St John’s church Killingworth is not easy to find. The main road through the village is the B1505, and Dial Cottage, Stephenson’s House is here. I visited this for HOD 2010 – it is in the old centre of the village. The locomotive Blucher was built here, Rocket was trialled here, and his safety lamp was produced for this colliery – one of the deepest in the world. It closed in 1882. The new town was built to the north of the church in the 1906s, and 70s. The church is at NZ279710. I arrived about 1030 and found a midweek communion was still going on, so I had a wander round the huge churchyard rather than disturbing them. So many people died in colliery accidents.
The parish was set up in 1865, split from Longbenton parish. It contained “small clusters of pit population of above 3,000 besides agricultural labourers and others making up to nearly 4,000”. The building committee was chaired by the new Vicar, Rev James Samuel Blair, comprised local farmers and landowners, industrialists, a surgeon, the colliery manager and the engineer. The church was designed by the wonderfully named architect Enoch Bassett Keelings, who designed the church, and later Killingworth Hall, in “English high Victorian rogue Gothic revival style”. This included use of coloured stone and brick, with pink Clousden Hill quarry sandstone in bands and columns and red and black bricks in the interior. I wandered in as their service finished, and was welcomed like an old friend. I knew David the Vicar by sight, one of the congregation comes to my railway films, and I was invited to share post-service coffee. Then David gave me a guided tour.
The church was built for a cost of £2,032, and consecrated on St John’s Day, 28 December 1869 – I wonder if the Bishop and local clergy were annoyed that their post-Christmas break was spoilt? According to the leaflet, the first marriage was between Joseph Patterson (signalman) and Ann Patterson – though I assume she wasn’t a Patterson before the service! 21 of the 35 burials in the first year were of children under the age of 10.
Rev James Samuel Blair is buried in the churchyard, but memorialised in the Chancel. Was he a thin clergyman and this door designed for him?
The memorial lectern was dedicated in 1922 – the Illustrated Chronicle reported on 20 February 1922: “Killingworth Parish Church yesterday afternoon was the scene of an impressive service, for it was here that Mr John Reed of Westmoor, a miner, unveiled a carved oak lectern to the memory of the 62 men of the parish who died for their country in the late war. the Bishop of Newcastle (Dr Wild) dedicated the memorial and said those men had enriched our common world by their courage, devotion and duty; fellowship and friendship meant more today than they did before the war. They could say of those commemorated that day, that in the great cause, which they regarded as the cause of truth and justice and the freedom of the weak, they gave their lives. they gave them not merely to save their homes and the honour of those whom they lived, not merely for England, the British Commonwealth and all for which it stood, but they gave them in the cause of world patriotism, in a war, that they hoped was going to end war. The Last Post was sounded, followed by two minutes of silent prayer. The Rev. H. White, vicar of Killingworth, conducted the other portions of the service, special music being sung by the choir, including Stainer’s anthem ‘What are these?’.” Today we had a display about them all – we will never forget.
The organ was placed at the west end temporarily – the original plan was it would be in the Chancel. The leaflet says “a move now seems unlikely”. There are plans for a loo etc at the back, and perhaps the organ has now had its day. The font cover is lovely – I forgot to ask who it was by.
The North Wall of the church is also temporary – and has been there for many years. The North Wall is the side which faces the new town – so it should really be opened up to bring people in.
On the North Side we now have a cross, the Communicare Cross, which was on the ecumenical Church of the Holy Family (1972) – the church closed in 2004. The illustrated panel has a lovely picture from the 1970s fund-raising leaflet. Will our leaflets look this dated in 40 years?