St Mary's Heritage Centre Gateshead


Gateshead Heritage @ St Mary’s A Brief History

Early History

The present building dates from the early 13th century. It is likely that at least one previous church existed on or near this site, as Bede refers to Utta as Abbot of Gateshead in 685 AD.

This earlier church was burned to the ground in 1080, by a Saxon mob trying to avenge the murder of Lyulph one of their kinsmen. Bishop Walcher, the first Bishop of Durham (a Norman) was murdered along with his followers when trying to escape from the building.

The Church At War

St Mary's was rebuilt but after three centuries of peace, found itself in the middle of a Civil War Conflict in 1644. The Earl of Callendar's Scottish troops, who supported Cromwell's Parliamentarian army, stationed themselves in the Rectory. They set up their cannon on nearby Windmill Hills and bombarded the Royalist town of Newcastle. By the end of the conflict, they had destroyed the Rectory and cannonballs from both sides had caused damage to the exterior of the Church.

Fire! Fire!

In the early hours of 6 October 1854, a fire broke out in a woollen factory situated below the Church quickly spreading to an adjoining warehouse containing a variety of chemicals including sulphur, brimstone and guano. At about 2.45am, these exploded causing a severe escalation of the fire. Stones, some as large as 6cwt, were hurled across the river and whole areas of the Quayside on either side were destroyed. Despite valiant efforts by many of St Mary's parishioners, the Church was severely damaged but within a year was rebuilt to a design by John Dobson.

20th Century

This was a difficult period for St Mary's. It was left without a resident population when the slum clearance programmes of the 1930s had cleared the area of housing and congregations dwindled. In 1979, it became a redundant church and later that year was severely damaged by fire.

Left unrepaired, damage was compounded when a further serious fire broke out in 1983. It seemed that the building was doomed as most of the interior fitments and stained glass were destroyed and the chancel left roofless.


The Building Reborn

In 1985, basic repairs were undertaken by the Civic Trust and in 1990, St Mary’s was bought by Phillips Auctioneers. Phillips moved out in 2000 and from then until 2007, the building was operated by Gateshead Council and run as a Visitor Centre.

Thanks to funding from Gateshead Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, One North East, the building is now Gateshead’s first heritage centre.


The Staff headed by Local History and Heritage Manager Anthea Lang work incredibly hard to ensure that the Heritage Centre is highly succesful. Throughout the year imaginative events are organised and well attended. The Centre is supported by a number of organisations not least Local History Societies.


Every event organised is extremely interesting, educational and enjoyable.


Local History and Heritage Manager Anthea Lang is also a successful author, her latest book 'The St Mary's Story' is now on sale and proving to me very popular. It costs just £4.99 and is available at Main Libraries, Fenwicks and at St Mary's Heritage Centre.


The Centre is ideally placed for sight seeing after a visit, it is surrounded by famous landmarks not least the Tyne Bridges and the Sage.

There are two sites available:



The Centre is ideally placed for sight seeing after a visit, it is surrounded by famous landmarks not least the Tyne Bridges and the Sage.

There are two sites available: (the above photograph is featured on the site)