Written to mark the 175th Anniversary of his death:
Fr James Worswick 1771- 1843
When you're walking around Newcastle do you ever notice the street signs and wonder who or what they're named after?
The road down the side of the Cathedral is called Bewick Street in memory of the world-famous engraver, Thomas Bewick, who lived there for a time in the 18" century.
Running along the south side of the building at the back of the Cathedral is Neville Street which recalls the medieval Neville family who, as Earls of Westmorland, owned land and property in the vicinity.
And finally, outside the main door, is the third road which borders us, Clayton Street. This was named after the Town Clerk, John Clayton, who together with John Dobson and Richard Granger was responsible for redeveloping most of Newcastle's town centre in the 1830s.
If you are familiar with St Andrew's Catholic Church you will know that it's located on Worswick Street and it's the man behind that name, Worswick, whose vision, commitment and faith led to the building of our beautiful Cathedral.
It was over two hundred years ago in 1795 that James Worswick arrived in Newcastle as a newly ordained priest aged 24. He had been appointed to take over the small Catholic Secular Mission at the bottom of Newgate Street, one of the two tiny chapels operating in the town at that time, the other being run by a Jesuit.
In those days life as a Catholic was made extremely difficult. Even though the Penal Laws had been repealed and the Relief Act had been passed, Catholics were still viewed with suspicion and were prohibited from taking public office. Understandably their numbers then were few - however circumstances were soon about to change.
With the Industrial Revolution gathering pace and the huge influx of Irish immigrants, Newcastle's Catholic population increased dramatically and in the first five years of his appointment, despite lack of funds, Fr Worswick had managed to build a new church in Pilgrim Street and schoolrooms for both the boys and the girls from this desperately poor community.
He worked tirelessly for the sick and destitute, visiting the hospital and Fever House daily and as a preacher he was described as bold, eloquent, animated and impressive. St Andrew's, as it was named, was the first public Catholic Chapel to have been built in the town since the Reformation but even when it was enlarged in 1830, to accommodate 1,000 worshipers, it rapidly became too small. By 1832, Fr Worswick had 4,000 Catholics under his care, many of whom lived in appalling conditions, and so it was in that year that he welcomed a much-needed Assistant Priest, Fr William Riddell.
Over the course of the next slx years the urgent need for another larger church in Newcastle became glaringly apparent to the two priests and despite having no funds they set about forming a committee to build "an edifice which would be an honour to their religion and an ornament to the town." It was with those ambitions in mind that two years later, the architect AWN Pugin was commissioned to design St Mary's.
Sadly, on July 8th 1843, the year before its completion, Fr Worswick died, aged 72.
Although the actual spot is not marked now, he is buried in a vault under the sanctuary, on the left at the back, and the sepulchral slab which had marked his grave is now on the left-hand side of the floor in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Fittingly it is paired with the memorial of his former assistant Fr Riddell, later made bishop and first priest in charge of St Mary's.
As well as his likeness being used as inspiration for the corbel on the left of the Side Porch entrance, he was also remembered in a stained-glass window which was next to the sacristy door. This unhappily was damaged during the war and was replaced with plain glass.
A few years after his death the original St Andrew’s Church had to be demolished and the present one was built in 1875.
A local newspaper wrote of him,
“The Rev James Worswick's name will always be cardinal in the list of priests who have served in later times in Newcastle. His tenure of office was the longest and most successful. He had a fine stalwart figure and his manliness and independence made him a well-known character in the town so that it was not surprising that, when the formation of a new thoroughfare necessitated the destruction of the old St Andrew's Church, the Corporation should honour his memory by naming a street after him."
He was an extraordinary man to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude and appreciation.
Sepulchral slab of Fr James Worswick
His Memorial Brass translates: "Pray for the soul of the Reverend Master James Worswick in this very town for 48 years a watchful shepherd. He fell asleep in the Lord on the eighth day of the month of July in the year of the Lord 1843, aged 72. His body lies here. On his soul may God have mercy. Our Father, Hail Mary, Amen."