First step to an inspiring future for St Chad's Bensham

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2016


St Chad’s Church, Bensham, Gateshead, has celebrated the completion of the first phase of a project to completely renew its roof and make it watertight. 

With initial funding of £130,000, the highest parts of the church - the two nave roof faces and the tower - have been made safe for the next 100 years.

This first vital part of the work was made possible by a Partnership Grant from the National Churches Trust, alongside the maximum grant from the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, and grants from the Northumbria Historic Churches Trust, the Durham Diocese Church Buildings Committee, and the Allchurches Trust.

An Arts and Crafts Gem

St Chad’s opened in 1903, and is built in the High Victorian Gothic Arts and Crafts style. It is one of the most ambitious churches designed by William Searle Hicks, Newcastle diocesan architect in the 1890s. It is known for its unusual octagonal tower, which, when lit at night, is visible from the East Coast Main Line.

Inside, the church is remarkable for fittings and decorations made by Arts and Crafts artists, a revival of traditional craft techniques in response to growing industrialisation and mechanisation. There is woodwork by realist painter Ralph Hedley, best known for his scenes of everyday life in the North East. Notable stained glass is by the Gothic-inspired Percy Bacon Brothers; Leonard Walker, principal at the St John’s Wood Art School in North London; and Caroline Townshend, the suffragette and Fabian. There are also artefacts made by the Newcastle Handicrafts Company.

The project

The roof of St Chad’s is made from local Westmorland Slate mined from the Lake District, a material that is supposed to last for hundreds of years. However, the quinquennial inspection in 2014 noted that the slate was splitting and cracking. The job was made still more daunting by the fact that St Chad’s has 15 separate roof surfaces, all of which need replacing.

Bad weather over Christmas 2015 meant that the work overran by a month. Apart from that, the project ran smoothly; the Rector, Rev Dr Meg Gilley praised the ‘helpful’ and ‘supportive’ architect, and the contractors who rearranged their breaks to ensure that funerals could take place undisturbed.

Rev Dr Meg Gilley said:

"St Chad's is an amazing church, a hidden gem. We are so thankful that the work has been completed and the higher roofs are now water-tight. We are most grateful for the grants that enabled us to complete this work."

Phase two of the roof works will be to re-slate the other 12 roof surfaces. The lights need replacing – and to become accessible without scaffolding – while the east end chapel needs heating; the community space at the back of the church needs to be expanded with a new kitchen to be ready to serve the growing community.

An Inspired Future

The future for St Chad’s lies in its heritage. It is part of ‘Inspired Futures’, a project backed by the National Churches Trust that helps historic churches in the North East to develop opportunities for heritage conservation, improvements to facilities and access, and open up potential for wider community use. Although St Chad’s needs to develop a more flexible space, it also wants to preserve its Arts & Crafts heritage.

Already, St Chad’s has welcomed groups such as the Victorian Society, the Friends of the Whitworth Gallery Manchester, the Northern Architectural Historical Society, the Friends of Saltwell Park, and a summer school from Durham University.

Plans are being made to interpret the glories of St Chad for visitors. Ideas include a photographic archive of the memorials in the church; a children’s guidebook; a walking trail linking St Chad’s with other historic and heritage sites in the area; and photography days.

St Chad's welcomes visitors. For details, please contact the Rector on 0191 478 6338.

Help us to help churches, chapels, and meeting houses around the country like St Chad’s

  • Work in progress

  • The new slates

  • The old slates

  • Work on the tower roof

  • Work on the nave roof

  • The new nave roof

  • The new nave roof

  • Phase One

  • Concerts in church

  • Heritage Open Day