The Church of St Columba and Cannon Street by Ron Meek

church-of-st-columba1Father Burn opened a small mission church in Alfred Street in 1889 and called it St Laurence. This was changed in in 1891 to St Columba. In 1893 it was moved to the vacated Gospel Hall in Boundary Road. It was accepted as a parish church in 1895. In 1896 it was decided to build a new church and in 1897 a site adjoining the existing church was purchased for £1700.

A million penny fund (£4167.00 in today’s money) was launched in September 1900. Sister Katharine who had herself collected £200.00 handed over the last 100 pennies the day before the church was consecrated. The foundation stone was laid on 28th May 1901 and the church was consecrated on 19th July 1902.

The church has a composite brick and stone tower which is built on a piece of ground separate from the main fabric of the church but joined casually at one corner. The church is built from bricks of a mottled colour which time appears incapable of toning down. The architect, Temple Moore, seems to have taken the largest measurement of an irregular site for the nave and then enclosed all the other odd bits by walls. The position of these walls being restricted by the boundaries of the site. The structure is therefore hexagonal in form and the effect is astounding and impressive. The tower is 72 feet high and the church could seat 600 people.

An aerial view of the church creates the view of a dove in flight. Was this intentional or co-incidental. Look at the facts.

St. Columba or Colum Cille in Gaelic is translated into English as church dove.

St Columba is buried in the Abbey he created on the Scottish island of Iona and doves are always found in the area around the Abbey.

Paintings and statues of St Columba often depict doves. Indeed, the statue in the church has a dove at his feet.

father-hooperFather Raymond Hooper arrived at St Columba’s in 1940 when Cannon Street had the reputation of being one of the most notorious areas of Middlesbrough. A small country parish was not for him. This was a challenge he could not turn down and he was soon walking through the streets of small terrace houses being friendly to all he met. He was particularly fond of the children of the area and always regarded St Columba’s as a children’s church.

He was joined in his ministry by Sister Catherine of the Holy Rood convent, a most remarkable woman loved by all who met her, and together they made a formidable dynamic duo. There were dances in the church hall every Friday night and Summer outings were arranged every year. Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownie groups were formed and met in the church hall every week.

A unique event started in 1952 when all the children of the church were allowed to vote for a Queen, who was then crowned by Father Hooper with a service and then a procession through the local streets. This continued until 1974 as by this time all the houses and streets were demolished and the congregation of the church was falling rapidly. Photographs of all the events are on display in the church

It was in 1974 when Father Hooper was brutally attacked in his own home and died shortly after from his injuries. He was a very generous man and often opened his home to the needy of the parish. He is fondly remembered by many of the people of the Cannon Street area and one cannot speak of St Columba’s without remembering Father Hooper and Sister Catherine who was at his right hand for many years.

Following Father Hooper’s death the area was changing rapidly. The A66 road was built through the town and condemned many of the houses and fine buildings. The church hall was demolished to make way for it. This was replaced by a new hall within the body of the church constructed of wood and glass. Although it does complement the church, the capacity of the church and number of seats is greatly reduced. It is however normally adequate for the needs of the congregation.

Father Stephen Cooper with his family arrived in 1994 and he continues to minister to the needs of the people. It is a pleasure to have him as our priest. The congregation mainly consists of people from outside the area who have been there for many years as few people  actually live in the parish any more. The church is a magnificent building and continues to look as good as ever and long may it do so.


The Value of Community demonstrated at Discover Middlesbrough

A sense of community and belonging is something that cannot be measured in monetary terms, it cannot be quantified by consultants and accountants through surveys and spreadsheets. However, it does have a great value, regardless of land and property prices.

Hands on Middlesbrough have hosted two successful events this month as part of the Discover Middlesbrough Festival which demonstrate the value of community:

cseventOn Saturday 22nd October, Hands on Middlesbrough volunteers in partnership with Ageing Better, Middlesbrough hosted Cannon Street Revisited at St Columba’s Church.

Before the event, there was a short service given by Father Stephen Cooper. In attendance were a dedicated congregation, who despite no longer living in the area (one family travel from Skelton), they still feel connected to “Cannon Street” and St Columba’s Church.

More than 50 years since Cannon Street was demolished, the strength of feeling from people who lived, worked and grew up there is something very special. It was one of the most successful events of the Discover Middlesbrough festival, with over 300 people turning out to share their memories and photographs of Cannon Street. The event featured a community exhibition, with images taken from the popular Facebook page Cannon Street Revisited and there were talks and screenings throughout the day. Photographs were scanned by volunteers from Hands on Middlesbrough which will form part of a digital archive, recording the residents of Cannon Street going back to the 1911 census which will be used for reminiscence therapy, family history and research.


