Alter 2006

Chapter List:

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III
Appendix IV


1800's view of the Chruch when it still contained the school (2 storey)Side view of the Chruch


Old View of Church
Photo donated by The Late Sheila Bell of Caroline St.Hetton

We cannot afford to cling to the past but neither can we afford to forget it. The past has shaped our thinking and our world and we need to know the past in order to understand the present and plan for the future. It also reminds us of the debt of gratitude we owe to people who made great sacrifices for an ideal they would never enjoy but which they made possible for us. The least we can do is to remember them and to record their deeds.

One hundred and fifty years is very short in the history of the Church but it covers a proud record of a community which started with few worldly advantages but which quickly established itself and made a significant contribution to the life of the area. It helped to set up other communities nearby and its influence has been felt as far away as Borneo, Fiji and Kenya.

At a time when some Catholics are anxious about the future of the Church it is worth while looking back to see that the Church has overcome many difficulties in the past which reasonable people would have thought insurmountable. But Christians are not limited to what is reasonable-their vision is broader, their insight deeper and their spirit is more daring. The Catholics of the past proved this by their deeds. We would be letting them down if we did not follow their example, relying not just on human effort but on the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in God's Church tod


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Chapter One

The Early History of Houghton-le-Spring.

In the Boldon Book of 1183 the name of the town was written as Hoctona. At other times it was Hoeton. The 'Hough' part of the name is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Hogh', meaning a point of land projected into a plain. The suffix 'ton' is most likely a variation of the 'tun' found in both Old English and Old Norse. It meant simply an en- closure, settlement or town. There are two theories for the addition of 'le-Spring'. At one time a Le Spring was a Lord of the Manor. The second, and more likely explanation, points to the numerous limestone springs in the area. At one time they were thought to have been of great medicinal value.

Little is known of the early origins of the town. Much of the present Parish Church was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But there are traces of Norman and earlier architecture. In the North Wall of the chancel, for example, there is an attractively rounded Norman window. Many local historians believe that there are good reasons for believing that t one time an Anglo-Saxon church stood on the site of the present church, or possibly on the nearby Glebe Field.

The earliest known Rector of Houghton-le-Spring was a man called Renaldus who was appointed in 1131. Houghton was one of the great manors of the Bishop of Durham. It was included in the Boldon Book of 1183 and Bishop Hatfield's Survey (1377-1380). The Boldon Book listed thirteen cottagers, three ha1f-cottagers, one reeve (the representative of the Lord of the Manor), one pinder (the villager responsible for putting stray animals into the pinfo1d or pound), one smith and one carpenter. The survey of Bishop Hatfield some two hundred years later also mentions a bakehouse and a brewery.

These surveys would refer to the township of Houghton rather than to the parish which was very extensive in days gone by. In the sixteenth century there were fourteen villages within the parish. As late as 1786 the parish boundaries extended to Bishopwearmouth in the North, Seaham to the East, Chester-le-Street to the West, Pittington to the South-West and St. Giles, Durham, to the South. Very similar in size to the Roman Catholic Parish prior to 1900.

The parish of Houghton-le-Spring was a rich living. In 1535 a survey was made to value all the church property in the country. This survey is listed in a book called the liber Regis (Valor Ecclesiasticus). The parish of Houghton-le-Spring was listed at £124 per annum, the richest living in Eng- land. In the days of Bernard Gilpin (Rector from 1558 to 1583) the living was said to be worth £400 per annum. We can get a good indication of the relative money value of those days from some facts about the Royal Kepier Grammar School. This school was built and endowed by Gilpin at a cost of £500. A substantial building, it was still in use as a Grammar School until 1922 and is now used as a curacy and parish meeting place. One would think that a building of similar substance and size would cost in 1980 in the region of £100,000. The yearly salary of the Master was £20.6s.8d. and for the Usher, £10. I understand that the endowments are still in force and awarded to certain students from Houghton-le-Spring. By 1865 Hagar's Directory estimated the living to be worth £2,500 per annum. A substantial sum for those days.

Richard D' Aungerville, a Bishop of Durham, described Houghton as a 'fat parish'. As a result it was sometimes sought after by the King and other important men for their favourites. Edward III is said to have wanted the preferment of Houghton for his clerk, who already had several livings.

It seems very likely that some Rectors held the appointment in name only and never visited Houghton-le-Spring. For example, William Dalton I (Rector from 1347-1365) was a Prebendary of Hastings (Sussex), Bridgnorth (Shropshire), Lincoln and Auckland. He was a Canon and Sacrist at Beverley in Yorkshire and Canon at York and Ripon. He was also Controller of the King's Household. Whilst he would not necessarily hold all these offices simultaneously, there is no doubt that his multiplicity of positions would allow him little time to devote to the spiritual welfare of his Houghton parishioners.

