Un­cov­er­ing the se­crets of a grave­yard


The Chronicle - - Nostalgia -

FOR more than 170 years, St James’ Church in Ben­well has sat in the heart of an ev­er­chang­ing com­mu­nity.

When it was built in the 1830s, the area to the West of New­cas­tle was one of the most de­sir­able res­i­den­tial ar­eas on Ty­ne­side, and home to some of its wealth­i­est and most in­flu­en­tial fam­i­lies.

In 1901, St James’ was de­scribed as “a beau­ti­ful lit­tle church­yard, ly­ing as it does on a gen­tle slope fac­ing south and com­mand­ing a most ex­ten­sive view of the Tyne and Der­went val­ley”.

But, by the mid-2000s, the de­cay­ing church was in a state of dis­re­pair, and faced an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

The grave­yard, mean­while, had be­come a wilder­ness of rub­bish, weeds and bro­ken memo­ri­als.

But now, thanks to the hard work of a ded­i­cated band of vol­un­teers, St James’ Her­itage and En­vi­ron­ment Group, the grave­yard is now once more a pleas­ant and at­trac­tive place to visit.

Stren­u­ous fundrais­ing ef­forts have also suc­ceeded in re-roofing and re­pair­ing the John Dob­son-de­signed church.

But is was clear­ing the over­grown and un­cared-for grave­yard which shone a light on a lost, for­got­ten past.

Among those buried at St James’ are Richard Grainger, the de­vel­oper re­spon­si­ble for the trans­for­ma­tion of New­cas­tle’s town cen­tre.

Also, John Bud­dle, the coal owner and min­ing en­gi­neer known in his time as “The King of the Coal Trade”.

And Wal­ter Scott (not the nov­el­ist!), one of Bri­tain’s first self-made mil­lion­aires whose con­struc­tion com­pany was re­spon­si­ble among other things for the first un­der­ground rail­way tun­nel in Lon­don.

But a spokes­woman for St James’ Her­itage and En­vi­ron­ment Group said:

“Most of the 13,000 or so peo­ple are buried at Ben­well were nei­ther rich or fa­mous.

“They in­cluded farm­work­ers, coal min­ers and ser­vants – and in­creas­ing num­bers of fac­tory work­ers as the 19th century pro­gressed and this area be­came the lo­ca­tion of some of the re­gion’s ma­jor in­dus­tries such as ar­ma­ments and heavy en­gi­neer­ing at Arm­strong’s works.

“The grave­yard was also the fi­nal rest­ing place of many of the un­for­tu­nate in­hab­i­tants of the work­house which lay within the par­ish bound­ary (on a site which later be­came the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal on Westgate Road).

“For 100 years, young chil­dren ac­counted for half of those buried in St James’ grave­yard, as dis­ease and poverty caused thou­sands of young lives to be cut short.

“For ex­am­ple, two young sons of the head­teacher of the Royal Gram­mar School - Claude and Den­ton Christo­pher­son - who died at 4 and 5 from scar­let fever and are buried there.

“St James’ grave­yard can truly be said to tell the story of New­cas­tle’s West End.”

■■Mean­while, as part of the on­go­ing fundrais­ing ef­fort, the church has pro­duced a set of cloth bags printed with a unique draw­ing by lo­cal artist and ar­chi­tect Cyril Winskell. You can pur­chase one of these lim­ited edi­tion bags for £6 each (£10 for two) di­rectly from St James’ Church, or by post from St James’ Her­itage and En­vi­ron­ment Group, c/o Search, 74 Adelaide Ter­race, New­cas­tle, NE4 9JN. Cheques should be made out to “St James’ Church”.

■■The group has also pro­duced a se­ries of short films on their project. Email st­james­ben­well@gmail.com or con­tact the above ad­dress for in­for­ma­tion.

Bud­dle Road, Ben­well - John Bud­dle is buried at St James’

Char­lotte Pit, the last coalmine to close in Ben­well - in the 1930s

Sir Wal­ter Scott (not the nov­el­ist) worked on New­cas­tle Cen­tral Sta­tion

Arm­strong’s El­swick works, 1890 - many men who worked here were buried at St James’

St James’ Church and grave­yard, Ben­well, New­cas­tle, has un­der­gone ma­jor im­prove­ments in re­cent years

Richard Grainger’s grave, St James’, Ben­well

Two of the Christo­pher­son broth­ers were buried there

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