1875: St. Columba’s sprang from the work begun in St. Aidan’s parish and in 1875 a school was established to serve the people of Wallsend.
1879: Land had been purchased to enable the building of a Church, in the position we know it today.
1885: By now, it had been decided that there should be a separate parish: Our Lady and St. Columba was established. Mass was celebrated in the school chapel. The Church Hall is what remains of a much larger building that was the school.
1887: The presbytery, Priests’ house, was built. The house looks very much the same today.
The first separate Church was built in 1904, what became known as the iron or tin chapel opened on Trinity Sunday (May 29th). Legend has it that by the time it was replaced, the riggers at the shipyard had made it more stable in windy conditions by tying it down!
Fr. Toner arrived in 1912 and died still in post in 1941. He was the driving force behind the construction of a new Church and the new schools.
1930: A new St. Columba’s Junior and Senior School was opened in Hedley Street. The two storey buildings had specialist rooms for woodwork and cookery: quite up to the minute! Photo shows Bishop Thorman laying the “foundation stone”. Fr. Toner present.
1937: The “penny a brick” campaign to build the new church was working well. £7 a week was being collected each week, quite a sum. An average wage in the 30s was £4 per week. A pint of beer cost 2d (less than half of one penny in these days). Most workers in the north east would have earned considerably less. On seeing the first plans for the new Church, Fr. Toner said, “I am afraid if the tower is erected as suggested, it will never be completed.” When construction began in 1957, parishioners were invited to chalk their names on one face of a brick they purchased, so if bricks are ever taken out of the building today, there should be the names of those generous families still present in our walls.
Even with the new school, there was not enough space for the burgeoning population of the parish, so when the Parochial Hall was built on Park Road around 1950 the hall was used as extra classroom space in the subsequent years. It was demolished in the eighties when the infant school was removed to Station Road.
February 9th: 1957: a momentous day! The foundation stone for the current church was laid.
Above is a picture from Christmas Day Mass 1957 in the new Church. You will see that there are no mosaic murals yet and that the Altar is against the far wall with Altar rails separating sanctuary from people.
Mid 1970s: Following Vatican 2, the Church was re-ordered towards its current appearance: this is a similar view taken on Christmas Day 2020 in the picture below.
2013: The Church of |Our Lady and St. Columba was shortlisted for the National Churches Trust Diamond Jubilee Architecture Prize for places of worship judged to be the best sacred places built in the United Kingdom since 1953.
2016; The Church was listed at grade 2a by Historic England. Here’s what they said about it:
“The church is a highly successful design in a Modern Perpendicular Gothic seen especially in the tall window form and sheer verticality of all elevations. The result is a bold and impressive building for its 1950s date, which is well executed and whose design is enhanced by the use of good quality materials namely high quality, thin bricks laid in staggered bond with soldier courses at sills, lintels and eaves and copper roof covering. The church successfully blends the modern Perpendicular with Scandinavian elements, seen in the overall massing of modular forms and lack of ornamentation. Art Deco elements are also apparent seen particularly in the overall form and detail of the square, west tower. The latter is an unusual feature with its panel of advancing and receding brick crosses above the tall door recess. Overall, the church displays considerable architectural quality in its volumes, modular elevations and subtle detailing throughout.”
(Historic England case number 1428398)
We pay tribute to all those people who have built the parish over the years. The members of the Catholic Women’s League; the SVP; the Legion of Mary; the Knights of St. Columba; those who have given their time to run the youth clubs, playgroups, mother and toddler groups; those who quietly kept an eye on the parish through their good works for other people, or their efforts to care for and manage the buildings, school governors, volunteers and employees, Parish Priests and Curates. They number in the hundreds, but their contribution was and is unique.