The income of the Rector, of course, was not intended to be solely for his personal use. It was for the upkeep of church, rectory and clergy. An interesting sidelight on this aspect occurred at the time of John Newton. He became Rector in 1410. According to the historian Hutchinson he had gained the reputation as a 'bad man' whilst Master of Sherburn Hospital. On coming to Houghton he seems to have soon become involved in a dispute with his parishioners. We read of Robert D'Arcy and others pressing him to supply 'two sufficient priests' for the service of the parish, one of whom was to celebrate Mass three days a week at the Chapel of the Blessed Mary at West Herrington. One wonders if there were other chapels in out-lying parts of the parish.

To Catholics perhaps the most interesting name among the list of pre-Reformation Rectors was the Rev. Henry Gillow. He was Rector from 1470-1483. Even in those far-off days there was evidence of coal workings in the area. Gillow demanded from the monks at Finchale a tithe on coal from Rainton and Finchale. In his will he left money to cover the cost of a chapel erected over his remains and for the endowment of a chantry in honour of the Blessed Virgin and St. Katherine. He belonged to that notable Catholic Lancashire family who in later days were to give many priests to the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. The last priest to actually bear the family name was Canon Henry Gillow of Blackhill who died in 1915. But a President of Ushaw, Mgr. Brown, who died in 1934, was a member of the same family, on his mother's side.

The local historian C. A. Smith says that the name of Houghton was recorded as far back as 633. In his view it is by no means improbable that Houghton-le-Spring possessed one of the earliest Christian churches in the land. Unfortunately there are no real historical facts for those early centuries. There are however one or two interesting legends.

One concerns St. Bede. It is said that whilst travelling through the area he refreshed himself at a well. Apparently he was so pleased with the pure water that he christened it Holy Well; this would be around the year 700. Holywell (later known as Halliwell) was at the North end of present day Newbottle Street. A nice story without any real authority, but not impossible.

Another concerns St. Cuthbert's body on its journey from Ripon in 999. At a certain point the vehicle carrying the sacred burden became fixed and immovable. The Bishop ordered three days prayer to discover God's will. It was revealed to one of the monks that the body was to be taken to Dunholm (now Durham City). When the vehicle was moved in the direction of Durham it moved with ease. There is no certainty as to where this actually happened, but Fr. Thomas A. Dunne said that 'the top of Warden Law seems to have a stronger claim than any other place'.

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Chapter Two

The Reformation and Houghton-le-Spring.

The Reformation in England started from say 1531 when Henry VIII declared himself to be Supreme Head of the Church in England. But it was not in any way a sudden transformation. The schism was continued and extended during the reign of Edward VI who came to the throne in 1547. Even so by the time of his death in 1553 there seems to have been little or no change in Houghton-le-Spring. The eighteenth century historian Hutchinson said that 'through the designed neglect of bishops and justices of the peace, King Edward's proclamation for a change of worship had not been heard of in this part of the Kingdom'.

In fact there was considerable opposition, in the North, to the new laws. The anti-papal and anti-monastic policies of Henry VIII were challenged by a northern rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, in 1536. It was unsuccessful and for his part in it, Sir Thomas Percy was executed. His grand- son, Blessed Thomas Percy, suffered a similar fate in 1569 when he and the Duke of Westmorland led the Rising of the North. During this rising the then Rector of Houghton, Bernard Gilpin, had gone south. It is said that on his return he tried to mitigate the ferocity of Elizabeth's officials. There is no way of knowing whether he was successful in this endeavour. What we do know is that executions were carried out in almost every village in the County. One execution took place in each of the following local villages, Houghton, Hetton, Newbottle, West Herrington, East Rainton, Pittington, Seaham, and Seaton, and two each in West Rainton and Lumley.

During the reign of Queen Mary, that is from 1553-1558, all the religious changes that had been made were as far as possible undone. In the manner of those times this was often accompanied by severity and cruelty.

It was either towards the end of her reign or at the start of Queen Elizabeth's reign that Bernard Gilpin was appointed Rector of Houghton-le- Spring. Different dates are given by various sources. He was a scholar and theologian. Brought up in the Catholic faith, he was prominent in theological debates at Oxford. On one occasion he argued the Catholic cause against Hooper and at another time against Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire Vermigli). His first living was at Norton, near Stockton-on-Tees. While he was there he said that he sometimes said Mass, 'but seldom and privately'. In 1553 he left Norton to spend time on the Continent. His patron and great-uncle, Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, entrusted to him a treatise on the 'Real Presence of Our Lord's Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist'. Gilpin had this printed in Paris.

It would seem that during his years in Europe Gilpin gave up all belief in Transubstantiation and Papal Supremacy. It is said of him that he did more than any other individual towards Protestantising this part of the country. He travelled extensively, preaching in Northumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Westmorland and Cumberland. Anglicans often refer to him as 'The Apostle of the North'. He was noted also for his charitable works and hospitality.