The Cannon Street area was built between 1865 and 1882. Despite being built to accommodate workers from the Ironmasters’ District, the houses became family homes and a tight-knit community developed. The success of this community is obvious because although this part of town was demolished in the late 60s and early 70s due to poor living conditions, people still feel a sense of loss, not for the houses but for the community itself and a way of life. Cannon Street was a poor but hard-working community, well known for having over 60 independent businesses on one street. To be from Cannon Street meant to live or work on the street itself, one of the streets off it, to be connected to the community through family members or attending the churches and schools. They worked together, supported each other and built the foundations of a strong and successful community, of which they were proud to belong. Women took a pride in their neighbourhood, they scrubbed the doorsteps and pavements (even though it was not their responsibility) and were a support network for families who struggled with the pressures of poverty and everyday life. It was a place where the men worked hard physical jobs for very little, but many had a sense of pride in the town they helped to build. That pride is still there now and has passed to their families.


It was moving to see North East Film Archive and BBC North East film footage of an interview with Father Hooper projected onto the wall of the church where he was Priest for 35 years. He campaigned tirelessly for the council to rebuild the houses and not split up a tight-knit community. There was something very special about seeing him speak so passionately in front of some of the people he stood up for all those years ago. Father Hooper spoke about the “price of progress” and as a well respected man, he was the voice for others. He spoke eloquently about the value of community and why it’s value should not be underestimated when planning the town.

Our second event, ran by the Friends of Nature’s World in association with Middlesbrough Environment City, demonstrated the value of community interacting with wild, green space. Over 150 people came to our apple picking event at the Organic Heritage Orchard. The event was a diverse representation of the Middlesbrough community doing something free and simple with their families; picking apples which can then be made into something to eat and shared with family and neighbours.

ap11People young and old got together and had fun. There were no bells and whistles, it was about being with nature on our doorstep (not everyone has access to a car to drive to the countryside) and the former Nature’s World site being used as a resource for families. Nature’s World was once described as “The North of England’s pioneering Eco-experience” – with an average of over 29,000 visitors a year.

The 26 acre site contained over 100 different interactive features and exhibits focusing issues such energy generation, recycling and re-using waste, organic gardening, green transport, bio-diversity and habitat conservation. Since the closure of the site most of the formal gardens, water bodies and woodland spaces have reverted back to nature.ap45

Friends of Natures World are a dedicated group of volunteers who started working onsite in October 2014, and with the cooperation and assistance of Middlesbrough Council, aim to restore the features and maintain them for as long as they have permission to do so. Friends of Nature’s World aim to demonstrate that as a wild, green space it is as a valuable resource to residents of Middlesbrough. They run a number of community events each year to give people the opportunity be around nature and get actively involved in a range of activities.

The two events which ran in October, are prime examples of the value of community. It is something that cannot be measured in monetary terms but is felt by people who invest emotionally in where they live. That emotional investment can then act as a catalyst for people to get involved with a range of activities which benefit the local community.

Hands on Middlesbrough have a number of volunteers working on heritage projects, but are always in need of more.

If you enjoy working outside, Friends of Nature’s World would welcome you with open arms!

To get involved in either group (or both) please visit the “Contact us” page.

Hands on Middlesbrough & Ageing Better, Middlesbrough: Cannon Street Revisited Project

ageing-better-middlesbrough handsonlogo

As part of the Discover Middlesbrough Festival, Hands on Middlesbrough in partnership with Ageing Better Middlesbrough are hosting “Cannon Street Revisited” on Saturday 22nd October at St Columba’s Church at 10.30am-4.30pm.

In May, “Cannon Street Revisited” had over 300 visitors at the Dorman Museum, and old friends and family were reunited.

The event at St Columba’s Church will run throughout the day and will include: history talks, screenings and recently digitised interviews filmed during the cannon street demolition (courtesy of North East Film Archive & BBC North East). There will also be a community exhibition with photographs taken from the Cannon Street Revisited Facebook page.

This project has been set up to create a free digital archive documenting Cannon Street residents going back to the 1911 census. This has been created with the help of ST Media and local historians Alison Brown & Ian Stubbs. The aim is for the archive to be used in schools, for family history, historical research, reminiscence therapy and to bring members of the community back together.

