Basil McLeod, born in Shieldfield, and at 92, our eldest Victoria Tunnel volunteer, has produced a very informative booklet on the History of Christ Church and of Shieldfield. He took on this immensely detailed heritage research project during covid lockdowns and presented his findings in a beautiful handwritten report. For your reading, however, we're sharing the digitalised version of his findings.

Christ Church was consecrated in 1861 and Basil has researched biographies of all of the Christ Church clergy from that time – some of which makes very interesting reading! In this month’s heritage blog, volunteer guide Diane has summarised information taken from Basil’s booklet.

April 2022

Shieldfield in Medieval Times

In medieval times Shieldfield was outside of the Newcastle City walls and was originally part of the Manor and Township of Byker. Robert of Byker died in 1349 and it is recorded that he owned 42 acres of Shieldfield including a Windmill and a Lime Kiln. Shieldfield transferred to Newcastle in 1549 and in the 17th Century, Shieldfield Fort was built. The Fort was taken by the Scots in the siege of 1644 but sadly no trace of it remains today. The Scots occupied Newcastle for a number of years after that.

In 1646, during the English Civil War, King Charles 1st surrendered to the Scots and was held for 9 months in open imprisonment in Newcastle. His living quarters were in Anderson House, which once stood at the top of Grey Street. He was also allowed to play bowls and golf on Shieldfield Green. He used a house at 23, Shield Street for rest and refreshment purposes during his recreation. Charles was executed on 30 January 1849 in London. The last owner of 23 Shield Street was Alderman Sir Richard Walter Plummer who presented it to the Council in 1917 to ensure its preservation. Sadly, it was demolished in 1960 and the area was redeveloped with high-rise flats.

23 Shield Street, circa 1900 | Newcastle City Libraries

No 23 Shield Street prior to demolition circa 1960. One of the blocks of high-rise flats pictured was named King Charles Tower | Newcastle City Libraries

Victorian Era

From being an open space, a few hamlets were built, along with a windmill, which operated from the 18th Century, initially grinding corn, then clay to supply 5 brickworks in Shieldfield. The Windmill was demolished in the mid-19th Century as more residential building was taking place.

During the 19th Century, grand terraced houses were built, occupied by wealthy, professional people, and Shieldfield was considered a very desirable place to live.

The first houses were built on Pleasant Row in 1810. William George Armstrong, founder of Armstrong Whitworth’s Engineering Works, and considered to be the founder of modern artillery, was born at 9, Pleasant Row. He was knighted in 1859 and raised to the peerage in 1887, becoming Lord Armstrong of Cragside. Cragside being the house he built in Rothbury and the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.

By the 1840s several more streets had been built, including Copland Terrace and Ridley Villas. Copland Terrace was developed by Mr. W. Copland who ran a pawnbroker’s business in Ouse Street in the Ouseburn Valley.

Corner of Copland Terrace, Shieldfield, circa 1930 | Newcastle City Libraries

More streets were added by 1874, culminating with Falconar Street. Falconar Street houses are the only Victorian-built houses left in Shieldfield - though many have been converted into flats.

Falconar Street, March 2022

By the time Victoria became Queen in 1837, the population of Shieldfield was around 250. By 1881 the population had risen to 12,826 with 2253 houses. Towards the turn of the century, most of the affluent population had gradually moved away to areas such as Sandyford, Jesmond and Gosforth. Many of the large terraced houses were converted into flats, housing people from all levels of society and several nationalities including Italian, Russian, German, and Norwegian.

By 1924, the population of Shieldfield was at its peak at 16,000, and during the period 1920s-1940s, Shieldfield was well supplied with a variety of shops, mainly on Shield Street.

Shieldfield Green, circa 1930 | Newcastle City Libraries

Shieldfield changed for good on the night of 1st September 1941 when 100 high explosive German bombs landed on Shieldfield and neighbouring areas. Whole streets were completely destroyed as was the Railway Goods Yard. A thousand people were made homeless, fifty people were killed and one hundred and seventy people injured. In 1946 the population was only 875.

