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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ST. NICHOLAS' CHURCH.
THE Church of St. Nicholas (fn. 1) was anciently styled, by way of eminence, "The Church of Newcastle," it being the mother or parish church of the town. Bourne supposes it was built by king Henry I.; but, on the authority of an old book which was preserved in the vestry of this church, it was founded so early as the 4th king William Rufus (1091), by Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, who was a Norman by birth, came over with William the Conqueror, was created Earl of Dorset, and afterwards, according to some, made chancellor of England. King Henry I. gave the church of St. Nicholas, with that of Newburn, and others held of him by Richard de Aurea Valle, to the church of Carlisle, at that incumbent's death. (fn. 2) By this charter, Richard, and the clergymen that served the other churches, were ordered to acknowledge of the canons of Carlisle, and to do them such service as had been usually done to himself. The churches, on the demise of each of their respective incumbents, were to revert to the above canons; and the clerks that served them were to have necessary subsistence out of their several revenues, and the said canons the remainder.
In the year 1193, Hugh Pudsey, bishop of Durham, confirmed to the prior and convent of Carlisle, all the churches that belonged to them in his diocese. Among the usual yearly pensions to be paid to the incumbents, there occur 26 marks to be paid from this of St. Nicholas: on the respective deaths of each of these incumbents, the above prior and convent were to take the churches into their own hands, and severally present vicars to them, paying to the bishop, annually, 40 marks, in lieu of aids for the whole. In the following year, this bishop, with the consent of the prior and convent of Carlisle, who held the vicarage of this church, appointed, for the support of the vicar thereof for the time being, all fruits, annual profits, oblations, and obventions whatsoever belonging thereto, except the great tithes.
In 1197, the church of Newcastle stood indebted sixty shillings to the king, for an aid. In the year 1216, this church is said to have been destroyed by fire.
Richard de Marisco, consecrated bishop of Durham 9th Kalends of August, 1218, ratified the churches of Newcastle, Newburn, Werkworth, Corbridge, and a moiety of that of Whittingham, to the bishop, prior, and convent of Carlisle, and their successors, for ever.
Farnham, bishop of Durham, in consideration of the poverty of the church and see of Carlisle, granted them their several churches in his diocese, to be equally divided amongst them, reserving out of their revenues a competence to the respective vicar of each church, and excepting forty marks, which had been granted from thence by Silvester, bishop of Carlisle, during his life; and after his death, forty pounds sterling, to be paid by the bishop, prior, and convent of Carlisle, at a certain term for ever, at the exchequer of Durham, out of the possessions of the above churches. This was confirmed by the chapter of Durham in 1246.
In 1290, king Edward I. by his charter of inspeximus, confirmed the charters of Henry I. and Henry II. of the above churches to the bishop and canons of Car-lisle. (fn. 3) Three years afterwards, his majesty brought an assize before H. de Cressingham and his companions, the itinerant justices at Newcastle upon Tyne, against the bishop and prior of Carlisle, for the advowsons of the churches of St. Nicholas of Newcastle upon Tyne, of Rothbury, Corbridge, and Warkworth. The defendants pleaded that they held this church of St. Nicholas in common; and the jury returned a verdict against the king. (fn. 4)
In the year 1359, (fn. 5) this church is said to have been rebuilt; but, from an old record which was preserved in the church, it appears only to have been finished at this time, which was nearly a century and a half after its destruction by fire.
During this year, an indulgence of forty days was granted by twelve foreign bishops, "and confirmed by Thomas Hatfield, bishop of Durham, to all such (having repented and confessed their sins) as performed the following things, viz. If they came to this church to Mass, to prayers morning or evening, or other divine offices, on the feast of its patron, and the others below written, viz. on the feast of Christmasday, the Circumcision, the Epiphany, Easter-eve, the Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Invention and Exaltation of the Holy Cross, St. Michael the Archangel, the Nativity and Decollation of John the Baptist, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and all other Apostles and Evangelists; the commemoration of All Souls, and on the feast of the dedication of the said church of St. Nicholas; and also on the feasts of St. Stephen, Lawrence, George, Martin, Dionysius, Blasius, Mary Magdalen, Catherine, Agatha, Margaret, and in the octaves of all feasts, and on every Lord's Day and Sabbath through the year. They also were intitled to this indulgence who followed the Body of Christ, and the Holy Oil, when they were carried to the sick; or who went round the church-yard, praying all the while for the dead. Those also were intitled who assisted in the repairing of the said church, or gifted it with lamps, books, chalices, vestments, or any other necessary ornaments; or gave, or left to it by will, gold, silver, or any part of their substance. Those also shared in it who, on the Sundays, said their prayers when the bell rung at High Mass, at the consecrating of the Body of Christ; and lastly those who devoutly prayed for the soul of Catherine de Camera, whose body was buried in the said church, and for the healthful estate of John de Camera, Gilbert de Dukesfield, and Agnes his wife, as long as they lived, and for their souls when they were dead." (fn. 6)
Thomas Hatfield, bishop of Durham, by a charter of inspeximus, dated June 6, 1360, confirmed the ordering of the vicarage of this church, formerly made by Bishop Pudsey.
