St Andrew's Kirk History

Scottish Presbyterians have worshipped in Newcastle since the Reformation and we are still here!

St Andrew’s was founded in 1722 when a Scottish Presbyterian Kirk was established for the first time in Newcastle, located in the Sandgate Mission near to the quayside in the centre of the city. This was a domestic building adapted for worship. The first recorded minister was Rev George Bruce.

Scottish contacts with Newcastle of course had stretched far back into earlier times with over the years increasing trade driving the Scottish presence steadily upwards. Indeed in 1550 John Knox arrived in the city and built up a large and faithful congregation – although there were “too many immigrant Scots in it for the taste of some local residents”! 

By the eighteenth century many Scots were employed in the mines around Newcastle and on the keels and lighters that carried the coal down the Tyne to the sea.  According to McKenzie’s History of Newcastle “Sandgate had long been a favourite resort of poor and industrious adventurers from Scotland on their first arrival”. So this location for their first church is perhaps not surprising.

Today St Andrew’s retains an interesting reminder of these distant days - papers detailing conversations between King Charles I (who was captive in the city during the Civil Wars) and the Presbyterian divine Alexander Henderson with whom he extensively debated religious matters.  These form the basis for the Henderson-Loudon Lecture Bequest at the Church.

In 1764 the congregation got its first purpose built Church when the Wall Knoll was constructed close by in Sandgate.  It could accommodate 500 worshippers.

St Andrew’s stayed at Wall Knoll until 1844 when the congregation funded the building of the Caledonian Chapel in Argyle Steet close to Shieldfield. Argyle Street still exists just beside todays A193. The congregation was clearly increasing as the new building could hold 783 worshippers. 

The 1840’s were a time of Disruption in the Church of Scotland with evangelical ministers breaking away to form the Free Church. St Andrew’s got caught up in this and many of the congregation left the Chapel (along with their minister) to form Trinity Church taking with them half the Communion Plate. The impoverished St Andrew’s congregation had to sell the Chapel to the Blyth and Tyne Railway who leased it back for an annual rent of £40 pa! 

In 1892 the Church headed north to the Lovaine Hall in St Mary’s place opposite John Dobson Street.  This site is now within the grounds of Newcastle Civic Centre.

St Andrew’s remained there for some years but by the beginning of the last century it was clearly in need of a permanent home of its own.

It was fortunate to benefit from the sale of two other Kirks close by (High Bridge Chapel in Newcastle & Scotch Church in Hexham) and the proceeds from these plus some judicious borrowing was sufficient to fund the purchase in 1904 of a site at Benton Terrace (now called Sandyford Road) and to build and fit out the church we have today. Total cost was the princely sum of £2250- about £292000 in todays money!  The land was purchased from a local brewer Robert Deuchar – whose premises were located in the adjacent building just left of our entrance.

Building started in October 1904 and the commemoration stone was laid on 8th February 1905. One of the guests for the ceremony was Rev Dr J Mitford Mitchell – a future moderator who was to prove a strong supporter of St Andrew’s in the years ahead.

The building was opened for worship in June 1905.  The first service was taken by Rev Dr Ogilvie (another future Moderator) and the first minister was Rev James Storry Barrowman.

Over the 117 years since its opening St Andrew’s has in times of peace and war firmly established its presence in Sandyford as a centre for Christian Worship.

The building has been extensively extended and developed both inside and out. Its immediate surroundings have also changed radically – with Benton Terrace becoming Sandyford Road and the deep ravine running down from where Benton House now stands being filled in to create Grantham Road.

In the past 50 years at least 9 members of the congregation have trained for Ordained Ministry.

  • Russell Smith
  • John Mann
  • Bob Ogilvie
  • Tim Fletcher
  • Dorothy Lunn
  • John Wilkinson
  • Brian Thompson
  • Donald Riach
  • Allan Wright

Of the many ministers who have served St Andrew’s an especially interesting one is Rev Dr Horace Robert Philp who was the incumbent from 1930 to 1955.  He started out as a trained Chemist and made the discovery of a rubber solution to repair bicycle punctures! He patented this and sold the patent using some of the money that accrued to put himself through Edinburgh University Medical School. He then spent 20 years as a Medical Missionary in Kenya before returning as minister to St Andrew’s. 

In 1983 the Rev James Green (interim moderator of St Andrew’s) and the Rev Fraser McLuskey (minister of St Columba’s London) worked to form a link between the two churches with Rev McLuskey becoming minister of St Andrew’s as well as St Columba’s and Rev Green local minister in Newcastle.

Since then John McIndoe, Barry Dunsmore and now Angus McLeod have served as linked minister with William Morrice and Dorothy Lunn acting as local ministers.

Over the years the garden around the front of the Church has been a source of pride and pleasure for the congregation.

Very considerable effort has gone into creating and sustaining it both as an attractive surrounding to the building and importantly a resource for the local community to use and enjoy. This has involved the congregation in major earth reshaping, removal of very large tree stumps, and building of retaining walls and hard paving.

On two occasions during recent years St Andrew’s has been hit by serious flooding resulting in major damage to both the Garden and the Church Hall. In the most recent episode (June 28 2012 – Thunder Thursday) an unexpected violent deluge across Tyneside covered both Garden and Hall in many feet of water. This badly damaged much of the fabric of the building and destroyed features and planting in the Garden, requiring lots of rework by the congregation.

Today St Andrew’s continues in providing Christian Worship and Witness. It also extensively supports local charities and is an important part of the Sandyford Community with its Hall being used by a wide range of Leisure, Community, Charity and Official groups.