Another CCT app find, I’d gone to Newcastle for the day to see an exhibition. Skint, I wasn’t really feeling the shopping, so what else do you do but see what churches are around?
The app promised the remains of a spire “lofty and elegant, holding its own amongst the tower blocks”.
It was of course, also dusk, in winter and I arrived after getting a bit lost on a walk along the dual carriageway with 5% camera phone battery.
The tower is indeed lofty and it is brilliant that it is preserved here. However, there was absolutely no infomation about it, other than a small sign saying “you’re here”!
I went in through a gateway, which was also the nursing home carpark, and walked around the base of the tower.
Pretty marvellous! What else, then do we know about St Stephen’s? Who was that saint? What happened to the rest of the church? the first is easier to answer than the latter.
St Stephen is venerated as the very first martyr. A deacon, he was denounced by Jewish authorities for his teachings and was stoned to death. In iconography he is often pictured holding seven stones, and/or a book. He’s best known for his saint-day ‘The Feast of Stephen’ from the carol Good King Wencelas. The date accepted in the west is 26 December.
The church had its foundation stone laid in 1866 and was consecrated in 1868. It served local communities for over 120 years until it was deconsecrated in 1984 and given to the CCT in 1987. Only the tower remains today after the rest of the church burnt down due to an arson attack in 1990.
This interior has completely disappeared as has all trace of the nave and chancel. I’d love to know if any of the fittings survived and where they are today?
This film clip from a bell-ringing group give s a glimpse into what the base of the tower looks like today:
However ringing is currently suspended as cracks in the tower are investigated. The bells themselves were made by John Taylor of Loughborough.
According to contemporary newspaper reports, there had been a high demand for a church in the Low Elswick area for several decades, to minister to the people who worked in the packed terraces and supplied the shipyard and the mines with labour.
To find out more about Tyne built ships, visit here. Fascinatingly, this shipyard built submarines for the Royal Navy during the First World War too.
I think this church is one of those cases where it fortunes seem to mirror those of the community that it is in.
Huge growth in population to work in the emerging nineteenth century industries meant that Elswick became a heavily populated suburb of Newcastle. By the 1850s there was demand for a church to meet the needs of this growing population mostly made up of workers.
This pdf shows the reports from the consecration of the church. A huge amount of fundraising done and it was local firms who undertook the construction.
It appears the church was warmly embraced by locals:
And was a focal point for fundraising:
However, the depression of the 1920s/30s hit the area to a devastating effect. The shipyard reduced from 60,000 workers to 700 (by the 1960s). Homes in the area got split into flats and by the 1960s, much of the area was declared a slum and cleared. This created new space for smaller industrial units and also for the tower blocks you see nearby today.
A neat comparison is this 1919 map of the area, the google map of it today and a zoomed in one of the church:
The streets are similar, but the terraces have clearly all gone line.
According to the Timmonet site (which is full of great images, inc. above):
During the late 1980s the bold decision was made to revitalise the area and by a spectacular determination of local Council policy and legal evictions, the criminal fraternity was smashed. New entrances were added to the flats with entry systems and a concierge. People living here were given a stake in the area in an attempt to encourage a pride and care for the local environment.
Hopefully now, fortunes are looking up for St Stephen’s and for the Elswick area.
Finally this, because places and people shape one another (and I love it):
I’d love to hear more about this church – particularly if you ever went inside it!