A History of Byermoor Church




During the years 1867-1869, Church Services for the Roman Catholic population within the Burnopfield and Byermoor areas, were held in a house at Burnopfield and were conducted by Father Patrick Thomas Mathews, a Priest who travelled from the Catholic Church at Brooms (near Leadgate). The house belonged to a Dr.Grinstead (Grinsell). It originally stood opposite the Sun Inn Public House, but the building has long since been demolished.

This same period saw the arrival in Byermoor and other villages of a large number of Irish immigrants who had left their poverty-stricken country (following the potato famine) and had come to seek work in the mines within the area. The Roman Catholic Authorities of the Diocese now saw the need in the founding of new Parishes, Churches and Schools, to meet the spiritual needs of the immigrants who were in the main Roman Catholics. In 1867, a commission was granted to Father Mathews, to leave the Parent Mission Church at Brooms with instructions to found a new Catholic Parish at Byermoor and by 1869 a new Parish had been formed.

The next task designated to Father Mathews, was the location of a site and the building of a Church. With the help of Parishioners and local labour, work started on the construction of a wooden building, and in 1869, the first temporary Roman Catholic Church at Byermoor was completed. (The original site of this building was near to where the petrol-filling- station now stands). Father Mathews, became the first Parish Priest. This building was used as a Church only from 1869-1871 when in 1871 the Church became a combination of Church and School, which continued in this role until it was decided that the building of a new larger Church was required to meet the needs of a growing Parish. The leasing of the land for the site of the new Church had been agreed between the Roman Catholic Authorities and the Earl of Strathmore (Claude Bowes) in 1874. The Indenture and Articles of Agreement were later signed in 1888 and then ratified on October 11th 1895. The next step was the location of a site for the new Church. A site at Barcus Close (near Tanfield) was at first chosen and then discarded, before it was finally agreed that the new Church be built on land up the hill from the existing Church building. Plans were then drawn, the responsibility of the design and Architecture being given to the firm of Messrs Dunn and Hansom (Architects).(Mr. Hansom was a son of J.A. Hansom, who designed the well known and popular Hansom Cabs which were used during the Victorian and Edwardian eras). Work was soon in progress, a seam of coal was even turned away to avoid the foundations. On the 12th September 1875, the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, Bishop Chadwick. The Church was formally opened on the 8th October 1876 by Bishop Chadwick. On the same evening the Church Bell was blessed and dedicated to: Saint Patrick, Saint Cuthbert and Saint Mary. Other portions of land granted by lease were used for a Presbytery, Cemeteries, future School and Playing fields. Prior to that date, the old Church had been known as Burnopfield Church, but from then onwards it was named:- The Church of the Sacred Heart, Byermoor. In 1882, the Presbytery was added to the Church at a cost of approximately £1,000. The Marquis of Bute contributed towards half of the cost and Miss Surtees donated £50. In 1907 Electricity was installed in the Church and Presbytery at a cost of £49. 1s. 11d. The Church commands a lovely view over - looking the Derwent Valley and on a clear day, the distant Cheviot Hills can be seen. It is a handsome stone edifice, built in the early English and Gothic style consisting of a nave and chancel, the latter terminating in a semi-circular apse.


The seating is for 400 persons. There are seven stained glass windows on the Sanctuary. Four of these were put in with the building of the Church, of the other three put in later, one is in memory of Father Patrick Mathews (first Parish Priest). The figure represents St Thomas of Canterbury (after the second Christian name of Father Mathews), another represents Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, put in during the lifetime of Miss Elizabeth Surtees of Hamsterley Hall for her good esteem. This lady was a great Benefactress of Byermoor Church. She was a Sister-in-law to Viscount Gort (Hamsterley) Elizabeth Ann Surtrees (1846-1916) was the daughter of R.S. Surtees of Hamsterley Hall. The third memorial window is in memory of the Rev Canon John Wilson (second Parish Priest). It represents St John the Evangelist, also a portrait of Canon Wilson. (this window donated by his sister Jane Wilson).

After the second World War, a memorial window was put in near the front of the Church. The figure on the window represents St Martin of Tours. The money for this was raised by ex -servicemen and women, and the names of the servicemen and women killed during this war are inscribed there. It is above a Memorial Tablet dedicated to the War dead of the Parish during the First World War. This Tablet was erected on the 18th December 1919 at a cost of £25. There are three other stained glass windows in the Church (two in the nave and one in the Choir Gallery. The Altar is of French Caen Stone, given by Miss Blanche Lamb (Gibside Hall), another generous benefactoress of the Church. She also gave two beautiful statues (German made in Munich). Miss Elizabeth Surtees gave the Wainscotting on the Sanc -tuary, Statue and other items of Church furniture. (1) The Reverend Father Alfred Chadwick (third Parish Priest), kept a diary in which he recorded items of interest, some humerous, some sad and many of practical interest. A few extracts from his diary read as follows: July 24th 1915: The construction of the brick wall was completed. The bricks came from the disused Coke Ovens at Byermoor Colliery. A total of 4,700 bricks, the cost £8.13.Od. He termed this as penning of Byermoor. February 1920: Forty barrow loads of earth put on flower beds, earth obtained from the road being widened from Sunniside to Crookgate. April 28th 1921: Miners strike. Commenced feeding the children. Army cooks rigged up furnace in Boys Yard. Pots borrowed, made stew etc. About 120 for Breakfast and Dinner. A plentiful supply of willing men and women workers. (2) During the General Strike of 1926, the succeeding Parish Priest, Father Austin Pickering, organised the setting up of a feeding Centre (known as a Soup Kitchen) in the school, when again a good number of children (and adults) were fed with soup etc. during these hard times. Concerts were held in the school to help raise money to buy leather to repair childrens boots and shoes, this task being given to the men of the Parish.

In 1948 the Earl of Strathmore gave the land (which had originally been leased) to the Church. (This was land for the Church, Presbytery, School and Cemeteries). Included was the Field above the new cemetery. This field was later sold to the local Council for use as a childrens recreation ground. The N.C.B. had recently acquired the large Playing field (below the school) but this was later sold to the Church. The land contained five acres in all and was owned by the Church, from the Letter-box Byermoor Rows (Colliery Houses) to No.1 Strathmore Crescent.

The Church was Consecrated on October 9th 1948 by Bishop McCormick, the Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle. (PICTURED ABOVE).


Canon Laurence Hollis at the christening of Michael John Caffrey on January 10th 1989, pictured here with his mother Karen (nee Newman) Caffrey.

Former Parish Priests of the Sacred Heart Church Byermoor were: Father Patrick Thomas Mathews 1867-1879 (First Parish Priest and Founder of the Parish)

Canon John Wilson 1879 – 1914

Father Alfred Chadwick 1914 - 1925

Father Austin Pickering 1925 - 1968

Canon Laurence Hollis 1968 – 1992

Pictured above at the christenings of brother and sister, Michael John Caffrey on the left with his mother Karen Caffrey nee Newman 2nd April 1989 and Emma Marie Caffrey on 27th October 1991.

Father Andrew Faley 1992 - 1995

Father John Taggart 1995 - to date January 2005



The Plaque at the base of the cross is fading badly now but the inscription reads:

This cross was made and erected figure from Italian Tyroll by the people of Byermoor Parish. Blessed March 25th 1932 by Father Austin Pickering PR. Stone base and surroundings added in 1952. R.I.P.