“ St Mary's Heritage Centre in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear. „
It was a mistake not to take my laptop to UK this year. Although we were only in England for a few days we covered a lot of ground and saw so many attractions. The purpose of the visit was to see Bruce Springsteen perform in Sunderland at the football stadium. The morning of the concert we walked down to the Sage to see if they had any computers. I was desperate to get in touch with friends to tell them how excited I was about going to Sunderland to see the Boss. Wi-Fi connections were available at the Sage but no actual computers. I asked a lady at the ticket desk and she told me to cross over the road to St Mary's Heritage Centre. She was certain that I would find a computer there.
Trust us to choose the wettest week in June to visit the north-east. It was pouring down on this morning and we were soaked just crossing from the entrance of the Sage to this lovely, old stone church. As we entered I could feel a friendly aura and really liked the church. I could see that the stone work had been cleaned and re-pointed. In fact it looked like the whole of the interior had been revamped. There was a desk area to the right of the building with shelves of books stacked against the wall. A very friendly lady came forward and asked us if we needed any help. I asked if we could use a computer. She wanted to know if I had a library membership card. Many years ago I had one for the library in Carlisle but I didn't have it on me and it would have been out of date. I told her that I would't be long as I just wanted to answer a few e-mails. She signed me in and said I could use it for up to an hour. She didn't charge me when I come to think of it. Afterwards we got chatting and it turned out she was a Bruce Springsteen fan and was also going to the gig that night. She also told me that the centre was used by people who wanted to look into their family history, a subject that fascinates me also.
A lot of time and money has been spent on re-inventing this church. The building was stripped inside and restructured to make it look as near as possible to how it looked nine hundred years ago. It's a Grade 1 Listed building and is now used as an information centre for the people of Gateshead and visitors to go along to learn more about the city and its history. There are large display boards highlighting interesting facts about Gateshead's history from the very early days to 2012. Displayed on tables and shelves are many historical records, documents, fascinating photographs and old and new maps. My husband really enjoyed looking through these and finding out more about the area.
In lots of ways St Mary's reminded me of my Parish Church in Lancashire that I used to attend when I was a child. It is about the same size and the the churchyard is set out the same way. I was fascinated to find out that in St Mary's graveyard on the northern side, there are many graves of people who died of cholera. Reading from the display boards I learnt that this area of Gateshead was once very poor and in the 17th century a poor house was erected in the church yard. Looking at its location I can imagine that the area could have been quite grim. Even though you can look over to the River Tyne and the Tyne Bridge there is something stark about that spot.
Near to the entrance there is a raised area of the church where concerts are held. This is a very attractive corner with beautiful stained, glass windows letting in rays of light. The windows in the church really are very special and makes the building feel light and airy even on a dull day. The morning we were there, a group of musicians were tuning up and the following day when we went back to use the computers again there looked to be a Mother and Toddler Group participating in activities and having fun.
I'm glad we took time to visit St Mary's, not once but twice. Our visit was very educational, we liked the atmosphere of the centre and found the staff very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the area. I walked away from the church with a smile on my face and feeling happy. I like it when I find something new and interesting and it is an extra bonus to find friendly people who are willing to take time to talk to you.
Opening times: Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 4pm. Bank Holidays - 10am - 4pm
Address and Contact Details: St Mary's Church
Tel: 0191 433 4699