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The Parish Church of St Gabriel Part 2: the next stage

Our previous article ended on 29 September 1899 when St Gabriel’s Church was consecrated and we will continue to look at the buildings, returning to people and furnishings in a future article. We had only reached stage one of the construction as the postcard below illustrates:


The most obvious missing feature is the tower but if the building also looks a bit short it is because the chancel is missing. The lower building at the south east corner was temporary vestries and the chimney was for the boiler in the cellar. Next time you are passing see if you can still find a chimney. There are no pinnacles on the turrets at the west end. The card was stamped with a Newcastle upon Tyne post mark at 5 pm AU 20 04.

It also shows pillars supporting a gate leading to the vicarage. There is a 1901 record that Mr Watson Armstrong, Lord Armstrong’s nephew and heir, kindly gave a site at the west end of the Church for a vicarage. An anonymous donor gave £1,000 towards the cost and a grant was made available from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of £1,300. The architect, F W Rich, was given instructions to prepare plans. The clergy (vicar and two curates) plus housekeeper (Miss Welch) and maid moved into the new vicarage in May 1903. They had been living at 8 Rothbury Terrace. The new vicarage cost £3,500.

An extract from the April 1901 magazine reads:

“The enlargement of St Gabriel’s is an absolute necessary. It is admitted by all that the Church is too small, especially Sunday evenings when we are crowded out and very often would be worshipers have to go away as they cannot find a seat. We must, therefore, consider a scheme for the enlargement of the Church and provision for increased accommodation.”

And in a similar tone in October 1904:

“We have been told that people sometimes stay away from church on Sunday evenings because there is some difficulty in getting seats. The Bishop has consented to the North aisle being used before it is actually consecrated. We are glad to find how much more the North aisle has been appreciated; it is indeed a wonderful improvement to the church and it helps to see more of what it will be like when completed. We can now much more readily picture to ourselves how fine the effect will be when the North Transept arch is opened and the chancel added.

Clearly building work is progressing and in 1905 we read that the dedication and consecration of the new parts of the church took place on 29 September. This was carried out by the Bishop and included the chancel, organ chamber, north aisle and transept and the porches at a cost of £14,000.

Also in 1905 the lower part of the tower was built and donated by Lord Armstrong. The next mention of the tower is in 1907 when it is noted that a sale of work was opened by Lord Armstrong and afforded an opportunity to thank him for his generosity towards St Gabriel’s. His latest gift was the tower by now making steady progress

Lord Armstrong also paid for the inscription around the top of the tower. The architect asked the vicar for a suitable engraving to go around the four sides and he choose the Sanctus:

Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of Hosts, | Heaven and Earth are full | of your Glory. Glory be to thee | Lord most High. Amen Alleluia

It was started on the south side as a result the east side on Heaton Road reads Heaven and Earth are full! This was enough for a lady to write to the vicar and ask “…what is to become of me?” The tower is 99 feet high and some of the lettering is now showing its age.

In the parish magazine in July 1909, the Vicar, Churchwardens and Building Fund Committee wrote collectively regarding the inadequacy of the temporary vestries. The erection of permanent vestries were the next portion of the church extension scheme to be built. The new choir vestry would be a room sufficiently to provide for parish meetings, classes etc. This article appears to have had the desired effect as in September 1910 the Archdeacon of Northumberland dedicated new vestries for the Clergy, Churchwardens and Choir as well as two smaller rooms. Various furnishings were also dedicated but more about them another time.  


This post card has a post mark of 1 Nov 15. The vestries mentioned above have been completed but there is clearly work to be done on the south side of the chancel. This is where the Lady Chapel now stands. It may have remained like this until 1930/31.

At the annual meeting in the spring of 1914 the vicar reported that an application for a grant for completion of the church had been declined by the Bishop but that he, the Bishop, would recommend a grant for a Parish Hall with rooms. A grant of £500 was awarded in August 1915 on condition that the congregation found the balance, around £1,250 by June 1916. At this stage the plan was to build on the site of the iron building on Rothbury Terrace, the City Council having indicated that it must be removed by 1917 due to its deteriorating condition.

