Building » Wallsend – Our Lady and St Columba

Wallsend – Our Lady and St Columba

A bold and impressive design of the 1950s, fusing Modern Perpendicular Gothic, Scandinavian and Art Deco elements. It is the best example in the diocese of the work of the ‘middle generation’ of the Stienlet architectural dynasty. 

Post-Vatican II reordering by Vincente Stienlet involved the removal/reuse of some original furnishings, but did not affect the overriding special interest of the building, which lies in its volumes, elevational modulation and subtle detailing.  

A church building fund was begun in 1898 after the presbytery building fund had closed. The Newcastle architect Charles Walker designed the church that was built in 1904 and dedicated to St Columba. As the population of Wallsend increased with the growth of local industries, especially shipbuilding at the Walker Naval Yard, and coal mining at the Rising Sun colliery, a larger church was needed.

The foundation stone of the present church was laid by the parish priest, Fr Timothy O’Brien in February 1957, and the church was opened by Bishop Cunningham on 7 October 1957. The new church was dedicated to Our Lady and St Columba. It was a large structure, seating 520, built from designs by Vincente G. Stienlet of Pascal J. Stienlet and Son.  Photographs of the original appearance of the church are shown at figures 1 and 2. The church was consecrated on 13 June 1964. 

Post-Vatican II reordering of 1968 was carried out by Vincente Stienlet (the younger). The high altar, pulpit and the central section of the communion rails were removed; a new forward altar was introduced and the tabernacle placed against the east wall on a plinth incorporating parts from the original high altar. A further reordering by Vincente Stienlet in 1990 involved the creations of a new baptistery in a marble-railed enclosure on the south side of the sanctuary (with re-used communion rails), with new font and lectern. The etched design on the glass bowl of the front was by Morag Gordon. A new pipe organ by Nigel Church was installed (Vincente Stienlet pers. com.)

The altar is at geographical south and the main door at the north; traditional east-west orientation will be used in this description.

This is a large and impressive design, built in 1957 from designs by Pascal J. Stienlet & Son. Stylistically it is difficult to categorise, fusing as it does elements of Perpendicular Gothic, freely interpreted in a modern idiom, infused with Scandinavian, Art Deco and Festival of Britain elements. The building is faced inside and out with high quality thin 2in. bricks, laid externally in a staggered bond, with soldier courses at sills, lintels and eaves. The roofs are copper-covered roof. The entrance and all the doors are of oak, with specially designed wrought iron handles outside, and silvered bronze handles on the inner side. The square west entrance tower projects from the centre of the main body of the church, with an ingenious panel of advancing and receding brick crosses above the tall, copper-canopied door recess. On top of the eighty foot bell tower is a copper-covered drum with splayed brick shafts and a fretwork of (originally at least) stone louvres. Small windows light low narrow links flanking the tower, leading to square, pyramidal-roofed end pavilions, that at the south with a door. At the east end, the high apse has full-height slit windows at the sides, while the nave has five tall, wide windows with Perpendicular lead tracery separated by tall brick fins which rise from the internal aisle columns.

The plan consists of a long nave with narrow aisles, western narthex and choir gallery, transepts, apsidal sanctuary and mortuary chapel.  Square brick columns support the clerestory walls and form narrow side aisles. The narrow piers frame a ‘wall of glass’ at clerestory level, the leaded subdivisions of modern Perpendicular Gothic character with cathedral glass, graded from blue at the top, yellow in the middle and the palest grey or white at the bottom (this replaces the original glass, which was blue at the top, amber in the middle and white at the bottom).  The high nave roof is plastered, with a flat perimeter soffit and a raised central section incorporating a long central panel of repeating octagonal motifs.

The floors of the main congregational space are finished with thermoplastic floor tiles, patterned in the aisles and crossing, and installed for their acoustic value. Original mahogany bench seating is arranged in two blocks, with a central alley. At the west end, above the narthex screen with double doors, a wide gallery with a Church & Co. organ has pipes arranged in symmetrical fashion.

The sanctuary is paved in marble, now carpeted except for one projecting part of the sanctuary platform. The walls of the sanctuary and side chapels are richly ornamented with marble and mosaics. Against the east wall survives the original altar canopy, with a huge black and white marble slab reredos. Part of the original marble communion rails remains in the side chapels and, reworked, around the relocated font. The sanctuary furnishings otherwise belong to the post-Vatican II (1968 and 1990) reorderings by Vincente Stienlet.

The original baptistery, in the pavilion north of the tower, has a window signed by Hardman showing the Baptism of Christ. 

Heritage Details


Original Date: 1957

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed