St. Paul’s Church, at Seaton Sluice, was established in 1886, and was initially housed in an old brewery. Seaton Sluice was then part of Earsdon Parish, and the priest in charge was the Rev. W.M. O’Brady-Jones.
The old brewery dated to the eighteenth century, when it was built, by the Delavals, to supply beer to the workers in the glassworks. The beer was said to be very good, and passing sailing ships would call in to stock up, with the Russians said to have been particularly fond of it. However, glassmaking declined in the nineteenth century, and the brewery closed.
Shortly after the close of the brewery, the Methodists, who had probably been around since 1764, when John Wesley preached from the steps of the glassworks, were looking for a place to worship. The only unused building they could find was the old brewery, so they moved in. There was very little development in Seaton Sluice in the nineteenth century so, when the growing number of Anglicans were looking for a place to worship, the old brewery was again the only suitable building but, of course, the United Methodists already had their church at the Southern end. The solution was to build a wall across the middle of the building, and the Anglicans worshipped at the North end, while the Methodists continued to worship at the Southern end.
It seemed an ideal solution, but both churches had splendid choirs, which were sometimes in opposition, and the thin brick wall was no barrier to the sound of a choir. This unique arrangement continued harmoniously for some time, but the Methodists eventually built their own church, and moved out. The church bell, which served both congregations, was removed from the glass works when it closed on 1871.
In 1891 the Parish of Delaval was split from the parish of Earsdon, and The Church of Our Lady became the parish church. The Rev. George W. Jackson was appointed vicar of the new parish, which also included St. Paul’s at Seaton Sluice, and St.Michael’s at New Hartley. At the formation of the new parish, Sir George Astley, 20th Lord Hastings, presented the vicarage and burial ground to the parish, together with an endowment for the living.
St. Paul’s continued to be used as a church for the next 70 years, but it soon became clear that the building was deteriorating, and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the parish could not afford to build a new church. In 1914, Mrs. Hannah Ochiltree had built a hall in memory of her husband, Mr. John Ochiltree, who was born in Seaton Sluice, and the John Ochiltree Memorial Hall was formally opened, by Mrs. Ochiltree, on 4th November 1914. The vicar preseided at the opening ceremony, and Mr. Jowett proposed a hearty vote of thanks to Mrs. Ochiltree, which was seconded and carried with cheers. Mrs. Ochiltree suitably replied, and hoped that the hall would be of use to the village. Prior to the ceremony, Mrs. Ochiltree had been presented with a beautiful golden key in memory of the occasion. In the evening, the band of F Company, Northern Cyclist Battalion, which was stationed at Delaval Hall, staged a concert in the new Ochiltree Hall, which was filled to overflowing.
The hall was conveyed by the church authorities to the Diocesan Society of the Church of England, to be held in trust by Society “for the purpose of the Church of England, under the direction of the incumbent of Delaval parish”. It could be used for Church of England purposes, and for those purposes “solely to the exclusion of other uses”. The hall was built by Thompsons of Heaton, according to plans drawn up by Messrs. White and Stephenson of Newcastle, at a cost of £1,900. The building was well used by the inhabitants of Seaton Sluice, as well as by the members of the Church. Records show that many people used the building, and concerts, plays, and bazaars were frequently held there.
Dances were always popular, particularly during the war years, when soldiers billeted in the village came, along with sailors from the ships moored in Blyth harbour, and some couples held their wedding receptions in the hall. The WI met there, as did the church fellowship, the OAPs, and the youth clubs. Pie and Pea suppers, beetle drives, and whist drives also attracted people to the hall. However, as time passed, and other halls became available in the village, lettings fell away, and
something had to be done. The hall was losing money, and was in a poor state of repair, as only the church contributed towards the maintenance of the building.
By the late 1950s, it was obvious that St. Paul’s Church, the converted eighteenth century brewery, was no longer fit for purpose. In the 1940s, some land had been given, adjacent to St. Paul’s, on which it was intended to build a new church. However, the church could not afford the cost of a new church, so it was decided to sell the land and convert Ochiltree Hall into a church. Planning for the conversion started about 1956, but funding was not available until 1961.
Mr. P.C. Newcombe was employed as architect to draw up plans and oversee the conversion of the hall into a church. The main contractors were Geo. Towers Ltd. Grants were received from various bodies, including the Diocesan Board of Finance (£4,000), the Fenwick Trust (£608/11/7d), and the Diocesan Building Fund (£500). The sale of the land raised a further £2,750. The parish had a fund of £1,919 at the start of the project and, with gifts and donations, raised a further £6,640. The conversion took eight months, and was completed in November 1961. The total cost was £16,517, and this included £1,549 in local donations for furnishings.
The Bishop of Newcastle was invited to dedicate the new building, and the ceremony took place on Saturday, 2nd December, at 3pm. In his sermon, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt. Rev. Hugh E. Ashdown, congratulated the congregation of 250 on their “perseverance and labours”. He continued: “Your hopes have come to fruition today, with this job accomplished, and I am thankful you have a sturdy and warm building in which to worship”.
In the light of recent developments at St. Paul’s it is interesting to note that pews were selected instead of chairs, in spite of the fact that chairs were considerably cheaper. Pews were preferred because more people could be seated. The interior walls were painted light pastel shades, and the beams were painted red. The partition between hall and church was left out until after the opening service so as to make more seating accommodation available.
The old St. Paul’s, a symbol of an older way of worship, was demolished and the site was bought by the Whitley Bay firm of William Gofton and Co., who said that they were planning six modern shops on the old site. Whatever happened to them?
The old bell and four engraved plates, which were behind the altar in the old church, disappeared when the building was demolished. The bell at the new St. Paul’s was given as a memorial to the late Rev. G.W. Jackson. The cost of hanging the bell was paid for by Mrs. Rowell, of Collywell Bay Road.
The new church was a great improvement on the old, but not everyone was happy. Some people in the village felt that the Church had taken away their hall, but of course the hall had never belonged to the village, and the Church was doing what it thought best with its own property.
For 50 years, the converted hall provided a suitable home for the church, but the world moved on and the need for change became apparent. The church needed to become more welcoming, and make better use of the buildings. So, in 2009, the pews were removed and replaced with chairs, which meant that the church building could be used in a more flexible way. The Vincent pipe organ, which had served the church for well over 40 years, was also removed, and replaced by a modern keyboard, which is more versatile, and takes up less space.
And so to the Bottleworks project. In view of its historic connections, the name seems very appropriate. The Bottleworks Project plans to develop the building to make space available for the local community, particularly space for local artists and craftspeople to exhibit their work. Working in partnership with Delaval PCC, the Bottleworks aims to further develop St. Paul’s by the addition of a Fair Trade coffee shop, containing an art and craft gallery, and so help in the regeneration of the area, and to further the mission of the Church.
It is interesting to note the comments of the vicar, the Rev. T.G. Ridley, speaking at the opening of St. Paul’s, way back in 1961. He said, “Later we hope to build a hall at right angles to the main building, but we must wait until we can buy the land”. The Bottleworks Project is somewhat different from what Rev. Ridley envisaged but, after nearly 50 years, we are making the church fit for many more years of worship.
Memorials in St. Paul’s Church
St. Paul’s Church after closure