Presumably because of his views he fell out of favour with Bishop Tunstall who cut him out of his will. Although Tunstall did accept the Supremacy of Henry VIII basically, he seems to have clung to the Catholic faith. He was very alarmed by the sweeping religious reforms of Edward VI and was deprived of his bishopric and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The accession of Queen Mary saw him restored to the See of Durham. It is said that under his mild rule not a single victim died for heresy throughout the diocese. When Elizabeth came to the throne he refused to take the oath of Supremacy and was one again deprived and imprisoned. He died in Lambeth Castle, at the age of eighty-five, a prisoner of his faith.

For Catholics in Houghton the most outstanding person of the Reformation period must be a young man called George Swallowell (sometimes written Swalwell). Born near Houghton-le-Spring, he was brought up and educated locally, for the ministry in the newly established Church of England. He became Parish Clerk at Houghton-le-Spring and Lay Reader.

One day whilst visiting a Catholic, imprisoned in Durham Jail for his faith, he became involved in an argument. This resulted in him becoming convinced that the Catholic Faith was the true one. From the pulpit in Houghton-le-Spring he stated that he had formerly been in error and could no longer officiate in the Church of England. It is said that he had also been impressed by the heroic deaths of four young priests in Durham on May 27th, 1590. They were Frs. Duke, Hill, Holiday and Hogg.

For his 'crime', the public profession of his Catholic faith, George Swallowell was arrested, tried at the Spring Assizes in Durham in 1593, condemned but reprieved and sent back to prison.

His second trial took place on July 23rd, 1594 when he stood in the dock alongside Fathers John Boste and John Ingram. At one point fear took the upper hand and George Swallowell agreed to conform. John Boste turned to him and said, 'George Swallowell, what have you done?' where- upon George Swallowell took fresh heart and withdrew his words. He then knelt before Boste to receive absolution, in public, 'to the great indignation of the court'.

The following day the three men were condemned to death. Father Boste was put to death that same day in Durham; Father Ingram the following day in Gateshead, and George Swallowell at Darlington on July 26th. One can only marvel at the incredible faith of these men who were prepared to face a barbaric execution for their belief. For indeed it was barbaric. They were hung, cut down while still alive and then their innards ripped out. Yet facing this George Swallowell asked the crowd to join with him in saying the Our Father and Hail Mary thrice, and the Creed. Fr. Boste, as his heart was torn from his body, murmured, 'God forgive thee, go on, go on'.

The Church honours these holy men as Blessed John Ingram, Blessed George Swallowell and Saint John Boste (one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales). So ‘in Blessed George Swallowell Houghton has its own Martyr Patron, if we may not yet call him a Patron Saint'.

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Chapter Three

Post-Reformation Years

Nothing is really known of those people in Houghton-le-Spring who retained the Catholic Faith, after the new Church of England was firmly established. It would be possible for them to hear Mass and receive the Sacraments occasionally in various places. Priests filtered in secretively from the Continent. One of these was a Jesuit, Fr. Richard Holtby, whose family lived near Hovingham, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. After ordination at Douai he landed on the coast near Whitby, in January 1591. Using his knowledge of the North East he set up a route for the movement of priests from the Continent. A Catholic merchant from Newcastle who traded in the Netherlands brought them to South Shields. They went then to Hebburn and on to Thornley. Assuming that a direct route was taken they would pass through Houghton-le-Spring. From Thornley a chain of houses and missionary centres led to the North Riding, the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District of Derbyshire. One of the houses used was that of the butcher's wife, St. Margaret Clitheroe of York.

In the seventeenth century there were certainly Mass Centres in and around Durham, particularly in Elvet. So much so that at one time it was known as 'Popish Elvet'. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Thomas Pearson, was in Durham from before 1688 until his death in 1732. He built a chapel and a school at 44 Old Elvet. The secular clergy were also active in Durham. They had a chapel and clergy residence at 33 Old Elvet, from before 1709. By the 1740's town missions were also established in Sunderland, Stockton, Newcastle and Hexham. In 1794, a community of Discalced Carmelite nuns driven out of France by the French Revolution came to the North of England. In 1804 they settled at Cocken Hall, about two miles from Leamside. No doubt local Catholics would use this as a centre for Mass and the Sacraments. In 1830 the community moved to Carmel House in Darlington, where they are still established.

Not only is there no information about Catholics in Houghton in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but there are few reliable statistics about the whole Catholic population of England of those days. Estimates made by various Vicars Apostolic for the Northern District indicate that only about 1 % of the total population was Catholic, by the middle of the eighteenth century. There are some interesting figures for Darlington, however. In 1755 there were 84 Catholics in Darlington, 55 females, 29 males. In 1854 Bishop Hogarth took a census which showed 1,500 Catholics in the town and some two hundred in neighbouring districts. There was an increase in the total town population - from 4,670 in 1801 to 11,582 in 1851. But even so the percentage increase in Catholics was substantial.

