St. Mary's Church, a familiar landmark, standing high above the Tyne, has witnessed many changes during its 900 year history. One of Gateshead's last remaining links to its medieval past, until 1825 it was the only Anglican church in Gateshead and was therefore considered as the "mother church" of Gateshead. It was also the only place in Gateshead where you could get married! Although we have no evidence telling us when the church was first built there are some clues that suggest this is a building whose history stretches back many centuries. For example, a local historian, John Hodgson, who was once a curate at St Mary's, has speculated that as some of the oldest stones in the church are shaped or hewed after the Roman style, they could have been taken from an old Roman building. While this remains guesswork, there are certainly historical records of monastic life in 'Getehed' dating from 653 AD. St. Mary's is reputedly built on the site of Gateshead monastery, although there is nothing to show its exact location.
Records from the thirteenth century list a succession of Norman rectors, the first being Robert de Plessis in 1242. The church was beautified with four chantries in the middle ages. These probably lasted until the sixteenth century, when most such institutions disappeared. Beautiful stained glass windows from this era were however part of the church's treasures which survived into the new Protestant regime. When new local councils were established in the 19th century, St. Mary's again played its part. On 1 January 1836, George Hawks was elected Gateshead's first Mayor. Early meetings of the new Borough Council were held in the Anchorage at St Mary's Church, until a house in Oakwellgate was rented. Until 1825 all marriages and burials in the borough had to be performed in St Mary's. In the church grounds, the headstones show how varied the trades and professions in the town were in the 18th and 19th centuries: an inn keeper, a rope maker and a glass cutter lie close to the grave stone of William Hawks. Hawks was an important figure in the development of Gateshead's industrial prosperity and one of several notable residents buried here.
After it ceased to be used as a church, the building was largely destroyed by fire in 1979, it was later restored to became an auction room.

Below: A few years after the fire


Open the photograph album left to view many more pictures of the cemetery, unusual stones and epitaphs. I will add more photographs as I visit this cemetery. If you would like to add your own, please contact me, and if they are suitable, I will add them, with an acknowledgement. There a several pages in this album.

Who is buried here?