Roman Catholic Church of St Cuthbert


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Roman Catholic Church of St Cuthbert, Cowpen Road, Cowpen, Northumberland, NE24 5JN


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Statutory Address:
Roman Catholic Church of St Cuthbert, Cowpen Road, Cowpen, Northumberland, NE24 5JN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Roman Catholic Church, 1840 by John Dobson, altered 1904 by J Gouldin. Gothic Revival design. The attached presbytery is not of special architectural or historic interest.

Reasons for Designation

The Roman Catholic church of St Cuthbert of 1840 with later alterations is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: converted from a cow byre in 1840, it represents an early foundation and is a rare illustration of the humble beginnings of many missions; * Fixtures and fittings: the altar rail, pulpit and west screen are high quality Flemish pieces which raise the interest of the building considerably; * Architect: John Dobson was one of the foremost C19 architects, producing c400 works across a range of building types, and as a documented example of his work for the Catholic Church it is of considerable interest; * Alterations: the late-C19 and early-C20 alterations to the nave do not detract from the interest of the original church and indeed have some intrinsic merit; * Historic interest: as the church of the earliest Benedictine mission in the area and its association with the Sidney Family whose patronage of the Catholic faith was so important in the mid C19.


The Sidney Family came to Cowpen Hall in 1804 and Mass was first offered there by a French priest. Mass subsequently moved to Cowpen Grove House and, after this became too small due to the expansion of the Bedlington Iron Works and an influx of Irish immigrants who swelled the Catholic population, Marlow J Sidney converted an old cow byre to be used as the first church at Cowpen. The church became part of a wider Benedictine mission established in 1836, the earliest in the area, patronised by the locally important Sidney family many of whom are also buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard.

The church was remodelled in 1840 by John Dobson who added a sanctuary and converted the former byre into a nave; the altar was consecrated on 18 November 1840. John Dobson was the leading architect of his period and the most eminent in the NE of England. He produced c400 works across a range of building types and was a pioneer of the Gothic Revival in the region. He established a substantial ecclesiastical practice, for all denominations, and in this context many of his designs were built to a limited budget in the growing urban and industrial areas of the NE and as such had to be fairly plain and functional. Some of the internal carved oak, including the c1750 Flemish altar rail and pulpit incorporating C16 and c1700 carvings, is thought to have been brought from a demolished church in Holland.

Aisles were added later, the west aisle from 1859 to 1860 and the east aisle probably in 1872. Modifications designed by J Goulding were undertaken in 1904, including the erection of the present clerestory, supported by three metal columns to each side, the installation of a plaster chancel arch on corbels and the erection of a new unaisled W bay with a W gallery and porch. In 1969 a sanctuary platform was built when the high altar was brought forward, the 1879 reredos removed and the plaster at the E end removed and substituted with black pointing. The latter revealed a ledge at sill level in the E wall, which might be a feature of the original agricultural building.


Roman Catholic church, 1840 by John Dobson, altered 1904 by J Goulding. Gothic Revival design.

MATERIALS: local, roughly coursed rubble sandstone and Welsh slate roofs.

PLAN: the church is oriented N to S but the following directions are liturgical. It has a deep chancel and a four-bay nave, both aisled, with an unaisled W end with a central porch.

EXTERIOR: the church is situated on the S side of the main road through Cowpen with the W end facing the road. Roofs to the chancel and nave, both aisles and the porch are pitched. The chancel is deep and rectangular, its N and S sides obscured by the flanking aisles. The E end has a stepped, triple lancet window with a continuous hoodmould and bar stops and is surmounted by a cross finial; the gables of the flanking aisles are blind and that to the right has an inserted pointed-arched window. The nave has four bays, the N aisle with eaves corbels, chamfered buttresses and trefoil-headed lancets (paired in the W bay) and a sill band. The S aisle could not be viewed. The W bays of the nave each have a large plate tracery window. The W end has a central porch, flanked by stepped and gabled buttresses with a cusped cross finial set above a quatrefoil panel. The entrance is a pointed arch of two orders with hoodmould, foliate capitals and stops and contains a double-boarded door. Above the porch is a triple lancet window with trefoil heads, and a gabled belfry. The buttressed gables of the aisles are set back and both have a large plate tracery window, that to the S aisle is larger, and a cross finial in differing styles.

INTERIOR: the chancel walls are exposed roughly-coursed rubble re-pointed with black mortar. The E window is a stepped lancet with a shallow ledge at sill level, and stained glass signed ‘Newcastle 1860’ thought to be by Atkinson Brothers. The side walls have pointed arched doorways to the N and S chapels; the N wall also has a crudely carved recess and the S wall a piscine and triple-arched sedilia. There is a central clerestory window to each side of two pointed lights within a square-headed window with timber lintel. The chancel roof is continuous with the nave but there is a boarded timber chancel arch springing from a stone corbel in the form of a praying angel. The chancel chapels have flat, boarded ceilings and a single pointed-arch window. The Lady Chapel (S) has a grotto surrounding a statue of the Virgin on the E wall above a modern altar. The N chapel (used as a sacristy) retains a statue of the Sacred Heart. The wooden altar rail (c1750) has four openwork panels alternating with narrow panels carved with angels or pointed arches, all beneath a moulded rail. The openwork panels depict the first and third Horsemen of the Apocalypse bearing a bow and pair of scales respectively, a pair of tablets with a scroll and a quill (Ten Commandments) and a flying angel. The pulpit is situated to the N end of the altar rail; its stair balustrade has two panels each decorated with a large roundel, one with Marian symbols including the crowned entwined initials MRA (Maria Regina Angelorum) and the other a fluted columnar plinth bearing a sacrificial ram in flames. The ornate pulpit is square and stands upon a short, fluted column and has a back and tester. The two long sides have late-medieval C16 figurative pieces comprising a mitred abbot clothing a novice in the monastic habit with three monks and Christ displaying his wounds flanked by angels. The back has two more roundels and some C17 griffons and a cherub. The two exposed corners have standing figures, a nun and a monk.

The four-bay aisled nave has painted, plaster walls, each bay formed by three cast-iron columns (with c1300 detailing) supporting a continuous timber-faced iron girder with a roll-moulded lower edge. The aisle is lit by paired pointed-arch windows with hoodmoulds and bar stops and the nave has clerestory windows similar to those in the chancel. The roof has ornate collar trusses with C17 detailing with chamfered triple purlins and a roof ridge. The wooden W gallery occupies the unaisled bay, and the gallery front comprises ten panels with a frieze below. Below this is a tracery screen of seven bays with a wide, ogee-headed entrance head; the tracery details and decorative work are of early C14 style but the piece is considered to be C19 in origin and re-used. The gallery is reached by a straight leg stair with winder and ornate newel posts and balusters. A pair of wall-mounted brasses commemorate Marlow and Christina Sidney ‘founders of this church’ and Fr Wilfred Burchall; they are considered to be by Hardman of Birmingham. To the rear, the W porch has a tessellated floor incorporating the IHS symbol and a C13-style piscina-like stoup, possibly a Dobson piece re-used.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the attached presbytery is not of special architectural or historic interest.


T. E. Faulkner, ‘Dobson, John (1787–1865), accessed 16 February 2016 from, accessed 16 Feb 2016]
Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle: An Architectural and Historical Review, AHP 2012


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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