Christ Church is a familiar landmark in the centre of Hartlepool and has had a chequered history.
It was built at a cost of £8,000, most of which was provided by Ralph Ward Jackson, the founder of West
Hartlepool and it was consecrated in 1854.
However, Christian charity did not always prevail and there is a story which involved a dispute between
Ralph Ward Jackson and the rector John Hart Burgess over parish matters. It became so heated that
Ward Jackson had the entrance to the church bricked up. Not a welcoming sight for prospective
Things had calmed down somewhat when as a twelve year old I joined the choir in 1953. What a change
it was from Sunday School.
At that time the central area was being demolished and the residents rehoused on the emerging Owton
Manor Estate. The congregations were dwindling and often at Evensong there were more of 'us' than of
I recall dressing up in my black cassock and white surplus and with the priest and choir processed down
the aisle to the choir stalls accompanied by the glorious strains from the Harrison and Harrison organ
played so expertly by Mr Jim Stather. So began my life long love of music that still flourishes as I'm
singing in two local choirs.
Mr Stather (never Jim) was my hero. Apart from being a superb organist, he could, and would sing all the
parts from bass to soprano in which he used his falsetto voice.
He was always so cheerful, inspirational, dependable and encouraging which is more than can be said of
some of the sermons I sat through, but there again I was only twelve. The priests were lovely, gentle men
and seemed so wise using long words I'd never heard of.
The building seemed cold and damp, there was a smell of mould. Built from limestone acquired when the
local docks were dug out, it was deteriorating. In 1974 it became redundant and was bought by the
council for £100. Its glory days seemed over.
The Museum Service Department used it to store exhibits and there was later a Council proposal to
demolish it. Die hards came up with several proposals to save the building but the costs were prohibitive.
Then a 'saviour' appeared in the 1990's in the guise of the City Challenge Scheme whose remit was to
rejuvenate the Church Street area in which the Jewel in the Crown was to be Christ Church. Costing two
million pound the building was transformed and re-opened in 1996 as an Art Gallery and Tourist
The result is spectacular. We now have a warm, peaceful, attractive building. There are regular displays
of arts and craft works giving pleasure to large numbers of visitors, many from other towns, cities and
countries. It has a cafe where the organ was once situated. Soft, gentle background music fills the air, a
veritable haven from the noise and clamour of urban living.
For the more energetic, there is a climb up 164 steps to the top of the tower, standing at over 100 feet
high, this gives an impressive panoramic view of Hartlepool and the surrounding area. When I first
ventured to the top of the world in 1954 with no safety ropes and crumbling brickwork, I viewed a town
under a pall of smoke from chimney pots and local industry. Not a pretty sight. Thank God for the
smokeless zone that we now enjoy. Whilst ascending or descending the steps beware of the person who
passes the six bells when they chime the quarter hours or worse still 12 o' clock. The noise is ear-
What a credit Christ Church is to the town, incorporating the old with the new. A grand old lady of which it
can be proud. I'm sure that Sir Ralph would say 'Amen' to that.