Wearside Echoes: Golden answer to church prayers

OLDEN DAYS: The old wooden chapel of St Chad's in 1957, before the brick church was opened in 1961.
OLDEN DAYS: The old wooden chapel of St Chad's in 1957, before the brick church was opened in 1961.
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WEARSIDE worshippers are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their parish church, which replaced a secondhand wooden chapel.

Dozens gathered to mark the mile-stone date at St Chad’s Church, in East Herrington, on Sunday, including three former vicars, six curates past and present and a trio of church-goers who attended the opening ceremony in 1961.

“I still remember the old wooden church we used to have,” said Alison Box, of East Herrington. “There was a wonderful calmness when you walked in. It was a joy to go there, and it is a joy to come here, too.”

The villagers of Middle and East Herrington were served only by a small Methodist church in Crow Lane until 1930, with church-going Anglicans forced to travel to New Herrington, West Herrington, Silksworth or even into town.

“The first mention of a need for a local church was made in March 1927, at a meeting of St Aidan’s Parochial Council,” said local historian Douglas Smith. “It took two years, however, for plans to be submitted.”

Construction finally got under way in 1930, on a plot just off Durham Road – thanks to the help of St Chad’s College at Durham University, which provided much-needed building materials.

“The university had decided to replace its wooden chapel and a hall of residence. Instead of being chopped up for firewood, the buildings were transformed into a new church and hall for the area,” said Douglas.

“The first St Chad’s was built on a triangular site at the corner junction of what became St Chad’s Road and St Chad’s Crescent. The work cost £345 and the building was dedicated by the Bishop of Jarrow in February 1930.”

St Chad’s soon became a focal point of village life. Many organisations flourished within its welcoming walls and, when war broke out in 1939, it was even used as a first aid post.

The post-war housing boom of the 1940s and 50s, however, brought great changes. The small chapel was filled to capacity and, after a parish boundary change, it was tentatively suggested worshippers should move to a new church at Thorney Close.

It was an idea which was quickly dismissed. Instead, another wooden building was erected to house the ever-growing congregation and, in 1961, a new brick-built church on Durham Road was finally opened.

“The new church was built on what had been the rose garden for the house opposite, which is now a dental surgery,” said Douglas. “It was owned by the Caldicott family at the time, who would often take tea in the garden.

“In the summer you would see the butler, followed by the parlour maid, carrying the tea and cakes across Durham Road to the family. You’d probably get run over if you tried that today – or the tea would be cold by the time you got across.”

Sunderland (New Estates) Church Building Fund provided £25,000 towards the cost of the church, while the congregation raised money to build the church hall.

An Order in Council was issued from Buckingham Palace just a few months later, in March 1961, setting up the parish of St Chad’s.

“The little second-hand wooden church had finally come of age as a parish church,” said Douglas.

Original congregation member Muriel Staddon, of Barnes, said: “To celebrate the 50th anniversary is a wonderful thing. The old wooden chapel was compact and cosy, but we needed something bigger. Our celebration of the past 50 years is a joyful time.”

Former church warden Mary Ray, of Farringdon, added: “My son was baptised at the old St Chad’s. A little while later I had a note through my door, asking me to join the St Chad’s Young Wives’ Group – and we are still encouraging children and young parents to come along to St Chad’s today.”

Jeremy Chadd, the present vicar of St Chad’s, is looking forward to the future and said: “I’m sure the church will still be here in another 50 years.

“There are bound to be differences, as everything changes over time, but I’m sure it will still be flourishing.

“St Chad’s is a big part of the community for people in Farringdon, Lakeside Village, East and Middle Herrington.”