Religious houses: Chapels

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Religious houses: Chapels', in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) pp. 149-152. British History Online [accessed 23 May 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Religious houses: Chapels", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 149-152. British History Online, accessed May 23, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Religious houses: Chapels", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 149-152. British History Online. Web. 23 May 2024,

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This chapel, which stood on the north side of the Barras Bridge, was evidently an appendage to St. Magdalen's Hospital. (fn. 100) Edward Burrell, the master of the hospital, is styled also "Provisour of the chapell of St. Jaymes." John Cragg bequeathed by will, in 1349, five marks to the chaplain that went to St. James'. Brand writes, "The western end of this chapel has been converted into a cow-house: in the east end of it is a dwelling-house, the fire-place of which stands on the scite of the communion-table. Old arches, built up with brick, are still observable; and the eastern window may be traced out from the stairs of an adjoining house." The cow-house here mentioned was pulled down, and the whole building so altered, about thirty years ago, that scarcely any traces of the old chapel are left. This place is called at present, "St. James' Place."

In the account of Fickett Tower, page 112, mention is made of a great cross standing within Maudlin-Barras: and in the Milbank Manuscript, quoted by Bourne, it is said, "At the end of the Barras Bridge before the chapel stood a stately cross firm and compleat, and John Pigg in the time of the rebellion took it down, and called it idolatry, and thought to make his own use of it; but it was broke by some who hated it should be profaned."

Some imagine that the word Barras means the ancient Barracado of the town; but Bourne justly says, "The word Barrows (for so it should be spell'd) signifies the same as Tumuli, hillocks, and sometimes graves and sepulchres: And when it is considered, that the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen was founded for the reception of leprous folks, it is easy to see, that the Maudlin-Barrows are the tombs or burial-places of those that died of the leprosy in that hospital; and since the burial-place it self was nigh to the bridge, the bridge got thence the name of the Barrows-Bridge. The Barras mentioned in the account of Ficket-Tower are the same thing: nothing else but the burial-place of the Franciscan Friars. The place of the Maudlin Barrows I take to be the Sick Man's Close; for as after the abating of the leprosy, this hospital was obliged to take the poor of the town in during the time of the pestilence; so I question not, but those that died were buried in the ancient burial-place or barrows of the hospital. And since we are certain they were buried in the Sick Man's Close, we may be therefore almost certain, that the Sick Man's Close was the Barrows of this hospital."

That the Maudlin Barras was a burying-place has been placed beyond a doubt, by the vast quantities of human bones that were discovered in sinking two wells behind the Sick Man's House, or St. James' Place. Boues have also been found in digging the foundations of new erections in this place. But it is very improbable that the whole of Sick Man's Close, containing about seven acres, was used as a cemetery. There is a tradition that, during the prevalence of the plague in Newcastle, the inhabitants were removed to tents pitched in this place, from which circumstance it acquired the name of Sick-Man's-Close. Those who died were interred in a spot called Dead Men's Graves, in Benton Lane.


The founders of this hospital and chapel of Our Lady are unknown. It existed in 1351; for, in that year, Sir Alexander de Hilton and Matilda his wife presented the chaplainship to Sir William de Heighington, who was accordingly instituted by Thomas Hatfield, bishop of Durham: but, shortly after, he resigned, declaring he had no right or title to it. The corporation obtained a grant of this chapel from king Edward VI. and in the same year sold it to Sir John Brandling. The hospital is now a dwelling-house; and the picturesque remains of the desecrated chapel have, as far as possible, been restored, and are now carefully preserved by James Losh, Esq. The shrine at this place was anciently resorted to by "pilgrims, who came from all parts of the kingdom to worship at it." (fn. 1)


This ancient chapel stood near the margin of the Tyne, a little below Ouse-burn. At the suppression, it was described as "The fre chappell of Saynt Laurence in the lordshippe of Bycar within the parishe of Saynt Nicholas in the towne of Newcastell upon Tyne. The said fre chapell was founded by the auncesters of the late erle of Northumberland toward the fyndyng of a prieste to pray for their sowles and all christen sowls and also to herbour such (quære sick) persons and wayfayryng men in time of nede as it is reported." The yearly value is stated at £3; six shillings of which were paid for his majesty's tenths, and the remainder as a pension to Leonard Myers, the last incumbent.

This chapel was dependant upon the priory of St. John of Jerusalem. It was granted, in 1549, by king Edward VI. to the corporation of Newcastle, "with little St. Ann's Close, lands and tenements in Byker, a tenement in Killingworth, a fishery in the river Tyne, with an annual rent of four shillings out of lands at Heaton—all belonging to the said chapel or chantry." (fn. 2) The annual rents of St. Laurence, in 1558, are given as follow:—St. Laurence, £7, 10s.; the fishery of St. Laurence, £1, 13s. 4d.; St. Ann's Close, 12s.; the Conny Close, £1, 13s. 4d.; total, £11, 8s. 8d. This is exclusive of a cottage in Killingworth, and lands in Heaton.

Brand, in 1782, found the remains of this chapel converted into a lumber-room to an adjoining glass-house. "I traced," says he, "where the eastern window had been.—It is now built up with brick, except where there is an entrance to a loft. The western door too may be seen from within.—Rubbish thrown around it has filled up the south wall on the outside, almost to the roof, so that it resembles a cellar. The neighbouring work-people talk of treasure as being buried in a vault somewhere near it, and, with their usual superstition, suppose it to be haunted by apparitions. It stands nearly opposite to the south shore." This chapel remains nearly in the same state. The windows and the arched door on the west are still distinctly visible, and also the remains of a recess for holy water. It is used as a ware-room for bottles, and the ground on the outside is raised with dry ashes. On an eminence behind are the vestiges of a burying-ground. One stone is inscribed to—"Tizacke," who died in 1689, aged 90 years. The old people here are firm believers in a chest of gold being hid in a vault within the chapel, but which is guarded by a party of ill-natured and avaricious spirits.


Heaton was the barony of Robert de Gaugy, who was highly distinguished by king John. There is a tradition that his majesty retired, when in the north, to a fortified palace at Heaton, which was probably the residence of this powerful nobleman. The chapel was, no doubt, an appendage to the baronial castle. It was honoured, on the 7th of December, 1299, with the presence of king Edward I. to hear a Boy Bishop perform the vespers; on which occasion, he gave to the infant prelate, and certain boys that came to sing with him, the sum of 40s. (fn. 3)


Benwell tower was the summer residence of the priors of Tynemouth; and contiguous thereto was a small domestic chapel and burying-ground. The chapel was kept open in 1736, by Robert Shaftoe, Esq. for the good of the villagers; the service being performed by the curate of St. John's. Mr. Dalgarner is mentioned as the minister in 1680. The chapel has been pulled down; but a vault and a few grave-stones still preserve the memory of some of the things that had been, though these few memorials of the dead will also be soon consigned to oblivion.


There have been several other chapels within the parochial boundaries of Newcastle, which are now disused. At North Gosforth was a chapel of ease to St. Ni- cholas. It stood a little eastward of Gosforth Lodge, and in Warburton's time was a "ruinous chapel." Its remains have now entirely disappeared, except a few gravestones on the scite of the cemetery. The last curate on record is Mich. Frisell, who is mentioned in Barnes' Visitation in 1586.

In a deed preserved in the archives of Newcastle, and dated November 20, 1616, a tenement is mentioned "as knowne by the name of the Ladies Chapel on Tynebridge." In taking down the tower of the bridge, after the flood in 1771, a stone coffin and a skeleton were found in it; and on the north side of this tower there was cut, rudely, in stone, on a shield, a holy lamb passant. From another deed remaining in the archives of the corporation, dated November 20, 1643, it appears there was anciently a Hermitage on this bridge; and in 1429, the recluse here was appointed, by Roger Thornton, in his will, one of the thirty priests he had ordered to sing for his soul, with a bequest of six marks annually.

There is a remarkable house in Grindon Chare, concerning which there is a tradition that it was called St. John's Chapel. It is built of stone, with buttresses on the outside, and has a crypt, now used as a cellar. Human bones have been dug up about it. There was anciently in the town's hutch a writing indorsed, "The agreement made betwixt the prior of St. John and the towne of Newcastle, touching a water-gate;" a circumstance which would induce the belief that either their house or some of their possessions were situated near the river. (fn. 4)

There were, it is supposed, other chapels in this ancient town; but their existence is inferred only from obscure and uncertain traditions. We may therefore proceed to notice a few more of those numerous charitable institutions that afford the best evidence of the prevalence of true religion in former times.


  • 100. Bourne erroneously supposed it was a chapel of ease to St. Andrew's, for Jesmond and Sandyford, and other out-parts of that parish. In the account of the wards of the town, it is mentioned as follows:—"From Gallowsgate unto the water-mill beside St. James' kirk."
  • 1. See vol. ii. page 474, Hist. of Northumberland.
  • 2. "In the 3d of Edw. VI. the town got a grant of the chapel of the blessed Mary of Jesmond, and some messuages and lands in Jesmond, under an annual rent of 3s. 4d. payable out of some lands in Old Heaton, and the chapel or chantry of St. Laurence, with the messuages called St. Laurence and Little St. Anne's Close, and lands in Byker, then in the possession of Henry Winklive, and lands in Killingworth, then in the possession of John Huntley, an annual rent of 4s. payable out of the lands of the then Christopher Mitford, in Old Heaton. These were granted in consideration of £144, 13s. 4d."—Bourne.
  • 3. The early Christians gave to the devil, without distinction, all stage-plays, heathen learning, bear-baiting, gladiators, and heretics. The emperor Julian from policy complied with this disposition, by enacting that no Christian should be taught in the heathen schools. In order to supply the consequent deficiency of instruction and entertainment, the famous Gregory Nazianzen, patriarch and archbishop of Constantinople, and Apollinarius, bishop of Laodicea, composed plays from the Old and New Testament, in imitation of the Greek drama. After the political establishment of the church, religious shows were also instituted, in order to wean the people from the ancient spectacles. The Feast of Fools, the Feast of Asses, and the Boy Bishop, were favourite pastimes of the church. The latter ceremony is supposed to have existed in almost every parish. The juvenile bishop was elected on St. Nicholas' day, the 6th of December; and his office and authority lasted till the 28th, being Innocents' day. He and his youthful clergy, except mass, performed all the ceremonies and offices of the church. This show was abrogated in England by king Henry VIII. in 1542, but was revived in the reign of queen Mary. It was exhibited at Zug, in Switzerland, so late as the year 1797. Warton affirms that the practice of electing a Boy Bishop subsisted in common grammar schools; and Brand thinks that the anniversary montem at Eton is only a corruption of this ceremony, which has, in only late times, been removed from the winter time, a little before Christmas, to Whit-Tuesday. Hone, in his Ancient Mysteries Described, gives the following account of St. Nicholas, with his authorities, and which sufficiently accounts for this saint being anciently selected by scholars and youth for their patron. "St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra in the fourth century, was a saint of great virtue, and disposed so early in life to conform to ecclesiastical rule, that when an infant at the breast, he fasted on Wednesday and Friday, and sucked but once on each of those days, and that towards night. An Asiatic gentleman sending his two sons to Athens for education, ordered them to wait on the bishop for his benediction. On arriving at Myra with their baggage, they took up their lodging at an inn, purposing, as it was late in the day, to defer their visit till the morrow; but in the mean time, the innkeeper, to secure their effects to himself, killed the young gentlemen, cut them into pieces, salted them, and intended to sell them for pickled pork. St. Nicholas, being favoured with a sight of these proceedings in a vision, went to the inn, and reproached the cruel landlord for his crime, who immediately confessing it, entreated the saint to pray to heaven for his pardon. The bishop, moved by his confession and contrition, besought forgiveness for him, and supplicated restoration of life to the children. He had scarcely finished when the pieces re-united, and the animated youths threw themselves from the brine-tub at the bishop's feet: he raised them up, exhorted them to return thanks to God alone, gave them good advice for the future, bestowed his blessing on them, and sent them to Athens with great joy to prosecute their studies."—Page 193.
  • 4. Boethius, Fordun, and other Scottish historians, assert that David, king of Scotland, instituted a monastry of Præmonstratensians in Newcastle. This order, which was founded about the year 1112, by Norbet, archbishop of Magdeburgh, according to Dugdale came first into England in 1147, when they settled at Alnwick. If, therefore, king David did establish this order in Newcastle, it must have been after this time. By the peace between David and Stephen, in the year 1139, Henry, David's son, was confirmed in the possession of Northumberland, in which Newcastle was unquestionably included; and as this town was the favourite residence of the munificent and pious David, the relation in this instance of the Scottish historians is very probable. The village of Fenham belonged to the Præmonstratensians; and Bourne supposes that the chapel of St. Laurence was dependent on the priory of this order.