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At the beginning of the 19th century, Redcar was a small fishing village of under 400 inhabitants. With the growing popularity of sea bathing and taking the sea air for health reasons, Redcar, along with a number of other seaside towns, began to expand quite rapidly, with its population more than doubling in the summer months. At this time, the local parish church was St Germain’s on the cliff top at Marske and hence worshippers were faced with a 3 mile walk along the sand dunes to go to church.
In 1818 a number of influential local people set up a subscription list, with the aim of providing a church within the growing town. This was followed by the donation of an area of land by Lord Dundas (later Earl of Zetland) and the preparation of the plans for the church by an eminent Durham architect, Ignatius Bonomi.
In 1823 approval for the new church was given and the foundation stone laid by Lady Teresa Turner of Kirkleatham. Stone for the building was given by Lord Dundas as well as a gift of money towards the costs.
The timbers required for the roof were too large to obtain locally and had to be imported into Hartlepool from the continent. In order to transport these, a flotilla of Redcar fishing boats set off to Hartlepool and towed the timbers back across Tees Bay, bringing them ashore on the beach near to the church.
Due to difficulties over fund raising, the building was not completed until 1829, when it was consecrated as a ‘Chapel of Ease’ of the parish of Marske, by the Archbishop of York.
The building is of local sandstone in the ‘perpendicular’ style and had cost £2 700. It provided seating for 700 worshippers in box pews, half of which were privately rented (many by local boarding houses for summer visitors) and the remainder free.
In 1835 Mrs Walton, a Redcar resident, presented the clock to the church. When it was installed, it was decided only to provide two faces, one to the north and one to the west, as there were only open fields to the south. The story says that the local farmers did not want a clock visible to the workmen in the fields as this would only encourage ‘clock-watching’. Hence to this day, the clock still only tells the time to the north and west.
By 1848 the church was found to be too small for all the worshippers and so it was extended by about one fifth, to approximately the position of the present wall behind the altar, providing about 50 additional seats and a larger chancel area.
In 1867 the importance of Redcar became recognised by the Church authorities, and St Peter’s was established as an independent Parish of Redcar, no longer a daughter church of Marske.
In 1872 the churchyard was closed for burials, as it was then full, and a new cemetery opened further along Redcar Lane, where it is still located. The gravestones in the churchyard remained in position until 1966 when most were removed, the churchyard grassed over and the perimeter wall reduced/removed.
In 1889 all of the old box pews were removed and the present pews installed. This marked the end of the practice of hiring your own pew and from then on, all seats were free.
In 1919, 100 years after the initial plans were drawn up for a church at Redcar, Lord Zetland offered £2 500 towards the cost of building a new church in place of the existing one. However, the high cost of both materials and labour precluded this at the time, and hence he was asked if the chancel could be enlarged as a first stage. This he agreed to, and eventually work began in 1926 on a new Lady Chapel, Chancel and children’s chapel.
The design of this extension was such that it made provision for the remainder of the church to be demolished and rebuilt at some time in the future. This was not to be and hence we have the building you see today, with the 1926 extension now housing the Lady Chapel in its original form, whilst the remainder was extensively remodelled in the late 1980’s to form the ‘Zetland’ rooms.
The Zetland Rooms
Through the door to the right of the sanctuary are the ‘Zetland’ rooms, formed in 1989 from the old Chancel, Children’s Chapel and vestries during one of the recent extensive restorations. The construction of these rooms was a necessity as a structural survey of the chancel arch indicated a major weakness. This could best be solved by putting steel bracing across the arch at about 12 feet above ground level, hence creating a base for a floor at this point. It made sense to close off the arch and create the suite of rooms and facilities you see now.
Upstairs you can obtain a good view of the east window, installed in 1939 as a memorial to Sir William Turner, former Lord Mayor of London and founder of Sir William Turner’s grammar School (now part of Cleveland Tertiary College) and the Kirkleatham Alms Houses. As well as Christ (both crucified and reigning in glory) and Saints Peter, Nicholas and Bartholmew, it shows Sir William Turner in his Lord Mayor’s robes, holding a model of the first school (the present Kirkleatham Museum) with the almshouses behind.
The Oak panelling below the window was originally positioned below the Reredos and was also carved by ‘Mousey’ Thompson – again with a mouse. If you look up you can see a number of coats of arms, including the one for the former Borough of Redcar, inaugurated in St Peter’s in 1922.
The War Memorial
This is mounted on the south wall and contains all the names of the people of Redcar who died in the Great War. A book of remembrance commemorates those who died in the second world war. This memorial is the only full record of those who died, as the town cenotaph only commemorates the fallen collectively
Further east on the south wall is a memorial to one of Redcar’s fisherman heroes, James Robert Carter, who sacrificed his life to save that of a colleague.
Just inside the Lady Chapel are two memorials to Flying Officer Stewart Ridley who lost his life in 1916 in the Libyan Desert. The wooden cross originally marked his grave in the desert. His family gave Redcar its original Public Library in his memory. A plaque commemorating this can be seen outside the Health Centre, which was built on the site of the library.
The Lady Chapel
The four oval pieces in the windows on the north wall depicting John the Baptist, Christ, St Paul and St Peter predate the Lady Chapel. They are all that is left of the main east window of the church that was dismantled when the chancel extension was built. The dedication is to the Revd Joseph Wilkinson, the first vicar of St Peter’s. The two pieces depicting St Matthew and the Holy Spirit (the Dove) are actually much more recent additions in the 1990’s in memory of a former PCC treasurer (hence St Matthew with his money), which closely follow the design of the earlier four.
The Lady Chapel East Window
The east window dates from the late nineteenth century, before the Lady Chapel existed. Originally the two outer panels were below the central ones when it was sited on the earlier wall at the east end of the church. (The same was true of the window you see as you ascend the stairs in the south east corner of the building). You can see how this would make the inscriptions along the bottom read correctly. It is dedicated to the Revd W. Milburn, vicar from 1854-1884.
This is positioned on the balcony at the west end of the church and is a three manual pipe organ, thought to have been built by Gray and Davidson for St Paul’s Church in Middlesbrough. When St Paul’s closed in 1965 the organ was bought for Redcar, dismantled by volunteers and rebuilt in its present position by the organ builder J W Walker. (The former organ was sited at the east end of the church, with pipes either side of the chancel).
The Altar & Reredos
The altar was bought by a collection from the Sunday Schools and other Church organisations and is of carved oak. Above it is a Reredos, carved by ‘Mousey’ Thompson of Kilburn in 1939, who said that he had never made anything that had given him greater pleasure. Can you spot his trademark mouse? The painted design by Leslie Moore shows the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child surrounded by the Northern Saints.