So, what did I do two months ago? Why is anyone reading such an out-of-date blog? Must do better!
It was Heritage Open Day. I had had a meeting at one Jesmond church, and drove north up Osborne Road. I have drive up Osborne Road many times, but had never stopped and been into the church. Then a month later I went in again – we had a DAC meeting there. They have recently given the place a good clean – and done an amazing job. The church is at NZ256668. Their website is www.stgeorgesjesmond.org.uk
The church was built between 1886 and 1890. Grace McCombie, in the Pevsner Architectural Guide ‘Newcastle and Gateshead’ describes it as “an ambitious church following the precepts of the Arts and Crafts Movement, integrating decoration with structure; all expensive and well executed, and progressive in style for its date.” In 1880 the Reverend Somerset Pennefather, of Clayton Memorial Church, and his richest parishioner, “ship-owner Charles Mitchell” (to quote the church leaflet), agreed that a church was needed at the north end of Jesmond. “Over Saturday tea, Mitchell offered to pay for the finest design and building materials available”. Mitchell was partner to Armstrong, the industrialist/arms dealer of Cragside, and his tea cost him £30,000.
His tea also gave him the opportunity to have a free hand in the design, to employ his protege, Thomas Ralph Scott, as the architect, to use his son Charles William Mitchell as an artist, and to make his mark on Newcastle. The foundation stone was laid in January 1887 and the building was consecrated on 16 October 1888 – they didn’t hang around in those days! Spence had visited Venice and seen the campanile of St Mark’s – this tower is 154 feet high. It contains a ring of 8 bells.
I walked in and went “wow”. There are not many churches that make me go “wow”. The lighting scheme is new, designed by Ian Ness, and the cleaning was down to the level of “here is a toothbrush, get up that scaffolding and use it”. They seem to have had a good relationship between professional builders, scaffolders and members of the congregation. Members of the DAC, who know the church much better than I do, were impressed.
I started at the East End, and looked up – what a marvellous ceiling. The East window, which I didn’t get a close up photo of, shows the birth of Jesus, along with the visitation of the shepherds and Magi. The decorative work is by Spence, the figure scenes by J.W. Brown. It was made by the Gateshead Stained Glass Company. Thomas Ralph Scott was one of the founders of this company. Today we’d have insisted on two quotes!
The altar table is a solid block of marble ten feet long and carved with great skill. OK – where you get a solid block of marble like this from, and how do you get it here. The guidebook says it was carved by local craftsmen – was there really a marble carving workshop locally? Both window and altar were displayed at the Newcastle Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887 – an exhibition visited by 2 million people. Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bolckow/galleries/72157629547193728/
Charles William Mitchell designed these three figures. The risen Christ in the middle, Gabriel on the left, Michael on the right. High on the wall are the apostles – the figure on the left is Matthias, who took the place of Judas. When he is chosen, Acts records “the lot fell on Matthias” – splat! Matthias was killed by a lance, Simon by being sawn in half, Thomas has his builder’s square. The other six apostles are on the other side. There are glazed wall tiles, one set for each Evangelist. The mosaic floor is beautiful too – I love the peacock.
Down in the North Aisle is a memorial to Charles Mitchell himself. One angel figure holds St George’s church, the other the Mitchell Tower and Graduation Hall at Aberdeen University (he paid for these too). The figures along the bottom include St Andrew, art, energy, truth, charity, science and St George. Sir George Frampton is the sculptor – he also did Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. (I have a soft spot for Peter Pan – the royalties go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where my son Gareth had a heart transplant nine years ago. I have spent many hours sat in the Peter Pan cafe trying to cope with life). The other memorial is a War Memorial, designed by Johnson.
The North Aisle ceiling and the Nave ceiling make you look up again. When you look back, the West End is stunning too. The tracery screen is worked in Caen stone and was installed in November 1890. It is thought that the original plan to cover the walls with coloured mosaic – I think it is marvellous that the east end is mosaic and the west is tracery. The window is rather lovely, the statue is of St George, and there is nice mosaic around the font.
After looking at the big picture, the church that makes me go “wow”, I was introduced to the Clog Almanac in the windows of the south aisle. I failed to photograph them, but I bought the book by Vincent P. Fox (available on Amazon). When I finally read the book, I might add them to the blog – but don’t hold your breath!