All Saints is one of the four original parish churches of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Along with St Andrew’s, St Nicholas’, and St John’s, it provided spiritual sustenance for the old medieval city.
But given it fell into disuse in the late 1950s, many people wonder what the old Georgian church looks like inside. Thanks to the Heritage Open Days, I found out!
Has the church always stood on the site?
Yes and no.
Founded between 1150 and 1190, the original medieval church, All Hallows, served the Quayside area of the city. Some believe a Roman pantheon once occupied the site!
But by the late 18th century, the church had fallen into disrepair, leading to demolition.
A brand new church, renamed All Saints, was erected on the site, designed by local architect David Stephenson. Sir John Betjeman, the former Poet Laureate, described it as one of the finest Georgian churches in the country.
Begun on 14 August 1786, and the still unfinished building was consecrated in 1789. The tower was added in 1796 and All Saints was considered finally complete. The church cost a total of £27,000.
That’s around £1.5 million in today’s money.
Let me see inside!
The church boasts a different design to the other parish churches. The elliptical main body and decorated plaster ceiling above the nave make it an unusual architectural wonder.
The longer diameter of the ellipse runs north and south. No supporting pillars hold up the roof. The square tower is at the south end, with the vestibule inside. A chapel lies on the left, and the vestry to the right, when you go in.
It started to fall into disrepair again, and the churchwardens appealed for help in 1881. Restorations went ahead after subscriptions came in.
It’s actually a Grade I listed building, and the seventh tallest building in the city overall!
Unfortunately the church is again considered to be in a state of semi-disrepair after the floods of 2009/10 and 2010/11. It appeared on Historic England’s Buildings At Risk register in 2015.
So where is All Saints Church?
You can find it at the very bottom of Pilgrim Street. Alternatively, you can reach it from the Quayside. In earlier centuries, Butcher Bank (now Akenside Hill) lay immediately below the church, inhabited by the butchers of the nearby Flesh Market.
The guild of sea captains in nearby Trinity House had a chantry in the original church. While building work continued at the new church, the Trinity House chapel hosted the services.
Unfortunately, the parish fell on hard times. The merchants of the riverside moved to more affluent areas, and the local streets turned into slums. The 1851 census cites the parish as the second most overcrowded parish in the country, after St. Marylebone in London.
A public health report in 1845 revealed that ground floor rooms sometimes held 8 or 10 people. The Great Fire of 1854 destroyed some of the houses.
What happened in All Saints’ past?
In January 1802, a 30 yard section of the churchyard wall collapsed. Coffins and their contents fell into Silver Street. According to British History Online, repairs to the wall and a nearby house cost £249, 12s and 1d (just over £8000).
In July 1854, John Alderson, the Beadle of the church, was found guilty of opening graves and stealing the lead from the coffins. According to the Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury, Alderson broke open “no less than five vaults”, reporting that “nine leaden coffins enclosing shells in which dead bodies were deposited had been forcibly removed”.
Alderson, along with his wife and mother, faced 18 months imprisonment. His bell-ringer and accomplice, Hewison Marshall, received 12 months. Alderson became known as “Jack, the bad Beadle”.
In March 1859, a thief stole twenty books from the church. The Newcastle Daily Chronicle reporter that Henry Bullock, described as an “idle vagrant” by the Daily Chronicle, attended a service at the church.
He hid while other parishioners left, before taking a pile of hymn books, prayer books and bibles out of the west door, which he later tried to sell to local shops.
What’s its story now?
Sadly the 20th century saw many of the surrounding properties demolished, displacing the parish inhabitants elsewhere. The church lost its congregation and when it closed for repairs in 1959, it never re-opened.
Deconsecrated in 1961, All Saints became offices and also a musical venue for a time. Later leased to the Church of St Willibrord with All Saints, it is currently unoccupied. However, its status as a fine example of classical architecture means it has been preserved.
Luckily, events like the Heritage Open Days mean visitors still enjoy the church and its beautiful design! Hopefully funds will allow for its restoration.
If you’d like a closer look inside, check out my Youtube video below!
Sacrilege at All Saints’ Church, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, Tuesday 29 March 1859
Robberies of graves in Newcastle, Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury, Saturday 15 July 1854
British History Online, All Saints’ church: The new church; clergy and lecturers