A definite increase in the number of Catholics came towards the latter part of the eighteenth century.

These figures are for the Northern District-
Year Estimated Catholic Population
1773 20,000 (total population 1,750,000)
1781 31,645 (of whom 1,676 were in Durham County)
1804 80,000

The increase was probably due to two main factors. The Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791 had made it much easier to practise the Catholic Faith. There was also the beginning of Irish immigration into the area.

In Houghton-le-Spring, Irishmen came to work in the collieries being opened up in the area. In 1816 the first coals were brought out of the Dorothea Pit, at Philadelphia and at Chilton Moor the Nicholson's and Plain Pits were opened. The Hazard Pit at East Rainton opened in 1818. 1820 saw the start of the sinking of Hetton Lyons Colliery. In Hetton the sinking of both Eppleton and Elemore Collieries was started in 1825. So in the 1820's quite a lot of new jobs would be created in the Houghton-le-Spring area.


It has been said that Houghton Feast was founded by Bernard Gilpin; but far more probably it was a much older institution, being celebrated in connection with the Patronal Feast of Houghton, the Feast of St. Michael, September 29th. The reason why the Feast is now so much later than September 29th is said to be on account of the alteration of the Calendar by the omission of 11 days. The Houghton Feast is held as though the eleven days were not omitted, and therefore centres round October 10th, rather than September 29th.

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Chapter Four

The Return of a Resident Priest to Houghton-le-Spring and the Founding of the Parish

In 1830, the same year that the Carmelite nuns left Cocken Hall to establish themselves in Darlington, a priest arrived to reside in Houghton. He was Father James Augustine McEvoy. He celebrated Mass in an upstairs room in Sunderland Street. So after a lapse of almost three centuries, Mass and the Sacraments were once again a regular feature of life in Houghton-le-Spring. Unfortunately few records appear to have survived of those early days. But in the 'Ordo' of 1833, the mission is mentioned and its poverty proclaimed with a request for donations.

The mission must have thrived, for within seven years a school and church had been built and opened. It is the same building which today, in 1980, serves the Catholic community of the Houghton-le-Spring area. In those days it was a two storey building, the church occupying the upper half with the school down below and an apartment for the master. There is an appendix at the back of the book which is a copy of a newspaper report of the opening celebration on November 7th, 1837.

The building was designed by Mr. Bonomi of Durham. This was presumably Ignatius Bonomi. His father, Joseph Bonomi, a noted Italian architect, had been invited to England by the famous Adams brothers. Ignatius was the Architect of Durham Assize Court and Prison. He did work on Burn Hall (for the Salvin family), Croxdale Hall, Dinsdale Hall and planned the change of Lambton Hall to Castle. He was the architect of numerous Catholic churches including St. Augustine's, Darlington; St. Cuthbert's, Durham and St. Luke's, Ferryhill (now demolished). He was also a designer of bridges, including Shincliffe Bridge and the Skerne Bridge for Stephenson's Darlington and Stockton Railway. The Bonomi family, in Italy, produced a number of priests including two who became cardinals.

Father McEvoy left Houghton in 1845 to be succeeded by Canon Arsenius Watson. Little is known about this priest but some of the registers from his day are still in the parish. They shed some interesting sidelights on life of those years. For example the register of deaths for 1856 makes rather sombre reading because of the early demise of so many parishioners. Fifty-two deaths were recorded for that year. Twelve of them were babies less than one year old. A further ten were aged between one and twelve. Only six of the deaths were of people over the age of sixty. Yet among these six was a man called Peter Martin aged one hundred. A few weeks later his wife, Rose, died aged ninety-five. When we consider that this couple were born in 1756 and 1761 a number of questions are posed. Were they members of local recusant families in the area who had retained the Faith during the difficult years? Had they come to the district from another area? Was one of them, or both, converts? Whereabouts and in what manner had they been able to practise their Faith before 1830? One would like to think that further research would produce satisfactory answers to these intriguing questions.

The early marriage registers from the 1850's are also very illuminating. Although most of the people married were residents of Houghton-le-Spring area, many of them had parents still living in Ireland. A strong indication that the growth of the parish was due, in no small measure, to the influx of Irish immigrants.

Canon Watson left the parish in 1857 to be succeeded by Canon Joseph Aloysius Brown who was said to have been a most capable and accomplished man. A very zealous priest under whose ministry Houghton-le-Spring became known as a well-instructed parish. He has been described as a 'martinet, firm to severity'. Regarded by some as being too severe, others maintained that the wild conditions of those times needed a strong hand. It was Canon Watson who saw to the building of the Senior School in 1880. This is the building which today houses part of the Junior School and Hall.