Nicholas Coke, of Newcastle, by his will, dated September 3, 1379, gave to the high altar of St. Nicholas' church twenty shillings; the same sum to the fabric of the choir window; and thirty pounds to chaplains to pray for his soul in this church. In the ordinary of the Coopers' Company, dated January 20, 1426, part of their fines is directed to go to "Sancte Nicholas kyrke warke," which evidently means to the reparation of this edifice. In 1429, Roger Thornton, the elder, bequeathed forty marks to the reparation and ornamenting of this church.
On the 13th of August, 1451, a ratification of the truces of Scotland was made in the vestry of St. Nicholas' church at Newcastle upon Tyne.
King Henry VIII. by his charter, dated May 6, 1541, granted to the dean and chapter of Carlisle, among other things, "a moiety of the rectory of Newcastle upon Tyne," enjoining the payment of "eight pounds to the bishop of Durham out of the said moiety."
On July 26, 1777, the church of St. Nicholas was opened by a sermon for the benefit of the Infirmary, after having been shut up for several weeks, for the purpose of having it thoroughly cleaned and repaired. The subsequent history of this ancient edifice will be noticed in the description of the different parts which have undergone alteration or reparation.
It was the custom in ancient times for people of great wealth and piety to build small chapels, or side aisles, in their parish churches, designed for burying-places for their families, and which they frequently endowed with lands, &c. for the support of chantry priests, to pray daily at altars erected therein, for the souls of the founders, and those of their ancestors and posterity. This church surpassed all others in the north, both in the number and richness of its chantries. There were nine, or rather ten, at the suppression, which were valued at £48, 4s. 6d. per annum.
1. The chantry of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle was situated on the north side of the church. Its foundation is so remote as 1149. Laurentius, prior of Durham, founded it: and, two centuries after, it was re-founded by Richard de Embleton, a magistrate of Newcastle, who made a great figure in that age, being above twelve times chief magistrate of the town. He obtained letters patent from king Edward III. to build this chantry upon a vacant piece of ground over against the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr, that he might present it to three chaplains, to procure their prayers for him while he was living, and after he was dead, and also for the souls of his wives and his father and mother, every day: and by an order from Richard, lord bishop of Durham, the chaplains for the time being, on the anniversary of his death, every year for ever, to celebrate his memory by a solemn tolling of the bells, and devoutly singing by note, in the evening of the anniversary, and sol-emnly to sing mass, for the soul of Richard himself, the souls above-mentioned, and the souls of all the faithful departed; and, after mass, one of the chaplains was to distribute, among one hundred and sixty poor people, the sum of six shillings and eight-pence; and this annually for ever. This chantry was also enriched by Robert Rhodes, during the reign of king Henry VI.; and, after the death of that worthy character, the corporation of Newcastle gave seven pounds, seven shillings, and tenpence, with a house, as a maintenance for one chaplain, to pray for his soul, for whose memory they had the highest respect, and to whom the town owed many obligations. Previous to the year 1540, George Leighton was presented to the chaplainship of this chantry by James Lawson, mayor, and the guild brethren of the town, its true patrons; and, on his death in this year, William Clerke was instituted his successor. (fn. 7)
2. The chantry of St. Catherine was, it is said, anciently founded by Alan de Durham. It was re-founded, or augmented, in the reign of Edward III. by William Johnson, and his wife Isabell, for a perpetual chaplain. The annual value was £6, 15s. Sir Peter Angrym was confirmed in the chaplainship of this chantry, August 27, 1378, on the previous presentation of the mayor, bailiffs, &c. of Newcastle, its true patrons. He was succeeded by Robert Mitford. On an inquisition taken September 2, 1557, a house and waste near St. Nicholas' church is said to have belonged to this chantry, of the annual value of 3s. 4d. (fn. 8)
3. The other chantry of St. Catherine was founded by Nicholas and John Elliker, for one priest; but king Henry's commissioners reported that the deed of foundation was embezzled by Richard Wallas, the late chaplain. The revenue of this chantry arose out of certain tenements situated in the Close, Castle-mote, the Side, and in Sandgate. (fn. 9)
4. The chantry of St. Peter and St. Paul was founded by Adam Fenrother and Alan Hilton, and licensed by king Henry IV. Its revenue arose out of some tenements in the Close, the Side, and Westgate. At the dissolution, A. D. 1547, Edward Fyffe was incumbent of this chantry, and had a yearly pension allowed him of £4, 4s. 6d. which he enjoyed in the year 1553. (fn. 10)
