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The town of Jarrow expanded and grew at a time when organised religion had a much greater influence upon everyday life. As immigrants from all parts of the United Kingdom flocked to the town in search of work, they brought with them their own particular interpretations of Christianity, and in due course many new churches were erected to satisfy the needs of the various denominations which had become established. One of these was the Presbyterian Church. The Church itself has a long and complicated history, which is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that presbyterianism in Jarrow came in two flavours; Scottish Presbyterianism and English Presbyterianism. The former had its church, known in the census records as the "Scotch Church" on the corner of Ellison Street and Chapel Road; the latter was situated in Wear Street in the building known as St. Kilda's. Of the two, the Scotch Church was the older, and existed the longer, being opened for worship on 7th February 1872 and surviving until 1968. St Kilda's was opened for worship on 6th April 1876, but closed as early as 1928, the congregation joining with their brethren in Ellison Street. Thereafter St. Kilda's was used by the Reavley's lemonade company until the 1960's.
In 1972 the Presbyterian Church in England united with the Congregational Church to form the United Reform Church. This does not have a presence in Jarrow itself, but has churches in Hebburn, Boldon and South Shields. I am not aware of a separate Scottish Presbyterian presence on Tyneside today, but would gladly correct this if I am informed otherwise.
The following article appeared in the "Jarrow Advertiser" on 23rd September 1870, and in addition to reporting on the laying of the foundation stone of the Ellison Street church on 19th September it also briefly summarises the early history of the Presbyterian Church in Jarrow.
Detailed records of the Ellison Street Presbyterian Church covering the period 1854 -1968 are held in the Tyne and Wear Archives, Blandford Street, Newcastle (collection C.JA9)
In the year 1840 several of the inhabitants of Jarrow, which consisted at that time principally of colliers' houses, made application to the Newcastle Presbytery of the Secession Church for a supply of preachers. The Presbytery, considering it to be a favourable place in which to extend their principles, granted the application, the result being that in the ensuing year, a small building, wherein to conduct worship, termed Salem Chapel, was opened. The congregation continued to worship in that edifice until the year 1847, when, in consequence of some misunderstanding, the station was abandoned.
Some five years subsequently (1852) however, a number of Presbyterians having arrived from the Clyde to engage in the iron shipbuilding trade, which at that time was beginning to expand, it was agreed to open Salem Church as a station in connection with the East Street United Presbyterian Church, South Shields. Matters continued in that state until August of the year 1855, when an application was made to the Newcastle Presbytery, which resulted in a regular supply of preachers being acceded. Shortly after this it became apparent that the congregation had become too numerous for the chapel - and it was proposed to erect a new structure sufficiently extensive to accommodate 600 persons. The proposition having met with general approval, the new building was commenced in 1856, the Rev. Dr. Bruce laying the foundation stone. In May 1857 it was formally opened for public worship by the Rev. Dr. Robson, of Glasgow.
On the 21st July, in the same year, a unanimous call was accorded to the Rev. J. C. Weir, the present minister, who was then preacher in connection with the East U.P. Church at Strathaven, in Lanarkshire, and who was ordained on the 18th November 1857. At that period the membership was under 50, but as the population rapidly increased and trade was developed, so did the congregation, until at the present time it numbers upwards of 500, with an attendance at three Sabbath schools of 400 children. For several years the congregation worshipped in the gallery of the church, but in consequence of the increase in the number of worshippers it was found requisite to make use of the entire accomodation. About this time a weekday schoolhouse was erected contiguous to the church, wherein 250 scholars could be educated. Early in the present year (1870), a congregational meeting was convened, and it was then determined to construct a new church, to hold upwards of 900 persons, on the site of the old school house. It was further resolved to convert the lower part of the old church into a schoolroom, and the upper into a lecture hall.
The building committee was appointed, consisting of Mr. John McIntyre, Mr. J. Allison (Chairman), Mr. Thos. Gibb, Mr. R. Collins, Mr. Jas. Brown and Mr. Robt. Moir. The trustees of the proposed new erection are Mr. John McIntyre, Mr. Robt. McVey, and Mr. T. C. Dickie. The plans having been drawn by Mr. J. J. Lish, Newcastle, and the contract let to Mr. R. Wylam, Jarrow, the ceremony of laying the foundation stone was performed on Monday under auspicious circumstances by Mrs. John McIntyre, Hebburn Hall. Several hundreds of persons congregated to witness the interesting proceedings, and everything passed off in the best manner possible. After devotional exercises, Mr. Allison, convenor of the building committee, presented Mrs. McIntyre with the conventional trowel and mallet, the former of which was obtained at Messrs. Lister, Newcastle, with which to lay the stone. The lady then formally went thru the requisite ceremonial.