Ageing Better Middlesbrough, a Big Lottery Funded programme working to reduce loneliness and social isolation in the town, will also be offering the opportunity for people to learn how to share photos online, set up Facebook pages, and access the digital archive and will be hosting a number of community workshops in the coming months.

“Cannon Street Revisited isn’t just a one-off event and we hope to ensure the streets and their residents are not consigned to a historical footnote and eventually forgotten. We would be happy to enlist help from anyone who would like to share information, be interviewed or get involved in research”.

We would like for people to contact us if they have any photographs they would like us to scan or any memories they would like to share.


facebook/cannon street revisited

Introduction to the Census

The Hands on Middlesbrough group as part of the ‘Cannon Street Revisited’ project is presently producing a website which provides a snapshot of the 1911 census for the residents of Cannon Street and will eventually extend to all the streets radiating from Cannon Street. A number of volunteers are presently examining the 1911 census and other historical sources to present a picture of the residents at that time. 

The 2011 Census is potentially the last census that the Government will be undertaking. With an estimated cost of £460 million to collect, collate and distribute the data collected from 25 million households this expense is considered too high to repeat. If the final cost is around £500 million then that equates to roughly £20 per household.

With all the data that is collected by the Government authorities and other organisations one argument is that this data could be collected from other presently available digital sources. Also, with most of this data being collected by private companies could we expect them to release the data for free? Do government databases actually ‘talk to each other’? Are these databases capturing the data the census provides?

Given that it takes around 10 years to complete the census (years of planning and testing followed by years analysing the data) the benefits of a census to all are considerable.

A brief history of the modern census

Parliament passed the Census Act in 1800 and the first Census of England and Wales was taken on 20th March 1801. The Census Act also applied to Scotland but Scotland’s Census is controlled separate from England and Wales. Ireland’s first census was in 1821. The Census data for the Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin) is within the England and Wales Census collection. With the exception of 1941 a census has been taken every 10 years.

The first census of 1801 relied on information collected from each household by the Overseers of the Poor, aided by constables, tithingmen, headboroughs and other officers of the peace. In Scotland the schoolmasters were made solely responsible for collecting the information. (Source: Office of National Statistics).

With the founding of the General Register Office of England and Wales by the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836 Thomas Henry Lister was appointed Register General for England and Wales with the responsibility for organising the census passed to him. So the 1841 Census was expanded to collect more data and also implemented the use of household schedules for the first time and was the first one to collect names of individuals.

Sadly, the original household schedules have not survived for the 1841 to 1901 Censuses. Owing to a fortuitous change in the recording and retaining process, the 1911 household schedules with all their valuable details have survived.

As the census developed the number of questions expanded and more accurate responses were requested. The census forms were also completed in the householders own hand – complete with mistakes and additional, sometimes superfluous, comments.


Example of an 1801 Chelsea Population Book with limited information

Some problems with the census

The main problem with the census for those researching family and local history is that it is not accessible to the public for 100 years.

Enumerator’s have often introduced errors in transferring data from the household schedules to the enumerator schedules. The actual census results aren’t always complete in that not all enumerator’s schedules have survived.

census 2

Example of 1911 Census form

The quality of the scanned images can be poor and the handwriting may not be readily legible. Inverting the image and building up your skills will improve your speed in gaining the information you require.

People tend to ‘data grab’ in that they look only at one household. It is possible to crosscheck the information by accessing other data sources such as Parish Registers for Births, Deaths and Marriages, various directories such as Kellys and even military records.

Words change meaning over time with people confusing earlier and current word meanings.

Census images are only available on subscription or pay per view websites such as Ancestry, Find My Past and Genes Reunited etc. However, you can physically access the census via libraries, archives and family history centres for free but will incur costs if wishing to have photocopies of the images.

Beauty of the census

Each census provides us with a snapshot in time. As well as showing mobility of families it also highlights changes in housing. The number of rooms in each house starts to appear and uninhabited buildings start to be entered. By using local landmarks we can see new houses being built and older properties being demolished.

Using the head of household trades we start to see the change in employment opportunities and how each district was made up and what local industries they were supporting. Also villages moving from being self-supporting towards more reliance on local towns, both for entertainment and services and the expansion of towns and villages with previously distinct areas becoming parts of a larger unified area. The census can further reflect changes in suburbs with creation of more affluent areas and demise of previously affluent areas.

As limited as some of the earlier censuses are in their content it is surprising how much information on early families can be obtained by diligent research and the use of all the information now available to researchers.