Canon Brown remained in the parish until 1889 when Fr. John O'Brien became parish priest. A man of happy nature he was much loved by his parishioners. After seventeen years in the parish he died at the early age of fifty-three. From the panegyric preached over his remains by his friend, Canon Smith, we get an interesting glimpse of priest and parish. 'How pleasant to get a glimpse of the familiar form and kindly ruddy face and early whitening hair, as he moved about, the life and soul of some parish picnic in the field hard by. It was good to hear him praise his people with all the partiality of a father for his children; to hear him speak proudly of their generosity towards himself, of their zeal for religion, of the road outside blackened with worshippers each Sunday morning and evening; of the successes of his school and the devotion of its staff’.

From this we can clearly see that from humble beginnings in 1830 the new parish was well established by the beginning of the twentieth century.

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Chapter Five

The Twentieth Century.

Fr. O'Brien's successor was Fr. William Buckley, 'a genial soul full of humour and fun'. He was proud to call himself a true Cockney, 'born within the sound of Bow Bells'. On coming to the parish in 1907 he was immediately faced with a serious problem. After seventy years of use the church and school had begun to show signs of weakness. The main problem was that part of the structure which formed the floor of the church and the ceiling of the school. It was too dangerous to consider repairing. So the whole thing was removed and other modifications made. Since that time the building has been used solely as a church.

Fr. Buckley also undertook the building of the Infant School which was opened and blessed by Bishop Collins in February 1912. Considering that he suffered with wretched health and was only parish priest for some eight years, his achievements seem quite considerable. He died in January 1914.

The appointment of Fr. James Joseph Hayes, of Seaham Harbour, as parish priest, was greeted with delight by the parishioners. A former curate and life-long friend of Fr. O'Brien, he had been a frequent visitor to the parish. He was noted for his exuberance, humour, friendliness and warm-hearted generosity. The fine summer of 1914 was a delightful time for Fr. Hayes and his parishioners. But it was an idyll soon to be destroyed. August 1914 saw the outbreak of the horrific First World War. The anxiety he felt for those young parishioners who were in the Armed Forces became a constant nightmare for him. Even when the war ended its effect remained on him. It is said that he never regained the high spirits of his former days.

We are fortunate in having some written records from the years of Canon Hayes (for he became a member of the Diocesan Chapter in 1919). One of them is a cash book for St. Michael's Catholic Institute, Houghton-le-Spring. Known affectionately to older parishioners as 'the Hut', it was situated on what is now the presbytery car park.

Mr. R. Crosthwaite was Hon. Financial Secretary and Mr. G. Laing was Hon. Gen. Secretary, when the book was opened on March 1st, 1923. The opening entry indicates that it was a continuation of previous accounts. The expenditure for 1923 gives a good indication of the scope of activities.

In the first month 4s.6d. was paid for two dozen tennis balls (possibly table tennis balls), 3s.0d. for whist scoring cards, 16s.0d. for books and magazines and £20 first instalment on purchase of piano. Regular amounts are shown as receipts from billiards, chocolate, tobacco and minerals. In May there were six social evenings (including one for the football team and one on Whit Monday) and a concert on Whit Sunday. In November an amount of 4s.8d. was for 'expenses in connection with Mr. O'Connor's lecture'. Also that month £2 was paid to Canon Hayes on account for having lanterns fitted with electric carbon apparatus (£4.10s). There must have been a radio, for 15s. was paid for a wireless licence.

The picture of a very full social life emerges from the arid figures in the account book. This is certainly borne out by the memories of those parishioners who remember those days. Mrs. Usher, who came to the parish in 1930, recalls that tickets for the Sunday night socials were only available at the church door. It was not unusual for non-Catholics to attend Benediction in order to join their friends from the parish.

The Parish Notice Books are also useful sources of information about both spiritual and social matters. Unfortunately the oldest one remaining in the parish dates only from 1929. The earliest entry shows that Houghton Feast was celebrated extensively in the parish. On Sunday there was Solemn High Mass on the morning, open air procession, sermon and Benediction in the afternoon in honour of St. Michael, patron saint. There was an address and concert in the evening. On Monday a tea in the afternoon and a social in the evening.

On 15th December, 1929, one hundred and thirty six English Martyrs were beatified. The Bishop gave permission for the parish to honour the Houghton Martyr, Blessed George Swallowell, by having Exposition and Procession of the Blessed Sacrament.

An announcement was made on 16th March, 1930 that the Annual St. Patrick's Concert would be given on Wednesday and Thursday by the schoolchildren. Miss Dunleavy remembers the concerts well and recalls the long weeks of arduous preparation. Teachers and pupils spent many evenings, after school, in rehearsal.

The following week it was reported that the concert had raised £22. This was very welcome as it was necessary to spend between two and three thousand pounds on alterations to the school, demanded by the Board of Education. This work was completed by Easter, 1933. A new wing was added with three classrooms and a combined woodwork and science room. Central heating was installed.

