This year, possibly about November, will be the four hundredth and third anniversary of the destruction of St. Anne's Chapel in Winlaton, and so could the following notes be used to possibly piece the story of its existence together.
Up until this time no documentary evidence is forthcoming to support the existence of a catholic chapel dedicated to St. Anne which tradition states, stood in Winlaton in the 16th century. Tradition, which sometimes speaks truthfully says, that the small catholic chapel of St. Anne was burnt down during the rebellion of the earls in 1569. How, when and why this chapel stood in the village is unknown, but the problem leaves large scope for conjecture.
William Hutchinson, the old reliable County Durham historian, writing in 1787 quotes, "that whenever the ground near to the site of the old chapel is broken to any depth, large quantities of human bones are frequently dug up".
The site of the chapel was on Front Street, where the road forks, with the Congregational Chapel covering the exact spot today. In 1890, Mr. T. C. Nicholson an architect of Blaydon, who is mainly remembered for having designed the schools at the bottom of Shibdon Bank and Winlaton Board Schools, excavated the site, but unfortunately nothing of note was found. This fact is hardly surprising considering the large amount of activity that has taken place upon the grounds of the chapel after its supposed destruction.
When Sir Ambrose Crowley came to Winlaton in 1691, he decided that his workmen needed spiritual comfort in the village instead of having to travel the long rocky road to Ryton Parish Church, so in 1703 he licensed Winlaton Hall as a place of worship. On April 17th, 1705, a subscription was commenced for building a chapel upon the ruins of the old chapel, which was finished and regularly pewed the following January. It had a gallery at the west end, with a turret and a clock, and it afforded accommodation for three hundred persons. This chapel was also dedicated to St. Anne, proving the tradition of the chapel was still strong in the beginning of Crowley's regime. Daily service was performed in the chapel by the Crowley firm's own chaplains who also combined these duties with those of a schoolmaster. The burial, baptism and marriage ceremonies were still carried out at Ryton.
In 1815 Winlaton was abandoned by the Crowleys, the chapel fell into decay and was demolished; then in 1816, a large school-room was erected upon the same site, by subscription aided by gifts from the National and the Diocesan School Societies, and from Lord Crewe's trustees. This school remained until about 1898 when the ground was prepared for yet another chapel, the Congregational, whose date of erection is quite plain to any passer-by. These activities have successfully obliterated all traces of the first chapel to St. Anne.
A little to the east of the chapel stood Winlaton Hall, which was owned by a noted catholic family, the Hodgsons of Hebburn, in whose possession it remained until 1698 when it passed into the hands of Lord Widdrington, who let it to Sir Ambrose Crowley. Sir Ambrose converted it into offices and warehouses, but also used it as living quarters. The Hall was described as "well situated, fit for a gentleman's family, with a large tract of meadow and pasture ground around the same, with several houses and smith's shops", the Crowleys vacated it in 1753. When this hall was built is uncertain, but Mr. Matthew Kirsop, who owned the hall (which was sometimes known as Crowley's Castle) said at its demolition (about 1935) that it was probably built about the 13th century. If this is true could St. Anne's Chapel have been connected with the hall, possibly as a chantry? On the estate map of 1632, there are no buildings marked on the site, but the stout old catholic knight, Sir Robert Hodgson, is known to have lived here, and he died in 1624, so no doubt the map is inaccurate.
There are some quite mysterious facts connected with the area of both chapel and hall which created quite a lot of local interest in 1936. During road repair work, the heavy roller the council men were using, broke into a subterranean passage between Winlaton and Blaydon Burn. The press were soon investigating the discovery and the headlines of the now defunct Evening World ran :-
SECRET PASSAGE AT WINLATON
MONKS ANCIENT HIDING PLACE
UNDERGROUND FIND BY WORKMEN