A canteen was opened in the old ‘Iron Building’ from 5.30pm to 9.30pm for soldiers billeted in the parish.

The Iron Building was sold in 1919 for £150 having served as a church and parish hall for 30 years. This meant that there was no hall for social events. Lord Armstrong made available an allotment site on Chillingham Road at half its commercial value but it is not until 1923 that the Bishop agreed a free grant of £2,000 and a loan of £1,500. Plans were submitted for a hall to accommodate 500 with other rooms of varying sizes for classes and recreation.

The foundation stone was not laid until 6 September 1924. Then there were concerns about the slowness of the work and questions were being asked about what was going on behind the hoardings Chillingham Road/Cartington Terrace corner. Delays were caused by fresh negotiations with the contractors over costs and then a builders’ strike. The building was eventually blessed on 3 December 1925.

It was to take until 1930 before the final phase of building work consisting of the South Transept and Lady Chapel was agreed. At this time it was decided to abandon the original plan for a Baptistry. This was to have been in the south west corner beside the porch. You can see the undressed stone on the post card at the beginning of this article. It is still undressed today partly hidden by a bay tree.

The final building work was completed in 1931 and dedicated by the Bishop on 4 October 1931. He also dedicated many internal features which may be the subject of future articles. 

More to follow

This article was written by Heaton History Group member, Robin Long, who will continue with his history of St Gabriel’s in future pieces.


Information taken from Chronological History of the Parish Church of St Gabriel, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. Researched by Mrs Joan Brusey (1890 – 1992) and Denis Wardle (1992-1999). Typed by Mrs Jennifer Dobson and Miss Valerie Smith. Bound by Mr John Dobson.

Thank you too to Hilary Bray (nee Bates) who gave Heaton History Group permission to digitise and use photographs of Heaton from her postcard collection.

Can you add to the story?

If you have photos or memories of St Gabriel’s that you would like to share or can provide further information about anything mentioned in this piece, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing



  1. I’m now waiting to hear about the placement of the A.A. gun on top of the tower during WW2, with its subsequent removal to the bandstand site in Armstrong Park as it was shaking the tower to pieces. I wonder if there are any photos?
    I studied for six months at St Gabriel’s in 1966, before being Confirmed there by the Bishop: every Monday night in a cold room on the north-east corner of the complex. I hated every minute of it. I was also forced to attend a service (of my choice) every Sunday throughout my childhood; I opted for the early morning service as it was the shortest and there was no hymn singing involved.
    Cubs, Sunday-school then Scouts were always at the Methodist church. I guess we were hedging our bets.

    • Hi Keith, I haven’t come across anything about an AA gun on the top of the tower but will make enquires. Was the room quite large? It was built as the Choir Vestry and still goes by that name. Our choir is down to 10 members on a good day.
      Who led the confirmation class?

  2. Oh how I wish I could ask my Dad about this. My grandfather was living in and running the refreshment rooms in Armstrong Park at that time and my dad would have remembered this. I have a story to tell of the family connections with the park but that is for another day. I became a member of Heaton History group when my dad became ill in 2015 and was able to show him pics and recount the articles to him….. I will ask his younger brother if he remembers anything but as he was born in ’40 he may have been too young …..

  3. Thank you to Anne Fletcher, who sent us these memories of St Gabriel’s:

    My earliest memory of St Gabriel’s is of the Infant’s Sunday school class probably around 1945. This was held in the front room of  the large red brick building on Chillingham Road which was then the church hall. We’d sing that old hymn about hearing the pennies dropping as we duly dropped our large old pennies into the collection.

    Later on there were summer trips to the coast – always to King Edward’s Bay at Tynemouth. We took the electric train from Heaton station which was looking very shabby after the war. I remember gazing curiously at the wonderful pre-war chocolate vending machines – sadly all empty!

    Reaching Tynemouth we all walked to a nearby church hall for the refreshments which were organised for us, then off we went to the beach for sandcastles and paddling. One of our leaders wore a striped blazer and shorts which lent a jolly air to our outing. On one trip in July 1952 my “Enid Blyton Diary” notes that “I played beach cricket and tried to swim but sea too rough. Got very sunburnt. Had sore back. Weather was scorching.”

