable forward altar was introduced to allow for westward-facing celebration of the Mass, and in 1972 the original high altar was re-sited in a more permanent reordering.

In 1982 the parish was amalgamated with that of St Patrick, and the church dedication amended accordingly. St Patrick’s had been the second Catholic church built in Sunderland in modern times, opening in the poorer, mainly Irish, east end of the town in December 1861. Pevsner (p.452) gives James Gilles Brown of Sunderland as the architect. Post-war redevelopment of the surrounding area and the building of new estates in the western parts of Sunderland led to a decline in the Catholic population of St Patrick’s parish, and the last Mass was said in the church in December 1984. The church was subsequently demolished.


The church has a concrete portal frame, externally clad with golden brown bricks laid in stretcher bond, a steeply-pitched roof clad with Broughton Moor green slates, and cast iron rainwater goods. The design is similar to, but of a higher specification than Holy Rosary, Sunderland (qv). As with that building, the western bay of the nave is set back and there are grouped round-headed windows and tall side windows breaking through the eaves as gabled dormers. There is also an inset cross in the east wall of the chancel. Here however more is made of the use of large windows, at the west front and on the sides of the sanctuary.

The interior has not been inspected, but a photograph on the diocesan website shows an aisleless nave and a narrower sanctuary, and appears to have been taken from a western gallery. The original timber canopy for the high altar survives in situ. The account of the interior in the Catholic Building Review (1957) is as follows:

‘The church seats 365 and has a Lady altar, baptistery, choir loft and sacristies. The internal structure is of concrete frames which, like the rough plaster to the ceiling, are painted grey. The walls of the nave are in rose coloured bricks, the sanctuary walls are of plaster painted blue at the sides and rose behind the altar. The woodwork is of oak, architraves of inner doors only are painted white. The high altar is of Dunhouse stone with inlays of green and white marble. The Stations of the Cross are of white marble gilded. Concealed lighting is used throughout and the heating system is from underfloor embedded hot water pipes’.

Subsequent changes have included a new colour scheme, new lighting (hanging brass chandeliers), reordering of the sanctuary (bringing forward of the altar and removal of the timber altar rails), and the creation of a lobby at the west end of the church.

Heritage Details

Architect: S. W. Milburn & Partners

Original Date: 1957

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed