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
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
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
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
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. †)