5. The chantry of St. Thomas appears to have been founded by John Shapecape, and licensed for one chaplain by king Edward III. (fn. 11)
6. The chantry of Our Lady, styled also the Altar of St. Mary, was the south transept of the church, and hence called St. Mary's Porch. The deed of foundation was said to have been embezzled by Thomas Ireland, chaplain, previous to its suppression; but it was, at least, as old as the reign of king Edward I. for, in 1305, Peter Graper, mayor, gave two shillings a year to the priest of this chantry. Two shillings per annum was also granted to it by a charter signed Nicholas de Carliol, chief bailiff of the town in 1328. John Coke, of Newcastle, in 1379 bequeathed to the altar of St. Mary, in this church, the sum of 6s. 8d. (fn. 12)
7. The chantry of St. Margaret was founded in the 17th Richard II. (1394) by Stephen Whitgray, and Mary his wife. It was in the south side of the church, and is supposed to be the place called Bewick's Porch. The founders constituted John de Etall chaplain of their chantry; but, after the founder's decease, he was to be chosen by the vicar, mayor, bailiffs, and four of the honest parishioners of St. Nicholas. (fn. 13)
8. The chantry of St. Cuthbert was founded in the reign of Richard II. by Thomas Harrington and William Redmarshal, and was supported by the rents of certain tenements in the Sandhill, Side, and Close, in Newcastle. (fn. 14)
9. The chantry of St. Loy was founded by Robert Castell, by the licence of Edward III. The annual revenue arose out of tenements in the Close, Westgate, and a little field situated without the Westgate, called Goose-green Close: but the amount being small, John Galile, the chaplain, obtained a licence, dated May 22, 1498, to take annual service for three years; though the incumbent, it is said, "should be daily resident." (fn. 15)
10. There was a second chantry of Our Lady in this church, founded by George Carr, merchant, as appears by the extract from the certificate in the margin, and which remains in the Augmentation Office. (fn. 16)
This noble and magnificent structure crowns a bold eminence, which rises abruptly from the surface of the river to near the centre of the town. Occupying this commanding situation, and towering in proud majesty towards the clouds, it presents from every point of view a most striking and august specimen of architectural skill. It is an object of pride and boast to the inhabitants; and it never fails, by its singular and original combinations of magnificence, delicacy, and ingenuity, to enchant and gratify every stranger "who has an eye to see and a soul to feel."
The old Norman church of St. Nicholas was, it is said, destroyed in the year 1216, and the present edifice was finished in 1350. If this presumption be correct, it occupied more than 130 years in building. This great work, it is probable, commenced at the east, or choir end, which was usually first erected, and rendered fit for divine service; and proceeded next to the transept, finishing with the nave and tower. Yet the east division of this edifice seems to have undergone so many repairs as to retain few marks of its original formation. There are three narrow, plain, unassuming windows, with two mullions bisected at the top, in the pointed style, on the south side of the nave, and four similar ones on the north side, which are doubtless parts of the original building. Specimens of the plain, square, upright buttress, are also still attached to the north side of the nave, and to both of the transepts. The windows in the choir are larger, and ornamented at the top by a quatrefoil. The large window in St. Mary's porch, and some others, are on a more expansive scale, and portioned out with mullions and ornamented heads, and diversified by horizontal decorated transoms or cross-bars: they belong to a later period. The windows in the roof of the middle aisle, with their ungraceful obtuse arched tops, are quite modern, and foreign to the general character of the building. The grand and magnificent east window was evidently introduced as an alteration of the ancient structure, and displays the later form of English architecture in its most just and beautiful proportions, being adorned, but not crowded, with tracery, which runs out in the most elegant manner. According to Grey, this window was built by the munificent Roger Thornton the elder, and there was inscribed upon it, "Orate pro anima Rogeri de Thornton & pro animabus filiorum et filiarum." There were also in it the twelve apostles, and seven deeds of charity, painted on glass. Thus the glare of light, objectionable to the utility of a sacred edifice, that would have proceeded from such a spacious window, was rendered productive of new and splendid beauties, and of lessons the most instructive and appropriate. There remain but two heads, and a few small fragments of the pictures, in this once "sumptuous window."
On entering the great west door of this sacred pile, the spectator finds himself beneath the lofty dome of the tower. The bold height of the groined roof, the stately and massive pillars by which it is supported, the blended light and shade of the arches that divide the aisles, the distant chancel seen through the great door of the screen, all combine to produce mingled impressions of solemnity and delight. Here the mind bows before the genius of the architect, and freely confesses that the boasted structures of Greece possess none of the mysterious sublimity which characterizes English architecture, and which is so well suited to the adoration of Omnipotence.
The interior of the nave measures 109 feet 10 inches in length, and 74 feet 2 inches in breadth. The width of the middle transept is 24 feet 10 inches; and the length of the choir, from the organ gallery to the great east window, is 110 feet 4 inches. This measurement makes the total length of the interior 245 feet. The breadth of the choir is 63 feet 6 inches.
The strong clustered columns that support the tower, at the west end of the nave, are singularly majestic. Each measures, above the base, 36 feet 2 inches in circumference. Slender shafts of the main cluster support the springers of elegant groin arches, which branch out and intersect each other in a manner the most fanciful and beautiful. The centre is of an octagon form, ornamented with arms. The space between the pillars of the tower and the transept is divided into three aisles, by two rows of arches, supported by firm, elegant, octagon pillars, the eight sides measuring 10 feet 8 inches. The arches, though acute, are open, and remarkable for symmetry and beauty. They seem to approach to segments of a circle including an equilateral triangle from the imposts to the crown of the arch. The extradoes of the arches are joined by small ornamental heads. The cross arching of the middle transept is bold and lofty. Four arches, on each side of the middle aisle of the choir, divide it from the side aisles; but the interior curve of the arch before the school-gallery has lost its regularity. The roofs of the aisles, both in the nave and the choir, are strongly ribbed with oak, supposed to have been done when the steeple was built; but the middle aisles are lighted at the top by modern windows.
In 1777, the church was repaired, and thoroughly cleaned; but, shortly after, a scheme was suggested for converting it into a kind of cathedral. Accordingly, a subscription was opened at the common council, on Monday the 20th of January, 1783, for assisting the parishioners to execute this plan; when the corporation, and most of the magistrates and common councilmen, very liberally headed the subscription-list. (fn. 17) On the 12th of February following, a parish-meeting was held, and a committee appointed to assist the churchwardens in carrying the project into effect. The churchwardens were, Anthony Johnson, Thomas Saunderson, Thomas Greenwell, and William Pollard. The plans for the alterations presented by Messrs. New-ton and Stephenson were finally adopted; and these gentlemen were commissioned to superintend the work, which was not finished until the year 1787.
Brand says that the alterations were "completed with great taste and elegance; but the antiquary must for ever lament the alterations, as almost all the ancient funeral monuments have been destroyed." Now, the plan is certainly as destitute of either taste or elegance as can be well conceived; though the dilapidations committed upon the sepulchral monuments is as barbarous and unjustifiable an outrage as ever disgraced any age or place. A resolution being taken not to permit any burials in the choir in future, the churchwardens sold all the old tomb-stones, in that part of the church, which were either not claimed, or belonged to extinct families. Many of them were large, curious, and of blue marble. They were purchased by Mr. Christopher Blackett, post-master, who buried them in the foundation of the house he was building in Mosley Street. The stone coffin formerly found in this church, as well as that found in the tower of the bridge, underwent the same fate. Other monuments of departed greatness, as will be noticed hereafter, were disposed of in the same indecent manner. But the worst feature in this business is, that the churchwardens' book does not give any account of the money received for the marble tombs.
It was found that the choir contained 961 square yards, of which 615 yards were occupied by burial-places. (fn. 18) Those who belonged to these burial-places were mostly satisfied with others assigned them in the west part of the church; but by these means we are informed of the deposit of remains as in that place, which lie in other parts of the church.
