A History of St. John’s Church and Killingworth Parish

Founding the Parish

The Parish was founded in 1865 from Longbenton Parish with its Parish Church of St. Bartholomew’s.

It was promoted by Balliol College, Oxford, the Patron of Longbenton. The College was to give funds towards the buildings and also to set up an endowment to fund a vicar. A curate at St. Bartholomew’s, Rev. James Samuel Blair was then appointed as incumbent to lead efforts to build the church.

The Parish had a mining population of above 3,500, with agricultural labourers and others bringing it to nearly 4,000. It included Westmoor Colliery, Palmersville, Benton Square, Holystone, Wapping Square, Camperdown and Dudley. Burradon Colliery was to be added in 1891, from Earsdon Parish, before together with Dudley, it formed Weetslade Parish in 1990.

Building the Church

The building committee was chaired by the new vicar and comprised local landowners, farmers, industrialists, a surgeon, the colliery agent/manager and the colliery engineer. It included Matthew Bell M.P.,a local landowner through marriage; Thomas Eustace Smith, owner of Smith’s Dock and the sons of Nicholas Wood, the renowned mining expert and close associate of George and Robert Stephenson, who had lived in Killingworth House.

The Architect

Enoch Bassett Keeling, at the age of 28, designed the Church and later Hall. He was the son of a Methodist minister, born in Sunderland into a family with roots in Herefordshire and Shropshire. He was articled to Chistopher Dresser, Head of Leeds School of Practical Art and was later to be sponsored by Sir Charles Barry, who helped design the Houses of Parliament.

The design was in a controversial ‘English high Victorian rogue gothic revival style.’ This included ‘polychromatic’ use of coloured stone and brick, with pink Clousden Hill quarry sandstone in bands and columns and red and black bricks for the interior. The latter were whitewashed during WW2 to help with light during the ‘blackout’.

The chancel ceiling still carries the original decorative stars on its roof beams.

The design provided a ‘temporary north wall’ to allow for a north aisle which, with plans for a tower, were to be added later, but were never built.

Funding and Building

The Foundation Stone was laid by Mathew Bell on 19th September 1867 on a site which he donated. It was a small plot at Tom’s Close, south of Redgey’s Lane which also gave access to West House Farm and a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1837. The Chapel was later replaced by a new building behind the Killingworth Arms.

The ceremony was celebrated with a procession through the village and entertainment in Westmoor School. There was a lunch for invited guests and their wives at 5 shillings per head, to include 30lbs of beef and 21lbs of ham from butcher, R.Nicholson.

It was built by Middlemiss and Stafford of Morpeth at a cost of £2,032. Funders included Durham Diocese, local land owners, including Mathew Bell, local coal owners (the Earl of Carlisle and the Duke of Northumberland), colliery owners, and prominent individuals. They included Charles Palmer, who founded Jarrow and was its first M.P. and after whom Palmersville is named.

The Church was then consecrated by the Bishop of Durham on 28th December 1869.

Early Activity

The first Vestry meeting was held in April 1870.

William Punshon, landowner of Killingworth Cottage, was the Vicar’s Warden. Stephen Crone, colliery agent of Killingworth House, was Warden for Killingworth, and Robert Gillespie, farmer of Low Weetslade, was Warden for Weetslade.

Martin Tindle was appointed Sexton to be paid £10 per year for arranging cleaning, heating, burials, lamps, cleaning surplices and ringing the bell.

A meeting in 1874 agreed the payment of £1 per year for an ‘organ blower’!

The first baptism was of Stephen Crones sixth son, Joseph. The first marriage was between Joseph Patterson, signalman, and Ann, also named Patterson.

First burials were of brother and sister, William Osborne Wilton (5 ) and Elisabeth Ann (2 ). 21 of the 35 burials in the first year were of children under 10, a high proportion, which only began to fall towards the end of the century.

Churchyard

The walled Churchyard was introduced with the Church and Hall and extended in 1894.

The last burial was recorded in 1975 and in 1974/5 a number of headstones were removed to create a small informal park as part of the plans for the new Township.

A Garden of Remembrance for the burial of ashes, was introduced in 1978.

There are 5 official war graves from WW1 as well as some soldiers interred in family graves. There are known to be the graves of 51 miners who died as a result of mining accidents.

