Parish of Saint Helen owes its existence to the large population
explosion experienced by industrial centres of the nineteenth century.
Until then Low Fell had been but a small village on the Southern
edge of Gateshead - coal mining being the principal occupation.
The opening of the Gateshead to Durham Turnpike in 1827 served
to put Low Fell on the map and many of the industrialists and merchants
of Gateshead and Newcastle built large houses in the area, this
being followed by a steady growth in population generally. Residents
faced a stiff uphill climb to the local Parish Church of St. John
at the top of Sheriff Hill.
The new Parish of St. Helen was formed by combining parts of the
parishes of St. Mary, Gateshead, St. John, Gateshead Fell and St.
The entire cost of the Church - £13,000 - was met by Edward Joicey of Whinney
House, Low Fell who was a partner in the firm of Joicey and Co., colliery owners.
The original living was in the gift of Mr.Joicey of the net annual value of £300.
The Church was consecrated on 29th August 1876.
The Church is a beautiful structure of freestone,
composed of nave, north and south transepts, chancel with
semi-octagonal apse, organ-chamber, clergy vestry, choir
vestry and at the south west angle a tower and spire of most
elegant design. The style of architecture adopted is that
of Early English. The principal entrance is through the base
of the tower by a richly moulded and ornate doorway. The
nave is wide and lofty, with a fine open
timbered roof, the spandrels of which are supported by
elegantly treated corbels, placed between each of the side
|The transepts open to the nave by wide and
pointed lofty arches of two square orders, severely plain,
while that spanning
the chancel is richly moulded and rests on shafted corbels
of ornate design. In the corner of the north transept is a
porched entrance known as the "Joicey Door". To encourage
his workers to attend Church, Edward Joicey built a bridge
over Whinney Dene, thus reducing the amount of travel for church
services. A metal gate in the boundary wall still exists (leading
to what is now private property) but the bridge was demolished
in 1940 as a training exercise. The south transept was turned
into a Lady
1987 and the seating re-arranged in its present form.
The chancel has
a low arcade of Caen stone consisting of trefoil headed arches
on single shafts of Frosterley marble which line the walls
on each side of the altar, over which there is a small reredos
of alabaster. The reredos, erected in memory of Edward Joicey
by his widow in 1884, has three panels of Caen stone, enclosed
in quatrefoils, bearing representations in relief of the
Good Shepherd. In each face of the apse is a single lancet,
or five in all, containing representations in stained glass
of the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, the Healing of the
Paralytic, the Ascension, Christ Blessing Little Children
and the Sermon on the Mount. Above these there is a richly
ornamented string course, crowned by a fine groined roof,
the ribs of which rise from handsomely carved corbels. The
windows are by Wailes and Strang of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The floor of the chancel is tessellated and the steps leading
to the altar are of polished marble and within the rail (erected
in 1952 to commemorate the 25th Anniversaryof Rev. E.L. Wood)
the floor is of marble mosaic.
The windows of
the Church are all of the lancet type; the west and transept
windows consist of three, effectively grouped, with hood
mouldings on the exterior. Those in the North transept are
a memorial to the first vicar of the Church, Rev. William
Henry Simons, LLD. They depict the prophets, Isaiah to the
left, Jeremiah above, Ezekiel in the centre and Daniel to
the right. The maker is not known. There is also a tablet
in this transept as a memorial to Elizabeth Simons, his widow.
Three windows in the Lady Chapel are in memory of Edward
Joicey and depict the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John. Once again, the maker is not known. In the east
wall of the Lady Chapel is a window in memory of John Ronald
Jackson, erected by his daughter, Mrs. Irving, in 1902. It
depicts the Parable of the Talents and was made by the firm
of George Joseph Baguley who served under William Wailes
before setting up a factory of his own in Newcastle.
The nave windows are all rather special.
On the South wall next to the entrance are two windows in
memory of William and Jane Ann Glover who lived just above
the church in St. Helen's Terrace. The windows are the work
of Charles Earner Kempe (1837-1907) and are fine examples
of his style of design - the use of mainly green, blue and
ruby glass, the delicate and detailed painting of figures
and their settings and the masterly use of large areas of
silver stain for which Kempe became noted. The windows depict
St. Oswald and St. Helen. The third window on the South wall
depicting St. Michael is in memory of James and Maria Leathart
who lived at Brackendene at the bottom of Belle Vue Bank.
He was a lead manufacturer and invested in the Pre-Raphaelite
style of art - when he died he had a most magnificent collection
of paintings by associates of that style. The window directly
opposite, depicting Devotion, is in memory of their son, William
Bell Scott Leathart (named after his Godfather, the poet and
artist, William Bell Scott) who was a Trooper in the Imperial
Yeomanry and died at Bloemfontein in 1901 during the South
African War. Both Leathart windows are by William Morris and
Co. to the designs of Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (l803~l898)
and having been installed so soon after the designers death
display a vibrance not noted in later work. It was not unusual
for Morris and Co. to repeat their designs and these windows
are copies of work originally carried out for Roedean Church.
The two other windows are also by the same maker and designer
but are not of the same quality of the Leathart windows. Both
were erected in 1919, one being the centrepiece of the War
Memorial depicting Our Lord and the other, depicting Samuel,
in memory of Joseph Grey who was a timber merchant in Newcastle
and lived in Briermede, Low Fell. The pulpit
is of freestone, octagonal in shape, on massive clustered
shaft with foliated caps; on each face is a deeply recessed
diapered panel, enclosed in a pointed arch, embellished with
nail-head ornament. The font,
of the same material is similar in character. The organ
is a very fine instrument by Henry Willis and stands in the
chamber to the left of the Chancel. It cost £1000 to install
when the church was built. For more
information on the ORGAN.
For pictures taken inside the organ click
There are two bells in the tower, both cast
by John Warner and Sons in 1876. One is a small chiming bell;
the other a large bell of approximately eight hundredweight
with wheel and stay. The whole of the belfry is occupied
by the frames. Originally the church had sittings for 500
persons but alterations over the years have reduced the number
to 330. Similarly the original lighting was by gas but is
now electric. New lighting was installed when the interior
stonework of the Church was cleaned in 1973.
Article by Sid Atkinson
Photographs by Pauline Campbell
St Helen's Church is a fine Victorian Church built
in stone with an open timbered roof, cruciform in plan and in the
Early English style of architecture. Built in 1876 features of
interest include a Father Willis Organ, windows by Burne-Jones,
Kempe, Baguley, Wailes & Strang. The church remains very much
in its original form.
More on the stained glass windows