Dilston Road Wesleyan Methodist Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

Bazaar held in 1891 to help reduce the debt on the building scheme
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
Laying the foundation stones at the Sunday School extension 1906
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
A Sunday School class of c1910
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
The church choir pictured after winning the North East Musical Tournament in 1930 for the fifth time
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
The Sunday School anniversary in 1910
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
The organ and pulpit in Dilston Road church
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
Exterior of the church from Dilston Road
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
Programme for concert given by Kathleen Ferrier June 1945
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives
Programme for a lecture on Northumbrian Folk Songs, 1911
Image from the collections of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Archives

The beginnings of this Society lie in a “tin chapel” built by the UMFC on Callerton Place in 1881 and sold to the Wesleyans in 1885.

Plans for building a new school, chapel and vestries were drawn up in January 1887 and tenders invited for the building of the Lecture Hall and Vestries appeared in the local press. Joseph Elliott of North Shields tendered £1,225 10s and this was accepted. The stone-laying ceremony took place on 24 August 1887 with many notable local families laying stones including the Bainbridge’s, Bowes’ and Stephenson’s.

The church prospered and soon out-grew the iron building and it was on 11 June 1890 that the foundation stones for the church were laid. This opened on 8 October 1891 and was initially called the “Wesley Centenary Chapel, Dilston Road” however this caused some confusion with another church in the District by the same name so the chapel became “Dilston Road Wesleyan Methodist”. The opening ceremony was widely reported in the local press and this is what the Newcastle Daily Chronicle of 9 October had to say:

“Yesterday morning, at seven o’clock, the dedication of the above chapel in Dilston Road, Newcastle, took place in the presence of a fairly large company. The chapel, which is in the Gothic style of architecture, has been built from designs by Mr JW Taylor, architect, Newcastle, and externally and internally, it is a very handsome building. There is a large recess for the choir at the west end of the chapel. The pulpit is in front of the latter. And the pulpit, communion table, and surroundings are tastefully finished. The seats in the body of the chapel are well arranged and both here and in the large gallery above ample accommodation is afforded for a large body of worshippers. In the construction of the windows, the arrangements of the entire interior, the finish of the woodwork, and the tints provided by the painters and decorators, there is nothing left to be desired. The ventilation and lighting are perfect to all appearance, and architect, contractor, and sub contractors, together with the stewards of the circuit, may be all complimented on the erection of so handsome a place of worship. At the dedication service the Rev EO Coleman, superintendent of the circuit, officiated, and the service began with the singing of the hymn “All people that on earth do dwell”. The Rev WW Spencer, the Rev RB Saul, the Rev Mr Barber and others took part in the service,

In the afternoon, a sermon was preached by the Rev Albert Bishop, Liverpool, to a large congregation. A public tea – attended by about 400 persons – was afterwards held in the Lecture Hall, presided over by the ladies of the congregation, and at night a public meeting was held in the chapel. Ald. WH Stephenson presided at the last mentioned, and there was a crowded attendance – the Rev Coleman, in addressing the meeting, said the church there was five years old, and there had been a gradual growth, telling and true. He could only speak from person[al] experience for about two years and at that period there were 113 members. At the present time there were 185 members. (Applause) The scheme for the providing of a chapel there was begun when there was £900 still due for the Lecture Hall and the total cost of the building scheme, so far as they could judge, was about £5,375. They had wiped off £415 of the original debt. There had been paid in subscriptions £2,275 18s 6d and they had subscriptions promised amounting to £748 9s 6d. The gifts included the handsome subscriptions promised by the Messrs. Bainbridge and the executors of the late Mrs Gibson. After everything had been considered there would be a debt, roughly speaking, of £1,200 to meet. With respect to the remaining debt, they expected to get a good amount from the opening services and the bazaar which was to follow, and in regard to what would remain he hoped that their friends would feel it was a duty, a privilege, and a pleasure, placed in their hands, and that they would claim it as their own.”