By Paul Dunnill

Cannon Street Revisited-Local History Month

cannon st sign

On Saturday 14th May, Hands on Middlesbrough, with help and support from local historians, ex-Residents and their families, organised a free Community Exhibition “Cannon Street Revisited” in association with The Dorman Museum, Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society and Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery Nature Reserve. The event ran throughout the day and included a talk by local historian Ian Stubbs, a screening of a collection of interviews ” Cannon Street Reunited” and a public screening of recently digitised interviews with residents filmed during the demolition of Cannon Street during the 1960s and 1970s (courtesy of North East Film Archive and BBC North East & Cumbria). We also launched The Cannon Street Digital Archive, which traces residents of Cannon Street back to the 1911 Census. The site is ran by local historian Alison Brown and we are hoping to recruit volunteers to develop the site further to include the streets that ran off Cannon Street.cannon street event

Cannon Street Revisited isn’t just a one-off event and Hands on Middlesbrough hope to ensure the streets and their residents are not consigned to a historical footnote and eventually forgotten. We would be happy to enlist help from anyone who would like to share information, be interviewed or get involved in research. If you would like to help please join our facebook page Cannon Street Revisited or email

My own personal connection with Cannon Street comes via my Grandad, George McNeil who was born in Severs Street in 1923, moved to Cannon Street but was bombed out during the war. I was always told he was blown out of his pyjama’s and everyone would laugh, but I now know this sense of humour was always used to tone down stories for a child’s ears. These events were in fact horrific and family members and neighbours seriously injured. When talking about the past it is always important to remember that despite the good times and strong community, times were hard and people struggled to make ends meet. (George McNeil: Centre)grandad mcneil

That said, it can’t be denied that Cannon Street had…and still has a special place in people’s hearts and is an important part of our heritage. Perhaps councils can learn from successful communities of the past when “building communities” today and look at new ways of engaging people in the planning and development of the town.

cannon street 1How towns change and develop affect us all because we have both a financial and emotional investment in where we live. Think of all those small businesses lost. Over 60 businesses on one street.

This is perhaps why people still talk about Cannon Street today. It was a community that functioned successfully, despite the problems and hardships people had to face in their everyday lives. People worked together, shared and looked out for each other. I think we could all learn something from that. (Photograph courtesy of Derek Smith)

By S Pink

Cannon Street Reunited Interviews

Teesside Gazette “Remember Cannon St?”

Teesside Gazette “Dozens turn out to remember Cannon Street”

Request for help with Cannon Street project

NEWPORT CHILDREN PLAYING ON CARPhotograph by Derek Smith, 1973

This May, Hands on Middlesbrough are organising an event for Local History Month to celebrate Cannon Street and to launch a digital archive, which will document the residents who lived on the infamous street.

The digital archive is an ongoing project which will be ran by local historians Ian Stubbs & Alison Brown, and will only be possible with the help and support from people who have photographs, stories and information we can use. It will be an interactive site and accessible to everyone.

In the future, we would also like to add the surrounding streets, which were a significant part of the Cannon Street community, but this is all dependent on raising the money to develop the project.

We are appealing for people to share information with us on the day and by email or facebook and give permission to scan their old photographs or to bring Cannon Street memorabilia to the event. There will also be the opportunity for ex-residents and their families to be interviewed to be part of a short film. Please contact us, if you would like to share your memories.

The event is due to take place at the Dorman Museum on Saturday 14th May 10.30am-4pm. There will be a screening of a short film and, thanks to BBC North East and Cumbria and North East Film Archive, we will also be screening recently digitised interviews with residents filmed during the demolition of Cannon Street (during the 1960s and 1970s).

A programme of the day’s events will be available at the end of March.

To get involved:

Please send feedback via this website


Facebook-Cannon Street Revisited

Cannon Street Revisited


Photograph by Derek Smith

On Thursday 23rd July, Hands on Middlesbrough hosted Cannon Street Revisited. It was an evening to celebrate Cannon Street, a community lost but not forgotten.

Over 200 people turned out to see BBC interviews of Cannon Street residents in the 1960s and 1970s before their homes were demolished. Hands on Middlesbrough (with help from Memories of Middlesbrough) raised £300 in just a few days via social media to pay for it to be digitised by North East Film Archive.

cannon street 1

The event also included a screening of photographs and film “Last Days of Newport” by Derek Smith, Local History talk given by Ian Stubbs about the history of Cannon Street and “Middlesbrough 1968” a film by Alan Ross.

The Last Days of Newport-Derek Smith

Hands on Middlesbrough will be hosting a larger exhibition about Cannon Street next year. If you would like to be involved please contact