HISTORY OF THE PARISH
OF OUR LADY & ST CUTHBERT
1870 – 2005
Written by Fr Paul Zielinski
to Celebrate the Restoration of the Church in 2005
From its beginning in 1870 the parish has always included the villages of Bywell, Stocksfield, Hedley-on-the-Hill, Mickley, Newton, Ovingham and Ovington. For the first twenty five years it also included Crawcrook and Wylam.
THE BACKGROUND OF THE 19th CENTURY
Between 1815 and 1870, industrialization spread slowly across Europe. Industrial regions grew up around major ore and coalfields, drawing millions of workers from the villages to form a new class of labouring poor. From 1870 to 1914, Europe experienced a Second Industrial Revolution based on a booming world trade and the establishment of a popular consumer market. Electricity, chemicals and motor vehicles replaced iron, coal and railways as the driving force of economic change. The mining of coal in the Prudhoe area brought about an significant increase in the size of the town. Coal was king then, and the wealth from it would be instrumental in the provision of a Catholic chapel in 1870, a Catholic school in 1875, a Reading Room for community use in 1885, a Catholic cemetery and the replacing of the original chapel with our magnificent church in 1891.
This period of the second half of the nineteenth century laid the foundations for momentous social change on a global scale, assisted in part by human inventions. To mention but a few examples, it was in 1862 that the Suez canal was opened. 1863 saw the Emancipation of American slaves, and 1865 saw the end of the American Civil War. In 1869 the first American trans-continental railroad was completed. In 1870 the large scale Jewish emigration from Europe to America began. In 1877 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. In 1878 the first electric street lighting was installed in London. In 1880 the first refrigerated cargo reaches London from Australia. In 1882 the first frozen meat exports from New Zealand took place. In 1888 Brazil abolished slavery. In 1896 Marconi built the first radio transmitter. In 1901 the first wireless message was sent across the Atlantic. In 1904 the Panama canal was opened. Between 1891 and 1905 the Trans Siberian railway was built. Interestingly, in 1904 when our church was in the process of being dismantled and transferred to it present site, there were only 8,000 motor vehicles in Britain.
In the life of the Catholic Church, the second half of the nineteenth century was not lacking in history making developments. In 1850, the Catholic Church in Britain was coming out of a long period of persecution with the re-establishment of Catholic dioceses and the Catholic hierarchy. The pace of school and church building accelerated to meet the spiritual and educational needs of an increasing Catholic population, swelled by Irish immigration. In Rome, in 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Only four years later, in 1858, the young and frail Bernadette Soubirous was having visions of our Lady at the grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes in the French Pyrenees. Divine healing there in the spring waters would be a harbinger of great strides in medical science that has transformed the way illness is treated across the globe. In 1869 the book describing the first 200 miracles at Lourdes sold 800,000 copies. But human beings are prone to other diseases, more insidious than infection and malfunction of the body, that cannot be cured by science. So, on 8th December 1869 Pope Pius IX announced the summoning of a General Council of the Church to tackle the 19th century’s unbelief and rationalism, and to strengthen the Church against hostile societies and governments. On 18th July 1870 the final vote at the Council on Papal Infallibility was 533 bishops in favour and 2 against, defining the Church’s belief that the Holy Spirit preserves the Teaching Authority of the Church from error concerning matters of faith and morals. Soon afterwards, on 4th August 1870 King Victor Emmanuelle invaded the Papal States and a millennium and a half of Papal rule in Rome came to an end. The papacy was to being liberated from the trappings of worldly power, enabling the Pope to be seen on the world stage more clearly as a spiritual leader, pure and simple. How necessary this would be for the following century, marked, as it would be, by the amplified destruction of mechanised war on a global scale and the nuclear threat. The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century had created vast work forces of labouring poor across Europe and elsewhere, often living in squalor. So we find that in 1891 Pope Leo XIII published his most famous Encyclical “Rerum Novarum”, which highlights the plight of the poor in industrial society. The rich, it says, have a duty to help the poor and this duty goes beyond mere charity. He attacks unrestricted capitalism and insists that the state has a duty to intervene on behalf of the worker, that there should be a living wage and that labouring people have the right to organise themselves into unions. By this teaching, Leo gave authority to social Catholicism and he opened the door to the evolution of Catholic democracy. In 1879 the Pope had made John Henry Newman a Cardinal. The 1880’s and 1890’s also saw a flowering of scholarship in Biblical studies.
The Industrial Revolution, as in many other towns and villages around this country, brought about rapid economic and social change to Prudhoe. In 1821 the population here was only 318. Good coking coal for the Steel Industry was discovered in the area, and in 1860 Prudhoe colliery was opened, with the one at West Wylam starting production nine years later. So, by 1885 Prudhoe’s population had grown to over 4,000. By 1921 it had risen to 5,424. A rural village had become a busy industrial town. Both the Prudhoe and the West Wylam mines were owned by the Mickley Coal Company, which in 1885 belonged to Messrs Cookson, and Cuthbert Liddell, with Matthew Liddell being initially the Manager and eventually the main owner of it. It was under Matthew that the great development of the mines took place, and he became a wealthy man.
Matthew and Susanna Liddell
The Liddell family prospered during the halcyon years of the 19th century, when Newcastle upon Tyne was an early “Dallas”. As transport became easier, members of the family, like many contemporaries, migrated to more congenial climes in the South of England. For most Catholic families it seems impossible to trace records to the beginning of the 18th century, since so few registers survive or were begun until the Catholic Relief Act made it safe to keep them. Tradition says that the Liddell family were related to the Ravensworth Liddells, who became Protestants at the time of the Reformation. The first certain date is 1789, when Cuthbert Liddell was apprenticed to John Young, Tanner, of Newcastle upon Tyne. His father Matthew Liddell is mentioned on a list of recusants sent to the House of Lords in 1767, in which it is said that he had lived in Jarrow in the parish of Heworth for forty years. This list was instituted after the 1715 rebellion, in which many North Country families joined the Old Pretender. Matthew Liddell (the first) was born in 1715 in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, and in 1754 he married Mary Moor. He was a gentleman farmer and rented his farm – Boghouse in the Chapelry of Heworth – from John Baker. He also rented a Public House from the Dean and Chapter of Durham.. They had eleven children, of which only four reached maturity. Their son Cuthbert Liddell was born in 1774. Matthew died in 1782 and left £200 each to his children, Matthew and Isabella, and £420 in trust for Dorothy and Cuthbert to provide for their education and clothing until they were twenty one, when they would receive the capital sum. He directed that Cuthbert’s legacy could be used for an apprenticeship, and this was done in 1789 for a fee of £103.10s. Matthew’s other surviving son, Matthew, became a partner in the Tyne Bank in Newcastle and, when he died in 1802 at the age of 44, he left the residue of his estate to his brother, Cuthbert. Cuthbert married in 1807 Abigail Bulman in St. John’s Church (C of E) Newcastle. It has to be remembered that prior to 1838 Catholic marriages, and, in fact, all marriages, even those of Dissenters, to be legally valid, had to take place in the Church of England. Cuthbert in 1826 is described in a Newcastle Directory as a Tanner. Cuthbert and Abigail had five children, of which the second child and first son, Matthew, was born on 2nd November 1809 in Benwell Hall. This is our Matthew who would eventually become a wealthy industrialist, building Prudhoe Hall and founding of the Catholic Mission in Prudhoe.
This Matthew Liddell was admitted a Freeman of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1830. It is known that in 1849 he was living at Benton Grange and subsequently lived at Hedgefield House in County Durham. In a history of Gosforth, he is mentioned as being a viewer of Gosforth colliery. It also mentions that he had a clock repaired by a colliery lampman who had been a companion of George Stephenson. Matthew married Susanna Cuddon from Shadingfield in Suffolk. The font in our Lady and St. Cuthbert’s church is a copy of the ancient font in the parish church of Shadingfield, where the Cuddon family had lived since the 14th century.
The extremely elegant octagonal medieval font stands on three steps in the form of a Maltese cross. The third step has quatrefoil decoration and the sides of the bowl have designs of shields and Tudor roses. There is no authoritative date for the font in Shadingfield, although the Tudor roses suggest after 1485.
A brass plaque on the right hand side wall of the Nave of St John the Baptist church in Shadingfield confirms the importance of the Cuddon family in Shadingfield. “Here under lyeth buryed the body of Mary Cuddon, the first wife of William Cuddon of Shadingfilde in the countye of Suffgent; and one of the daughters and hieres of George Harvye of Olton in the sayd countye Esquier, who died the XXII day of November A. DNI 1586”.
Interestingly, the most treasured possession of the church is the Shadingfield linen altar cloth edged with hand made lace in its original oak box, which has the following inscription on the paper lining:-
“This box with a cloath
For the Communion table
Was given to the parish
Church of Shadingfield by
Elizabeth Cuddon, the wife
William Cuddon gent
The XXV day of December
Anno Dmi 1632”
This was at the time when Archbishop Laud was trying to reintroduce sacramental practices back into the Church of England, including the re-establishment of altars in chancels. The move fell to the fury of the puritans; Laud was executed, the altars were removed, and the pulpit became the main focus of Anglican worship for the next 200 years. Since summer 2002, the Beccles & District Museum have displayed the altar cloth and box.
Presumably Susanna Liddell was proud of her family’s connection to the medieval church in Shadingfield, where clearly they had been benefactors and now inspired her in her own generosity to the Catholic people of Prudhoe.
In 1860 Matthew exchanged his land at Sturton Grange, Warkworth with the Duke of Northumberland for land at Duke’s Hag. In 1868-70 he built Prudhoe Hall at a cost of £35,000. The architects were Dunn, Hansom & Fenwick. The estate comprised some 300 acres of land. A stable block and a walled garden were also built and Burn House Cottage was used for the priest’s house. Pesvner describes the Hall as “rather formless but redeemed by much excellent naturalistic stone-carved detail” with a “good interior, especially the hall with a Jacobean staircase and elaborate wrong iron lamp standards. A bathroom and WC are also decoratively Victorian” (Pevsner & Richmond 1992). The stained glass window in the main Hall was designed and executed by Daniel Cottier, an important member of the ‘Aesthetic movement’ in Scotland and the North East, and an early associate of William Morris.
Prudhoe Hall with church on the top right, photo taken 1891
The home of Matthew and Susanna stood in splendid isolation on the edge of the village and in marked contrast to the rest of the housing stock. The Newcastle Weekly Chronicle of 9th November 1872 describes Prudhoe: “a hamlet nestles in the valley, glistening with the sheen of white-wash (….) about a hundred of these cottages (….) The colliery workings are to the west of the cottage rows, but only 200-300 yards. Here there is only one drift – a level one. Coal was touched within a few yards of the bore in the hillside and now the main tunnel has been carried forward a mile (…) It has been a very profitable venture, as indeed have all three pits (Prudhoe, West Wylam, and Mickley), to the present owners. Half a century ago, some fortunes were sunk in speculation, but when the Cooksons took the “abandoned claim”, they stumbled upon the prize, and with their partners Cuthberts & Liddells they have warmed themselves into exceeding comfort and jollity by means of the nice heap of coal they have been able to disinter.”
Coalmines in Proudehowe (also Proudhow) are first mentioned in 1475 and called the coal mine at Slenhop. In 1738 among the collieries on the Tyne were Prudhoe Moor, four and a half miles from the river, and the Hagg, 5 miles from the river. The last-named pit was not the same as the later Hagg pit, which was worked in connection with the Wylam colliery. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, mining in Prudhoe seems to have ceased, but about 1860 the collieries in the neighbourhood were developed by Matthew Liddell, the viewer and manager of the Mickley Coal Company. The Company bought a large estate in Prudhoe in 1862 for £27,000, and obtained in 1874 a lease for the mining rights from the Duke of Northumberland. The Prudhoe colliery would in fact be worked until 1938. The West Wylam Colliery would be worked for nearly 100 years, and was only closed in May 1961.
There had been a certain amount of criticism of the Coal Company because of the poor state of the housing for the miners and their families. In 1902 the Company, having been approached by Hexham Rural District Council, gave an undertaking to build 100-150 new houses at West Wylam to mitigate the overcrowding. This followed a diphtheria epidemic. Surviving childhood was not taken for granted. In 1911 the enfant mortality rate was 132 per 1000 births.
The Industrial Revolution was also about new ways of transport, lighting, heating and sanitation. Coal and the Age of Steam Trains provided rapid transport for people and freight. The railway, with a station at Prudhoe, had been built between Blaydon and Hexham in 1835 and continued to Carlisle in 1838. Prudhoe Gas Works was installed in 1872, and a drainage system was laid down in 1879-82.
It is beyond question that both Matthew and Susanna were very committed Catholics, and in 1870 they established a Mission here (the term then used for a Parish) by opening a chapel in Prudhoe Hall, to cater for the growing population of Prudhoe and the surrounding area, which consisted of a large number of Irish migrants who had settled here after finding work in the mines. The Mission at that time included the villages of Wylam, Greenside and Crawcrook, which did not get their own separate parish until 1892. Before this initiative, the nearest place where Prudhoe Catholics could attend Mass was at Ss. Mary and Thomas Aquinas in Stella near Blaydon, which had been built in 1831.
The first chapel for the Prudhoe Mission, which was not much bigger than a large room at the Hall, was opened on October 19th 1870. Records show that there was a week’s mission in the chapel in May 1875, given by a Dominican, Father F.Sadoe Silvester OP, at the conclusion of which Bishop James Chadwick confirmed 34 males and 31 females. This was the first Confirmation held in the chapel. It took place after the 10.30 am Mass. During this Mass 11 children and 1 adult received their first Communion from the Bishop. At that Mass a total of exactly 100 persons received Communion. We are told that the Bishop also preached in the afternoon and gave Benediction. The Peter’s Pence collection at Prudhoe Hall in 1875 came to £2.14s.2d. 3rd June 1877 saw a collection taken for Pope Pius IX on the occasion of his Holiness’ Episcopal Jubilee and this came to £13, of which £10 was from Mrs Susanna Liddell.
It is worth noting here that the Anglican Church, St Mary Magdalene, was not opened until 1880. It cost £2160, exclusive of the site which had been given by the Duke of Northumberland. The Vicarage was completed in 1884 for a cost of £1625. Before that Anglicans would have been served from the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin at Ovingham. With regard to the Methodists, it should be remembered that John Wesley first visited Prudhoe in 1757 on the occasion of laying the foundation stone for the first Methodist chapel off South Road, and he had further visits in 1761, 1769, and 1782. But it was not until 1901 that the first Wesleyan minister came to live in Prudhoe.
Our Catholic Parish in the first few years was characterised by large turnover of priests, who each served for quite brief periods. The reason for this is unclear. The Prudhoe Mission was first served by the Very Rev. John William Canon Bewick for a few months, until Fr. Joseph Stourton was appointed at the end of 1870. Fr. Stourton belonged to a great family in the Midlands. He lived at Prudhoe Hall, before the presbytery was built in the grounds. He stayed for 8 months.
Then, the post was left vacant for a few months, and several Dominican priests came from Newcastle to celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments. The second parish priest was Fr. Robert Sharples, who was in charge for only a period of six months in 1872, because he had to give up due to ill health.
He was followed by Fr. Nicholas Darnell. We have it from a letter of Anthony Cornwell to Father Laidler in July 1987, honorary Obituarist for the Oratory Society, that Nicholas was a son of the Vicar of the Parish Church in Stockton. His father, after a spell as a Canon at Durham Cathedral, enjoyed a lucrative living at Stanhope. Fr Darnell had been a Fellow of New College, Oxford, during Newman’s final years there. When he became a Catholic in 1847, it was Faber, not Newman that he joined. When Faber and his Wilfridians threw in their lot with Newman, and they agreed to split into the two Oratories in Birmingham and London, the members were shared out between the two foundations. In 1859 Fr. Darnell was appointed as the first Headmaster of Newman’s Oratory school in Birmingham, but two years later he resigned from the school and from the Congregation. It has been suggested by Anthony Cornwell that he had a love/hate relationship with Newman, and that he may have been happier, if he had joined the London Oratory. In any event, it was tragedy for both institutions, as well as a personal tragedy for himself and for Newman. From then on, he was a bird of passage. Anthony Cornwell states in his letter, “I have always thought it an error that Darnell went to Birmingham instead of London. I think he would have been happier there and his breach with the Oratory may not have occurred”. As things turned out, Fr. Darnell did not stay long in Prudhoe either, leaving in October 1873, to take up an appointment at the new Mission of Hayden Bridge, where he stayed for 12 years. It has been said that he lived there in great poverty.
At the beginning of 1874 Prudhoe Mission got its fourth parish priest in Fr Edmund Dunphy, D.D., who stayed until April of that year. The post once again remained vacant for 6 months, presumably because the Bishop had no secular priest to appoint. So, in October 1874, it was transferred for three years to the Dominicans. In fact, it remained in their charge till the first months of 1888. Father Wilfrid Lescher, O.P. came to Prudhoe on Oct. 24th 1874. He had been ordained priest on March 8th 1873, and he would remain in Prudhoe till the end of 1880. On December 23rd 1874, the Stations of the Cross were erected in the Chapel. Not surprisingly, the mission had been suffering through the frequent changes of priests, besides the fact that two at least of them had been in such a poor state of health, that they had not been able to look after their flock in a satisfactory way. On the other hand, the Catholic population was increasing rapidly. Fr Lescher was a priest equal to the task and made a great pastoral contribution during his stay as parish priest.
Through the generosity of Matthew Liddell plans were made to have a school built for Catholic children on South Road, with a Teacher’s House. On September 23rd 1875, the foundation-stone was laid by Bishop Chadwick. The Bishop was assisted at the private ceremony by the parish priest Father Lescher O.P., with Mrs Susanna Liddell in attendance. Matthew Liddell owing to his state of health was unable to attend. A scroll was placed inside the foundation stone, together with a shilling and a copy of the Newcastle Chronicle. The translation of the Latin wording on the scroll was as follows:
“In the 30th year of the Pontificate of His Holiness Pius IX, Pope by Divine Providence and in the 10th year of the Episcopate of Right Reverend James Chadwick, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Reverend Wilfrid Lescher O.P. being Pastor of the Mission of Prudhoe, was laid by Mr Matthew Liddell and his very beloved wife Susanna, the foundation stone of this school, erected to the honour and glory of God, of the most Holy Mary Mother of God, of SS. Cuthbert and Matthew and of all the Saints. Sept. 23rd, 1875.”
The architect was E. Hansom, Esq. of the firm of Dunn and Hansom, of Newcastle upon Tyne. It is worth noting here that the architect, Joseph Hansom built several churches in the North, three of those are the beautiful churches of St. Michael’s, Newcastle, and St. Joseph’s, West Hartlepool, and the small but very fine church of St. Elizabeth at Minsteracres. The school building was finished in August 1876 for the accommodation of 160 children, and opened by the Bishop on Monday August 7th. The Very Rev. Dr. Bewick, the Vicar General and Fr Pius Cavanagh, O.P had travelled to Prudhoe Station with the Bishop and had been met by Fr Lescher. Matthew Liddell because of serious illness was unable to attend the official opening. The Catholic Weekly, “The Tablet” on August 19th described the event:
“The Bishop exhorted the children to punctuality, attention, and obedience, reminding them that in a very true sense they came to school to make their fortune, to prepare themselves for after life, and to develop habits of diligence and perseverance that would affect their whole future. Finally, the Bishop announced that the school would be called St. Matthew’s School in memory of the founder. The children then sang some hymns and the building was blessed by the Bishop according to the Ritual of the Church.”
The first teacher was Miss Bayley from Manchester who came for six months on a salary of £42 per annum. Between 1876 and 1928 there was a total of thirteen head teachers, the two longest serving being Miss C. Reynolds from November 1897 to August 1910 and Mr Thomas O’Hare from 1913 to 1928, though he joined the Army and made good service in France and Belgium in the Great War, returning to the school in 1918. The school received very good inspection reports, both secular and religious, and it enjoyed the confidence of non-Catholics. Often the number of non-Catholics equaled the number of Catholic children. In 1879, 84 children were on the registers and in 1889 there were 208. In September 1893 a special department was created for infants, and the children were transferred from St Matthew’s Hall. Fr Lenders remarks in his booklet The History of the Parish of Prudhoe on Tyne (Written in 1928):
“If it is true to say that the real good in a parish does not consist mainly in the building of a church or the arrival of a priest in a place where the Catholic Religion has been hitherto nearly unknown, but consists rather in a constant, persevering work performed during many years, which is noticed only by those who compare in their mind that actual state of a place with what it was some years before, the same is truly said about the good work done by a school: it is the work of months and years, arduous, constant, which is to be inspired by a sincere charity, a strong purpose to promote the glory of God.”
The school served the community for 106 years, and closed on February 18th 1983, at which time the school moved to a new building on a new site on Highfield Lane, a short distance from the church. The contract for the new school had been signed with builders Stephen Easten on 28th April 1982, who had won the tender on 15th March with a price of £211,572. They got possession of the site on 12th May and were expected to complete the building in 40 weeks. The school remained unchanged until 2004, when the Parish Priest and Chair of Governors, Father Paul Zielinski, won the funding from DFES to have a new extension built to provide a state of the art Nursery and an IT suite housing ten computers. The architect for the Nursery was Mr Peter Brown of Darbyshire Architects Newcastle. The cost was £350,000 and the parents responded generously to raise the necessary 10% of the capital cost by various fundraising initiatives over the next two years. As this booklet goes to press, the next expected stage of development for the school should occur with the re-organisation of education throughout Northumberland, when St. Matthew’s will become a Primary School. This will entail the building of two new classrooms, a library, a new kitchen and administration offices. It is hoped that for the first time in its history, the parish will be able to offer our children a complete educational route from Nursery right through to Sixth Form within the Catholic sector, with St. Thomas More Comprehensive School in Blaydon as the next stage.
Returning now to Victorian times, we have some details from parish life during those early years. For example, Fr. Lescher, in his desire to tackle drunkenness and to procure the moral and religious development of his flock, set up in the autumn of 1876 a Temperance Association under the patronage of St. John the Baptist. The members were encouraged to approach the Sacraments at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (or the Sunday after) and the Assumption of our Blessed Lady. The Temperance Society met monthly, with the Committee meeting fortnightly. It arranged a Lecture to be given in Murray’s Public House on November 29th 1877, the subject being “A Happy Home” given by Fr, Utili, O.P. At the same meeting, the possibility of obtaining a Catholic Burial Ground was considered. But this would not come into existence until 1885, after Fr Lescher had left. Another Lecture was arranged and was given on January 22nd 1879 by Fr Wilberforce, O.P. in the Locomotive Inn in Prudhoe, which was a great success with 150 present. The subject was Sir Thomas More, the English martyr. It was followed by some entertainment from singers. Parish records recall that on Ascension Day, 22nd May 1879, Mr Liddell gave a tea-party to the school children at the Hall. We are told that, “there were about 150 children. The rain came down during part of the afternoon, but on the whole it was fine and all enjoyed the outing. 1879 was a Holy Year granted by Pope Leo XIII. On the last day, Whit Sunday, there were 60 communions. The Jubilee offerings for Peter’s Pence amounted to £3.10s.0d, exclusive of any private donations.
Fr Lescher was a hardworking priest, conscientiously building up of the Mission. A Lending Library was set up with 80 books. Mr Liddell gave £6 towards it. Children who had made their first Communion were formed into the Guild of the Name of Jesus. Medals of the Child Jesus were distributed to them, to wear when going to Communion. There was much poverty and distress in Ireland at the time, and Fr Lescher had an appeal, which produced £2.0s.11d, and donations from Mr Liddell and others raised it to £4.10s.0d. Non-Catholics contributed and raised it to £4.12s.0d., and it was sent to the Newcastle Relief Fund.
On June 25th 1877, he had blessed the first marriage in his chapel. It was the marriage of Thomas Kennett (Wylam) with Maria Ragan. He had obtained license to have marriages performed his chapel. In the Northern Calendar of 1879 the Sunday Masses are stated as 9 a.m. and 10.30 a.m.: Holidays 9 a.m.; Rosary and Benediction at 3 pm.
The next priest to be appointed was Fr. Bernard Sears,O.P. who came at the end of 1880, and he remained until July 1882. He had been ordained on October 30th 1870. Before coming to Prudhoe he had served at Stoke-on-Trent (1874-1880). It was during his time here, that Matthew Liddell died at the age of 72 on October 20th 1881.
Fr. John Proctor, O.P was the next priest at Prudhoe, but only in an interim capacity, and then there was Fr. George Vincent King, O.P. It was during his time here that the Catholic Burial Ground on Moor Road was blessed in February 1886 by Bishop Bewick. Not surprisingly, the site had been given by Mrs Liddell. The first burial in it is dated August 8th 1885. It was also in 1885 that St. Matthew’s Hall was erected on South Road, opposite St. Matthew’s School. Again, it was Mrs Liddell who continued the generosity of her husband toward the Prudhoe Catholic people, in providing the hall for entertainments, Whist-drives, lectures, etc. Fr. King died in Louvain in Belgium on February 26th 1886 and was buried at Woodchest. Two or three weeks before his death, he had been consecrated Bishop of Juliopolis, as Coadjutor with right of succession to the Archbishop of Port in Spain (Trinidad).
Fr. Edmund Buckler, O.P. was sent to Prudhoe by his superiors in the beginning of 1886, and he stayed for two years and two months. In the 1887 edition of the Northern Calendar, it is stated that Sunday Masses were at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.; Holidays 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.; Mass on Weekdays 8 a.m. Benediction on Sundays was at 3.30 pm.
The next priest to be appointed to Prudhoe was a secular priest, Fr. William Stevenson, and he stayed for three years. He was ordained at Ushaw on October 5th 1879. He was an assistant priest in 1879 in St. Mary’s, Carlisle; in 1883 in the Cathedral in Newcastle; in 1885 in Windermere; in 1886 in Dunston, Gateshead, from whence he came to Prudhoe. We are reminded from the geographical spread of his appointments that our Diocese at that time was much larger because it included Cumbria in the west.
It was during Fr Stevenson’s time here that the decision was made by Mrs Liddell to build a church to replace the original chapel, which had become too small for the congregation. It was to cost £4,000. The architect, Archibald Dunn, undertook the plan. On December 8th 1889, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the foundation-stone of the new Church was laid by the Right Reverend Thomas William Wilkinson, Bishop of Cisamus, who at the time was fulfilling the function of Bishop of the diocese.
(Bishop Wilkinson had been received into the Church in 1846; ordained priest on 23rd December 1848 and became parish priest at Wolsingham and Crook; he became a Canon in 1865; Vicar Capitular in 1887; appointed Auxiliary Bishop in May 1888, consecrated at Ushaw 25th July 1888; translated as 5th Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle 28th December 1889; died 17th April 1909).
In the foundation-stone was placed a document in Latin: this is the translation:
“Pray for the welfare of Matthew Liddell and of his wife Susanna, who for the greater glory of God and the increase of the Catholic Religion in this district, founded this Mission and in 1870 caused a Church to be built under the Title of Our Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God and St. Cuthbert; the rebuilding of which, from its foundations – because of the increased number of the faithful – was begun on a larger scale upon this new site. This foundation-stone was solemnly laid on the feast-day of the Immaculate Conception of B.V.M., 8th December in the year 1889 of our Lord by Right Reverend Thomas William Wilkinson, Titular Bishop of Cisamus, who at the time was fulfilling the functions of the Ordinary of his diocese of Hexham and Newcaslte. The Architect of the building was Archibald Dunn. The Priest of the Mission, William Stevenson.”
The following extract from the Hexham Courant of Saturday, December 14th 1889, describes the event:
“On Sunday morning the foundation stone of the new Catholic Church, which is to be erected at Prudhoe Hall, was laid by the Right Rev. Dr. Wilkinson, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. The church, which is expected to be completed in about a year, promises to be a splendid erection, and will be constructed to seat between 200 and 300 persons. The estimated cost is £4,000, which account will be borne by Mrs Liddell, resident of Prudhoe Hall, in whose grounds the new church is situated. The well-known firm of Messrs. Dunn, Hansom, and Dunn, Newcastle, are the architects. The ceremony was witnessed by several hundreds of persons. After the celebration of solemn high Mass in the little chapel adjoining Prudhoe Hall, a procession was formed, headed by the cross-bearer, followed by acolytes with candles and incense. The clergy who took part in the procession were the Rev. Father Laing (Ushaw College), the Rev. Father Kirsopp (Hexham), the Rev. Father Wood (Newcastle), and the Rev. Father Dunn (Newcastle), and the Rev. Father Stevenson (Prudhoe Hall). Before the commencement of the ceremony, a handsome silver trowel was handed to the Bishop by Mr A. Dunn, jun., which bore the following inscription – ‘Presented to the Right Rev. Dr. Wilkinson by Mrs Liddell, on the occasion of “laying the foundation stone in the mission church of Our Lady and St. Cuthbert. Prudhoe, 8th December.’ The order of laying the first stone of a new church according to the Roman Pontifical was then proceeded with, the clergy and congregation joining in the prayers. – At the close, a collection was taken in aid of the funds of the diocese, and a substantial amount was realised.”
Fr. Stevenson said Mass in St. Matthew’s Hall (the Reading Room) on South Road, while the enlarged church was being erected. On 23rd June of the same year, Bishop Wilkinson had administered Confirmation to 23 children and a procession of the Blessed Sacrament had taken place within the grounds of Prudhoe Hall in the afternoon. In 1891 Fr. Stevenson left to take charge of the Mission at Coxlodge until 1894. He eventually served in Kendal for more than 30 years, where he died in 1927.
His successor, Fr. William Drysdale, came to Prudhoe in July 1891, and he stayed about two years. In his time, Crawcrook was established as a separate Mission.
On July 16th 1891, the new Church was solemnly opened by Bishop Wilkinson. The Newcastle Daily Chronicle of Friday, July 17th 1891 described the ceremony:
“NEW CATHOLIC CHURCH AT PRUDHOE
“Yesterday, a new Catholic Church, dedicated to our Lady and St. Cuthbert, was opened at Prudhoe Hall, the seat of Mrs Susanna Liddell, who maintains the mission. The Church has been erected through the charity of her late husband, Mr Matthew Liddell. It takes the place of the chapel, which was erected there twenty years ago, but which was found to be too small for the Catholics of Prudhoe, Wylam and district. The building was designed by Messrs. Dunn, Hansom and Dunn of Newcastle. It has been erected on the North side of Prudhoe Hall, with which it is connected by a groined archway, carrying overhead a passage leading from the upper floor to the gallery at the west end of the chapel. The total interior length is 84 feet, 6 inches, of which the nave, which will accommodate about 200 worshippers is 55 feet; and the sanctuary 29 feet, 6 inches. There is a side chapel on the south side of the sanctuary, and two sacristies are on the north. The architectural treatment of the whole is of the early perpendicular period, the windows especially being fine examples of the beautiful tracery of that style, and the building is constructed throughout of stone. The interior is very ornate, the beautiful carving having been the work of Mr Boulton, of Cheltenham, while the altar, reredos, and font, which are of a style befitting that of the building itself, are the work of Mr Beall of this town. The whole is surmounted by a handsome pitch pine roof, the panelled ceiling of the sanctuary having been beautifully decorated by Messrs Laidler.” (In the Northern Catholic Calendar of 1897, Geo. G. Laidler advertised their company, which was then based at 40 Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, and 51&53 Marloes Road, South Kensington, London, offering expert help with church and domestic decorations, including lead glazing, glass staining, gilding and lettering. They listed work done at St Mary’s Cathedral, St Anne’s Convent Chapel, Summerhill Grove, as well for Mrs Liddell at Prudhoe Hall Chapel).
Christological symbols from the Sanctuary stained glass windows designed by Daniel Cottier.
“The masonry and other work throughout the building show the greatest care and attention on the part of Mr Manighan of Westgate Road, Newcastle, who has thus made the very best of the exceptional opportunity offered him by the handsome design of Messrs, Dunn, Hansom and Dunn, the architects, and the open handed liberality of Mrs Liddell. The hall itself is undergoing extensive alterations and additions, and is being fitted up throughout with all the most modern contrivances for comfort and convenience (such as electric light, with which the chapel is also lighted) in a manner which will make it one of the largest as well as one of the best appointed mansions in the country. Particular mention might be made of the beautiful baptismal font. It is an exact copy of an ancient font in the parish church of Shadingfield, Suffolk, where the Cuddon family (Mrs Liddell’s family name) had their estates in the 14th century.
Fine carvings on the sides of the Baptismal Font. Notice the Tudor Rose on left
“Pontifical High Mass was sung by his Lordship, Dr Wilkinson, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle; Deacon Rev. Mr. E. Levick; subdeacon Rev. Mr C. Swarbreck; deacons of the throne Revv. Messrs Newsham and O’Connell; assistant priest to the Bishop, Father Lonsdale; Master of ceremonies, Father Laing. There were also present Father Drysdale chaplain, Canon Dunn (Newcastle) Canon Greene (South Shields). Canon Wrennell (Stella), Canon Cooke (Hexham),and several priests. There were also present Mr and Mrs Silvertop, Minsteracres; Mrs M. Liddell, Hindley; Mr and Mrs John Liddell and Mr C. Liddell (Benwell); Col. and Mrs Leadbitter-Smith; Mrs Leadbitter, Spital; Mr and Mrs Bernard Cuddon, London; Mr B. Cuddon-Fletcher and the Misses Cuddon Fletcher of Duncans, Argyleshire.
“Father Gavin, S.J., of Farm Street Church, Berkeley Square, London, preached the sermon; taking for his text the words: ‘And I have heard thy prayer, and will make this house a place of sacrifice’, taken from the second book of Paralipomenon. He referred to the charity of the deceased gentleman, through whose munificence the sacred edifice has been erected, and dwelt upon the importance and benefits of the holy sacrifice of the Mass and of the functions of the priesthood. The music was rendered by St. Michael’s Catholic Choir, Westmorland Road, Newcastle, and consisted of Haydn’s 16th Mass, Abt’s ‘Ave Maria’ at the Offertory, and the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus from the Messiah, the soloists being Madame Tomsett, Madame Fleming, Miss Small, and Messrs Moody, Burton, and Lohmeyer. Mr T. McCoy presided at the organ. Evening service and Benediction were also held, with special musical accompaniment by the choir, Father Gavin again preaching the sermon”.
Fr. Augustine H. Simmons succeeded Fr. Drysdale at Prudhoe on 19th August 1893, and he remained at Prudhoe for 22 years – a length of time nearly equal to that of the combined years of all his predecessors. He came from an old Northumbrian family and was born in 1860; educated at Yvetot in Normandy and at Ushaw College, he was ordained priest August 15th 1887 at Middlesbrough.
We have more biographical details about Fr Simmons than any other priest that served here in Prudhoe, because of the work of Fr J. Lenders, who wrote “The History of the Catholic Parish of Prudhoe” in the 1928. As he says himself in the Foreword, he intends the booklet as “only an historical sketch of Prudhoe from a Catholic point of view (…) in other words , of the foundation and religious life of Our Lady and St. Cuthbert at Prudhoe”.
The following details about Fr Simmons are from his booklet. His first appointment was at Tudhoe, as assistant priest to Very Rev. Canon Watson. In April 1891 he performed an act of bravery, which made his name known all over the country. One John Hardy, alias Sailor Jack, had had a dispute at Merrington; he was threatening to shoot any policeman he might meet. As it was known that he was wandering about with a pistol, Sergeant Applegarth, a brave man, a modest and zealous officer, was sent to watch his movements. He met him in Merrington-Lane and almost instantly Hardy shot twice. There was a moment of struggle, but Applegarth was fainting for loss of blood. Many were on the spot, but dare not to go to Applegarth’s rescue. A man named Robert Jackson went to his help, when Fr Simmons came on the spot, and Applegarth cried: “Will you help me, Sire?” Without hesitation, Fr. Simmons threw his gloves and stick on the ground, knocked Hardy down and with the help of Jackson handcuffed him. When the case came before the Court, Fr. Simmons was highly complimented for his bravery; and splendid gold medals, with a suitable inscription, subscribed for by the police of Tudhoe and Bishop Auckland, were presented to Fr. Simmons and to Robert Jackson.
After six years at Tudhoe, Fr. Simmons was sent to take charge of the Prudhoe Mission. He had a great taste for archaeology: his discourses on history and scientific subjects were of a very high order and his early studies, which were diligently pursued, enabled him to treat such topics with lucidity and power. He rendered valuable assistance to those engaged in research work, and was a frequent attendant of gatherings of archaeologists. He wrote a history of Prudhoe, which had a very wide circulation. It was published in 1903, entitled, “Notes on the History of Prudhoe”, totalling 36 pages. He took an active part in the public life of Prudhoe. Prior to the establishment of the Urban District Council, he was for several years chairman of the Parish Council, and at the time of his death represented Prudhoe on the Hexham Board of Guardians. He was a broad minded, openhearted priest, and he earned the regard of the non-Catholics, as well as of the members of his own flock. He had a keen sense of patriotism, and always took a warm interest in the Old Volunteer movement, and in the Territorial Force, which succeeded it, and after the outbreak of the war, frequently spoke at local recruiting meetings. The Hexham Courant of May 25th 1901, demonstrates his broad interest. We read that six men of Prudhoe had volunteered for the Boer war; 4 of them came back. Prudhoe prepared a fitting reception for their return; all the business premises were closed, the colliery managers had arranged that the men should start their day’s work at an earlier hour, so that they might attend the reception. A strong Committee, of which Fr. Simmons was chairman, had been made. On Wednesday, the day after the reception, a great dinner at the Drill Hall, which upwards of 200 persons attended, was given in honour of the Prudhoe volunteers. Fr. Simmons proposed the toast of “His Majesty the King, Queen Alexandra and the Royal Family”.
When it came to the First World War, a handwritten record lists that the following Catholics from the parish who became ‘voluntary Defenders of their Country’. The names are as follows: Nehemiah Allfront, Frank Bell, Richard Bell, Frank Cairns, Cuthbert Campbell, Sylvester Caulfield, Hugh Crystal, Michael Crystal, Patrick Docherty, Patrick Donohue, Robert Elwood, Thomas Elwood, James Flanaghan, William Finlay, Thomas Foster, James Gilmore, Michael Gilmore, Peter Gray, George Edward Hamilton, William Hamilton, Matthew Hudson, Peter Healey, Josiah Hamilton, William Lynch, Patrick Heenan, Daniel Lynch, Henry Lynch, James McDine, Arthur McIntyre, John McIntyre, John McKenna, James McKenna, McGlynd, Patrick McCartan, Thomas Monnelly, Edward O’Malley, John Suddes, Matthew Tickler, Frank Thompson, Thomas Wright, Thomas J. Cornelius, James McVeigh, John Gilmour.
Two more examples show his great interest in the public life. In 1895 he had established a Branch of the Catholic Benefit Society, and in 1905 he was elected president of the Social Club on South Road. Prudhoe Working Men’s Club, as it was called, was born in a small tin hut perched precariously overlooking the steep incline of South Road in 1903. The prime mover behind the formation was Father Simmons. 794 men, the majority miners, staked £1 of their hard earned money into its future. In May 1919 the tin hut was the venue for a meeting called to form a Northern Clubs Federation Brewery and a framed copy of the minutes has long had pride of place on one wall of the present committee room. By the early 1920’s the tin hut was bursting at the seams and new premises were found across the road, where the 1,600 seat Palace Theatre was situated. It was bought for £3,000 in 1925 and converted into a Social Club. It has always been known as the ‘big club’ because of the amount of space it has.
In 1894, on November 17th, Mrs Susanna Mary Liddell died and was interred by the side of her husband in the family vault inside their church. She had had no children. So, Mr John Liddell of Benwell Hall succeeded his aunt and entered into possession of Prudhoe Hall and estate in 1894. He lived there until 1904. John was the second son of Mr John Liddell of Benwell Hall and he was born in 1852; he married Emilia Berry, sister of Fr. Berry of Walker. John showed himself a generous benefactor to the church and became actively interested in the school, until 1904, when he sold the Hall and estate to Colonel Henry Swan, the managing director of Armstrong, Whitworth & Co., The ‘For Sale’ notice for Prudhoe Hall ,when advertised by Mr Liddell said: “Residential and sporting estate covering 2,700 acres. The house has been entirely redecorated; contains vestibule, oak-panelled hall, 5 entertaining rooms, billiard room, gun room, 15 bedrooms and dressing rooms, ample servants’ accommodation. The house is heated throughout with hot water and lighted by electricity. There is a good kitchen garden with a range of glasshouses, woodland walks with rustic bridges over burns, stabling and modern laundry. Sporting attractions are very considerable both for winged and ground game.” After the sale, John Liddell and his family moved to Sherfield-on-Loddon, Basingstoke, Hants.
Some years later, in 1913 Prudhoe Hall and estate would be acquired from Colonel Swan for the sum of £19,199 by the Joint Poor Law Guardians of Newcastle. Their intention was that it should become what was described at the time as “a colony for feeble-minded children”. Prudhoe Hall Colony was opened in August 1914. After the First World War, it would become considerably enlarged and was re-named Prudhoe Mental Hospital. When fully developed (after 1948), the Hospital had 1,500 patients, needing a large work force and providing employment for many families in Prudhoe.
Clearly, John Liddell must have had discussions early on with the diocesan authorities about the consequences for the parish of his planned move down to Basingstoke. Upper most in his mind would have been to fulfill the wishes of his aunt and uncle, and to ensure that the parishioners did not suffer the loss of their beautiful church. So the decision was made to move the church into the village – a considerable undertaking by any standards.
Between 1904 and 1905 the church was taken down stone by stone and each numbered stone transported by horse and cart a mile into the village to a newly acquired site in Highfield Lane.
Father Maddison in his dairy of 1955 records hearing that John Liddell offered the workmen £20 if they managed to get the beautiful stencilled ceiling up in the sanctuary without damaging it. Fr Maddison also records in his dairy of 1958 that, when the very heavy Tabernacle was moved for renovation, he found written on the back in pencil the following words: ‘M. Masterson Oct 18th 1870 – the day before the first chapel opened at Prudhoe Hall. This confirms that the Tabernacle has been in use since the start of the parish in 1870.
The site of the new foundation was marked out by Right Rev. Richard Preston, D.D., Bishop of Phocoeca and Auxiliary of Hexham and Newcastle, along with the Rector of the Mission, Fr. Simmons. Fr. Simmons had moved by now to a cottage in Drawback Close rented from Mr Hunter of Prudhoe. Mass was said in the Reading Room once again,(presently called St Matthew’s Social Hall) on South Road, for about a year and seven months (1904-1905), whilst the church building was being relocated. On July 23rd 1904, the foundation-stone of the church to be re-erected on the new and beautiful site in Prudhoe village was solemnly blessed and laid by the Right Rev. Richard Preston. The inscription composed by Bishop Preston himself in Latin reads in translation: “Pray for the welfare of JOHN LIDDELL, and his wife EMILY, great benefactors of this Mission, who rebuilt the church under the title of the BLESSED VIRGIN MARY MOTHER OF GOD and ST. CUTHBERT, which has been transferred from the site, where it formerly stood near their Mansion called PRUDHOE HALL to this new and more convenient site, with a house for the priest adjoining”. This together with a copy of “The Catholic Weekly” was placed within the foundation-stone. The Architect in charge of the relocation of the church was Charles Walker of Newcastle.
A mortuary chapel was built in the church and underneath is a vault to which were transferred the remains of Mr Matthew Liddell and Susanna, his wife. In the chapel is an inscription on a brass tablet, as follows:
Of your charity pray for the repose of the soul of
Of Prudhoe Hall, Northumberland, Esquire
Founder of this Mission
Deceased the 20th day of October A.D. 1881
to whose memory this Brass has been erected
by Susanna his Loving Wife.
Pray also for the Soul of the said Susanna
who built this Church to the Glory of God
Deceased the 17th November A.D.1894
Requiescant in Pace.
On the altar we read the following inscription:
Pray for the souls of
founders of this church
and mission, whose
bodies repose in this vault.
It is worth noting here that during the 2005 restoration of the church, the crypt was opened to check the soundness of the structure and also to confirm the presence of their bodies within. This event produced a great deal of interest in the local press at the time, and the story was covered by the Hexham Courant (23rd September)) and the Newcastle Journal (27th September), as well as the Northern Cross (October). The excavation confirmed that the bodies of Matthew and Susanna Liddell had indeed been transported with the church in 1904/5 to its present site. Their mortal remains now rest directly beneath the Mortuary Chapel in front of the altar, Susanna nearest to the sanctuary. Although the coffins were not seen, we have reason to believe that they would have been made of lead. There are four remaining burial places within the vault that are not occupied. The actual burial area is protected by locked iron gates. Remedial work was carried out in November 2005 to the rusted iron girders in the ceiling of the vault, in order to prevent further rusting, and the metal gates were also treated and painted. In July 2006, Classic Masonry completed the finishing work to the exterior of the vault and inscribed the names of Matthew and Susanna Liddell in the original circle of stone which contains a cross.
Returning now to the main narrative, we continue with a description of the architecture of the church and some changes that were made when it was moved. The only differences between the old and the new church are the following: the sacristy was on the right hand (north) side and is now on the left (south) side; in the old church there was a gallery above the mortuary chapel which was then as now on the right. Charles Walker of Newcastle found it necessary to make these changes. Galleries had been generally despised by frontline Gothic Revivalists, who regarded them as fundamentally un-medieval. Yet they were an essential fixture of Catholic churches, and reflect the dramatic population increases (caused primarily by Irish migration) that prompted the building of so many places of worship throughout these industrial regions. The gallery at the back of the church had been reserved to the Liddell family. The family had access to this gallery to attend church services from the first floor of their mansion through a groined archway connected to what is now the north side of the church. In the new location, it was also found more convenient that the Sanctuary should be not towards the East but towards the West. This is a very unusual thing to do, because ideally all churches should be oriented to the East (Oriens means East), so that the first light of Dawn and the rising Sun streams through the Sanctuary windows. The worshippers are thus facing the East, where they are reminded by the Rising Sun that the Risen Christ and the Cosmic Christ fill the world with His new Light and Life. A similar configuration takes place in Christian burial grounds, where the dead are laid out in their graves facing the East in expectation of Christ’s Return in Glory at the end of time (the Parousia) and the inauguration of the general resurrection of the dead. One reason for the change in the orientation of the church may very well have been the need to build the Bell Tower on an available outcrop of rock in that area of the site. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that in 2003 the builders of a new house 50 meters to the East of the Bell Tower had great difficulty creating the trenches for water and waste drainage, because of the presence of rock only a few centimetres below the soil. Furthermore, some cracks in the terrazzo floor in the Sanctuary and some signs of movement in the pillars of the archway leading from the Sanctuary to the altar of the mortuary chapel, confirms the dangers posed to any Tower at that end of the site because of subsidence or settlement. In fact, it appears that one of the tunnels of West Wylam coal mine, which closed in the 1940’s, runs diagonally NE to SW directly below the Sanctuary area. A Coal Board engineer, however, reported in his survey of the site in 2003 that there was no evidence of subsidence on the footprint of the church, due to such mine workings in the area, and therefore the Coal Board would not be liable for repairs to the interior stonework of the church. Anyhow, we can see how great care was taken to ensure that the repositioned church on its new site in Highfield Lane would be built on rock solid ground at the east end, so that the Bell Tower would be always absolutely secure.
Bishop Preston, who laid the foundation stone in 1904, was born at Lancaster on Dec.12th 1856. He went through the whole course of his studies at Ushaw College and become a Minor Professor for three years. He was sent in February 1881 to the English College at Rome, and after his ordination on June 7th 1884, he was sent to the University of Innsbruck. In September 1886 he returned to Ushaw, where he filled successively the Chairs of Sacred Scripture and Moral Theology. Bishop Wilkinson advancing in age, asked for and obtained him as Auxiliary Bishop. He was consecrated by Bishop Wilkinson on July 29th 1900. But his health proved unequal to the constant strain and he died on February 9th 1905, only six months after laying the foundation-stone of Prudhoe church. So, as it happened, it was the Right Rev. Richard Collins, titular Bishop of Selinus, who became the next Auxiliary to Bishop Wilkinson, who solemnly opened the new church on October 5th 1905. He would later succeed as Diocesan Bishop. The photograph of the opening ceremony is below. You will notice that the priest nearest to the entrance and looking directly at the camera is Fr. Simmons, the parish priest.
On April 9th 1913 Fr. Simmons by delegation of Bishop Collins erected the Stations of the Cross in his church. For a long time he had been in failing health, although apparently very strong. He died suddenly whilst in conversation with Fr. Kuyte of Crawcrook on December 1st 1915, aged 55 years. Of all those who were in charge of Prudhoe Mission till then, he was the first priest to die and be buried in Prudhoe. The Requiem Mass was sung by Bishop Collins. The homily was given by Canon Thomas Smith of St. Mary’s Sunderland. He remarked in his sermon how Fr. Simmons lovingly tended and supervised the work of the relocation of the church stone by stone. “A stranger visiting the church might tell at a glance at least one characteristic of the pastor. Here surely was a man of faith, everywhere was order and decorum, and though he had not the stimulus of a large parish, yet he served it well with zeal and singleness of heart. In his preaching, though he had had the same congregation for twenty years, the voice never grew stale, the repertoire never became exhausted, he never lost the grip of his audience. He had high ideal of the duty of citizenship. He was not parochial in the restricted sense of the word, but felt that he had a duty to his neighbours irrespective of creed. He devoted himself to the public good: “though vast in bulk, he was as tender as a woman, so kind to the sick and distressed, so assiduous in his visitation of his flock. No wonder they loved him.”
Shortly after Fr. Simmons’ death, Fr. James Walsh was appointed. He was born in Carlisle, the son of a well to do bookmaker. Fr. Walsh was ordained at Ushaw on July 14th 1901. He had previously served as assistant priest in North Shields, then to Seaham Harbour (1903-1908). He then became parish priest to Crawcrook (1908-1912) and then to Ellingham (1912-1915). Then he was appointed to Prudhoe in December 1915, when the Great War was at its height. He had the sorrow to see many of his parishioners either as volunteers, or called to the colours, leaving Prudhoe for the battlefield. The following gave their lives in the service of their country: Sergt. Nehemiah Allport, L/ce Corporal John Robson, Pte John Suddes, Pte Matthew Hudson, Pte Richard Bell, Pte David Robson, Pte Hugh Crystal, Pte Edward Keating, Pte Robert Ellwood, Gunner William McCauley, Pte Francis W. McKenna, all of the Northumberland Fusileers.
In 1918, after the promulgation of the New Code of Canon Law, the Mission of Prudhoe was canonically erected into a Parish. Accordingly, the boundaries were definitely settled, as they may be seen in the map above. Fr Lenders in his history records the pastoral statistics from the parish registers between the years 1870 and 1928: He notes that there had been 1029 baptisms, of which 71 were adult converts; 566 confirmations (282 males and 284 females) of which 24 were adult converts; 140 marriages; and 344 burials.
When Fr Walsh celebrated his silver jubilee in 1926, Prudhoe was very much a mining village and mindful of the hardship his parishioners were undergoing due to the general strike he would not allow any celebration which caused expense. Instead he gave the children a party on the flower show field, now Highfield estate, opposite the church. The 1930’s before the advent of the Welfare State were difficult and often poverty-stricken for his flock. In 1931 Station Road was built under the Unemployment Relief Works Act to provide work for the jobless. It replaced the steep track, now a footpath, leading up the hill from Prudhoe Castle. In 1938 another blow hit his parishioners when the mines of Prudhoe and Mickley closed with the loss of many jobs. West Wylam colliery was still in production, however. It finally closed in May 1961. During his time as parish priest, Prudhoe gradually changed into the town it has become. Even before the Second World War, new council houses were built at Edgewell, Castle Dene and Mickley, the large Oaklands Estate being built shortly after the War. In 1942 as part of the War effort, ICI, on behalf of the Ministry of Supply, started producing fertiliser for agriculture in a factory in Low Prudhoe and in 1954 ICI bought the factory which employed hundreds of local people.
In 1951 on October 4th, the benches were cleared from the church to allow its official consecration by Bishop McCormack.
Procession of Bishop and Clergy to the Consecration Ceremony. The following priests recognized are Fr John Bell, Fr Tom McGoldrich, Fr Patsy Redmond, Fr William Malone
Fr Walsh was the last priest in Prudhoe to have a curate – Fr Costello. A genial well-liked man, Fr Walsh served the parish so faithfully through momentous times. He died at St Camillus Hospital, Hexham, aged 79 in March 1954 and he is buried at the Catholic Cemetery, Moor Road, Prudhoe, near Fr Simmons. He was succeeded by Fr Maddison.
Father James Maddison was parish priest throughout the “swinging sixties”, a period of enormous changes both in the Catholic Church and in the world at large. He was born on 18th February 1901 and ordained priest on 6th June 1925 by Bishop Thorman at St Cuthbert’s Grammar School. One week later he started parish work as assistant at St. Joseph’s Benwell for 10 years. He then went to St Mary’s, Sunderland and worked there until late July 1941. He became priest in charge at Boldon and worked there until April 1954. In 1954 when his ministry started here, Prudhoe was still a mining village with very few incomers. The Mass was in Latin and the congregation reared on the Catechism. The Second Vatican Council would soon set in motion a process of updating.
Father Maddison lived frugally and walked miles throughout his parish in big hob-nailed boots to visit his scattered parishioners in Ovington or West Wylam. He had no housekeeper or car, and he was never known to have taken a holiday.
Although unbending in matters of faith and morals, people admired his integrity and his refusal to give an inch to the permissive society, which was gradually developing. He trained for the priesthood in Portugal, and he is remembered by the older parishioners as a kindly, well-educated man, who could speak with authority on any subject. The parishoners recall that he often preached lengthy sermons lasting 45 minutes and longer.
His congregation was increased by growing numbers of Prudhoe Hospital patients, who used to walk in crocodile to Mass on Sundays and fill the front pews. In 1956, he noted that there were just over 100 Roman Catholic patients in the hospital boosting the population to 780.
At Easter 1956, he recorded 305 people present at the first Mass and 89 at the second.
The opening of the Moor Road Secondary Modern School in April 1958 caused him concern. At that time, St Matthew’s was still an all-age school, which pupils attend until they left at fifteen years of age. But now some of the Catholic pupils were leaving it to go to the new school up the road. Thus began the parish’s vexed problem of secondary school Catholic Education. With the introduction of three-tier education in the County, children had to face a 12 mile journey to Hexham at the age of nine years to stay in Catholic Education, but only until they were thirteen years of age, at which point they must enter Prudhoe Secondary School or stay on at Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham without the facility of free school transport.
Prudhoe grew rapidly during Fr Maddison’s time with large new housing estates being built in the early 1960’s at West Wylam, Highfield, Moorlands and the Castle Hill William Leech development. When in the early 1970’s Kimberley-Clark Ltd opened a paper tissue making factory at Low Prudhoe, the town population had reached 11,000, and modern Prudhoe was born, gradually becoming the commuter town it is today.
Prudhoe Hospital also developed and had more than 1,500 patients in the early 1970’s. Difficult times for his parishioners during his ministry were the shock closures of West Wylam colliery in 1961 and Prudhoe ICI in 1965. These were desperate times for Prudhoe, and there was an all-out drive to attract new industries.
Fr Maddison’s health deteriorated as he got older, and he died in St Camillus Hospital, Hexham, on 2nd March 1975, aged seventy-four.
The parish was looked after on a temporary basis by Canon Alexander Barrass and Fr Michael Finnigan, until a new parish priest was appointed. It was during this time that a spare wooden altar was brought from Ushaw College strapped to the roof of Martin Mannion’s car, enabling Mass to be celebrated facing the people for the first time in Prudhoe. Fr Maddison was succeeded by Father Hugh Berryman, who was parish priest from March 24th 1976 to May 5th 1979. He had come from teaching in Harvard University in America. He had previously taught at Ushaw College. During Fr Berryman’s time, the Reading Room was renovated as a more user-friendly social centre. Various organisations in the town were able to use the building as a result, such as a youth club, Brownies, Guides, Cubs, a keep-fit class, a typing class, a play group, and an over-sixties club, as well as a social club. He also arranged renovation work on the interior of the church. This work to the Reading Room was done under the Job Creation Scheme. At the time, Mrs Margaret Stewart, a member of the Ladies Circle, commented, “The whole place is absolutely marvellous and is a great asset to Prudhoe”. Father Berryman said: “It’s really wonderful what has been made from the old building and our thanks are due to the Job Creation scheme and all the workers and craftsmen who made it possible.” The total cost for both church and social centre was around £90,000, some of which was grant-aided. The balance of £22,000 had to be met by the parishioners. It took 15 months to complete the work in the church. The work done included landscaping and safety features at the school on South Road and some tidying up the Moor Road Cemetery.
Father Thomas Laidler was parish priest from 25th May 1979 until 7th June 1991, when he retired. He was born in South Shields on 24th June 1914. He was ordained priest at Ushaw college on 29th June 1941. He was appointed to St Aloysius, Hebburn where he stayed as assistant priest for some twenty years. He is still remembered for his great work for the Young Christian Workers. At Hebburn he contracted polio, some effects of which were to remain with him all his life. In 1961 he was asked to form a new parish at West Monkseaton and the bishop gave him an empty house, a field and his blessing. Within a comparatively short time he was responsible for the building of a temporary church and in the course of time the parish was dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In 1976 he was transferred to St Patrick’s, Langley Moor and three years later to our Lady and St Cuthbert, Prudhoe, where he built a new primary school. Failing health led eventually to his retirement at Cartyne Residential Home, Hexham. He died suddenly of a heart attack in Cartyne on 9th July 1994, aged 80 years. At his own request his body was brought to Prudhoe for an evening Requiem on Wednesday, July 13th and the Funeral Mass was at West Monkseaton the following day. He was laid to rest in Whitley Bay cemetery next to Fr J Scarr, once parish priest of Whitley Bay, who had helped him so much in the founding of the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. His obituary in the Northern Catholic Calendar describes him as “conscientious, dedicated, friendly priest and there were many who were saddened by his death”.
Father Joseph Marren became parish priest on 8th June 1991 and stayed until the end of August 2000. Father Marren came to the parish in ill-health from Alnwick, but he never allowed his heart disease to hold him back for long. He was a keen golfer. He was a great cook and often met parishioners in the local supermarket. Jovial and approachable, he was a great miss when he went into semi retirement at West Monseaton. Although poorly, he was able to attend the Centenary Mass on 5th October 2005, but he died a few weeks later of a heart attack.
Father Paul Zielinski became parish priest on 1st September 2000. The church building at this stage was showing signs of serious deterioration. The interior stonework in the Sanctuary was splitting in many places due to the rusting of iron cramps behind the stone-cladding. The theft of lead from the upper elevation gutters during the 1980’s and the subsequent replacement with low quality roof felt meant that ten years later water was slowly penetrating into the walls and accelerating the rusting process. Over sixty stones had become cracked and the remedial work would be expensive. As the fundraising began, morale received a significant boost with the pious bequest of Miss Olive Tulip, who had left the parish the very generous sum of £27,790. Despite being a Grade II listed building, it was a surprise to discover that many sources of grant funding would not support places of worship. Those who would support limited their assistance to wind and weather repairs to preserve the building, excluding such things as electrical re-wiring and the installation of new heating systems or the liturgical reorganisation of the sanctuary and redecoration But Father Zielinski eventually won the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund administered by English Heritage, which made a significant contribution to both the re-leading of the gutters and the replacement of the Portland limestone ashlars in the Sanctuary, with a grant of £63,000. This came about because English Heritage were persuaded to see the outside work and the stonework repairs as linked together in a single project, rather than considering the interior work as cosmetic. The Historic Churches Preservation Trust also supported the restoration project with a grant of £17,000. Other grants were as follows: The Delacour Trust £10,000; Northumbria Historic Churches Trust £3000; The Joicey Trust £3750; Tynedale Conservation Fund £2000; Northumberland Environmental Partnership £5000; The Alan Evans Trust £3000; The William Webster Trust £1000; Prudhoe Town Council £2000; Garfield Weston Foundation £5000; The Mercers’ Company £2000; Thompson’s of Prudhoe £5000; The Antiquarian Society £500; St Matthew’s Social Club £500; Proctor and Gamble employees £400; J.H Burn Trust £300. St. Mary the Virgin at Ovingham donated £200, since Catholics in the village had supported their fundraising for new church roof some years earlier. Money was raised also for individual items such as the restoration of the Stations of the Cross, the oil paintings, and the re-gilding of the frame above the side altar. Forty four individual donations came in, either for the project as a whole or for specific work of restoration. In this way, all the Stations of the Cross were adopted by different parishioners. Many parishioners increased their weekly or monthly donations to meet the extra expenditure. The project could not have been completed without the support of the Diocese, which gave the parish an interest free loan to cover the full cost of the project. It was also decided to introduce a regular second collection at weekend Masses specifically for the repayment of the loan from the Diocese. This was seen as a painless way to raise extra funds on a regular basis.
The magnificent Gothic edifice was built for the dual purpose of serving the Irish Catholic community based around Mickley and West Wylam collieries and commemorating the founder of the Mission, Matthew Liddell of Prudhoe Hall. He had been the principal owner of the Mickley Coal Co and it was his wealth and generosity, which were crucial to the development of the Catholic Faith in the area. His widow, Susanna, after his death in 1881, entrusted the design to Dunn, Hansom and Dunn, a firm of architects based in Newcastle. Less grand than many of their mature works, the church is built on a diminutive scale and is relatively modest in its execution. Yet, a great deal of care has been lavished on it, and it abounds both inside and out with fine carving and rich contrasts of materials, colours and textures.
Archibald Dunn (1832-1917) and Edward Hansom (1842-1900) are among the most important but unsung local architects. Under the style of Dunn and Hansom they became the foremost Catholic architects in the North of England, and gained such notability for their prodigious church-building that they received three of the most prestigious English Catholic commissions since the Reformation – namely the colleges of Downside, Stonyhurst and Ushaw. Their principal works in the North East include the noble tower and spire of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Newcastle, and the magnificent church of St. Michael in Elswick. Dunn was also a prominent local landowner. Across the valley from Prudhoe is Castle Hill House (1878-9), which he designed and built for his own occupation in Wylam, the town of his birth.
Our Lady and St Cuthbert’s origins as a memorial church are immediately visible. It reproduces the short nave and asymmetrically-attached belfry of chapels he had designed at St Andrew’s Cemetery, Hexham and Benfieldside Cemetery, Blackhill during the early part of his career. The small entrance porch on the south side allows a vast window to occupy the east face. Above the steeply-pitched nave rises an octagonal bell-tower with open belfry and gargoyles projecting from each vertex. The tower is akin to those Dunn and Hansom created for St Bede’s Church, Jarrow in 1885, and the church ends with a robust semi-hexagonal apse, which was their preferred method of enshrining the chancel. Apsidal termination was also a characteristically French device and it was common for English Catholic churches to be given this kind of stylistic inflection, in order to distinguish them from their Anglican counterparts. Perhaps the most consistent feature of Dunn and Hansom’s work are the gargoyles that continually haunt the upper portions of their buildings. Here they are carved with consummate attention to variety and expressiveness. Unusually, however, they represent signs of the zodiac, a kind of symbolism that does not occur elsewhere in their work and which is unusual in any architectural context.
The building itself is ‘Perpendicular’ in style. This term refers to the latest phase of medieval Gothic architecture, which flourished c.1335-1530 and is typified by the church’s membranous tracery and ornate wooden roof. The firm employed this mode frequently towards the end of their career, it was the style of their greatest ecclesiastical works. This may be observed from the chapel of St Aloysius, part of their majestic contribution to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.
The placement of the mortuary is evident from the sepulchral character of the sombre north transept, penetrated only by a single rose window and adorned with symmetrical finials. Spanning the wall is an arcade of pointed arches. These enclose heraldic and foliated carving in which the monograms of Matthew and Susanna Liddell figure prominently. Dunn had a love of heraldry and it enriched the works produced throughout his entire career. It is not surprising that this passion extended to monograms, and such motifs pervade both Castle Hill House and his early masterpiece Neville Hall in Newcastle, as well as our Lady and St Cuthbert’s.
The Reredos in the mortuary chapel has a painting giving a composite picture of Heaven, Earth and Purgatory. Purgatory is depicted symbolically by rising, golden flames. Earth is roofed by clouds and presents nine men and women who are appealing to heaven with their prayers for those who may be undergoing their purification in the flames below them. So, we are encouraged to join our prayers to theirs for the repose of the souls of the Faithful Departed, including those of Mr and Mrs Liddell. This brings out the whole meaning of the Mortuary Chapel. Notice the predominant place given to the Glorious Christ. His Mother Mary kneels before Him and petitions her divine Son. The two smaller angels above his shoulders are supplicating Him. All heaven joins the prayer of the Faithful on earth in their charity towards the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Christ blesses all and gestures gently towards his Mother. The Six Angels of the Frame itself support shields bearing the implements of Christ’s Passion: the whipping post and scourges, the seamless garment and the crown of thorns, the hammer and pincers, the spear and sponge and the three nails.
Dunn and Hansom’s churches are remarkable for the spiritual erudition that is displayed in their planning and decoration. This is seen to best effect in the splendid church of our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, a cruciform edifice of gleaming white stone that overflows with effigies and portraits of saints, bishops and kings. Yet, is also apparent in the more modest churches they created throughout their own diocese. At Prudhoe the chancel ends with a tabernacle containing statues of the Virgin and Child and St Cuthbert, which give tangible expression to the church’s dedication. Though weathered, they set a high standard that is upheld by the statuary inside, the finest instance being the beautiful representation of the baptism of Christ, aptly situated in the baptistry.
The word ‘Nave’ is derived from the Latin word ‘navis’ which means boat or ship. The Nave is covered by a pitch pine roof, clearly evoking an upturned ship. This is a fine wooden-truss roof with fibrous tracery between the structural timbers. In keeping with the contemporary liturgy, the richness of the nave roof is exceeded by the lavishly-stencilled chancel ceiling. This ensures that nave and chancel – the sacred and worldly domains – are kept visibly distinct. The glowing colours of these fittings are beautifully offset by the more muted tones of the dappled grey stonework. The Reredos of the High Altar contains the symbols of the four Evanglists: Matthew – a winged man; Mark – a winged lion; Luke – a winged ox; and John – a winged eagle. The Tabernacle, which contains the most holy Eucharist, has fine brass doors and is embellished with four enamels, Alpha Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) and IHS (the first three letters of ‘Jesus’) CHR (Christ). Above the Tabernacle (Tent) is the throne for the Crucifix, above which is a carving of a Pelican with the words: ‘Adoramus Te Christe’ (‘We adore Thee O Christ’) Following the edicts of the renowned Catholic architect A.W.N. Pugin, Dunn and Hansom’s work continually embodies the ideals of rational construction and structural expression, and the ceiling fulfils Pugin’s assertion that decoration may enrich but must never disguise construction. Similarly, the visual effect of the gargoyles is underscored by their functional purpose of channelling away water.
Owing to the poverty of the Roman Catholic population, many of Dunn and Hansom’s northern churches are small, aisleless buildings devoid of decoration. Situated in the poorest areas of town, among the chemical works and factories, they are often little more than meagre preaching boxes. At Prudhoe, however, the beneficence of the Liddell family ensured that the architects were able to transcend the usual financial difficulties and produce a perfect example of splendour on a small scale. Replete with naturalistic carving and expressive gargoyles, the church has the full beauty of the firm’s mature work. Its turbulent history of transference and alteration has not impaired the original fabric, and Our Lady and St Cuthbert’s remains one of the most pious and beautiful churches that Dunn and Hansom ever created, undiminished as a monument to their contribution to the architecture of the North East.
The fine octagonal Bell Tower with open belfry is home to a fine bell cast by Taylor’s of Loughborough with the following inscription:
It has the following Latin inscription around the base:
“Me Sonnante Pia Succure Virgo Maria”
(“O Blessed Virgin Mary When I Am Sounded Come To Our Aid”)
To the right above the porch, there is a pair of human heads in place of gargoyles. They are thought to be representations of Mrs Susanna Liddell who built the church and her nephew Mr John Liddell, carrying the scales of justice as a Justice of the Peace, who paid for the relocation of the church.
Gargoyles of Susanna and John Liddell (Notice the scales of justice in indicating his office as Justice of the Peace for Northumberland)
At the end of the drip stones of the upper Sacristy windows are the heads of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Above these is a superb carving of Agnes Dei (the Lamb of God).
DUNN HANSOM & DUNN
Archibald Mathias Dunn was born in 1832. His father was Mathias Dunn, a Mining Engineer and Manager and one of the first Government Inspectors of Mines for the North East of England. Archibald was educated at Ushaw and Stonyhurst. He then went to Bristol to be apprenticed to Charles Francis Hansom (1816-1888) the younger brother of Joseph Aloysius Hansom (Inventor of the Hansom Cab in 1834 and Founder of the Builder). It was here that Dunn met his future partner Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900) son of C.F.Hansom.
A.M.Dunn returned to Newcastle after completing his training and set up a practice in c.1855 and about 1871 formed a partnership with E.J.Hansom. As well as having an office in Newcastle, they established another office at 2 Westminster Gardens in London in 1880. About 1887 a son of A.M. Dunn became a partner and the firm became known as Dunn, Hansom & Dunn.
In 1862 Archibald Mathias Dunn married Sara an authoress and daughter of Hugh Armstrong of Newcastle and Bromley, Kent. They were fond of travelling and Dunn published a book in 1886 ‘Notes and sketches of an Architect’ – a collection of sketches made in France, Germany, Spain and England based on their travels.
Dunn and Sara resided at Castle Hill House in Wylam in Northumberland, which he had designed and built in 1878. Previous to this they had been living in Gateshead, where Dunn was an Alderman, one time Mayor and also a Justice of the Peace for County Durham, and in 1870 was President of the Northern Architectural Association.
Dunn also submitted a design for Westminster Cathedral, which was unsuccessful (J.F.Bently received this commission).
Dunn retired from full time practice around 1883-87 with the firm later becoming Dunn, Hansom & Fenwicke. In 1901 Archibald and Sara moved to Wood House, Branksome Park, Bournemouth, where he died on 17th January 1917 in his eighty fifth year, leaving £36,000.
Here is a list of his works:
1854 Saint Mary’s RC Church, Blackhill
1858 National School, Blythe
1858 St. Andrew’s Cemetery, Hexham
1858 St. Joseph’s RC Church, Gateshead
1860 St Anthony of Padua RC Church, Walker, Newcastle
1858 Our Lady and St Wilfrid RC Church, Blythe
1869 St George’s RC Church, Bells Close, Lemington
1873 Saint Dominic’s RC Church, Newcastle
18?? St. Nicholas’ Cemetery, Newcastle.
1868 Prudhoe Hall, Prudhoe
1868 Mining Institute/Wood Memorial Hall, Newcastle
1878 Castle Hill House, Wylam.
Dunn & Hansom
1860 Spire of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Newcastle.
1882 Alterations to Pugin’s Chapel, Ushaw
1876 Saint Matthew’s School (mainly Hansom), South Road, Prudhoe
Dunn, Hansom & Dunn
1887 Medical School, Northumberland Road, Newcastle
1891 St Michael’s RC Church, Westmorland Rd, Newcastle
1891 Our Lady and St Cuthbert RC Church, Prudhoe
1893 St Joseph’s RC Church, Hartlepool.
THE 2004/5 RESTORATION OF THE CHURCH
The Church of Our Lady and St Cuthbert is a marvellous Dunn, Hanson and Dunn Grade II List building set in its own walled grounds in Prudhoe, Northumberland. Napper Architects were commissioned in November 2001, with a remit to complete the project to coincide with the church centenary celebrations in October 2005.
The significant £600,000 conservation and restoration project included: total renewal of the internal Sanctuary spalled limestone ashlar; adaptation of the baptismal font; cleaning of the terrazzo and parquet flooring; limewashing and decoration of the whole interior; new bespoke furniture to the Sanctuary and Nave; replacement heating and lighting installation; replacement lead and slate roofing including cast iron decorative ridge; re-pointing and DDA compliance works, including substantial external terrace works. Other works included; improvements to the confessional, adaptation of the choir balcony rail, the installation of staircase to upper store for the Sacristy and the cleaning and sealing of the ceilings. The main contractor was Stephen Easten Ltd of Newcastle.
The Parish Council and Finance Committee were consulted from the start of the planning process. All the parishioners were kept up to date on the expected costs of the project. In the beginning, the cost of some remedial work was thought to be in the region of £50,000! A certain degree of dismay must have been experienced by the parish as the cost inevitably escalated. But all can now enjoy a rare achievement, that of a completely conserved and restored church. The Historic Churches Committee of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle vetted all the work of conservation and restoration.
The work was carried out between October 2004 and April 2005. All the pews were removed from the church and taken to Liverpool by Hayes and Finch Ltd for refurbishment. All the floors were protected with wooden boards and the high altar was boxed in to prevent damage. During this time, all the weekend Masses were provided at St Matthew’s School in Highfield Lane, with weekday Masses being held in the Presbytery.
The Sanctuary furniture, Altar, Ambo and Ministerial Chair are solid marble quarried in the Sichuan Province of Western China. The top piece of the Altar weighs 1200 kilograms.
The design of the Ministerial Chair has been loosely based on the 7th century stone chair in Hexham Abbey, known as the Frith Stool, believed to have been used by St Wilfrid when he was bishop there. The marble was principally processed by a company known as Chunkai Trading in their factory in Fuzhou (Fujian Province) on the south east coast of China, near the Taiwan Straits. This was all arranged by Classic Masonry, who installed the marble in the Sanctuary in September 2005 in time for the Centenary Mass of Thanksgiving on 5th October.
Charles McReavy from Gosforth, the nephew of Monsignor Lawrence McReavy who had been professor of Canon Law for many years at Ushaw College and a very accomplished watercolours artist, was responsible for the painstaking work of restoring the High Altar and the Stations of the Cross, using 23 carat gold leaf. Charles took the Stations of the Cross to his home to work on them, but the work on the high altar involved many trips back and forth, applying the three hour gold size to dry before the application of the gold leaf.
Disabled access and disabled toilet were major items of expenditure in the project. Matlock sandstone was used for all the paving on the south side of the church. Floodlighting to the church and the automation of the Church Bell enhanced the presence of the building in the locality. Smiths of Derby installed the bell ringing mechanism and timer, allowing for the hours to be struck and the Angelus to ring out at twelve noon and six in the evening. Several groups of women from the town on visiting the church after the work had been completed, such as Prudhoe Heights and the Wednesday group, were curious about the significance of the extra strikes of the Bell at midday and in the evening. As a result of Father Zielinski explaining the significance of the Angelus to them, about 40 non-Catholic women in ear-shot of the Bell are now praying the Angelus.
The church was completely rewired and a sophisticated lighting system installed. The dimming system provides great versatility, allowing the creation of multiple lighting ‘scenes’ in both Nave and Sanctuary. The effect is to make the most of the architectural features of the building, and to change the ‘mood’ to fit varying liturgical themes, such as gathering, celebration, adoration, and meditation, or changing the focus from altar to baptismal font, to reredos.
A new church organ with digitally sampled pipe sounds was installed by Edinburgh Organ Studio from Edinburgh.
The final piece of work, which was not carried out until October 2006, concerned the waterproofing and provision of Matlock sandstone to the Crypt of the Church, and the engraving of the names of Matthew and Susanna Liddell above the entrance. It seems fitting their final resting place in the Church, which their generous provision had brought about, should also enjoy some conservation and restoration to mark the centenary of the translation of their mortal remains from Prudhoe Hall to Highfield Lane.
Historical Note on John Aidan Liddell VC MC (1888-1915)
Aidan was the son of John Liddell, the nephew of Matthew and Susanna Liddell and lived at Prudhoe Hall after the death of Susanna in 1894, until his family moved to Hampshire in 1904. So for about ten years he would have attended Mass in our church with his family. He was educated by the Jesuits at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire and then at Balliol College, Oxford. He subsequently fought with great distinction in the First World War. The following information on his life has been obtained from his biography written by Peter Daybell, entitled “With a Smile and a Wave”, and published by Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Few will now recognise the name of John Aidan Liddell, but for a brief period in the late summer of 1915, his name was on the lips of a nation hungry for news from the war. His face and story, and a series of remarkable photographs, filled many newspaper columns. Already decorated for bravery as an infantry officer, Aidan Liddell had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and it was as a pilot that his skill and fortitude was to attract national acclaim. Badly wounded in the thigh while flying deep over enemy occupied Belgium, he had lost consciousness as his two-seater RE5 aircraft was raked by enemy machine gun fire and plunged out of control towards the ground. His subsequent actions were later described by his commanding officer as ‘one of the finest feats that has been done in the Corps since the beginning of the war.’ Despite terrible injuries, and the extensive damage to his machine, he recovered control of the aircraft and flew on for a further half an hour to the safety of the allied Belgian airfield of La Panne, where a photographer captured the dramatic scenes for posterity. For his courage and flying skill in saving the life of his Observer, and for bringing back a valuable aircraft to the safety of a friendly airfield, Captain John Aidan Liddell MC of the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Royal Flying Corps was awarded the Victoria Cross. Presented For Valour, the VC was the highest military award of the British Empire, and Aidan’s Cross was only the fourth VC ever to be won in the air.
No doubt part of the attraction for the British public was that Aidan had seemingly cheated almost certain death and had lived on to be proclaimed a hero. Lying on a stretcher on the ground, a cigarette in hand, he had smiled and waved for the camera. But the celebrations were short-lived, for despite rallying bravely, he died of his wounds a month after the action, and a week after the VC was gazetted. Aidan Liddell, was a thoughtful, self-effacing, immensely likeable and modest young man. Scholar, scientist, naturalist, astronomer, musician, racing motor cyclist, aviator, photographer and diarist, he embraced the challenges of the new century and the Edwardian era with great enthusiasm and no small degree of talent. He was born on the 3rd of August 1888 in Benwell, and although he was to move to the South of England early in his life, his roots were firmly in the North East, and in particular in Newcastle upon Tyne. His family were prosperous land and coal owners whose determination and business acumen had advanced the family fortunes over successive generations. Indeed, they were typical of the successful 19th Century North Eastern entrepreneurs whose industry and vision underpinned the development and growth of Tyneside after the industrial revolution. They were also devoutly Roman Catholic. His father John Liddell had worked with his uncle Matthew in the collieries at Mickley, Prudhoe, West Wylam and Thirlwell. Upon Matthew’s death John inherited a substantial share of his uncle’s fortune. He lived at Benwell Hall and it was there in 1888 that Aidan was born. John had become a Director of the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company and a Justice of the Peace for Northumberland. In 1898 the Liddell family moved to Prudhoe Hall after the death of John’s aunt Susanna. It was an altogether more impressive home than Benwell, and it is not surprising that he decided to move into this grand house which was so close to his important mining interests. It was John Liddell who moved the church of ‘Our Lady and St Cuthbert’s', from its original site at Prudhoe Hall to land in the town several miles away. This extraordinary feat took place in 1904, by which time the Liddells had plans to sell the Hall, and move south.
Historical Note on Daniel Cottier
Born in Anderston Glasgow in January 1837 to a Manx father and Highland Scots mother, Margaret M’lean. He has been thus described, ‘…with his big head, his curly red hair, his shrewd and humorous eyes, his strong Scots accent, his unaffected naturalness and bonhomie – was more like an ideal coasting skipper than an artist’ – his father was indeed a mariner. Madox Brown is quoted as saying, ‘…but Cottier, as a colourist has a range of performance beyond that of any other modern artist. Here line and colouring are suggestive of paradise itself.’
Cottier was apprenticed to a John Cairney & Co, glass-stainers in Glasgow at 14 years of age, where with the other apprentices he learnt to grind and mix his own colours. He studied under Madox Brown in London in the early 1860′s and learnt from Morris’s experimentation with colour harmonies. In 1862 at the age of 24 he went to work for Field & Allen in Leith (Edinburgh) as foreman designer. Three years later (1865) he opened his own business in Glasgow. One key contract was for the United Presbyterian congregation (now the Cottier Theatre). He initially traded in Glasgow, but some of his early glass and early experimentations in decoration are in Paisley and in Aberdeen, particularly in St Machar’s Cathedral. In 1867 he moved to London and in 1873 opened his New York house. He also opened a branch in Australia. He is considered to have been an important influence on Louis Comfort Tiffany, and is also credited with introducing the Aesthetic movement to America and Australia.
He died of a heart attack at Jacksonville, Florida whilst on holiday, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, New York.
The reader will see the remarkable similarity between the Prudhoe Star of David design and the Glasgow Seal design. In addition, both in the Prudhoe Hall Main Window and the Church Sanctuary Rose Windows, thin concentric cirlces of different coloured glass at the margins encapsulate the bird motif or christological symbol. The repetitive use of a yellow flower motif, akin to a buttercup, throughout the leaded lights of both the Hall and Church windows and even the same line drawings of long loops suggestive of foliage, point to the same designer, Daniel Cottier. The similarity of approach is further indicated by the use of a dark grey graphite border with wording or a waving line with dot in both sets of windows.
Prudhoe Hall Border Initials M, S, L, Design repeated throughout the window
“History of the Catholic Parish of Prudhoe”, written by Reverend J. Lenders in 1928. In his foreword, he states that John Liddell of Basingstoke and Fr James Walsh helped him. Reverend Lenders at that time resided at Minsteracres.
“The Times History of the World”: new edition published 1999 by HarperCollins, 77-88 Fulham Palace Rd, London W6 8JB.
Michael Johnson of Hetton-le-Hole for his description of the church in his MA dissertation on the architects Dunn and Hansom.
David Cummings BA (Hons) Dip Arch, the 3D Visualisation Manager for Napper Architects in Newcastle, who digitally restored most of the historic photographs in this booklet.
Peter Daybell, who wrote the book “With a Smile and a Wave”, published by Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, England.
Alex Kuhlman, parishioner who created the parish website and kindly assisted in the assembly of the photographs into the text.
Copyright. Paul J. Zielinski
All rights reserved
Donations gratefully accepted to the church restoration fund.