Early History of St Gabriel’s
A study of the 1895 Ordnance Survey map of Byker and Heaton reveals a building described as St Gabriel’s Church but this building is not where you would expect it to be on Heaton Road. It is to the east of Chillingham Road on the north side of a road that is not named but can be recognised as present day Rothbury Terrace. To the south is a cricket ground and a football ground.There is a record that states that in 1890 ‘the wooden building was replaced with a structure of corrugated iron lined with wood, costing £500, with seats for 350. It is not known whether the wooden building had also been a church. The building was known as St Gabriel’s Iron Mission Chapel and was a daughter church of St Michael’s, Byker.
Also in 1890 Lord Armstrong gave a new site for a permanent church to be built on the west side of Heaton Road near to its northern end and opposite a row of large villas between Simonside and Cartington Terraces. The architect appointed was Mr Frank W Rich and the Archdeacon of Northumberland recommended Mr Rich to prepare plans for a permanent church to be built in the Gothic design with a tower, a nave and one aisle, to hold 500 but capable of being enlarged to hold 600. Plans were submitted to Lord Armstrong for his approval. The site of the new church on Heaton Road was found in 1896 to be too narrow to accommodate a large church built on a cruciform shape. Lord Armstrong generously gave another sit directly north of the original site. On 1st December Bishop Edgar agreed that the architect Mr F W Rich should build a new stone church on the new site. The building contractor appointed was Mr Walter Baston, a member of St Gabriel’s congregation.
The foundation stone was laid by Mrs. Watson-Armstrong. Under the foundation stone was placed a description of the building, plans, local newspaper and coins. (The location of the foundation stone is unknown.) The Consecration of St. Gabriel’s Church by Bishop Jacob took place on Friday, 29th September 1899. A licence for Marriages was obtained in October and on 27th December 1899 Queen Victoria sanctioned the formation of the new Parish.
Spot the difference!
That takes us to until 29th September 1899, when the church was consecrated. As the postcard below illustrates this was only stage one of the construction.
The most obvious missing feature is the tower but if the building looks a bit short it is because the chancel is missing. The lower building at the south east corner was temporary vestries and the chimney was for the boiler in the cellar. Next time you are passing see if you can still find a chimney. There are no pinnacles on the turrets at the west end. The card was stamped with a Newcastle upon Tyne post mark at 5 pm AU 20 04.
It also shows pillars supporting a gate leading to the vicarage. There is a 1901 record that Mr Watson-Armstrong, Lord Armstrong’s nephew and heir kindly gave a site at the west end of the Church for a vicarage. An anonymous donor gave £1,000 towards the cost and a grant was made available from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of £1,300. Mr Rich was given instructions to prepare plans. The clergy (vicar and two curates) plus housekeeper (Miss Welch) and maid moved into the new vicarage in May 1903. They had been living at 8 Rothbury Terrace. The new vicarage cost £3,500.
An extract from the April 1901 magazine reads:
“The enlargement of St Gabriel’s is an absolute necessary. It is admitted by all that the Church is too small, especially Sunday evenings when we are crowded out and very often would be worshipers have to go away as they cannot find a seat. We must, therefore, consider a scheme for the enlargement of the Church and provision for increased accommodation.”
And in a similar tone in October 1904:
“We have been told that people sometimes stay away from church on Sunday evenings because there is some difficulty in getting seats. The Bishop has consented to the North aisle being used before it is actually consecrated. We are glad to find how much more the North aisle has been appreciated; it is indeed a wonderful improvement to the church and it helps to see more of what it will be like when completed. We can now much more readily picture to ourselves how fine the effect will be when the North Transept arch is opened and the chancel added."
Clearly building work is progressing and in 1905 we read that the dedication and consecration of the new parts of the church took place on 29 September. This was carried out by the Bishop and included the chancel, organ chamber, north aisle and transept and the porches at a cost of £14,000.
Also in 1905 the lower part of the tower was built and donated by Lord Armstrong. The next mention of the tower is in 1907 when it is noted that the Sale of Work was opened by Lord Armstrong and afforded an opportunity of thanking him for his generosity to St Gabriel’s. His latest gift was the tower by now making steady progress
Lord Armstrong also paid for the inscription around the top of the tower. The architect asked the vicar for a suitable engraving to go around the four sides and he choose the Sanctus:
Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of Hosts, | Heaven and Earth are full | of your Glory. Glory be to thee | Lord most High. Amen Alleluia
It was started on the south side as a result the east side on Heaton Road reads Heaven and Earth are full! This was enough for a lady to write to the vicar and ask “…what is to become of me?” The tower is 99 feet high and some of the lettering is now showing its age.
In the parish magazine in July 1909, the Vicar, Churchwardens and Building Fund Committee wrote collectively regarding the inadequacy of the temporary vestries. The erection of permanent vestries were the next portion of the church extension scheme to be built. The new choir vestry would be a room sufficiently to provide for parish meetings, classes etc. This article appears to have had the desired effect as in September 1910 the Archdeacon of Northumberland dedicated new vestries for the Clergy, Churchwardens and Choir as well as two smaller rooms. Various furnishings were also dedicated but more about them another time.
This post card has a post mark of 1 Nov 15. The vestries mentioned above have been completed but there is clearly work to be done on the south side of the chancel. This is where the Lady Chapel now stands. It may have remained like this until 1930/31.
At the annual meeting in the spring of 1914 the vicar reported that an application for a grant for completion of the church had been declined by the Bishop but that he, the Bishop, would recommend a grant for a Parish Hall with rooms. A grant of £500 was awarded in August 1915 on condition that the congregation found the balance, around £1,250 by June 1916. At this stage the plan was to build on the site of the iron building on Rothbury Terrace, the City Council having indicated that it must be removed by 1917 due to its deteriorating condition.
A canteen was opened in the Iron Building from 5.30pm to 9.30pm for soldiers billeted in the parish.
The Iron Building was sold in 1919 for £150 having served as a church and parish hall for 30 years. This meant that there was no hall for social events. Lord Armstrong made available an allotment site on Chillingham Road at half its commercial value but it is not until 1923 that the Bishop agreed a free grant of £2,000 and a loan of £1,500. Plans were submitted for a hall to accommodate 500 with other rooms of varying sizes for classes and recreation.
The foundation stone was not laid until 6th September 1924. Then there were concerns about the slowness of the work and questions were being asked about what was going on behind the hoardings Chillingham Road/Cartington Terrace corner. Delays were caused by fresh negotiations with the contractors over costs and then a builders strike. The building was eventually blessed on 3rd December 1925.
It was to take until 1930 before the final phase of building work consisting of the South Transept and Lady Chapel was agreed. At this time it was decided to abandon the original plan for a Baptistry. This was to have been in the south west corner beside the porch. You can see the undressed stone on the post card at the beginning of this article. It is still undressed today partly hidden by a bay tree.
The final building work was completed in 1931 and dedicated by the Bishop on 4th October 1931. He also dedicated many internal features.