The area surrounding the church soon became built up. There was rapid house building all over Tyneside at this time as industry and commercial enterprises expanded. Adjacent to the chapel was built the Union Workhouse – later to become the General Hospital – and work was begun on the Fenham estate. The long streets of Tyneside flats and larger houses in terraces covered most of the area from the Tyne to the Nun’s Moor. The trend was for people to move away from areas like Scotswood Road and the proximity to Armstrong’s factory, for the cleaner air nearer Westgate Road. Blenheim Street chapel, at that time head of the circuit, found that as the houses became empty and were demolished the chapel attendance dwindled and by 1900, Blenheim Street chapel closed and Dilston Road became the head of the circuit. The Dilston Road circuit in 1902 included Park Road, Dunn Street, Wesley Hall (Beaumont Street), Paradise, Bell’s Close, North Scotswood, Ponteland, Mason Dinnington, Prestwick, Milburne [sic], Westerhope and Wingrove Avenue. The latter had a short life between 1901 and 1906 and was opened as Wingrove Avenue Wesleyan Methodist Mission in a house near the north end of the street, by members of the Dilston Road congregation. Despite their hard work to make it a success with the possibility of opening a new church in Fenham, this was not to be.

In 1906, it was found necessary to add five new classrooms to the Sunday School due to the large numbers attending. The effects of the 1914-1918 war on the country’s Sunday Schools can be seen by the numbers lost at Dilston Road. The Roll of Honour contained 170 names of those who served with 27 of them losing their lives. When the Trustees were considering a suitable memorial after the war, they decided to buy two adjacent houses, 2 and 4 Callerton Place, as a War Memorial. The houses weren’t adapted for some time afterwards but in 1922 a large piece of land was purchased at Fenham and laid out as tennis courts which proved very popular. They survived until 1974 and the sale of the land to Dame Allen’s school.

The church continued to prosper throughout the years but the 1950s saw dramatic changes to Tyneside and Newcastle in particular. Many heavy industries closed and the streets of Tyneside Flats in their neat terraces began to be demolished. Families moved away to new estates being developed in Blakelaw and Newbiggin Hall on the outer edges of the city. The big Methodist churches in the Westgate Road area soon felt the effects. Kingsley Terrace church closed in 1967 followed by the People’s Hall in Rye Hill the following year. Elswick Road church closed in 1970 and became a Mosque; the Westgate Hall closed in 1972 and was taken over by the Prudhoe Street Mission. By 1973, of the twenty or so Methodist churches and Missions in the Westgate, Elswick and Arthur’s Hill area, only Dilston Road continued.

In 1973, the circuits were reorganised and Dilston Road became part of the new Newcastle West Circuit. For the first time since 1932, the church no longer had a minister of their own. Their new minister, Rev Brian Winstanley, also had responsibility for Bond Memorial, at Benwell.

Music and singing played an important part in the life of the church. The first organ installed in the old tin chapel was a Mason & Hamlin American organ (harmonium). This was transferred to the Lecture Hall and then for a while in the new church. In 1897, Harrison’s of Durham installed the magnificent pipe organ at a cost of £310. This did not include the cost of the case which had previously enclosed the organ at Brunswick chapel and was designed by T M Richardson, a famous local artist, who had served his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker and remained in that trade until 1806. There is evidence to suggest that the actual carving of the case was the work of another well-known local artist, Ralph Hedley.

The choir were well-known in the area for their fine singing. For a number of years they won their class at the North Eastern Musical Tournament and the Newcastle District Archive repository has a wonderful photograph of them pictured with their trophy, within their collections. As well as leading the singing at services and singing an anthem, the choir also performed many cantatas and the big oratorios – Messiah, Creaton and Elijah. Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast was a particular favourite as were the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and Gounod’s Faust. The most frequently requested was Edward German’s Merrie England. Many visiting choirs and renowned soloists have sung in the church too.

By the turn of the millennium, the future of Dilston Road church began to look unsteady. The area and people living around the church had changed significantly and the majority of members were living away from the immediate vicinity. The organ was sold and exported overseas in 2012 and the church closed in 2013 and the buildings sold. The premises are (as of August 2020) occupied by the Newcastle Apostolic Church

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