St. George's Presbyterian Church, Sunderland
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St. George's Presbyterian Church, Sunderland

St. GeorgeÂ’s Presbyterian Church in Belvedere Road (1888-90) was built as a replacement for St. GeorgeÂ’s Chapel on Villiers Street, which had become too small for the congregation. The church was built in the affluent suburb of Ashbrooke and funded by the shipbuilder Robert Appleby Bartram (1835-1925), whose munificence accounts for the richness of the architecture and fittings.

St. George’s Presbyterian Church in Belvedere Road (1888-90) was built as a replacement for St. George’s Chapel on Villiers Street, which had become too small for the congregation. The church was built in the affluent suburb of Ashbrooke and funded by the shipbuilder Robert Appleby Bartram (1835-1925), whose munificence accounts for the richness of the architecture and fittings. The architect was John Bennie Wilson (1849-1923) of Glasgow, whose robust gothic design contrasts with the Neo-Classicism of the earlier chapel. Wilson utilised red sandstone from Dumfries in his native Scotland and much of the stonework is ‘rock-faced’, giving the church a rugged quality. Bartram himself laid the foundation stone on 7 February 1889.

St. George’s was designed in the Early English style of the thirteenth century, which can be recognised by the use of plain ‘lancet’ windows. The massing is bold and distinctive in that the nave has extremely high side aisles to accommodate internal galleries, a standard feature of nonconformist churches and chapels. The walls of the galleries are pierced by unusual windows, consisting of a roundel between lancet openings. Transepts project from the east end of the nave and a tower rises at the south west corner.

The church is an important landmark thanks to its highly original tower, which has an immensely tall belfry stage pierced with soaring lancets, leaving it open to the elements. At the base of the tower is a gabled porch with richly carved foliage and short gabled buttresses. The tower ends with pinnacles and a squat pyramidal roof. This unusual tower in fact has a twin: St. George’s was based on an earlier Presbyterian church Wilson had designed in Belfast, the Crescent Church on Linenhall Street (1885), which boasts an identical tower.

The spaces within the building are vastly different from Anglican and Catholic churches of the period. Conventionally, the nave and side aisles would be divided by arches and stone piers. At St. George’s, however, the aisles rise to the full height of the nave in order to accommodate galleries. These are supported on extremely slender cast-iron piers, creating an unimpeded flow of space. Rather than being set to one side, the pulpit occupies a central position, declaring the primacy of the Word over ritual in Presbyterian worship. In contrast to more conventional churches there is no chancel. Instead, the soaring gothic arch at the east end is occupied by the church organ.

The interior is austere and unpretentious, as one would expect from a Presbyterian church, but many of the fittings are of high quality. An ornate pulpit was added in 1907. The stained glass windows are richly coloured throughout, and one of them is dedicated to Bartram’s daughter. A memorial designed in consultation with the architect stands in front of the organ. Chairs and a conference table for the elders of the parish are placed in front of the pulpit, and the pews are of similarly high quality.

The building now serves as a United Reformed Church. Seen from a distance the unusual tower still pierces Sunderland’s skyline, making St. George’s one of the most prominent buildings in the city.

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Comments (10)

Such a grand church!

Ranked #12 in Architecture

Love that tower, another good one Michael !

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, DeeBee.

Well reviewed, researched and excellently presented. You have a unique way of making an otherwise would-have-been-boring subject interesting. This is a knack of good writers. Keep it up.

What another amazing piece of work.

I'm fascinated by the fact that the interior seems to contrast with the exterior. To look at the outside I would have expected to see a more traditional interior. Interesting that they placed the pulpit in the center. The long skinny piers are really different as well. A very unique structure.

Fascinating article! The church is beautiful, but it also looks friendly and approachable.

You have put your composition together to fully describe this church so well. Voted up.

Ranked #11 in Architecture

Comprehensive description of a Presbyterian church.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks for reading, everyone. Your comments are very much appreciated and provide constant inspiration.

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