Mr. McIntyre, after explaining in pithy terms the good that was effected by the church when completed, thanked them very kindly for the honor they had conferred upon his wife. He considered it a great honor to be asked to lay the foundation stone of a public building to be raised for the worship of the Almighty. He trusted that in the construction of the church no accident might occur, and that it might be completed and encountered by the congregation with joy, to find the presence of Him who ruled the Heavens. The Rev. Dr. Bruce, Newcastle, stated that he thought he might congratulate them upon the success of the work. One thought that had struck him was that the new church betokened that "Progress and Onward" was evidently the motto of the Christian people of Jarrow. It was his high privilege to lay the foundation stone of the adjacent building - a building which had been blessed by God, and which would be remembered by men even in the midst of the glories of the Heavenly Kingdom. He was one of those who had approached the termination of their weary pilgrimage, and he was thinking what would be the condition of himself and all those whose names were put under the stone when next the bottle containing the documents saw the light of day. The time of their earthly pilgrimage would be ended, and their eternal condition would be fixed. It was life for death for them and that for ever. In prospect of the time when work would be over for them. letbthem faithfully perform the work given for them to do. It was an honor for each one of them that they had been created to aid in glorifying God. Let them forward God's cause, commend Christ to others, and forward his church.
In the evening a tea meeting was held in the hall of the Mechanics' Institute. A large number of ladies and gentlemen sat down to tea, which was of an excellent description. The following ladies presided at the tables:- Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Golder, Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Jas. Brown, Mrs. Lowe, Mrs. Mather, Mrs. McGregor, Mrs. W. Wylam, Mr. Cameron, Mrs. Stewart, Mrs. Hickman, Mrs. Ormiston, Mrs. Geo. Browne, Mrs. Clarke, Mrs. Pigford, Miss Hill, Miss Brown, Miss J. Brown, Miss M. Brown, Miss Moir, Miss Campbell, Miss A. Campbell, Miss Irving, Miss Murday, Miss E. Murday, Miss S. Murday, Miss Bissett, Miss Scott, Miss Wynn, Miss Nixon, Misses Davidson, Misses Collins and Miss Jones. Upwards of 1,000 persons partook of tea. There were about five courses. The bread was supplied by Mr. R. Plues, and gave general satisfaction. A public meeting was afterwards held over by the Rev. J. C. Weir. The following gentlemen took part in the proceedings:- The Rev. Dr. Bruce, Newcastle; the Rev. G. Douglas, Walker; the Rev. D. Wilson, Wallsend; the Rev. T. S. French, Howdon; the Rev. W. Stead, Howdon; the Rev. T. White, Tynemouth; the Rev. W. Salmond, North Shields; the Rev. W. Steele, South Shields; the Rev. J. Kelly, Hebburn; the Rev. R. Richards, the Rev. R. Crozier and the Rev. W. Banks, Jarrow. During the evening several select pieces of music were sung.
The following brief description of the proposed structure may be of interest to some of our readers. It will be erected according to plans drawn out by Mr. Joseph John Lish, architect, Newcastle, upon the site of the School House recently taken down. The building will combine with great beauty, commodious dimensions, and all the conveniences requisite to render a sacred edifice complete and comfortable. It will be built after the Gothic style of architecture, and will, when it has arrived at completion, be an ornament to the town. The body of the church is length about 82 feet by 54 feet wide. It is divided into nave and aisles, and ample provision will be made for ventilation in the roof. It will be lighted with traceried windows to the front and back gables. Galleries will be erected on three sides of the church approached by stone staircases. The pulpit will be composed of stone. There are two entrances to the vestibule, but there are six exit doors to the church, so that it may be easily and readily emptied. The roof is to be waggon-headed in form, a lath sealed space being left for ventilation. The interior of the building will be fitted out with seats on the open bench system to accommodate some 920 persons, session house, vestry, boiler house and lavatories. At the south west corner there will be a spire 130 ft. high. Provision is to be made in the tower for a bell. The structure is to be composed of stone, with blocking course facing banded with red sandstone. There will be clustered red columns at the front windows and doors. The joiner work is to be of red pine, stained and varnished. The contract is let for £3,170 to Mr. Richard Wylam, of Jarrow. Upwards of £2,000 of the cost has already been promised.
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