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History of the Church

Roker ChurchSt Andrew's Church, Roker, Sunderland is one of the ecclesiastical gems of the 20th century. Designed by Edward Prior and built in 1906/07 and it was much inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement. It is sometimes known as "The Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement ". The famous architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described it as, "One of the architecturally most interesting and successful churches of its date in England."

It is one of the first large buildings that was made out of reinforced concrete. It was then clad in local stone, making it look an older building to the untrained eye. A local rich benefactor, shipyard owner Sir John Priestman, gave a lot of the money and hence it is fitted out with much of artistic quality.

It is unusual in a number of aspects. For instance, the tower is on the "wrong end" - the east. This was deliberately done as, at the time of construction, it was the nearest building to the sea, (about 200 yards from the cliff edge as the seagull flies) and the tower was meant to be visible to those "on the briny fluid". This did cause one big problem. When the bells were put in 40 years after the church was built there were no bell hatches in the concrete ringing room floor and the bells and fittings had to come inside through the louvers. One set was taken out and the bells and frame put in from the far side towards the now open louvers. The frame could not be put in place and the bells dropped in as is normal as there is simply not enough headroom.

The inside of the church is well worth viewing. The plan was to allow everyone to see the altar and as such there are no internal pillars blocking sight lines. This was done by making the roof like an upturned boat with the weight of the ribs being borne on small pillars at the sides of the nave.

The nave walls are panelled in wood, fixed with hand made nails. The ceiling of the sanctuary is painted with a scene of the sun and stars. There was a much drawn out debate about how to restore this in the 1980s. One expert said one thing, another something different. Safe to say after the argument was sorted out the restoration was eventually done at three times the original estimated cost!

The glass in the windows you can see in the photographs is hand made and translucent. Some windows have had to be restored recently at considerable cost as they were bowing. Only the east window and the windows in the Lady Chapel are of stained glass.

There is an impressive large tapestry of the Magi behind the main altar, the last produced in a series of ten. These are:

1890 for Exeter College, Oxford, still in the chapel there.
1890–94, for Wilfred Scawen Blunt
1894 for the Corporation of Manchester, now in the Manchester Metropolitan University
1895 for the Eton College Chapel, still in situ.
1900 for the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, still in situ.
1901 for Sir George Brokman, now in the Art Gallery of South Australia
1902 for S. I. Shchukin, in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
1904 for Guillaume Mallet, now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris
1906 for the Colma Family of Carrow Abbey, Norwich, now in the Castle Museum, Norwich
1907 for Roker Church, Sunderland.


The churches in the local area have recently been reorganised and St Andrew's is now part of the Parish of Monkwearmouth, taking in the ancient church of St Peter's, (parts of which date from AD674 and it is where the Venerable Bede spent some of his early life), All Saints and St Aidan's. This change coming into effect on 1st January 1997.



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