On 20 March 1712, Stockton on Tees acquired a new parish church, with the consecration of a church at the eastern end of the High Street.
The foundation stone of the new church had been laid in 1705 and building work was completed by 1712.The new church replaced St Mary’s Church, Norton, as the parish church.
The early history of Stockton is bound up with that of Norton. From the names it may be surmised that Stockton was the original Anglian settlement formed upon a defensible site beside the river. Norton grew as a market town with a market place and a monastery, established by minks who had fled from Durham. With the Dissolution the monastery became St Mary’s Church, and was the parish church.
However, Stockton township continued to grow.
Settlement began in ‘Stoctun’ in the Anglo-Saxon period, as a port for river trade in wool, grain and lead. Stockton grew significantly, taking advantage of its position on the River Tees to establish a major trading port The Bishops of Durham had their manor house here, took rent on the lands and tolls on river trade. They invested in the first shipyard in the 1200’s and instituted a market in 1310.
The growing population of Stockton still worshipped at Norton. However, this required them to use a marshy, treacherous path between Stockton and Norton.
To make it easier for Stockton people to worship, a ‘chapel of ease’, dedicated to St Thomas-a-Becket, had been built in Stockton between 1235 and 1237.
The Revd Thomas Rudd became Curate of St Mary’s Church, Norton, in 1661, and two years later was made Curate of St Thomas Church in Stockton township. He recognised that St Thomas Church was too small to meet the needs of the growing township and raised funds to enable a new church to be built.
The new Church was predominantly a building of red brick with stone dressings (as the town sits on a bed of clay, brick was the obvious choice of material for the bulk of the Church) in the plain classic style of the day.
The church comprised a chancel 45 ft. by 22 ft., nave of six bays 105 ft. 6 in. by 22 ft., with north and south aisles each 17 ft. wide, and west tower 80 ft. high, and stood slightly to the north of the old chapel which was pulled down at the time of its erection. It seated 550 people.
The new building was not named St Thomas’s, simply being ‘Stockton Parish Church’.
When first built, the new church would have stood out even more than it does today, as many of the surrounding buildings would still have been single storey, wattle, daub and thatch houses.
The consecration of Stockton Parish Church marked a significant shift in the status of Stockton compared to Norton. Already a major port, Stockton continued to grow, with commercial development taking place in the area centred on the Parish Church. The church itself was extended in subsequent years.
In contrast Norton remained a village on the outskirts of Stockton.
Suggested Places to Visit:
Stockton Parish Church
St Mary’s Church, Norton