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.


Posted in Cannon Street Revisited.

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