OK, we’re crossing the Tyne and leaving the Diocese. Ponteland Local History Society organised a visit to the Arts and Crafts Cathedral of the North East – NZ404595. Sunderland was growing in the early 20th century and Roker was a new suburb. It was a distance from Fulwell church, so they built a new one – and they didn’t build manageable. John Priestman, a wealthy local shipyard owner gave £6,000 to build a memorial to his mother Jane – eventually it reached £8,000 and the church cost £13,117. The guidebook ruefully notes “The Patron did not however provide the church with finance to supports its continuing maintenance.” It is quite a stunning church, but how the dickens do you maintain it?
There is a lot of work going on on the building at the moment, with scaffolding erected – they’ve even built the hoarding around the benches. We were greeted by Chris of Iona Art Glass – who is coming and working on St Mary’s shortly – and he showed us the hand-blown panes they need to replace the windows that are bulging. It’s Early English glass developed by the architect Edward Prior, made by Messrs Hayward Bros and Eckstein and each pane is hand-made and of indeterminate thickness, the molten glass being blown into the corners of a clay mould before firing. Accidental flaws or irregularities in the glass were permitted and this lends subtle variations to the intensity of light which streams in. I can’t remember what Chris said each one will cost to replace – but it is mind-blowingly expensive.
We had an incredible guided tour, starting in the Chancel. Just look at the beautiful woodwork. Made of English Oak combined with fine craftsmanship. They were designed by Ernest Gimson, frames with multiple chamfers set against plain panels, enlivened with a few elegant decorative details, bench tops are made in one single length, and fixed to the frames without nail or screw.
The carpet up to the High Altar is an example of William Morris design and was made at the Merton Abbey workshops. The William Morris website – www.morrissociety.org/morris/mertonAbbey.html – says they were on the River Wandle in Surrey. The carpet was laid in 1907 and has retained its colour as vegetable dyes have been used. They’ve installed a Nave Altar which – while I can understand all the reasons why – does rather spoil the look of the place.
The Altar is simple, and the frontals are also original William Morris (the other colours are stored in the cabinet behind) – I meant to ask if he’d also designed vestments. The Cross and Candlesticks, designed by Gimson, are the work of Alfred Bucknall, his metal workers at Sapperton in Gloucestershire.
The tapestry is stunning. It was made by the Morris company at Merton Abbey in about 1910, and is a copy of the one made for Exeter College Oxford twenty years earlier. The picture is based on the Cologne legend of the visit of the three kings – the central figure of the angel holds a star on high, while the kings present their gifts to the holy family.
The colour windows are the work of H.A. Payne of Acocks Green, Birmingham. Payne was originally a painter involved with Birmingham School of Art to which Burne-Jones was associated. The theme of the East window (top two photos) is the Ascension, and the angels in the South window are lovely pre-Raphaelites. The dark face of one of them is due to oxidisation of the glass.
The Mural was painted in 1927 by MacDonald Gill, the brother of Eric Gill, and carried out to Prior’s design. Painted in egg-tempera on plaster it stretches across the ceiling and down each side of the sanctuary walls. I like the penguins – it is a great Creation mural, and the lighted sun is inspired. It was renewed in 1994-5, and needs some more work now. The problem is that the materials used to build the church have not lasted well.
Standing in the Nave you can see how huge the church is. At the rear of the building is a huge War Memorial. The left hand boards date to the 1920s and were lettered by MacDonald Gill, the right hand side (1948) was the work of a group of calligraphers under the direction of Leonard Evetts. But tatty church noticeboards make their way into Arts and Crafts Cathedrals too.
The bookstall and donations box is beautiful.
This tablet in the entrance porch was carved by a 24 year old Eric Gill.