    I progressed through Sunday School which I enjoyed. Some classes were in the church and some in the  various rooms in the hall. The church was a very large and impressive place inside and I attended fairly regularly with my Mam. 

    In 1952 I attended Confirmation classes in the church vestry, led by our curate Mr. Lynn. I remember him telling us the story about the inscription running around the top of the church tower with the Heaton Road side bearing the words “Heaven and earth are full” !

    The night of the  special  Confirmation service arrived. We’d had a rehearsal the previous week and Mam had bought me an embroidered net veil at Parrish’s on Shields Road for the occasion, although in the event we girls all wore the ones supplied by the church. My diary records that the bishop who confirmed us “looked very fierce” !  All these years later I think he was probably just very solemn as this was the 6th February – the night our King George sixth had died. A very sad time for the country.

    Teenage years meant going to the church Youth club held in the church hall front room. There we socialised and tried to rock n’ roll to Tommy Steele’s “Blue Suede Shoes” played on the record player. We also did country dances such as “Strip the Willow”.  I remember another curate, Mr Farrance giving us a talk once.

    My friend and I briefly joined the church Dramatic Society and were amused  when we had to learn how to make a crowd noise by muttering “cheese and rhubarb” over and over. Other memories were of helping to serve strawberries and cream at a summer garden party and  playing games at a Christmas party in the huge upstairs church hall.

    In 1961 I was married at St Gabriel’s by the vicar, Rev. Dudley Clark and 1964 saw me attending the Baby Clinic which just happened to be held in the same room in the church hall where I’d begun Sunday School.

  4. Robin sent the following postscript to his article:

    The architect for the final stage of the building of St Gabriel’s in 1931 was Harry Hicks of Messrs Hicks and Charleywood. They were described as ecclesiastical architects and their estimate for the cost of the work was:
    Transept and Lady Chapel £7,000
    Baptistry (not built) £750
    Railings (not erected) £850

    The builders were J & W Lowry. The total cost of the completed church was £28,000, the land having been given by Lord Armstrong. In addition the parish buildings (vestries) cost £9,000, the vicarage £3,500 and the Church Hall £8,000.

    It was also announced in 1931 that the Corporation was to widen the road to 18ft (5.5 metres), the road to be known as St Gabriel’s Avenue. Two footpaths would also be made, each 6ft (1.8 metres) wide. The vicar, Canon Trotter, wrote “This will be of benefit to us as the road has been in shocking condition, especially in winter months”. When were the traffic lights installed?
    1934 was the year of the birth of St Gabriel’s daughter church St Francis, High Heaton. It began life in a wooden chapel in a field on the north side of Cragside, within a big housing development. The new St Francis Church at the top of Cleveland Gardens was dedicated on 3rd October, 1953

    We move on to an article appearing in the October magazine of 1954, written by the church warden, W G Kinghorn which asks “Has it ever struck you that St Gabriel’s Church is not yet complete? The main fabric was finished in 1931, yet today, 55 years after the consecration its boundaries are still marked by the temporary military fencing first erected in 1899!” Some years previous a design for a low wall 18 inches high had been considered at a cost of £900 but was delayed due to other commitments. In 1954 the P.C.C. decided to plat a beech hedge at a cost of £65, to be kept at a high of 4ft. Two shillings (10p) would provide one beech tree and parishioners were invited to give one or two or perhaps five! We do have a beech hedge and it is 4ft high but it does not comprise of 650 bushes!

    The 1973 section of the history contains a paragraph:

    ‘For the Institution of the Rev’d Ben de la Mare, St Gabriel’s appeared spick and span, inside and out. Standing as the church does in mature, well-tended grounds with the stonework looking quarry fresh, the parish was reminded how grateful it should be to the teams of parishioners who worked inside the church and in the grounds, and to the Department of the Environment for the very thorough external cleaning job, especially painting of the tower, all undertaken and completed in 1973.’

    Repointing and new guttering in 1981 used almost all of the £10,000 that had been raised in the restoration appeal.


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