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A Short History of Walker Parish Church and the Churchyard

The Church

Prior to the building of the new Church, the Parish Church for the area was at St Bartholomew in Longbenton (and had been so since 1150). Durham Cathedral was the Mother Church.

The Church was built in 1848 to a design by architect Mr AB Higham of Wakefield, in the late 13th style. The Church was originally built to serve the 19th century population of Walker. Many of the congregation were employed in the surrounding coal pits, shipyards and engineering works. Much of the  funding for original building and subsequent development of the Church over the years has come from the owners and families of the shipyard, coal and engineering companies in the area, such as Swan, Mitchell, Wigham and Richardson. Some of the windows in the Church and a number of artefacts are dedicated in gratitude to the memory of those families.

The foundation stone was laid on October 21st 1847, by Mr Archibald Reed, Lord Mayor of Newcastle.  The contractor for the Church building was Alderman Richard Cail of Newcastle. The total cost of building the Church was £1,250. The Bishop of Durham, Dr Edward Maltby, consecrated the Church at 11am on Tuesday 22nd August 1848 when he drove to the Church in his carrriage and 4 horses with outriders. The first Vicar was the Reverend Christopher Thompson.  On the opening day, there were two baptisms and one funeral. The two baptisms were Mary, daughter of Thomas and Mary Cook of Wincomblee and Sarah Frances Swan, daughter of Willam and Ann Swan of the West Farm, Walker. The burial was that of Dorothy Stewart of Diamond Row. The collection at the consecration service amounted to £44.11s.1d (£44.55p approx.).

The first Church Wardens were: Vicar's Warden, Mr Willam Tate, who for many years was connected with the Walker Ironworks of Messrs Losh, Wilson and Bell and People's Warden, Mr John Redhead, who was a gentleman farmer who lived at Wincomblee.

The Church originally contained a Nave, North aisle, a short chancel, small north vestry and SW porch. 16 years later in 1864,  to accommodate the growing population of the area, a larger 5 light window added, a tower and spire and south aisle were also added with a shallower south porch and cross gables along south aisle wall.  In 1880 the vestry was also greatly enlarged.  In 1902-3, due to the generosity of Charles William Mitchell, son of a local shipbuilder, the Chancel was extended eastwards a further 13 feet. The whole of the Chancel was panelled in Austrian oak, new choir stalls were put in and electric lighting installed throughout the Church. The entire Church was also re-roofed. Colonel Henry Frederick Swan supplied a new organ case and frontals to match the new panelling in the Chancel. Similar panels were also provided in the aisle at the side of the organ case.

The Lych Gate was erected on 19th July 1905 and has had two sets of wooden gates. The last pair vanished on one 'bonfire night' in the early 1960's. The roof was originally red tiles, but is now covered with roofing slates. The Church bell was originally hung inside the tower, but because the sound was so muffled, it was decided to hang it outside. The bell was a gift from J W Cooper, a friend of the then Vicar, Rev A S Wardroper and cost £20. It was rung outside by the Vicar for the first time on Christmas Day 1917. The first clock in the tower was installed in 1887 and was a 'Turnet Opal' clock which was not illuminated. The present clock was a gift from the City Council and is all electric. It was first lit up by a Civic party on Wednesday 8th March 1861. The railings on the Church Street side of the Churchyard are the original railings erected in 1848. However, the railings on the Scrogg Road side replaced wooden railings in 1927.

The font, made of fine white stone, is the original of 1848 and was situated at the back of the Church until 1984, when it was moved to the front of the south aisle. This was to enable the erection of a Narthex, or meeting room, at the west end of the Church. The Narthex was commenced in February 1984, carpet laid in January 1985, heat installed in February, doors fitted in July and received the Bishop's blessing on 8th December 1985.

The oak rod screen at the entrance to the Chancel is in memory of Henry Frederick Swan CB, of Prudhoe Hall, High Sheriff of Northumberland, and formerly of Walker. His parents, William and Ann Swan farmed at West Farm, Walker. Henry was born in Walker in 1842 and died in 1908. He was the brother of Charles Sheritan Swan who, between them were mainly responsible for Wallsend Shipyard. This screen was erected through the wishes of his widow, Kate Isabel Swan, Henry's second wife, in February 1909.

On 8th September 1907, the pulpit was presented to the Church by William Turnbull Davies in memory of pleasant hours of worship spent in the Church. He was a building contractor and a grandson of one of the principal families in Walker. he had strong connections to the Iron works of Messrs Losh, Wilson and Bell. He was also a yeast importer and he lived in Byker Terrace.

Charles William Mitchell was baptised in this Church on 1st April 1855 and died at Jesmond Towers on 28th February 1903. Later the same year, on 20th November 1903, the altar was dedicated, a gift from his widow in connection with the general adornment of the Chancel begun by her late husband. It was designed by Mr R G Hatton of the School of Att and constructed under his advice, by the Handicrafts Society in Newcastle. The altar is of oak and ivory. Ebony and gilding were also used in the decoration as well as the carving. the decoration consists of various symbols and representations of the four Archangels: Chemuel, the Archangel of the Sacrament, holding a Chalice; Uriel, the Archangel of the Light of God, holding the sun; Michael the Archangel of judgement, holding a flaming sword; and Gabriel, the Archangel of the Annunciation, holding the Lily. Reference is thus made to the passage in the Communion Service, where it says 'Therefore with Angels and Archangels' etc. There are also symbols of the Earthly and Heavenly Life - a ship and a heavenly city, taken from a prayer used in the Baptism Service in the book of Common Prayer - 'Pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he/she may come to the land of everlasting life'. The carved decoration introduces the vine, which is symbolic of Christ.

Further enhancements continued throughout the 20th century. In 1988, an octagonal Hall was constructed to the north of the Church building and connected to the Church through lobbies, with a kitchen, office and wcs. At the same time, a new Vicarage was built in Middle Street (about half a mile away) and the old Vicarage and Church Hall were demolished.

In October 1995, the font was re-sited again and placed in a central position in the south aisle. At the same time, the original Pews were removed and replaced with modern loose seating, in the form of new oak chairs and carpet was laid over the whole floor (apart from the Chancel). A nave altar was also installed on a platform in front of the Chancel. The 'Service of Thanksgiving' for the refurbishment took place on 12th January 1997 in the presence of Bishop Alec Graham of Newcastle and Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester. It was largely due to the generosity of the Diocese of Winchester that Walker Parish Church was able to carry out such a complete refurbishment.

The 100th anniversary of the Church was celebrated in 1948 - to view a copy of the Centenary Brochure, please click this link

The 150th anniversary of the Church was celebrated on Saturday 22nd August 1998, A further celebratory event was held in 2008 to mark the 160th Anniversary.

Most of the above text is taken from a booklet 'A Short History of Christ Church Walker' written by a much loved and sadly missed member of our Church, Tom Todd. It is thanks to his enthusiastic interest in the local history of the area that we have such a colourful picture of the development of the Church over the years.

The Churchyard

The Churchyard is very extensive, it was at one time reputedly the largest in England (some say in Europe!). On the day of the consecration of the Church on Tuesday 22nd August 1848 (see above), the Bishop of Durham consecrated 1.5 acres of ground surrounding the Church for burial purposes. A further 3 acres were added in 1864 and 7 more in 1899, making a total of 11.5 acres. Despite considerable local effort and input from Newcastle City Council and European funding, it suffers greatly from neglect and vandalism. There is a fine memorial to Robert Chambers, 19th Century 'aquatic champion of England', a great oarsman. In the year 2000. a Yew tree was planted in the Churchyard (to the east of the Church) to commemorate the Millenium.

Old Plans of the Church

Please click on the following link which will take you to a website where you can see plans of how the Church used to look, when it was first built and then after alterations in the 1860s-1870's

(*tip - search for Walker Christ Church (Northumberland))

A list of Vicars of Walker Parish Church

1846-1881      Christopher Thompson               

1881- 1895     James S. Beckwith B.A.              

1895-1920      Arthur S. Wardroper A.K.C.         photo

1920-1927      Norman G. Hounsfield L.Th.

1928-1936      Frederick Dixon

1936-1944      Henry J. Osgathorp B.A.

1944-1953      William T. Hinckley M.A.             photo

1954-1959      Robert McHenderson

1959-1965      George L.G. Mitchell B.A.

1966-1974      John B. Rutherford A.T.C.L.        photo

1974-1979      Ivan F. Downs                              photo

1980-1989      Sydney H. Connolly B.A.              photo

1989-2000      Canon Raymond Best                   photo

2002-2012      Canon Kevin Hunt M.A.               photo

2013-2018      Fr Tim Foreman                          photo