The grave nearest the church door is that of Thomas Saint, the world champion

‘pot share bowler’. The sport was as popular as soccer in the northern coalfield in the late 19th century, only waning in the first decade of the 20th century.

Mission Churches

‘Daughter Mission Churches’ were to be set up as St.Paul’s in Dudley, licensed in 1886 and The Church of the Good Shepherd licensed in Burradon in 1894. The Mission Church of St.Aidan’s at Benton Square was licensed in 1894 and closed in 1965, its use of corrugated iron meant some knew it as ‘the Tin Tabernacle’.

Early History

The village of Killingworth is thought to be named after Cylla, probably an Anglo Saxon. There is then a record of Aselach of Killingworth founding a hospital of St. Mary in Newcastle in 1157 and a John Killingworth is named as a vicar of Longbenton in 1572.

From the 13th century land has been held in the Barony of Merlay (Morpeth) with the Earl of Carlisle having a long history in the Parish. There are also records of the manor of Burradon taken over by John Orde in 1441 with its defensive tower house built by his nephew, Bertram Anderson, about 1553. It was abandoned by 1769 and later incorporated into the buildings of Burradon Farm.

In the 18th century Killingworth was a place of residence for Newcastle businessmen with John Williams having Killingworth House built in 1760 to the design of Laurence Coxon, who also oversaw the refurbishment of the Hall opposite for John Williams Junior, a glassmaker, in 1765. Killingworth House was demolished in 1956 with evidence remaining of its walled garden and front boundary.

Farming

The area of Killingworth Moor was not enclosed until 1793 when it was divided up into farms.

From the 17th century, along with the Town Moor, Killingworth Moor was the site of regular horse races promoted by the Corporation of Newcastle. After ‘enclosure’, the races were moved to the Town Moor and then to Gosforth Park ( 1882 ) on the western edge of the Parish. The Park is close to Killingworth Station, which until its closure was used to transport horses and visitors to race meetings.

Killingworth village itself had 4 working farms North Farm, West farm, Estate Farm and East Farm which survived into the 1960’s. A number of their buildings still survive as residences. The south facing slopes between Killingworth Village and Great Lime Road provided ground for a number of market gardens supplying fruit and vegetables to Tyneside. Nurserymen, like Barbour and Lamb, had stalls in the old ‘Green Market’ which was opposite the Coop Department Store on Percy Street.

At the Forefront of Mining

Major change came with the development of mining as deeper workings were established to the north of Tyneside. They were enabled by developing techniques and particularly pumping engines.

Killingworth Colliery, with its Westmoor Pit, opened in 1802 and Killingworth High Pit opened in 1810. At 1,200ft it was the deepest in the world in 1819, and was at the forefront of technology. It welcomed interested visitors from across Europe.

The colliery village of Westmoor and its colliery rows had 3 chapels. It had a school built with funds from the colliery owners and local subscriptions. It was used from the mid 1840’s by the vicar of Longbenton for church services.

George Stephenson was to come to Westmoor from Willington Quay as brakesman at the colliery in 1804. He was initially to improve the operation of pumping and winding engines. He lived in Paradise Row, in what became known as Dial Cottage, after the sundial made by George and son Robert, was placed above its door. He left in 1823 but retained fond links before he died at home in Derbyshire in 1848. He brought visitors to see the Dial when in the area, including working on the design for the route of the Newcastle to Edinburgh railway, which was opened through the parish in 1850.

George built his first locomotive ‘Blucher’ at Westmoor in 1814. With his son, he trialled the famous ‘Rocket’ on the the Killingworth waggonway which ran from Burradon to staithes on the Tyne. It was to win the Rainhill Trials in 1829 on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway and to prove the practicality of locomotives for the movement of people and goods.

The Stephensons went on to be involved in the development of new railways across the world.

George patented developments in rail design and tested the first Miner’s Safety Lamp in gassy conditions in Killingworth Colliery. He demonstrated it weeks before Sir Humphrey Davy introduced his version. In the controversy which followed, Davy was acknowledged as the inventor and received the national prize. This produced a strong local reaction, with support for George’s claim and the local use of his lamp. It is said by some to be the origin of ‘Geordies’ the name used for those from these parts.

Mining continued to have a key role in local communities. Although Killingworth Colliery closed in 1882, the miners who lived in the Parish continued to work in Burradon Colliery, opened in 1819 and the oldest mine in the country when it closed in 1975, Algernon Colliery at West Allotment, Dinnington and the Lizzie Pit, Weetslade which opened in 1903.

Many families have links with mining which are apparent in names associated with the industry over generations in Westmoor, Burradon and in adjoining Forest Hall, to where families were rehoused from the miners’ rows.

The first Chairman of the new National Coal Board, established in 1947, was Sir James Bowman, who lived next to Killingworth Station.

The strong associations with mining are apparent in records of men who lost their lives through links with the industry. From the early 1800’s to the closure of the last colliery, records show 371 such losses. The most acute loss resulted from the Burradon Disaster in 1860 when 72 men and boys perished but a total of 164 deaths are recorded for the colliery. The local losses almost certainly influenced Stephenson in his search for the Safety Lamp and its subsequent world wide application.

The Fallen

The original Parish has 10 war memorials in schools, a sheltered housing unit, churches, social clubs and public spaces. They bear some 200 names of those who died as a result of WW1.

However, a total of 293 men died with many not recorded on memorials. The vast majority were miners, most of whom joined the Northumberland Fusiliers ( 60% ). They were heavily represented in the Tyneside Scottish and Irish Battalions, who experienced carnage on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. 22 local men died of the total of 70 who died before the battle’s end in November.

Local men were active in most of the actions in the war with a further 7 falling at Paschendaele in 1917.

In WW2, 91 Fallen were again involved in most of the major actions of the war. They are not as well recorded on local memorials.

In more recent times men from the Parish have died in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Killingworth Township

The Parish is now dominated by the ‘new Township of Killingworth’, plans for which first appeared in1957. It was promoted by Longbenton Urban District and Northumberland County Councils from 1963. It was planned as a community to provide homes and jobs for the local population and those moving out from Newcastle, principally from the east end communities of Walker, Byker, Heaton and Benton.

It was designed with Roy Gazzard, the planner, in the form of a ‘hill town’. It was to have gates, baileys, garths and a central ‘citadel’ originally focussed on the 8 storey office block occupied by the Tyneside electrical engineering consultants, Merz and McLellan. It was to be reduced in size to form the White Swan Centre after the company moved back to Newcastle.

The centre was to be surrounded by high density deck access flats in ‘the Towers’ complex. Only part was actually built before being demolished in 1989 as inappropriate. The pedestrianised centre was, however, completed with the central ‘Communicare’ buildings designed to meet the social and community needs of the population. It had a sports centre; a health centre; library; Community development facilities and an ecumenical church, all serviced by a multi-storey car park. There was pedestrian access to the adjoining shopping complex dominated by an early ‘Woolco’ hypermarket.

All of the development was subsequently demolished in stages to make way for a Morrisons supermarket, now Matalan, and then the Morrison’s Killingworth Centre and housing with a new Lakeside Sports Centre next to the 1970’s High School.

The central ‘Church of the Holy Family ‘was established in 1974 as an ecumenical project supported by the Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches before its closure in 2004 and subsequent demolition. The Cross from the church building was then re-erected fronting onto East Bailey between the High School and St.John’s and re-dedicated in 2014.

Subsidence ponds were extended as part of a town park around a lake acting as a ‘moat’ crossed by the ‘Southgate causeway’.

Some early housing was designed by architect, Ralph Erskine in the style of a lakeshore fishing village. He used materials and forms which were later to be found in the designs for the ‘Byker Wall’ housing development.

The site of the Westmoor rows was redeveloped for factories and offices to provide for businesses from the city.

The most signifi cant building was Norgas House (1963-65). It was designed by Ryder Yates, architects, and demolished in 2013 after it was vacated when Northern Gas became part of the wider British Gas organisation. Many of the business sites were then given over to housing and the Lidl supermarket.

The nearby award winning British Gas Engineering Research Station, designed by the same architects, (1965-67) was also vacated but remains as council offices and workshops.

Today and Tomorrow

In 2012 the church hall was refurbished to be shared with the wider community as St.John’s Community Hall. With the objective of making the Church building also available for wider community use, in 2023 plans were approved to provide additional facilities whilst making the building sustainable for future generations of worshippers.

Further information

Download a list of those who contributed to the cost of building St John's.

For information about Church activities, including children and youth groups; services Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals you can Tel: 0191 268 0271.

To see a gallery of all our local history pictures please click on any of the images below