St. James’ and St. Basil’s Church, Fenham, Newcastle – Beginnings
The building of the church began during the winter of 1927/28 with the generosity of Sir James Knott, a wealthy ship merchant. The church was built in memory of two of Sir James’ sons Henry (Basil) and James who were killed in the First World War.
The church was designed by Edward Eric Lofting, Assistant Surveyor to the fabric of Westminster Abbey, who had been a pupil and assistant of Temple Lushington Moore (one of the leading church architects of late Victorian and Edwardian England). It is thought of as amongst the great churches of the Arts and Crafts movement and is recognised as a masterpiece.
Construction took over three years, partly because the foundations were laid so thoroughly that it took one year for any sign of building appeared over the barricades but it was finally ready for consecration by June 1931. The church is grade II listed and said to be built with stone from Dobson’s 1830 Newcastle prison, in Carliol Square, demolished at that time. It is faced however with stone quarried from nearby Kenton.
Sir James Knott
James Knott was born on the 31st January 1855 at Howdon on Tyne. He was the eldest of ten children. His father, Matthew, was a Customs Searcher. James was educated at the Scotch School in North Shields, which he left at the age of 14 to start work as a shipping clerk on Newcastle Quayside. He went on to own his own shipping line.
In 1878, he married Margaret Annie Garbutt (1855 – 1929) and they had three children: Thomas, James and Henry (known as Basil).
The Great War
Major James Knott was killed on the morning of 1st July 1916 – the first day of the battle of the Somme. When the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment advanced across open ground, they were cut down by devastating machine gun fire. Over 90% of the Battalion became casualties.
Captain Henry Basil Knott was wounded in action on 24th August 1915, serving as a Captain of the 9th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. He eventually died from his wounds on 7th September 1915
James and Basil were just 2 of more than 700,000 British War Dead. They are both buried in a Cemetery at Ypres, and have given their names to the Church. James and Basil are commemorated in the South window of the memorial chapel, and by an inscription on the tenor bell – ‘we ring in memory of James and Basil Knott, God knows’
75th Anniversary 2006
As part of the 75th Anniversary of St James and St Basil’s in 2006, the memories of a generation who had been very young as the church was built and who had grown up within it’s shadow were recorded. Many of those who recalled events were in their 70’s and 80’s and to read their tales is an insight into local history.
Church Heritage Welcome Guide
As part of the St. James’ and St. Basil’s 75th anniversary celebrations, Church heritage guides and a Church welcome guide were created with the support of the national lottery and Newcastle City Council. Available for both adults and children, they include information on the construction of St. James’ and St. Basil’s Church, followed by a written tour of the following:
- Memorial Chapel
- Consecration Mark
- War Memorial
- Nave Windows
- Adam and Even Window
- Font and Childrens Window