Church of St Joseph including attached presbytery and stone wall to S and SW


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph with attached presbytery and wall to S and SW, Birtley Lane, Birtley


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Statutory Address:
Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph with attached presbytery and wall to S and SW, Birtley Lane, Birtley

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

Gateshead (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Roman Catholic Church, c1840 by John Dobson, extended in 1862 and again in 1910. Early English Gothic Revival design. The presbytery is of the same date, also by John Dobson, but the north-east extension and its link are excluded from the listing. The stone wall with gate piers to the south and south-west are included.

Reasons for Designation

The Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph of c1840, completed in 1843, with later additions of 1862 and 1910, also its presbytery and enclosing wall, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Date: completed in 1843, this is a relatively early Catholic church conceived and constructed well before the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850, after which Catholic church building proliferated; * Architectural interest: set in a prominent elevated location within the town, the church has a pleasing Early English Gothic design and a prominent octagonal mock belfry, which is complemented by the contemporary presbytery and enclosing wall; * Fixtures and fittings: despite mid-C20 reorganisation, a number of notable fixtures and fittings are retained including the white marble and alabaster forward altar, the fine limestone octagonal font and a full complement of later-C19 linen fold oak benches; * 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; * Extensions: the mid-C19 and early C20 additions are constructed in the same stone and lancet Gothic style and are seamless in quality and execution; * Historic interest: as the church of one of the oldest Catholic missions (Benedictine) in County Durham established in the late C17; * Group value: taken together the church and presbytery form a functional and spatial grouping, which is enhanced by the survival of a contemporary, stepped enclosing wall with ornate stone pillars.


The Benedictine Mission was established in the area in the late C17, making this one of the oldest Catholic missions in County Durham. By the 1830s the existing church of c1791 was becoming too small to deal with the growing industrial population, and plans were being made for a new, larger church. In 1841 a plot of land was purchased for £400 and A W N Pugin was approached; although letters from Pugin confirm his intention to design a new church at Birtley, this was not realised and the commission ultimately went to John Dobson of Newcastle. John Dobson was a leading architect of his period and the most eminent in the North East of England. He produced c400 works across a range of building types and was a pioneer of the Gothic revival in the North-East. 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 North-East and as such had to be fairly plain and functional.

The original church designed by Dobson, comprising a single cell building with a sanctuary, was constructed in the early 1840s at a cost of £1,000 and opened on 18 August 1843. Dobson also designed an adjacent detached presbytery, and schools on a site across the main road. In 1862, a new chancel was added at a cost of £1,100; although the architect of this extension has not been established, it is considered to have possibly been Dunn and Hansom, who designed the new high altar installed at the same time. Probably at the same time, the existing presbytery was linked to the new chancel by a low range, and by the end of the C19 the presbytery had been extended to the north-east. In 1910 a N aisle and a Lady Chapel were added at a cost of £1,500; the architect is again uncertain, but J C Parsons is a possibility. The church continued to be enriched with new furnishings: in the 1880s the chancel ceiling was painted with the arms of major Benedictine foundations from designs supplied by Fr Norbert Sweeney; in 1892 in anticipation of a new organ, a replacement organ gallery was erected at the west end of the nave; in 1896 a new high altar was installed, in 1898 new oak benches were added to the nave, and in c1915 a new baptistery was created in the new north aisle with a font and stained glass window by the Bromsgrove Guild.

The high altar had been removed from the sanctuary in the mid-C20 but reordering in the 1970s and 1980s led to the re-siting of the 1906 Sacred Heart altar to the sanctuary. The organ was also divided into two in order to allow more light into the gallery, and its metal pipes were replaced with imitations. In the later 1980s the font was relocated to the Lady Chapel and the oak railings that formally surrounded it were discarded. Many of the stained glass windows including those of the 1840s, the oak panelling in the sanctuary, the communion rails, the pulpit and statues were also lost.


Roman Catholic church, c1840 by John Dobson, extended in 1862 and again in 1910. Early English Gothic Revival design. Presbytery of same date, also by John Dobson but the north-east extension and its link are excluded from the listing. There is a stone wall with gate piers to the south and south-west.

MATERIALS: local sandstone ashlar and Welsh slate roofs.

PLAN: a five-bay nave with a north aisle, a square-ended chancel with a north chapel and a sacristy to the south. There is a projecting south porch and a secondary porch on the north side. A presbytery to the east is linked to the chancel by a low range, and to the west there is a large graveyard. The church and presbytery are bounded to the south by a stone wall with entrances which continues around the south-west side of the graveyard.


CHURCH: situated in prominent location, set within a former graveyard overlooking the centre of Birtley. Windows are all pointed-arched Early English forms, roofs are pitched and there is a low plinth and continuous sill band to most elevations. The rectangular chancel has angle buttresses and is surmounted by a cross finial, and the large east window has five stepped lancet lights. Attached to the south side of the chancel there is a sacristy with paired lancets and a chimney, extended to the west by a small single-storey, flat-roofed bay. The nave has five bays and each gable is surmounted by a cross finial. On the south side the bays are demarcated by stepped buttresses, with a single lancet to each bay with hoodmoulds and enriched foliate stops; the easternmost bay (formerly the sanctuary) is lit by a pair of lancets with foliate and head stops, and there are similar stone heads adorning the buttress top to the end of the nave. The main entrance at the west end of the nave has a gabled porch detailed with triangular water tables with roll moulded tops; the moulded, pointed arched entrance has engaged columns and a hoodmould with circular stops engraved with crosses. The north aisle displays a variety of window styles, all Early English in character: a single lancet, two-light plate tracery windows and stepped triple lancet lights, all with hoodmoulds and plain, square stops. A secondary entrance within a gabled porch is in the westernmost bay. The projecting north chapel has single or paired lancets and a coped gable. The gabled west end forms the principal elevation facing the town and is surmounted by a prominent octagonal mock belfry with arcading, now blocked with stone, and a conical stone roof. The west window is of five stepped lancets, alternately blind and glazed.

PRESBYTERY: facing south attached to the south-east corner of the chancel by a low linking block. It has two storeys and three bays under steep pitched roofs of slate with tall stone chimney stacks, a plinth and prominent water tables. The central entrance bay has a six-panel door with paired over lights and flanking margin lights, all with stained and leaded glass depicting crosses, beneath a stepped hoodmould with bar stops. The first floor has a gabled half dormer stone cross window. The right bay is a gabled cross wing with a six-light mullion and transom window to the ground floor and stained glass depicting shields/coats of arms to the lower parts and a stone cross window above, both with hood moulds and bar stops, and a stone finial to the apex. The right return is largely blind. The left bay is single-storey with a six-light mullion and transom window to its gabled west elevation and a cross finial to the apex. The later north-east extension to the presbytery is a two bay, two storey block with a pitched roof, linked to the original building by a two-storey linking block, both of very plain character and are not listed.


CHURCH: the walls throughout are plainly painted plaster with exposed ashlar stonework to the windows and arcade. The chancel has a timber boarded wagon roof painted with the arms of major Benedictine houses, medieval and modern. A five-light stained glass east window depicting the Crucifixion is set high up to accommodate the high altar (removed). There is a stone piscina to the sanctuary and a forward altar installed in 1906 of white marble and alabaster with a depiction of the Sacred Heart. The chancel arch is carried on enriched carved stone consoles bearing representations of St Benedict and St Scholastica. The north chapel contains an octagonal font of 1915 carved in fine limestone with low relief panels of sacred emblems on each of its sides. Two wall-mounted carved wooden panels of the Annunciation and the Nativity, removed from the discarded high altar of 1896, are affixed to the north wall. There is also a three-light Sacred Heart stained glass window by Hardman given in 1906, a lancet with St Edward the Confessor given in 1930 and two windows of Art Nouveau character; war memorial tablets are also affixed to the east wall. The nave is separated from the north aisle by a wide arcade of plain chamfered arches without capitals, and above is a timber open hammer-beam roof supported on carved stone consoles, set higher on the north side to accommodate the aisle arcade. The body of the nave is filled with oak benches of 1898, with boarded backs and linen fold end panels and more ornate bench fronts with Gothic arcading. The windows of the nave and north aisle retain original stained glass roundels depicting Benedictine saints set into what are now clear diamond quarries; the nave windows have plaster hoodmoulds and head stops. The north aisle has a flat, boarded ceiling and simple open-backed benches; the westernmost bay contains a stained glass window of the Baptism of our Lord by Archibald John Davies given in 1915 and double doors give access to the secondary entrance. The west gallery, reached by an ornate, metal spiral staircase, retains the central part of a Gothic arcaded timber front, flanked by the divided organ. The space below the gallery is partially enclosed below to provide a WC and stores. The south porch has a shoulder-arched entrance fitted with a simple boarded door, an encaustic tiled floor, wainscoting and a stone Holy Water stoup.

PRESBYTERY: this retains its original plan and has mostly six-panel doors throughout. It has a rectangular plaster stair arch and a dog-leg staircase; the latter has an ornate beaded newel post and ramped handrail, with a timber, pierced pointed-arched balustrade also with quatrefoils and circles. Double doors leading from the entrance vestibule have stained glass to the windows with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. Original fireplaces have been removed and replaced with C20 examples.

SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: south of the church and presbytery there is a stone wall with double-chamfered stone copings. An entrance to the church is flanked by tall stone pillars surmounted by gabled caps with inset trefoils and trefoil roll moulding to the ridge and an entrance to the presbytery is flanked by tall narrow pillars with gableted caps. The wall extends west and steps around the churchyard and here it has simple triangular coping stones. A churchyard entrance has square squat pillars with shallow pyramidal caps. All of these features contribute to the special interest of the church and are included in the listing.

Pursuant to S.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 it is declared the inset red letter box to the south boundary wall is not of special architectural or historic interest.

This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 16 August 2017.


T. E. Faulkner, ‘Dobson, John (1787–1865), accessed 16 February 2016 from, accessed 16 Feb 2016]
War Memorials Online, accessed 16 August 2017 from
War Memorials Online, accessed 16 August 2017 from
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.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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