It was in 1930 that Canon Hayes died. His successor was Father Martin McDonnell who moved to Jarrow in 1931 to be succeeded by Father Francis Tuohey.

The next notice book still in the parish starts in 1939. On 26th February it is stated that 'this is Ember Week and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are all fish-days'. In June there was a Married Ladies' Concert. The same month a Boy Scouts' camp was laid out in the Parish Field, for two days, so that parents could see how the boys lived when away from home.

Although war was imminent, there is little mention of it in the notices. Prayers for peace were ordered by the Bishop on 16th April, 1939. On 3rd September (the very day on which Britain declared war) it was announced that St. Anthony's School would not re-open until further notice. The following Sunday special mention was made of Confession times and if these times were unsuitable, 'let him come when he is able. Living as we are now, in constant danger, it is of the utmost importance that everyone should make his peace with God'. There was a call for volunteer wardens to undergo training to deal with the effects of an air raid during a service.

Nevertheless parish life continued with some modifications. An earlier time for Benediction had proved unpopular. So in October 1939, volunteers were called for to black out the church windows. Then in January 1940 a notice about Rosary and Benediction 'since the full moon comes in the middle of the week, the evenings this week will probably be fairly light; so we hope for a better attendance both tonight and on Thursday'. Another suggestion was that those people afraid to venture out in the blackout could come to the children's confessions in the afternoon.

During the war years there were numerous special collections. The Red Cross, R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, Apostleship of the Sea and the King George Fund for Sailors were among the recipients. The C. W .L. had a special collection to supply prayer books and pious objects to Catholic servicemen.

At the beginning of the war there was a substantial debt owing. In August 1940 the S.V.P. started a Million Penny Fund to clear the debt 'while we are able-before the bad times that follow the war'. By 1944, 43,480 pennies had been collected and it was pointed out that it would take 100 years at that rate to achieve the target. In February 1943 the amount outstanding was £3,500. But in 1944, £1,000 was paid off the capital debt and £120 interest paid. So other means of fund raising must have been very successful. In 1980 money terms an equivalent amount would be say £20000.

There are, of course, some very sad notices at this time. On the 16th July, 1944, 'Definite news has been received that John Lanaghan was killed on the 17th January'. In January 1940 thanksgiving prayers were offered up for the successful evacuation of 'so many thousands of our soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk'. General Communions, Novenas and other Devotions were frequently offered up for peace. Special prayers were asked for the Poles in Warsaw in September, 1944.

There are happier notes. In November 1942, at the request of Cardinal Hinsley, the Te Deum was offered in thanksgiving for our success in North Africa. In May 1945 on Victory in Europe Day there was a Benediction with the Te Deum, a Thanksgiving Mass the following Sunday and a Parish Victory Dance on the Friday.

An interesting sidelight on changing fashions from February 1943. 'In these days many girls are wearing what they call "slacks" for work. They are to remember that they are not allowed in this church in slacks or without stockings'. A further notice in June of the same year adds that sleeveless frocks are also forbidden.

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Chapter Six

Post-War Years

By 1953, when the next notice book is available, the war was becoming a memory, although some of its aftermath was still apparent. On 8th March there was a General Communion and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament to coincide with the visit of Marshall Tito to this country. The intention was for 'those suffering for the Faith in Europe and the Far East'.

In April there was a reminder that the Religious Examination would take place on 12th May. Parents were urged to see that their children knew their Cathechism.

In August thanks were given to the men who had started to erect 'the Hut'. Presumably this must have been a replacement.

Throughout the notice books there are frequent references to meetings of various organisations. A number of these either diminished or disappeared during the years of World War II. The Knights of St. Columba were a very active organisation, in the parish, in the 1920's and 1930's. In those days there were sufficient members to fill the body of the church. They had their own headquarters in the Columba Hall, to the rear of Imperial Buildings, in Durham Road. Their junior sections, Pages and Squires, also held regular meetings. The K.S.C. folded in the parish in 1974. The Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul were active in the parish, in pre-war years, as they are today. In the 1970's a Ladies Section of this organisation also came into being. In 1939 there was a concert by the 'Guild of Angels', a Social Study Club, a Parochial Apostolic Union (with 100 members), a Blessed Sacrament Confraternity and the Children of Mary. By 1953 there is no mention of these five organisations. The Catholic Women's League, formed on 17th July, 1939, is still very active in the parish.

The youth of the parish were served by the Young People's Club (disbanded in the 1930's), the Boy Scouts, the Youth Movement and St, Michael's Old Scholars Club (started in 1942). None of these seem to have survived the war. In the 1970's a Youth Club, a Brownie Pack and a Cub Scout Pack were started.

