Birtley is in Deanery of Chester-le -Street and the Diocese of Durham.      


Until the mid 19th century, the Anglican needs of the community of Birtley were served by the Parish and Church of Chester-le-Street. In 1847, a decision was made to create a new Church to this rapidly growing industrial village and its surrounding hamlets.


The need for a new Church shows both the growth of Birtley and the need of the Church to meet  rapidly changing communities at the time (largely due to the industrial revolution).


The site chosen was a large plot adjacent to an existing burial ground and in a prominent position above the town.


Work began in 1848, moved at quite a pace and has been well recorded:


April 24th - Site marked out

May 15th - Building work began                                                                                                           

Dec 3rd -   Church opened for worship.  - quite an achievement.     


Further work continued in 1849 with the building of a vestry and installation of an organ. The Church was finally consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Durham on August 9th 1849.


On January 8th 1850  St John's was given a it's own ministerial area and the Parish of Birtley was born with the Rev Francis Bewsher appointed as it's first Vicar.































































Vicars of Birtley

1847  -  1881       Francis William Brewsher

1882  -  1889       William Guest Williams

1889  -  1907       Reginald Hart Yeld

1907  -  1914       Frederick Brookes

1914  -  1934       Leonard Lancelot Barclay

1934  -  1956       Alec Miller Stephens

1957  -  1962       Hector Horobin

1962  -  1979       William Portsmouth

1980  -  1989       Matthew Alexander Whitehead

1989  -  1997       Frank White

1999  -                 Gareth Lloyd

Over 2006, the Church Council embarked on a new project to repair and restore our stained glass. To get up to date with the latest on this, turn to windows restoration.


These and other photos can be seen on the Photo Gallery pages.

St Johns - A (fairly) Brief history



































Transepts & vestries added

By 1880 the town population had almost doubled to nearly 3600 and it became necessary to extend the Church building. Two transepts were added to the sides of the nave giving the building it's present cruciform (cross shaped) layout. Two more vestries were also added at the West end.  


The Church door had originally been in the west wall of the tower. This was moved to the south west corner of the nave and a porch added. The west end of the building overlooks the wide, shallow valley in which Birtley lies with little obstruction in front, even now, and present day experience in windy conditions shows the wisdom (and likely reason) for moving this door!


In 1899 a new organ replaced the original 1849 one to celebrate the Church’s 50th Jubilee.

In 1911 a new clock was installed to commemorate the coronation of King George V and peal of 6 bells was also donated the same year.  ...more on Clock & bells


Apart from a Lady Chapel being created within the North transept during the 1930's, little significant change took place to the building until the mid 1960's.


In 1962 the Rev William Portsmouth took over the incumbency of St John's.

Rev Portsmouth was a keen supporter of moves at the time to involve the people more in the worship and embarked the Church on a major plan of re-ordering the interior.


The scheme involved removing a number of the front pews and creating a sanctuary and altar in the Nave. The Lady Chapel in the north transept was also removed and the Chancel and original east altar rededicated as the Lady Chapel. St Johns was one of the first (if not the first) 'traditional' Churches in Durham Diocese to be re-ordered in this way.


The new altar was made of concrete panels with a Welsh slate top and surrounded with a wooden Communion rail. A modern style pulpit, president's chair and clergy stalls were also added to furnish the new area.


Photo on right shows the new rectangular Sanctuary area and stone altar. The new pulpit and clergy stalls can be seen to the left.


In 1979 Rev Canon Portsmouth retired.

Post 1960’s re order


During the 1980's, under the next vicar, Rev Alex Whitehead, some minor alterations were made to the Nave Sanctuary.  The stone nave altar was exchanged for the wooden east altar and the rail re-aligned to make the area more flexible. This opened up more space which allowed additional (moveable) seating to be installed and the Choir to be moved out of the Chancel and into the Nave area. The more open area can be, and is, used additionally for religious drama and music concerts.


A new gas fired heating system was installed to replace the quite old oil fired boiler which had become temperamental, inefficient and potentially dangerous to operate.  A sound system was also added giving microphone facilities to the Lectern, Pulpit, Clergy stalls and nave altar.


In 1989, Rev Whitehead moved to a new appointment as Vicar of St Peter’s, Stockton on Tees.

St Johns pre 1960’s re order  

By the early 1990's the Church needed some serious structural repairs - completely re-roofing, stonework repairs, rewiring, redecorating - little things like that.


Under the guidance of the next Vicar  - Rev Frank White (now Assistant Bishop of Newcastle) - a working party was set up which became called the 'Towards 2000 Group'. It’s brief was ' Restoration and Renewal' - to oversee the essential repairs and bring the Church building into the 21st Century.


Over the following 9 years something in region of £200,000 was raised, some by donation from charitable trusts, but mainly from the generosity of the congregation, people of Birtley and other friends and supporters. Through this, the nave was re-roofed and other work progressed steadily, with the goal of completion for St John's 150th anniversary over 1998-1999.

Nave c 1984

Along with  the essential structural repairs, the opportunity was taken for some further re-ordering, mainly of the entrance area and tower.


A new, large, glazed interior porch was constructed inside the main door which gives better protection from the weather whilst  providing an open and light entrance to the Church Nave.


The old Font was re-sited from the tower to the new porch - minus it's stone plinth. Although not really intended for use, this still serves as a symbol of Baptism as entry into the Church.


An additional floor was installed in the tower lowering the ceiling height and creating a storage room above. The central heating boiler was moved up here and, as rewiring took place, the new electrical distribution boards also.

A  new glazed screen was fitted to isolate this upper floor and allow the ground floor area to be used separately from the main Church if required.


The adjoining clergy and choir vestries were also refurbished and this now gives three flexible rooms which are regularly used as small meeting areas for various groups and activities.   

West end after re-ordering 1996

The sound system was also upgraded with the addition of a a hearing aid loop and a radio microphone, both kindly donated by St Johns Mothers Union.


Although Frank left Birtley in 1997 to be Archdeacon of Sunderland, the Church Council and Towards 2000 Group continued with ongoing and proposed work. By 1999 the Chancel and organ chamber had been re-roofed and this also gave the opportunity for some cleaning and maintenance of the organ.



This completed the major building works and was finished autumn 1999, just in time for the arrival of our present Vicar and the culmination of our 150th anniversary  celebrations.  Redecoration was then completed in autumn 2001.


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