Building » Thornley – Sacred Heart and English Martyrs

Thornley – Sacred Heart and English Martyrs

Dunelm Road, Thornley, Co. Durham DH6

A long, low plain brick Gothic design, with some domestic Tudor detailing, built with the adjoining presbytery from designs by Charles Walker. Both buildings are much altered. The church interior, with its Gothic arcading and low, shallow barrel vault, is unusual yet intimate in character.  

Thornley Colliery opened in 1835, and by the time of the 1851 census the population had grown to 2741. A Catholic church dedicated to St Godric was built in 1850, along with a school. The site of the present church was acquired in 1897 and the present church built in 1900 from designs by Charles Walker. Walker also designed the attached presbytery, which was built after the church. The foundation stone was laid on June 4 and the church of the English Martyrs, seating 300 people, was opened on November 11. The cost, including the land, was about £1500. In 1933 a new sanctuary, side aisle and entrance porch were added.


The church is essentially a building in the Gothic style, dating from 1900 with additions of the 1930s. On plan, it comprises a nave with north and south aisles and lower northwest and southwest extensions and a long sanctuary, all under a long pitched roof. At the junction between nave and sanctuary is a squat square tower with a pyramidal roof.  The walls are all of red brick (‘Sherburn House best pressed bricks’, according to the Northern Catholic Calendar, 1901): the sanctuary walls are faced in Flemish bond, the remainder in stretcher bond.  The roofs are all slated.

The west front has a five-light pointed window with Perpendicular style tracery under a broad gable with a half timbering in the apex and moulded bargeboards. In front of the main gable wall has been built a flat-roofed porch up steps flanked by brick additions with hipped roofs dying into the nave wall. The porch and additions date from 1933. Behind these additions are the ramped returns of the parapets of the two side aisles which rise the full height of the nave and are of five bays with tall rectangular window openings divided by simple brick buttresses. East of the third bay on the north side the presbytery is attached, a building which has details similar to those of the nave west end.  On the south side the sanctuary has two bays below the tower with small windows above a side porch. The eastern part of the sanctuary has a single long window each side and a roundel in the east gable.

Internally the nave has five bay arcades of bare brick unmoulded pointed arches.  The side aisles have bare brick dadoes and plastered walls above with transverse arched between each bay. The western bay has a gallery with a modern enclosed vestibule beneath.  The shallow pointed nave ceiling is curiously low; it looks as if an open timber roof has been encased, perhaps with a view to reduce heating costs.  The roof continues over the western half of the sanctuary, and the nave arcades are continued with two small arches each side. At this point the nave ceiling ends against a cross wall with a tall pointed arched opening into the main eastern sanctuary which has a panelled pointed ceiling. The sanctuary is richly furnished with two tiers of timber panelling to the walls and a tall timber reredos with a timber canopy. The simple nave benches could date from c1900.  There is stained glass in the west window but all the other windows are clear-glazed.

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Walker

Original Date: 1900

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed