Building » Ushaw Moor – St Joseph

Ushaw Moor – St Joseph

Durham Road, Ushaw Moor, Co. Durham DH7

A hybrid design, with an exterior which might be described as modern Byzantine, and an attractive plaster vaulted, Gothic interior. The chief feature of the church is the richly furnished sanctuary, lined with marble and mosaic in 1955, and sensitively reordered in 1991. The church forms a group with a contemporary presbytery, school and modern parish hall; it occupies a raised site, set well back from the road. 

Ushaw Moor is a daughter church of Newhouse (qv). The first church was a ‘tin tabernacle’, costing £474 and opening on 19 December, 1909. The site had belonged to the Ushaw College estate, from which part of the land is still leased. In late 1911, the Rev. Michael Shelley became the first priest in residence, occupying a property at 29/30 Durham Road. In 1925 Ushaw Moor became a separate parish, with Fr Shelley the first parish priest, and plans were put in hand for a more permanent church.  The foundation stone for this was laid by Bishop Thorman on 19 June 1930, and the bishop returned to open the church on 21 April 1931. A presbytery was built alongside the church at the same time. The architect was Robert Burke of Newcastle (The Tablet, 2 May 1931). The congregation was made up predominantly of pit workers of Irish origin and their families, and a bell for the new building was given by the people of Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary. The font from the old church, which was a memorial to the parish dead of World War I, was brought to the new church, along with a statue of Our Lady, which had been presented by the church at Newhouse. The parish debt having been cleared, the new church was consecrated by Bishop McCormack on 17 May, 1938. The old church became the parish hall.

In 1955 the sanctuary was extended by the Rev. Oswald Whittaker, and richly lined with marble and mosaic. Externally, this is a fairly seamless addition, possibly suggesting the same architect. In 1979 a new parish hall was built on the site of the old tin church. In the late 1980s an organ built by Nelsons of Durham in 1905 was acquired from the Methodist church at Eighton Banks. Rebuilt, restored and enlarged, it was inaugurated by the organist Nigel Ogden on 1 November 1988. The church was reordered by Richard Lyons in 1991. The high altar of 1955 was left intact, the pulpit and communion rails removed, and the sanctuary extended forward. A forward altar, celebrant’s chair and ambo were installed, using marble salvaged from the pulpit and communion rails. The lady altar was simplified, with the statue of Our Lady placed on a plinth similar in style to the new sanctuary furnishings. The work was carried out by Morris Marbleworks. Wall to wall carpeting was also fitted. A new narthex was formed at the west end, with a new font doubling as a holy water stoup. The new altar was dedicated by Bishop Swindlehurst on 17 July 1991.


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

The style of the exterior might be described as modern Byzantine. It is built of red brick, laid in English bond, and consists of a nave with aisles under a continuous plain tile roof, asymmetrically-placed southwest tower and short sanctuary with attached confessionals on the north side, all dating from 1930-31. The dressings are of reconstituted stone, the windows steel framed. The sanctuary was extended in 1955, with attached chapel and sacristies, and is similar in design, but more economical – the expense was saved for inside. The west front is something  of a showpiece elevation, masking the more utilitarian design behind. It has a central entrance with a large stone panel over with a Greek cross in low relief, flanked by two pedestals and canopies for statues. Above is a tall round-arched window with stone surround and shouldered head. There is a stone parapet and cornice, with rainwater hoppers disguised as triglyphs. To the left is a broad, squat tower, with a short upper belfry stage topped by a shallow pyramidal roof behind a parapet. At the sides, the aisle walls are of five bays, with round-arched windows and attached flat buttresses. The sanctuary is externally plain, with no stone surrounds and no buttresses, but brickwork and arched windows of a similar nature. The east wall is plain, with a gable parapet with brick on edge coping.

By contrast with the vaguely Byzantine exterior, the interior is of Gothic character. An entrance narthex (extended forward in 1991, now used as a weekday chapel) leads to an aisled nave, with square, chamfered piers in the arcades, pointed arches and embrasures cut through to the narrow circulation aisles, and a pointed barrel vault over the nave. The finishes are plastered and painted, apart from the flat aisle roofs, which are of timber, and a high brick dado around the perimeter of the aisles. The eastern bay of the nave (which served as the sanctuary from 1931-1955, and into which the sanctuary has since 1991 once more extended) has smaller paired arcades and one clerestory window within an arched embrasure on either side. A pointed arch encloses a recessed organ gallery at the west end and a similar arch marks the entrance to the pointed barrel vaulted sanctuary. This interplay of Gothic volumes is a characteristic of Robert Burke’s interiors at this time.

The chief feature of the interior is the 1955 fitting out of the sanctuary (as modified in 1991). The walls are lined with a plinth, pilasters and panels of different coloured marbles, with the reredos to the high altar in the form of a rood, with a crucifix in the central arch (which is supported by yellow marble columns) and statues of the Virgin Mary and St John in niches on either side. The arch over the reredos has mosaics of Byzantine character, with a descending dove towards the apex in the centre. The other sanctuary furnishings are of 1991, described above.

The south chapel has exposed brick on its north and south walls and timber panelling on the east wall, behind the shrine of Our Lady. It has a shaped vaulted ceiling, with timber boarding. The entrance door appears to be disused, with a statue of St Joseph in front if it. The chapel might have been built as a baptistery; there is a brass wall tablet recording the donation of the font as a memorial to the parish dead of the First World War. However, the present font dates from 1991 and is in the weekday chapel in the modern narthex.

As stated above, the organ was built by Nelsons of Durham for the Methodist church at Eighton Banks, and was brought to St Joseph’s in 1988.

Entry amended by AHP 4.1.2021

Heritage Details

Architect: Robert Burke

Original Date: 1931

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed