A brief history of St Mary’s Parish
For the period 1721 until 1827, Hexham had two Catholic chapels, a Dominican chapel on Battle Hill and a secular chapel in Cockshaw. In 1827, it was agreed that there would be only one church to serve the town. Father Singleton was appointed as the parish priest and the foundation stone was laid on 22nd April 1828. He seems to have spent much of the next two years travelling in search of subscriptions to pay for the church.
St Mary’s Parish Church was opened on 22nd September 1830 by Bishop Penswick, the Vicar Apostolic, who sang the Pontifical High Mass. The local press reported: “There was a very respectable and numerous attendance on this occasion and the collection amounted to upwards of £30.”
Father Singleton then had the Catholic school erected in 1832. This was the first school administered by a Catholic parish in Northumberland. Like many schools at the time, it was a subscription school. Parents who could afford it had to pay 9d. weekly. Poorer families were helped by the parish with donations from other sources. At that time very few could afford education past the age of eleven. There were 100 children attending school in 1849. This number had almost doubled to 194 by 1912. The school was used for mass while Canon Stark had the task of renovating the church roof which collapsed in 1914.
In 1858, the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Hexham from Oaklea, Sunderland. Their convent was built behind the church. The nuns taught in St Mary’s school, visited the sick and helped in the parish in many ways. A new school was built beside the church in 1930. The Sisters of Mercy moved their convent into Carntyne in 1957 which allowed the old convent to be used as a school by the 11 to 15 year old children. By the time St Joseph’s Middle school opened in 1976, St Mary’s was the last all-age school in the country.
In 1979, the school was again used for mass while the church was completely renovated and the sanctuary re-ordered.Where possible, the materials of the former altar were re-used to retain the character of the original church. The church was re-opened and consecrated on Friday 21st December 1979 by Bishop Lindsey who together with the deanery priests concelebrated mass in the evening. The Bishop returned on Monday 22nd September 1980 to celebrate the 150th Jubilee Mass. The old convent was also given a new lease of life when it was refurbished for use as the presbytery.
In 2007, after many years of planning, St Mary’s was again expanded. A narthex was added to the side of the main door which enabled easier access for wheelchairs and prams. The chapel area was extended to over twice its size to form St. Mary's Centre. This area can be divided into one, two or three separate areas to provide meeting rooms, as well as Mass during the week.
In 2015 the Church underwent major work to renew the heating and lighting systems and was at the same time redecorated in a scheme more in the style of the original design. After a 10 week absence, during which Masses were said in St Mary's School and at the Hexham Trinity Methodist Church on Beaumont Street, the Church was reopened to great fanfare for the Mass of the Feast of the Assumption on 16th August 2015.
If you would like to make regular contributions to the Church Repairs Appeal you can submit Gift Aid forms to St Mary’s and Standing Order forms to your bank. Envelopes are still available for one-off donations to the Restoration fund.
Priests who have served in St Mary's (taken from registers)
|Michael Singleton||Sep 1827 – Mar 1863|
|James Anderton Cooke||May 1863 – Oct 1907|
|James Stark||Nov 1907 – Apr 1923|
|Patrick Mackay||Nov 1908 – Oct 1916|
|Eric Connell||Nov 1917 – Oct 1923|
|Thomas Hartley||Oct 1923 – Oct 1931|
|John Foskin||Oct 1924 – May 1926|
|John Bannon||Oct 1926 – Feb 1928|
|Arthur McCormack||Feb 1928 – May 1928|
|James Walsh||Sep 1928 – Aug 1932|
|Henry Mackin||Nov 1931 – Feb 1938|
|James Cunningham||Sep 1932 – Jul 1951|
|William Smith||May 1938 – Nov 1946|
|Francis Marley||Nov 1946 – Mar 1968|
|Anthony Bryce||Oct 1951 – Apr 1954|
|William Nicholson||May 1954 – Sep 1955|
|Peter Callaghan||Sep 1955 – Oct 1959|
|Wilfred Arrowsmith||Oct 1959 – Apr 1962|
|Alan Clark||Apr 1962 – Mar 1964|
|James Gunning||Mar 1964 – Apr 1965|
|Robert Elliot||May 1965 – Oct 1967|
|Thomas Power||Oct 1967 – Dec 1970|
|Thomas Kerrigan||May 1968 – Dec 1976|
|Martin Deegan||Dec 1976 – Jun 2011|
|Christopher Warren||Sep 2011 -|
(Most of this information has been taken from Father William Nicholson’s book - A brief history of St Mary’s Parish 1830-1980.)