By 1967 Fr. Tuohey had been parish priest for 36 years and a priest for 50 years. This is quite remarkable when one learns that poor health had delayed his ordination until he was 28 years old. Golden Jubilee Celebrations were announced in a special bulletin. There was also to be a Solemn High Mass, Presentation and Entertainment in the Essoldo Cinema and an 'At Home' in the evening. What was not announced was a surprise 'This is Your Life'. Appearing in this were people who had known him in his home town of North Shields and parishioners from Carlisle and Tudhoe where he had served as a young priest. It was a very emotional occasion for priest and parish.

It was in 1972 that Fr. Tuohey retired to live in Hexham. He was succeeded by Fr. William O'Gorman, the present parish priest.

Before he retired, Fr. Tuohey saw a major change in the schools. St. Michael's Secondary School ceased to exist in 1971 and children from the Junior School then went to St. Leonard's Comprehensive School, Durham City. As a result of local boundary changes in 1974 a further change was made and now children attend St. Robert of Newminster School, Washington. One of the side effects of this change was that it became possible to convert three classrooms into a hall for use by school and parish. For a long number of years there has been an intention to build a new Primary School. This would have allowed the old school buildings to be used as a Parish Centre. We are still hopeful that this will come about, in spite of current economic policies.

Shortly after Fr. O'Gorman came to the parish, a Parochial Church Council was established. It was one of the recommendations of Vatican II that lay people should be encouraged to take a more active part in the running of the parish.

It was also Vatican II of course which made changes in the liturgy. As a result of these changes, it was felt that alterations in the sanctuary should be made. The old altar, pulpit and altar rail were removed. We now have a very simple altar, a presidential chair and lectern. The very striking crucifix, which had been rather hidden at the rear of the church, was placed in a prominent position behind and above the altar.

One of the most significant changes in the 1970's has been the involvement of the parish in the Ecumenical Movement. After centuries of division and distrust, local churches of all denominations have come together to look at what is held in common, what is different and how as Christians we can playa more important role in the community We have worshipped together in our various churches and bonds of friendship have been established by both clergy and lay people.

Now in 1980 we have a new porch designed very closely to match the existing building. I am sure that Mr. Bonomi would have approved.

There are inevitably many gaps in this short history. Further research might fill in these gaps. It would be nice to see a parish scrap book being instigated so that future Catholic generations would know more about us than we know about our predecessors.

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Birtley, Chester-le-Street

Rev. J. Higginson

Bishopwearmouth, alias Sunderland

Rev.Philip Kearney

Brooms, Lanchester


Burn Hall, Durham

Rev. James Wheeler

Carmel-house, Darlington

Rev. J. Roby

Croxdale Hall, Darlington

Rev. T. Smith


Rev. Wm. Hogarth

On Sundays and all holidays of obligation, Mass at 10 am and a discourse after Mass; afternoon service with a discourse and catechism, at 3 pm from Easter Sunday till the 1st November, and at half after 2 from the 1st November till Easter Sunday.


Rev. W. Croskell, V.G.

Esh Laude, Durham

Rev. Wm. Fletcher

Houghton-le-Spring - The Catholics of this large and populous village, and its neighbourhood, being totally destitute of religious instruction, an apartment has been taken, and a temporary altar erected, where they can now assist at the great and unbloody Sacrifice, and worship God after the manner of their fathers. This effort to revive and extend the ancient faith has hitherto proved eminently successful. The obstacles, it is true, are many, and serious; for this little flock being composed exclusively of the poor, it is with much difficulty they meet the rent, and other incidental expenses- leaving residence, or means for the support of their pastor, altogether out of view.

Under these circumstances, it was only by individual generosity, and at great personal inconvenience, that the gentleman appointed to this charge could supply the religious wants of these poor people. His congregation, however, rapidly increasing, he found a continued residence among them indispensable to the efficient discharge of his sacred duties. And when it is considered that Houghton-le-Spring is the centre of a dense population, being in the immediate vicinity of some of the most extensive coal-mines in the North of England; that he is the first resident priest here since the pretended Reformation; that his flock is composed of the poor, and of the poor alone-his little Mission prefers no ordinary claim to the sympathy and aid of a generous public, all who have at heart the support and advancement of true religion. The great object of his ambition is to erect a temple for the worship of the living God on a site which still bears the impress of former respectability. The fine old Cruciform Church, which is still the chief ornament of this village, attests at once the faith, the zeal, and religious magnificence of our Catholic ancestors.

Benefactions will be received by the R.Rev. Dr. Penswick, Uverpool; Rev. W. Croskil, V. G. Durham; Rev. Dr. Youens, and the Gentlemen of Ushaw College; Rev. Philip Kearney, Sunderland, and by the Rev. T. A. McEvoy, Houghton-le-Spring, Durham.

Hutton House, Castle Eden

Rev. Thomas Augustine Slater. Divine Service on Sundays at10 am, with a discourse before Mass.

Stella Hall, Gateshead.