The most precarious properties were quickly demolished but the ruins remained until the area was redeveloped during the 1950s.

Christ Church

Christ Church was built 1859-1861 on part of the site of the old Shieldfield Fort, with much of the cost borne by the wealthy Boyd family. The family was inspired to provide money for the new church in memory of William Boyd, a Banker in Newcastle and because of the “spiritual destitution” in Shieldfield.
The Church was built next to the school which had been built a few years earlier in 1856. Gothic in design, Christ Church had four aisles of pews, with gas lighting and seating for 500 people. The endowment of Christ Church stipulated that the principal parts of the church should be free to poorer parishioners. However, in Victorian times pew ‘rents’ were common – the richer members of the congregation could pay an annual sum to the Church in return for ‘their’ pew. In 1861 the income from Pew Rents was £28 11 shillings and ten pence – about £3250 in today’s money. There was a 2-year waiting list to become a Pew Holder.

Photos of the interior of Christ Church, taken circa 1959-1965. The far left and right pews had been removed by this time.

The first Vicar was the Reverend William Leonard Kaye, who served from 1861 to 1875. During his tenure, various improvements were made including the purchase of an organ. The church was thriving - in the first ten years 1125 babies were baptised and 312 weddings took place.

Amongst the more ‘colourful’ clergy was the Reverend Thomas Talbot who came to Christ Church in 1875. He wasn’t happy with his living accommodation (situated in Adelaide Terrace – now the south side of New Bridge Street). Rev. Talbot set up a committee and delegated them to sell the present vicarage and buy him another house.

A house in Ellison Place was purchased for £1600 (a very considerable sum in 1877). Before moving, the Rev. Talbot wanted several alterations to the new Vicarage and the Committee were set to work again to obtain estimates, etc. Rev. Talbot demanded the addition of a bathroom, which the Committee did not deem essential (in the 19th Century, few houses had bathrooms). This led to acrimonious arguments between the Rev. and the Committee. Rev. Talbot then left the Parish and would not conduct any services, leaving his Curate to cope. He may be the first and only parish priest to have gone on strike! He got his way eventually and returned.

Rev. Talbot tended to “do his own thing” regardless. He ignored the legal requirement that every parish should hold an Annual Vestry Meeting and he also ignored the Free Education Act of 1891. He left the parish in 1892. His successor was the Rev. Herbert Lunn, who was a steadying influence, making improvements to the building and introducing two church clubs – The Band of Hope and The Glee Club.

Another of the more successful Vicars was William Henry Anning (1908 – 1931). During his tenure, the interior of the church changed vastly including the installation of an oak Reredos (a large altarpiece or screen behind the altar in a church) and purchase of a new organ. The new organ required two people to operate it, one being the organist, to strike the keys, and another man who turned a handle at the back, allowing air to flow through the various pipes.

An incident occurred during one evening service. Rev. Anning had a reputation of preaching sermons that went on for 30-45 minutes. This permitted the man turning the handle to skip across to the Red Lion on Prince Albert Terrace for a couple of drinks with his friends, and still get back in time to operate the handle for the final hymn. On one occasion, Rev. Anning’s sermon only lasted for about twenty minutes and when the final hymn was announced the organ could not respond. The organ handle man received his marching orders!

Rev. Anning was also instrumental in the formation of the Church Lads Brigade. By 1918, 150 of the Church lads were on active service in World War 1. Sadly, 32 were killed and 2 died from disease. Rev. Anning was also an effective and enthusiastic fundraiser. When the Christ Church School building was condemned, he went to London and approached various influential people, and raised £14,000 for a new school building.

In 1980, the benefice of Christ Church was united with St. Anne’s in Battlefield. Rev. Thomas Emmett (1975-1987) became Vicar of both Churches.

Christ Church Primary School is still going strong – during its most recent Ofsted Inspection, it was rated ‘Good’.

Christ Church school pupils Christmas party circa 1950s | Image courtesy of Anne Baxter (nee Onions)

Basil’s booklet includes biographies of all 16 Vicars of Christ Church as well as more information on the Church’s journey through to the present.