Newcastle Cathedral is the seat of the northernmost diocese of the Church of England, reaching all the way up to Berwick (pronounced “Berrik”)-upon-Tweed in Northumberland.
Newcastle experienced a massive increase in its population in the mid-19th century, igniting the construction of more than 20 new churches in the surrounding area and eventually necessitated a diocese separate from Durham. Accordingly, in 1882, the Diocese of Newcastle was created, with St Nicholas as its Cathedral.
Founded in 1091, the same period as the nearby castle, the Norman church was destroyed by fire in 1216. The current building was completed in 1350, so it was primarily constructed in the Perpendicular style of the 14th century.
The tower is noted for its unusual lantern spire, built in 1448—a highly visible landmark for ships navigating the River Tyne. The tower measures 36 ft 9 in x 35 ft at its base and soars more than 194 ft to the top of the steeple.
Gilded statues at the corners of the steeple show Eve tempting Adam with the apple at one corner and Adam eating the apple in another. Aaron is dressed as a bishop in the third corner, with David holding a harp in the fourth. Work on the street in the 1860s revealed cracking and tilting of the tower; thus, two porches were added to buttress the structure.
The tower subsequently settled further, so the ornate wooden font cover, suspended from the tower inside, no longer aligned with the font.
Hiding inside the cover is a carving of Christ crowning his mother, Mary.
It’s more noticeable the closer you get! It’s got to be a foot out of alignment, don’t you think?
Pesky Scottish invaders wreaked havoc on the church’s interior during their unwelcome and mercifully brief occupation of the city in 1640. Insult was added to injury in 1644, during the nine-week Siege of Newcastle, when they threatened to bombard the lantern tower. The quick-witted mayor of Newcastle, Sir John Marley, thwarted the plot by transferring Scottish prisoners to the tower. Very clever.
During that same raid, the 15th-century limestone base was dismantled and hidden. Its creator, stone mason Cuthbert Maxwell, had just witnessed the destruction of the font at St John’s in Grainger Street and was determined to take precautions. Benefactor Robert Rhodes’ coat of arms surrounds it, and the ceiling above is inscribed with this name. (I would have thought that was a giveaway to marauders, but vanity carried the day). The font remained concealed until many years later and has been carefully conserved.
The tower’s integrity seems to have been problematic for some time, requiring repairs in 1645, 1723 and 1761. Wisely, a lightning conductor was added in 1777. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin.
Heavily restored in 1777, the parish church was raised to cathedral status in 1882. It became known as the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boats, likely reflecting its position above the River Tyne. It now occupies a very busy street corner, with almost no land around it. Getting good shots of the entire Cathedral is next to impossible.
I took my life in my hands, dodging cars and wiggling around pedestrian barriers. Himself was aghast. But it was the last Cathedral!! I was determined to get the pics and finish up the project.
Local artist and craftsman Ralph Hedley designed the nave furnishings in the early 20th century. He was an excellent choice for the work, as they are entirely appropriate in their medieval surroundings.
Soaring over the pulpitum leading into the choir, angels flank the Crucifix grouping.
Mary, Christ’s mother and Mary Magdalene on either side of the cross.
We are invited to step inside.
The choir stalls look medieval, thanks to Hedley’s attention to detail.
He studied the work at Carlisle and other cathedrals, wanting to represent the spirit of the carving without slavishly reproducing the work.
The green man growing out of the poppyhead is a typical pagan symbol employed by medieval craftsmen.
Likewise, the beautifully carved misericords feature angels…
…and mythical beasts.
Hedley didn’t miss a trick with this recreation of the choir in medieval style. What beast sports such a marvellous collar?
Above the choir stalls are more angels
The reredos behind the high altar, carved by J S Westmacott, is made of Uttoxeter alabaster and was carved by J.S. Westmacott. The “wings”, with their elaborate filigree carving, are of finely grained sandstone.
In the centre, we see Christ in Majesty, holding an orb and sceptre, flanked by the Four Evangelists, each with their own symbol.
The two sedilia—seats for clergy, set at right angles to the reredos—are capped with intricately carved ogee arches.
The Victorian alabaster pulpit was carved by sculptor Robert Beall and designed by architect Robert Johnson in 1882.
Isn’t he majestic? He reminds me of Dundee at home (in his dreams!).
The four saints, Philip, Barnabas, Paul and Peter, surrounding the pulpit are made from the same Uttoxeter marble as the reredos behind the high altar.
The Scottish firebrand reformer John Knox served as minister from late 1550 until February 2, 1553. I suspect he would be horrified at the opulence of this pulpit, particularly with its statues. Popish idolatry!!!
An angel sounds a trumpet atop the organ, parts of which stretch back to 1676 when Newcastle Corporation contributed £300 towards a church organ at St Nicholas’.
Very famous sculptor Grinling Gibbons carved parts of the casing. Lucky Newcastle!
Renatus Harris, a master of organ construction, built the original instrument. Renovations during the Georgian and Victorian periods added more stops and pedals to extend the range of sound.
Let’s look at the wooden roof above the sanctuary and choir.
The carved bosses are painted with heraldic symbols.
Nearby is a marble monument commemorating Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748–1810), born in a house in The Side, an area just south of the Cathedral.
His claim to fame is taking over command at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 12, 1805, following the sniper shot that killed Admiral Lord Nelson.
Collingwood was baptized and married in St Nicholas; a wreath is laid in his memory each year before the monument.
His body was buried near Nelson’s in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Much of the original stained glass was smashed by iconoclast thugs during the Civil War.
The lovely roundel of Madonna and Christ Child in St Margaret’s Chapel is the only known fragment of medieval stained glass in the Cathedral,
The rest of the stained glass is Victorian.
Before we go, let’s head over and check out the Man of Mystery.
He’s positioned beneath this stained glass window.
A 13th-century effigy of a knight in armour, he is thought to be Peter le Marechal, sword-bearer to King Edward I.
It’s one of the oldest objects in the Cathedral.
Far more amusing are the colourful Maddisons.
Those Elizabethan ruffs kill me. In real life, they were made of highly starched linen, coaxed into shape with a gofering iron.
It must have taken hours to achieve the effect!
The costs of upkeep to Newcastle are the same challenge facing all the Cathedrals. Accordingly, recent renovations have included removing the heavy Victorian pews to afford more flexible use of the space, a boon to revenue generation from event rentals. However, cathedrals must continue to adapt if they are to survive.
For my money, I’d much rather attend a corporate event or wedding reception in surroundings like these than a windowless, soulless convention space.
Standing to the north of the Cathedral is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria, sculpted by Alfred Gilbert and unveiled in 1903, two years after her death. It commemorates 500 years of the Shrievalty (the jurisdiction of a sheriff) of Newcastle. It was a gift from W H Stephenson, a company director and seven-time mayor of Newcastle.
Just south of the Cathedral is Newcastle Castle, built on the site of the Hadrian’s Wall fort of Pons Aelius. The original church was built close to where Hadrian’s Wall passed through Newcastle; unfortunately, the wall has now been lost to development.
Next time we visit Newcastle, I’m eager to see Grainger Town, comprising classic Georgian streets built between 1824 and 1841, whose beauty rivals Regent Street in London or any in Bath. The area is named for Richard Grainger, the builder and developer. We were right there; the region abuts the Cathedral and includes Grainger Market, Theatre Royal, Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street.
There is always something more to see, especially now that I’ve photographed the final Cathedral for the Cathedral Project!