Saint Patrick’s Church in Consett was officially opened and consecrated on November 4th 1959 – which makes it 60 years old this month.
I was just three and a half then and lived in Alexandra Street, three doors away from my Auntie Rose, Uncle Pat and Uncle Michael.
My cousin Bernadette was nineteen and after a fairytale romance she and her fiancé Michael were planning their wedding.
Working to a budget and without time on their side they began preparing for the big day.
The first thing after meeting with the Parish priest and arranging a date was to look for a reception venue. Auntie Rose said her house was available – as she would – so Bernadette set to, stripping off wallpaper to decorate, however with only three weeks to the wedding it was never going to happen.
Michael who was twenty one had just come out of his bricklaying apprenticeship at ‘The Company’, and plucking up the courage, he rang her up while she was at work at Howard’s in Taylor Street and asked her to marry him. Of course she said yes and that was when the fun started.
As with all families there was some wedding tension as her mother thought she was far too young to get married and voiced her opinion strongly, as did her future mother – in- law. However with determination and resourcefulness, the soon to be happy couple knew they were meant to be together and ploughed on with their plans.
There was a trip to Newcastle for the dress and decisions to make about bridesmaids and suits. With them both working full time, Michael agreed to buy the wedding band alone and he was given the engagement ring for the correct size. (It turned out to be too small and had to be cut off the day after the wedding – but that’s another story!)
The cake was ordered locally and Donaghy’s agreed to do the flowers, but with venues charging triple time to open on Boxing Day – the first day you could be married after Advent – Bernadette’s Mam called in a favour from one of her hairdressing clients. The Stanefordham in Moorside was booked for the reception but no children were allowed. I was the little bridesmaid so had to be let in , but this proved to be a bone of contention with the other side of the family, who decided not to attend if they couldn’t bring their kids. This led to a series of unfortunate events.
With one bridesmaid down, another cousin was asked to stand in. She agreed but didn’t have a dress so hired one from a shop in the town. As the shops were closed for Christmas it was left on the front door step for collection and turned out to be totally wrong for the occasion but it was too late to make any changes. Similarly as the engaged couple went to pick up their three tiered cake it was placed surreptitiously on Bernadette’s knee in the back seat of the car, where she promised faithfully to protect it on it’s short journey to the pub. She closed the door carefully, unaware that the handle had deftly sliced through the bottom corner leaving a crumbly mess!
Most of the family were staying at Auntie Rose’s and all wanted a bath on Christmas night ready for the wedding the next day. With only a back boiler to heat the water, there was a good hour waiting time in between baths for the water to achieve the desired temperature, so the family sat around and chatted and shared drinks to pass the time. As it was getting late and the bath queue seemed to be getting longer. Bernadette and her chief bridesmaid Ann made their way to Castleside to her house for their ablutions and came back late in the evening.
My Mam was making my dress and sat up most of the night painstakingly securing all the satin fastenings and getting my beautiful silver shoes and coronet ready. After practically no rest it was consequential that we all slept in for the wedding, which was at 8 o’clock in the morning.
With everyone else ready, I remember being hauled out of my pyjamas and flung into a wedding car while Bernadette tried to tame my bed hair with her fingers, before plonking the floral band on my head just in time, as we pulled up at church.
The rain was relentless and as the guests poured into church they left a mountain of umbrellas in the front porch. In the rush and confusion I paraded down the aisle with a large bouquet of flowers meant for the bride while Bernadette had a dainty posy designed for a 3 year old!
And so the first wedding in St Patrick’s was under way and even though Nana decided not to go at the last minute – despite having all her make up on – she commented that she was happy enough to sit in her wedding outfit in Auntie Rose’s; having a cup of tea, delighted that all the prayers she’d offered up for the Holy Souls had been answered, and her granddaughter was marrying a good catholic lad!