Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Newhouse Road, Esh Winning – DH7 9LF
The Northern Catholic Calendar for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, has our church listed alphabetically as situated in “Newhouse”. Newhouse is merely a small area of the village of Esh Winning or, as it was originally named, Esh New Winning, a name indicating that it was a new winning of the coal which was the the reason why the population of this part of the Deerness Valley expanded rapidly in the nineteenth century.
Father David Milburn who was parish priest at Newhouse for 13 years has written extensively about the history of the mission in the Deerness Valley and, with his permission, his research has been mined extensively for this article.
The first priest whom we know by name is Rev John Simpson (Symson, Simson), an alias for John Torbett. Educated and ordained at the English College at Valladolid in Spain, he spent some years on the mission in Yorkshire before coming to Newhouse about 1697. Rev John Simpson’s successor at Newhouse was probably Rev Robert Carnaby, an alias for Dr Luke Gardiner, a relative, it is said, of the local Taylor family. He was there from 1727 to 1731 and again from 1736 until his death in 1740.
Within two months Mr Carnaby’s place was taken by Rev John Debord, usually known as Davison, whose family kept an inn in Durham City. He came to Newhouse straight from Douai College and stayed until some time in August 1744. John Debord’s immediate successor was, according to a Deed of 1744, Rev Ferdinand Ashmall. He died on 5 February 1798 at the age of 104 and 75 years a priest.
A chapel was possibly built in the 1730’s. However in 1798 both chapel and house were in very poor condition and it was not until 21 October 1871, by which time the population of the valley was expanding rapidly due to the opening of collieries, that a new church was opened by Bishop Chadwick. The foundation stone was laid on land donated by Sir Frederick Smythe close to the site of the original house and chapel. A fire in 1881 destroyed the Lady Chapel and much of the furnishings and a virtually new church was built. It was opened on St Patrick’s Day 1883. The church became a Grade II listed building in 2015.
The first priest of the (new) Newhouse Church was Fr Philip Charles Fortin. Fr Fortin did leave the parish from mid May to mid November 1900 to act as a chaplain to the British troops in the Boer War. Only five months after his return to the parish he died on 25 April 1901 at the age of 56. From the first, Fr Fortin took an active interest in local affairs. He was a member of the Board of Guardians and one of the first elected members of the new District Council, representing especially the interests of the miners among whom his whole priestly life was spent. Locally he is still known as the “Pitmen’s Priest”. He really made his name in December 1881 when he intervened on behalf of the miners against the colliery management at Ushaw Moor. A bitter dispute broke out between them when the manager sacked Thomas Westoe, a hewer, for allegedly sending up “dirty” coal. When Westoe was evicted from his house, the other miners came out on strike and they, in turn with their wives and families, were evicted by the police. At this, Fr Fortin opened up the schoolroom at Ushaw Moor to the women and children until the strike was settled. The miners showed their gratitude later by helping in the building of the new church in 1883.
Fr Edward Beech who succeeded Fr Fortin in May 1901 came from Crawcrook where he had been parish priest since 1893. Born in Staffordshire in September 1864 of parents who both belonged to old recusant families, with a brother, Austin, a priest in the Birmingham diocese and a sister a Benedictine nun, he was for a short time at Cotton College before coming, like Fr Fortin before him, to Ushaw College to study for the priesthood. Unlike Fr Fortin, however, he was quiet and reserved. After more than 30 years in the parish Fr Beech died at dawn on Sunday 31 January 1932 and was buried near Fr Fortin in the parish cemetery which he had been able to enlarge by purchasing land on the other side of the beck and diverting its course, a work undertaken, so it is said, during the 1926 strike.
Father Redmond Gibbons who followed Father Beech, was born 17 October 1892 at Washington. Like all his predecessors he studied for the priesthood at Ushaw College and was ordained there on 24 July 1921. He took charge of Newhouse in November 1937 at the age of 45. Fr Gibbons made up for any deficiency in his predecessor’s preaching. Deeply interested in scripture and greatly influenced by the teaching of the 2nd Vatican Council, he gave his congregation the full benefit of his extensive knowledge from a rather inconveniently placed pulpit. That he realised his sermons were somewhat lengthy is proved by a story he told against himself. On one occasion, despite a heavy cold, he had ventured out to visit one of his parishioners. From his sick bed the man retorted “It’s no wonder you’ve got a cold, standing so long in that draughty pulpit.” In addition to the pains he took to preach, Fr. Gibbons, took the first steps towards arranging the church for the new style liturgy of the 60s. He departed this life at the age of 81 on 6 November 1978 after 41 years at Newhouse, a good runner up to Fr Ashmall.
Fr David Milburn, educated at Ushaw and teaching there from 1954 succeeded Fr Gibbons within three weeks, though he continued to reside at Ushaw until March 1979. Fr Milburn’s main task, at the request of the bishop, was the re-ordering of the church to meet liturgical requirements. The work of re-ordering went on for more than two years but the bulk of it was completed in time for Easter 1982 with the last of the new carpeting laid at 5.00 p.m. on Maundy Thursday. Subsequently a timber screen was added to the west end of the church to create a larger porch and a new confessional room. It has the added advantage of cutting down the fierce draughts caused by the prevailing south-west winds. Before that time no wax candle ever burned evenly.
After the departure of Fr Milburn the bishop decided in view of the decreasing availability of priests, to appoint Fr John Clohosey, parish priest at Ushaw Moor, as administrator of Newhouse parish, thereby allowing Newhouse to retain its identity. Fortunately just before Holy Week 1992 a priestly presence was ensured at Newhouse by the arrival of the Salesian priests from St Cuthbert’s, Durham, Fr Austin Malloy to look after Newhouse under the direction of Fr Clohosey and Fr Michael McGovern to reside at Newhouse but to continue to travel each day to Gilesgate as he had done for several years to work in the parish there.
In recent years the tenure of our priests has been of shorter duration than in previous years, an average of five years or so each. Following Fr Clohosey the family of parishes has been blessed by the ministries of Fr Martin Morris, Fr Michael Griffiths and, our current priest in charge, Fr David Coxon.