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With One Voice

The Catholic Parishes of St Agnes’ Crawcrook, St Joseph’s Highfield and Our Lady of Lourdes Chopwell

Part of the Ovingham Parish Partnership in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

St Joseph’s, Highfield Parish


By the end of the 1800s, the nearest Catholic parishes were St Agnes' Crawcrook (1892) and Blaydon (1898). St Joseph's Highfield was formed between 1912 and 1914; initially Masses were celebrated  by visiting priests wherever a convenient place could be found: for some time, a room above a shop in Ramsey Street, High Spen was used, until St Joseph's church was built in 1929 in Highfield. Although the church was a temporary structure, the presbytery was a large and handsome building, intended for a priest, curate and housekeeper, as it was thought that the neighbouring alloy works would result in an increase in labour-force in the area: there are plans for a handsome, brick church in the parish archives. What came, however, was the depression and a slump in the demand for light alloy.

Following the building of the presbytery, work began on a Lourdes grotto, built mainly by parishioners. Many church fittings were bought and even made by members of the parish.  The original school building was dedicated by Bishop Thorman in 1932; before that, many children travelled to school by foot to Crawcrook or Low Westwood.  World War II brought new, temporary parishioners in 1943 in the form of American soldiers from a small transit camp in High Spen, and after them, some German and Italian prisoners of war who came to Mass each Sunday, under guard.

In the 1950s, the possibility of a large new town in the parish (between High Spen and Winlaton) saw the initial planning work for a new, larger church in Highfield. However, the area was deemed unsuitable for a new town and building work was concentrated in the Winlaton area, which resulted in the creation of St Anne's Parish in Winlaton and the loss of Winlaton Mill village to St Joseph's parish.

The intervening years took their toll on the much-loved St Joseph's church building, which had long out-lived it's original life span.  Major work to renovate the church took place in the early 1990s, including re-roofing, renewal of rotten timbers and damaged rendering, extensive interior re-decoration and re-ordering (including new sanctuary furniture, made by parishioner Robin Clucas) and the relocation of the organ to the front of the church in a newly created niche to the left of the sanctuary.

In 2007, St Joseph's School moved to new, modern premises in Whinfield Way - a shared building with Highfield Primary School. The old school is now occupied by Carers' Trust Tyne and Wear.

The fabric of the church had further deteriorated.  Following renewed attempts to build a new church for the parish, including proposals to convert the old school and create a parish centre, the church was suddenly closed and demolished by the diocese in 2012. After a short period of celebrating Mass in the school hall, the parish community found a new home at St Barnabas' C/E Church in the centre of Rowlands Gill. The presbytery remains today and is rented by Gateshead Council as a place of respite for families and young carers.

The presbytery became famous in 2017 when it was used by the BBC as the centre of its children's drama 'The Dumping Ground' by Jacqueline Wilson, a series that followed the lives of the children living in the fictional children's care home of Ashdene Ridge, nicknamed by them "The Dumping Ground".  

 Adapted from Parish History by Tom Conway.

St Barnabas' Church

Our weekend parish Mass is a Vigil Saturday evening Mass at 5:30pm, celebrated by Fr James or Fr Tuckwell, who is based at St Anne's, Winlaton.

Our dedicated team of volunteers ensure that the church is prepared and set out, ready for Mass.  You will receive a warm welcome from our team of greeters. 

Since the closure of St Joseph's Church in Highfield, our Masses have been held in St Barnabas' Church, the home of the Anglican community in Rowlands Gill. St Barnabas' is positioned in the very centre of the village, on Stirling Lane, next to Tesco. Built in 1956 to a traditional design, the new St. Barnabas replaced the tin church which had been on the same site. In the nave, there is seating for about 120 on the “Mousey” Thompson oak pews, but the organ and choir balcony above the rear of the nave can accommodate up to 30 extra people.

Since the move here in 2012, we have worked closely with our Anglican partners to develop the church; it has been re-decorated, new lighting and heating system installed and a new glass partition between the church and adjoining main hall.  We are incredibly grateful to the Anglican church for their hospitality and the sharing of their church with us.

The church grounds are well looked after and attractive and have won many awards. Attached to the church is a hall complex, consisting of two separate halls and kitchen. These are well used by the local community. 

Mass is also usually celebrated on Fridays at 10:00am, followed by tea/coffee in the hall.  During Lent and Advent, we often have devotions on Sunday afternoons, which are usually lay-led. 


St Barnabas Church, Stirling Lane, Rowlands GIll, NE39 1PS

Facilities: easily accessible, WC, Loop system