It is difficult to ascertain the old arrangements or divisions of this church. The place occupied by the Rood-loft. (fn. 19) which separated the chancel from the nave, was afterwards chosen for the organ-gallery. Below and on each side of this gallery the church was entirely open, and the view uninterrupted. The pulpit, which faced the east, stood in the middle aisle of the nave, a few feet in advance from the two great pillars of the tower. The eagle, or reading-desk, adjoined the east pillar of the south aisle of the nave. Near the base of the opposite pillar was a huge head, with the tongue lolling out. This ludicrous specimen of monkish wit was cut off by order of Dr. Ellison, when vicar. Most of the congregation occupied pews in the middle aisle or great body of the church. When these pews were first set up is uncertain; but Staveley, in his History of Churches, says that before the Reformation there were no pews in churches, but such as were appropriated to persons of distinction. However, there was a pew-book belonging to this church, of the date of 1579, containing references to a still older one. In 1635, some new pews or seats were built. The gallery commonly called the School-gallery, being chiefly for the use of the boys of the Grammar-school, was erected in 1620. It stood in the north aisle of the nave, and reached from St. George's Porch to within a short distance of the north entrance. The corporation and some distinguished families were accommodated with stalls, which stood in the middle of the chancel.
That part of the church east of the organ-gallery was called the chancel. Bourne pronounces it to be "a very noble and stately one."—"At the top," says he, "is the word Jehovah, and under that in a glory a part of the name of the Lord, which he himself proclaimed before Moses." The high altar stood near the spot now occupied by the pulpit. It "was in the year 1712 very sumptuously and yet decently adorned." At the same time, the chancel was wainscotted at the expense of the corporation. (fn. 20) When the alterations were made in 1783, that division of the church properly called the chancel was thrown open, and the communion table removed close under the great eastern window. Part of the old wainscotting remains on each side of the chancel, executed in the style that prevailed about a century ago. The communion-place is of a segment form, inclosed by a balustrade, and is elevated about six inches above the level of the church.
Agreeably to the plan for altering this church, the west end was cleared of all erections, and devoted to the purposes of sepulture. It was divided from the choir by a wooden screen, executed in a miserably bad taste. A new organ-gallery was also erected, and the instrument was turned so as to front the east. The Schoolgallery was removed to the front of St. George's Porch. The pulpit, and the noble brass eagle in front of the reading-desk, were set up at the side of the middle aisle, near the south-east pillar, from which awkward situation they were removed in April, 1798, to the situation which they now occupy. The pews were built of wainscot, in a substantial manner, and are calculated to seat 964 persons, including the seats for the poor in the middle aisle, but exclusive of the School-gallery. In round numbers, it may be taken that there is accommodations for an audience consisting of 1000 persons.
There were three rows of coats of arms on the ceiling, between the organ-loft and great eastern window; and when these alterations were made, many modern ones were added. (fn. 21)
On Thursday, July 16, 1818, there was placed above the high altar, and under-neath the great eastern window, a valuable painting by Tintoretto; (fn. 22) the subject, Jesus Christ washing his Apostles' feet: but the light does not shew it to advantage. This interesting picture was presented to the church by Sir M. W. Ridley, Bart.
ST. GEORGE'S PORCH
Is what may properly be called the north transept of the church. Grey imagined it to have been built by one of the kings of England; and Bourne, without giving his authority, says it was one of the chantries of this church. In 1617, while the lord president and council of the north were at Newcastle, Lord Sheffield, being then president and knight of the garter, celebrated the feast of St. George in this porch. The society of Drapers, in their ordinary, dated 1652, are ordered to meet every year on the Monday after St. Bartholomew-day, at nine o'clock A. M. in St. George's Porch, to choose two auditors. Their electors are also to claim "their place in St. Nicholas' church, which was the north side in St. George's Porch, under a penalty of forty shillings." The corporation, in 1710, gave £100 towards its reparation.
This porch is nearly 49 feet in length, and 29 feet in breadth. In Bourne's time, there was "on the north window the head of the king, the father of the lady whom St. George delivered from the dragon." There also remained on the east windows some of the painted glass, "particularly the picture of St. Lawrence, and some skin marks and coats of arms. It has been," he continues, "a beautiful little place. It is ceiled at the top, and has been surrounded with carved work in wood, some of which still remains to speak the curious art and commendable expense of the days of old." When Brand wrote, there were preserved, in the painted glass windows, the arms of St. Oswin, or Tynemouth Priory, of St. George, and of Edward the Confessor. On the north window was a mermaid combing her hair, and a female saint below, with a whip in her hand, treading on some angry beast.
The large, beautiful Gothic window of this porch or chapel, after being long in a ruinous state, was partly blown down by a high wind on March 3, 1823. The reverend the vicar, and some other spirited individuals and lovers of antiquity, had, some time before, subscribed to restore this interesting ruin to its pristine state; and measures were now adopted for carrying this design into effect. (fn. 23) Mr. John Dobson, architect, made an exact drawing from actual admeasurement of the whole window; which Mr. William Brown, mason, undertook to execute in stone for the small sum of £150. The work was completed, in the summer of 1824, in the most masterly manner. The ornamental part of the old window had been clumsily repaired, and was quite out of proportion: but these defects are now remedied, and this window presents a fine specimen of the beauty, delicacy, and grace of the pointed style of architecture. The tall mullions, though no broader than the original ones, are much deeper; so that the decorative part has acquired strength, without suffering in appearance. (fn. 24)
There is a place below St. George's Porch, called a "vault," or "charnel-house," which was opened in November, 1824. It was found nearly full of rubbish and human bones, which were removed. (fn. 25) The entrance to this place is on the west, and part of the roof of the porch still remains. It extends to about half the breadth of the transept; and at the east end was found a beautiful small window, in the form of a Catherine wheel, which had been blocked up. In the south wall is part of a bason, for holy water; and a deep drain, cut in the floor, had been boarded over. The roof is arched with stone. Various conjectures have been formed respecting this place. It has not been a subterraneous oratory, for anciently it must have been very little below the surface of the ground, which has been much raised on the outside even in modern times. Some think that it was originally designed for a chantry; and others, with greater probability, that it has been used as a confessional. The door and window of this curious place have been built up again, and the earth levelled; but the small east window, which opens into St. George's Porch, may still be seen.
The west arch of St. George's Porch has been walled up, and formed into a kind of vestry, used as a robing-room for the magistrates, and for the accommodation of christening parties.
ST. MARY'S PORCH
Is the south transept of the church, and is supposed to be the chantry of Our Lady, founded in the reign of king Edward I. It is 48 feet long, and 25½ feet broad, and is enclosed by iron railing. It was formerly much larger; but, in 1783, the west arch was built up with brick, and the space thus gained formed into a porch which leads into the church-yard. Since that time, no burials have been permitted in St. Mary's Porch, which was used till lately at morning and evening prayers. The funeral service is generally read here; and on each side are part of the old oak stalls belonging to the church.
Bewick's Porch, on the south side of the nave, was formerly the chantry of St. Margaret. The South Porch appears to have preserved its original form. It is remarkable that the watchmen, until recently, were mustered here every evening before they went upon duty. (fn. 26) The west part of the North Porch was repaired in 1736. The door-way has since that time been rebuilt, but in a manner that disfigures the north side of the church. It is to be hoped that an opportunity will soon occur for altering this incongruous and unpleasing erection. The arch of the West Door is simple and bold; but the Small Door which leads from the choir to the vestry is remarkably beautiful, and affords a pure specimen of the style that prevailed when this part of the church was erected. In 1734, Sir Walter Blackett built over the vestry a handsome modern house, for the reception of the books of Dr. Thomlinson and other benefactors. The style of this erection but ill accords with the Gothic fabric to which it is so awkwardly appended; but at the time of its erection, very few had cultivated a taste for architectural antiquities. The windows of the choir in the line of this building were necessarily blocked up; but the want of light is partly supplied by a dome light in the roof of the south aisle. It deserves notice, that both the transepts of this church are of an irregular form.
The font of this church stands in the north transept. (fn. 27) It is of a simple form, but has a most magnificent and very lofty cover, or canopy, of very delicate and curious workmanship. It is supposed to have been made by Robert Rhodes, the builder of the steeple; which conjecture is very probable, not only from the airy elegance of the design, but also from his arms being sculptured upon the basin. The arms are, "parted per fess, gules and azure—in chief is a greyhound current, and in base three annulets. There is likewise quartered with this coat argent, a chevron gules, between three rooks, or, within a border engrailed—supposed to be the coat of Agnes, wife of Robert Rhodes." These arms have been formerly coloured. The font is not now used; and the canopy, instead of being suspended from the roof, is supported by small, slender pillars, fixed upon the rim of the bason.
