A brief history of St Nicholas Cathedral
Very soon after the building of a castle by Robert, William the Conqueror’s eldest son, in 1080, the first parish church on the site of St Nicholas Cathedral was erected – almost certainly in wood. The first building was rebuilt in stone towards the end of the 12th century. This was twice damaged by fire in the first half of the 13th century but repaired and extended in the following years. The first reference to ‘St Nicholas’ is in 1194.
Towards the end of the 14th century, in order to allow more light into the church, the walls were heightened and a clerestory inserted. Patrons of this improvement work included Nicholas Sabram, three times Member of Parliament, and two of the greatest benefactors of churches in Newcastle, Roger Thornton, who died in 1429 (his memorial brass is at the east end of the Cathedral), and Robert Rhodes who died 45 years later (and whose coat of arms can be seen on and above the font).
By the end of the 15th century, with the addition of the splendid stone crown and tower, the church was in very much the same form as we see today.
In 1553 an attempt was made to create a City of Newcastle, incorporating Gateshead and dividing the Diocese of Durham, by creating a Bishopric of Newcastle based at St Nicholas Church. Alas, Queen Mary, on her accession, reversed the legislation and St Nicholas Church had to wait for 329 years to pass before becoming a Cathedral Church on 25th July 1882, when the new Diocese of Newcastle was created.
Following the creation of the Diocese of Newcastle, the interior, and particularly the chancel area, of what was now St Nicholas Cathedral was much altered under the supervision of the new Cathedral Architect Robert J Johnson, with skills in wood and stone carving provided by Ralph Hedley, Robert Beall and J S Westmacott. The whole presents a beautifully integrated appearance, displaying superb artistry and craftsmanship. Also in the 19th century, the building was filled with colourful stained glass of varying quality, depicting the familiar northern Saints, scenes from the life of Christ and symbols of St Nicholas himself.
A hall, library, vestry and subsidiary rooms were added on the north-east side of the Cathedral in 1926 to the design of architect W H Wood, and extended in 1984 by R G Sims.
Those visiting the city after dark will notice that the ‘Crown’ of the Cathedral is brightly lit. Dedicated on 6th December 2011, the new lighting scheme replaced a number of previous attempts to provide a beacon for townsfolk and those using the River Tyne, the most recent of which failed in the late 1970s.
Supported by a significant grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, many of the Cathedral’s historic monuments are currently being cleaned and restored. Much other work is planned, including the installation of a new under floor heating system, a new floor and new seating – all aimed at enabling St Nicholas Cathedral to be a welcoming and flexible space for worship and for a wide range of other activities (including concerts, exhibitions, drama, talks and conferences).