Rev. Thos. Witham


Rev. Jos. Dugdale

Ushaw College, Durham

Rev. Dr. Youens, President

Extract from the 'Ordo' of 1833

(A directory of Catholic Clergy and Chapels in England)

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Appendix II

Extract from "The London and Dublin Weekly Orthodox Journal”
November 25th, 1837


"On Tuesday, the 7th instant, the Catholic Chapel, about a quarter of a mile west of Houghton-le-Spring, was opened for public worship and named, according to ancient custom, St. Michael (the parish Church of Houghton-le-Spring bears the same name). The building is from drawings of Mr. Bonomi of Durham, and is a plain, neat, and highly picturesque Gothic structure. It is divided into two floors: the ground floor is intended for a school and apartment for the master; the upper, which is the Chapel, is capable of containing 400 people. The Altar is very handsome and appropriate, and stands in a recess upon a platform elevated by three steps. Above the Altar is a fine full-size painting of the Crucifixion in a plain frame.

Detached from the Chapel is a neat residence for the priest. The whole is situate in a spacious plot of ground, to be appropriated as a cemetery, so that the hostile feeling evinced by a high church dignitary to the unoffending nuns of Cock en-house, a few years ago, will be prevented.

"Notice having been given that the Venerable Vicar-Apostolic of the Northern District, Dr. Briggs, would celebrate a Pontifical High Mass on the occasion, assisted by the Rev. William Riddell as deacon and the Rev. James Dugdale as subdeacon, people were rapidly assembling from all parts long previous to the appointed hour, anxious to witness a ceremony which has not been performed in this neighbourhood for four centuries past.

"The choir of St. Mary's, Bridge Street, Bishopwearmouth, attended on the occasion, and performed that most celebrated composition, Mozart's Twelfth Mass, with piano and instrumental accompaniments by gentlemen of Sunderland who, in the most handsome manner, gave their services gratis. A flute solo, which occurs in that part of the service beginning "Benedictus", was performed in admirable style.

"Amongst the clergy present were the Revs. Kearney, Curr, Crosgale, Chadwick, Fletcher, Knight and several gentlemen from Ushaw College.

"The Sermon was preached by the Rev. Joseph Chadwick from the 2nd of Corinthians, chapter 8, verse 9.

"As a composition, it was terse and elegant, and the delivery forcible".

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Appendix III

St. Michael’s, Houghton-Le-Spring

Parish Priests                                              and                                                 Assistant Priests

Rev. James Augustine McAvoy 1833-1844

For a time during 1844-45 Mass was supplied by the Rev. John Bamber from St. Mary's, Sunderland

Rev. A. Watson 1845-1857

Rev. Joseph A. Browne 1857-1889 (Made 'Canon' 1868)

Rev. Patrick Mathews 1862-3

Rev. Francis Moverley 1863-64

Rev. Francis Cambours 1864-65

Rev. Joseph Jackson 1875-76

Rev. Edward Robert 1881-84

Rev. John Prior D.D. 1884-85

Rev. Daniel Walsh 1886-89

Rev. John O'Brien 1889-1907

Rev. Dominic Westendorp 1899-1901

Rev. Martin Nolan 1901-1907

Rev. William Buckley 1907-1914

Rev. Nicholas Hennessey 1907-1910

Rev. Wm. John O'Donnell 1910-1912

Rev. Thomas A. Dunne 1912-1917

Rev. James J. Hayes 1914-1930 ('Canon in 1919)

Rev. Laurence Campbell 1917-1918

Rev. James Pollock1918-1930

Rev. Arthur Willis 1919-1921

Rev. Roger Morrissey 1921-1923

Rev. Joseph O'Brien 1927-1933

Rev. Martin McDonnell 1930-1931

Rev. Francis Tuohey 1931-1972

Rev. Oswin Moody 1933-1939

Rev. George McDonnell 1939-1944

Rev. James Colgan 1944-1946

Rev. Martin McBrien 1948-1951

Rev. Patrick G. Power 1951-1955

Rev. James Doherty 1955-1962

Rev. Thomas Shore 1962-1968

Rev. Clement Haverty 1968-1972

Rev. William O'Gorman 1972 -

Rev. James Dunne 1972

Rev. M. Gordon Ryan 1972-1979

Rev. M McCoy (also of Our Lady queen of Peace, Penshaw) 2000 -

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Priests from the Parish

Priests who were connected in some way with St. Michael's Parish before Ordination (i.e. attended school, were born or lived for a time in the parish) include-

Canon George Howe (a late Treasurer of the Diocese); Fr. Adrian English

(former Prior of St. Dominic's, Newcastle); Frs. J. V. Smith; W. V. Smith; R. Durnin; T. Coughlin (SJ.); G. Rippon (Uganda); T. Dutton; Leo Coughlin; Joseph Burton (Mill Hill Fathers) and Nicholas McArdle (Lancaster Diocese).

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