Brand says, "I have found no account of any organ in this church during the times of popery, though it is very probable there has been one." (fn. 28) About the year 1676, the corporation contributed £300 towards the erection of the present organ. They added a trumpet stop in 1699, and in 1710 paid £200 for finishing the back front, and cleaning and repairing the whole instrument. The swell was ordered by the common council in 1749; and which, it is supposed, was added by Snetzler, the celebrated organ-builder. About the year 1798, it was cleaned by Donaldson. Immediately after the late bishop had delivered his last charge in Newcastle, on the 26th July, 1814, the organ was taken down by Messrs. Wood, Small, and Co. of Edinburgh, who added a double diapason and a set of foot pedals, and repaired the whole instrument. This cost the corporation £500. In September, 1824, the organ was again taken down, cleaned, and tuned, which cost between £70 and £80.
The great organ, in its present improved state, contains open and stop double diapason, two principals, twelfth, fifteenth, sesquialtra, mixture, tierce, cornet, and trumpet, with a set of pedals. The choir organ has open and stop diapason, flutes, twelfth, and fifteenth: annexed is a fine swell, containing open diapason, dulciano, trumpet, cornet, and hautboy. The frame-work of this fine instrument is mahogany, highly ornamented. The two pillars of the front are peculiarly magnificent. The centre is surmounted by two recumbent angels; and the compartments of the front are embellished by numerous pipes, richly gilt. The back part is also beautiful, and adorned with gilded pipes. The salary of the organist was raised, in 1777, to £50 per annum. (fn. 29)
This is one of the noblest and most admired structures that adorn our island. It exhibits an originality, boldness, and magnificence, which render it an architectural prodigy. Viewed at a distance, the whole combines to produce one grand effect; and examined closely and in detail, the happy application of the principles of arcuation. of thurst, and of pressure, to every part, excites the greatest surprise and delight. The ornaments also, though simple, are appropriate and significative. All, indeed, must concur in admiring the refined taste and consummate judgment of the architect, who, without any servility of imitation, has produced this triumph in English art, which rivals in execution, and surpasses in ingenuity, the proudest edifices of the ancient Greeks and Romans. (fn. 30)
The tower, which stands at the west end of the church, measures, at the outside of the base, 36 feet 9 inches by 35 feet. It is substantially built, and of elegant proportions. (fn. 31) From the base to the battlements, it is divided into three separate parts or stories. The first, or lower story, is the west entrance to the church. The large window above the door is boldly ornamented with tracery, and the mullions strengthened with horizontal bars or transoms. The second story has one small window, handsomely turned, and divided by a single mullion, with small pointed heads. From the ground to this story rise buttresses of three sides. The third story being set within the lower ones, gives the tower at a short distance a pyramidical and elegant appearance. At the angles of this story are flat buttresses, rising over the battlements, and resting against the turrets: they are tastefully terminated by a human figure on a bracket. Each side of the tower is divided into two equal spaces by a delicate buttress, which rises up square to the battlements, and then, by the contrivance of a little arch, is canted off, forming a small octagonal turret. The sides of the tower by this buttress are divided into two spaces, each of which contains a large unglazed window, through which the sound of the bells passes. These windows are of elegant proportions, with rather a flat-pointed arch head, divided into compartments by a mullion, and the height by a transom, each ornamented with quatrefoil turns. The tower terminates with perforated battlements.
Eight turrets and pinnacles of matchless elegance rise from the angles and sides of the tower. The pinnacles are crocketed; and each finishes with a lofty vane, ornamented with fleurs-de-lis at the angles and sides. The angular turrets are considerably larger and higher than those of the sides. From their base spring four segments of arches, elegantly curved, and cut into mouldings. At their intersection, twenty feet above the battlements, they support a very elegant, lofty, square lantern, which has an open window on each side, divided by a mullion and cross-bar. There are small buttresses at the angles, surmounted by ornamented pinnacles, each of which supports a vane. From the great bows rise small buttresses, which form an additional support to the lantern, by which means the upper line forms an ogee curve, and is crocketed. The lantern, surmounted by a lofty and well-proportioned pinnacle, and ornamented with crockets, which terminates with a noble vane, "finishes this unexampled and extraordinary building."
