St. Andrews Church
St Andrew's Church is located on the northern fringe of Roker, one of the city's best residential areas, and was described by the late Sir John Betjeman as a ‘20th century building that may reasonably lay claim to greatness', and ‘a bold and imaginative experiment which has triumphantly succeeded.'
His admiration for the imposing and unusual church-which occupies a commanding position near Roker Park-has been shared by others, for St Andrew's is undoubtedly remarkable.
In 1903 the idea of constructing a church to serve the needs of local Anglicans was aired. A public appeal failed to raise enough money for the proposed building, whereupon the Sunderland shipbuilder John Priestman (and other members of his family) offered financial assistance. They wished to erect a memorial to commemorate their late mother, Mrs Jane Priestman, and decided that helping to finance the construction of a church would prove fitting. A substantial sum of money, £6,000, was thus promised on certain conditions. For one thing, the church was to seat 700 people in the nave, all of whom would have a clear view of the altar.
St Andrew's was designed by Edward Schroeder Prior (1852-1932) who was born in London and, after graduating from the University of Cambridge, joined the office of a leading architect, Richard Norman Shaw who said of him, ‘once he gets a bit of a start, he won't want much help from anyone'.
In the 1880s the Arts and Crafts Movement began to flourish, and one of its devotees was Prior who had commenced his own practice in 1879. Architects adhering to the Arts and Crafts concept shared a number of ideals, such as a desire to create a type of architecture in which buildings blended in with their surroundings and looked natural features of the landscape.
Construction work commenced on the church in the early summer of 1906 and the building (which cost around £13,000) was consecrated on July 19, 1907.
St Andrew's is mostly built of grey magnesian limestone (quarried at Marsden a few miles to the north) and is a commanding structure that looks older than it is. Indeed, it has a majestic tower reminiscent of a castle keep.
Spaciousness and light are notable characteristics of the nave. So too, is a sense of power-mostly derived from five great elliptical arches spanning the nave. The arches are of reinforced concrete faced with stone.
Aesthetically, the most appealing part of the church is the sanctuary, the easternmost part of the building. In contrast to the rest of the church, it is sumptuous and ornate. For one thing, there is a magnificent east window with stained glass by Henry Payne. Furthermore, the upper stages of the walls and the domed ceiling were painted in 1927 by MacDonald Gill to a design by Prior and the theme is the ‘Creation.' Adam and Eve and sea and land creatures are portrayed, while the ceiling - the most imposing part of the work - includes depictions of the moon and stars. In the centre, the sun (represented by a hemispherical light fitting) has long painted rays.
According to the architectural historian Christopher Grillet, St Andrew's Church is Prior's masterpiece: ‘What he achieved here is (perhaps side by side with Lutyens' St Jude's at the Hampstead Garden Suburb) the best English church of the early 20th century.' As the church notice board once proudly proclaimed (and should proclaim again), it is ‘the Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement.'