Lost photo is key to restoring stone fountain at Whitley Bay church

St Paul’s Church in Whitley Bay needs the public's help as it plans to restore its stone fountain as part of its 150th anniversary

The Reverend Gavin Gilchrist of St Paul's Church in Whitley Bay
The Reverend Gavin Gilchrist of St Paul's Church in Whitley Bay

Hope springs eternal for a church congregation seeking to mark a key anniversary by restoring its original water fountain.

Plans for the listed stone fountain are part of the 150th anniversary celebrations at St Paul’s Church in Whitley Bay, which is a town centre landmark.

On the day the church was consecrated, the Duchess of Northumberland took the first drink from the fountain.

The feature, set in the wall of the church grounds, has deteriorated badly over the years.

But plans to restore it may be thwarted as listed planning consent may not be possible as, until now, no image has been found of exactly how the fountain looked.

The vicar of St Paul’s Church, the Rev Gavin Gilchrist, said: “We are desperate to find an image of the fountain and would be unendingly grateful if somebody came forward with one.” North Tyneside Council Mayor Norma Redfearn said: “This is a very special year for St Paul’s. The council is keen to carry out restoration on the fountain but it is proving very difficult to track down the original specifications or illustrations.”

The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Durham on September 3, 1864, with Algernon, 4th Duke of Northumberland and the Duchess present.

After the ceremony, the duchess was invited to take the first drink from the fountain and remarked that it was “fine water”.

A newspaper report says that a photograph was taken of the event.

Anyone who can help is asked to contact Ian Lillie at North Tyneside Council on 0191 643 6143 or ian.lillie@northtyneside.gov.uk

The church was designed by leading North East architect Anthony Salvin.

He restored and repaired 20 old churches and three cathedrals, and built 34 new churches.

Eight carved stone faces at the base of the church spire are said to be portraits of people who were prominent locally at the time. The impact of the First World War can be seen in the memorial inside the church to 83 men of St Paul’s parish.

There are separate memorials to Captain John Percival Forster, of the 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers, who was church organist from 1911-16 and was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

Also commemorated is Second Lieutenant John Anthony Gibson, who died of his wounds at Tier in Germany six weeks before the end of the war.

Buried in the churchyard is Captain Thomas Henderson, one of the pioneer members of the Royal Flying Corps who saw extensive service in the Middle East.

He flew many sorties in support of Lawrence of Arabia, who he knew well.

He won the military cross and also acted as pilot for North East explorer and adventurer Gertrude Bell, who helped found modern Iraq and will be the subject of a new film, Queen of the Desert.

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