Such is the conclusion of a professional writer. Its resemblance, in the general outline, to an imperial crown, has given rise to many vague suppositions. Others, again, have supposed it to be an imitation of the ornamented cover of the box in which the consecrated host was preserved. But it more probably is the creation of a rich and refined fancy, corrected by scientific and mathematical principles.
This beautiful steeple is 193 feet 6 inches high. The height from the ground to the top of the battlement measures 117 feet 9 inches; and to the bottom of the lantern, (fn. 32) 138 feet 6 inches. The masonry is executed in the bold manner of the Associated Free and Accepted Masons. Most of the stones are such as the workmen might have carried under their arms. The tall, stately, and elegant pinnacle at the top, is hollow within, and built with stones only four inches in breadth! The other pinnacles are also remarkably light and ingeniously constructed. The lateral pressure at the butment of the intersecting arches is counteracted by two strong oak beams, which are preserved by being covered with lead. Indeed, in every part, the skill, science, and ingenuity of the architect are manifest.
The steeple is plainly a superstructure raised upon the original tower, which appears to have had a battlement of open stone-work and embrasures. Some have ascribed the building of the steeple to David king of Scotland, who resided here about the year 1135; but the style of the architecture is alone a sufficient refutation of this conjecture, for it possesses all the distinctive lineaments of the mode which obtained in the time of Henry VI. This adds to the probability of the opinion espoused by Brand, who thinks it was raised by Robert Rhodes, who lived in the fifteenth century. He was a most munificent friend of St. Cuthbert, the great tutelar saint of the diocese, and more particularly of the churches in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he resided. His arms are on the ceiling underneath the belfry, and this inscription:—"Orate pro anima Roberti Rhodes." (fn. 33) The corporation have been charged with the reparation of this steeple from time immemorial.
In 1608, about ten feet of the highest part of the steeple was taken down and rebuilt. New vanes were also set up.
Bourne has the following tradition of this building:—"In the time of the civil wars, when the Scots had besieged the town for several weeks, and were still as far as at first from taking it, the general sent a messenger to the mayor of the town, and demanded the keys, and the delivering up of the town, or he would immediately demolish the steeple of St. Nicholas. The mayor and aldermen, upon hearing this, immediately ordered a certain number of the chiefest of the Scottish prisoners to be carried up to the top of the old tower, the place below the lanthorn, and there confined. After this they returned the general an answer to this purpose,—that they would upon no terms deliver up the town, but would to the last moment defend it: that the steeple of St. Nicholas was indeed a beautiful and magnificent piece of architecture, and one of the great ornaments of their town; but yet should be blown into atoms before ransomed at such a rate: that, however, if it was to fall, it should not fall alone; that the same moment he destroyed the beautiful structure, he should bathe his hands in the blood of his countrymen, who were placed there on purpose either to preserve it from ruin, or to die along with it. This message had the desired effect. The men were there kept prisoners during the whole time of the siege, and not so much as one gun fired against it."
This steeple, however, seems to have sustained considerable injury during the siege, as there is an order of common council, in September, 1645, for its reparation. It was again repaired, at the expense of the corporation, in 1723; and in October, 1761, it was adorned with a new clock, made by Mr. John Walker, an ingenious artist, residing in the Close, Newcastle, and which is esteemed an excellent piece of workmanship. The pendulum is ten feet long, and it is wound up every morning. It is now regulated and kept in repair by Mr. John Smith. (fn. 34) A conductor was affixed to the steeple in 1777; and, at the same time, one of the pinnacles was rebuilt, and several other necessary reparations were made. This business was conducted by Mr. Wooler, one of the architects employed in the building of Tyne Bridge. The steeple was again repaired, pointed, and painted, and a new copper vane placed upon the upper spire, in 1795, under the direction of Mr. Stephenson, architect. One of the vanes was blown down, during a violent gale of wind, in August, 1790, but was restored. Two other vanes were blown down, March 3, 1823. They were afterwards replaced.
This steeple contained originally but five bells. The peal at present consists of eight, which, Bourne says, "are very large ones, have a bold and noble sound, and yet an exceedingly sweet and harmonious one." The great "common bell," used for convening the burgesses to guild, was cast in the year 1593. In 1615, the great bell, which weighed 3129 pounds, was sent to Colchester to be new cast. This bell, being broken in 1754, was recast in London. The present one weighs 4032 pounds, or 36 hundredweight. (fn. 35)