Denomination: Church of England
Postcode: OL9 8PU (Click here)
Sacred Suburbs is a celebration of post-war places of worship in the hinterlands of Greater Manchester. Whilst St. Raphael the Archangel (1963) by Massey & Massey and the magnificent William Temple Memorial Church (1965) by George Pace are well-known and much-celebrated examples within the region, our aim is to unearth those by lesser-known architects and artisans. Our first foray takes us north into Chadderton, a long-established township located near Oldham, and to a building no longer in use as a place of worship – St. Saviour.
The story of St. Saviour began in 1909 when in order to support a growing local populous, mostly employed in the nearby textile mills, the council of the parish church of Christ Church decided to erect an iron-framed mission church on Denton Lane. Costing a mere £500 to complete, St Saviour’s Mission Church was dedicated on 6th January, 1910.
By 1954, Christ Church itself required significant remedial works when structural faults were identified by local architect, Denis Bowman. Although the cause of the problem was thought to be old underground coal workings, it later emerged that the existing timber roof was simply too heavy for its supporting structure. Meanwhile, the roof of St. Saviour had begun to leak, and the building was deemed so cold and draughty that a more permanent building was required. It was to Bowman that the parochial church council turned to once again.
Bowman was part of Taylor, Bowman & Roberts, an Oldham-based firm of architects with a pedigree in ecclesiastical work dating back to the Victorian period. Bowman himself had recently overseen the completion of the nearby church of St George (1958) on Broadway. With plans for a new St. Saviour prepared, and Messrs Partington of Middleton appointed as main contractor, construction of the church commenced on 17th July, 1961.
The new church, dedicated by the Bishop of Hulme on 14th July, 1962, was rectangular in plan and of traditional brick construction with a concrete flat roof. The arched main entrance was placed asymmetrically on the front elevation to encourage visitors, on entry, to observe the altar placed in the opposing corner of the church, whilst above, a north-facing roof lantern flooded the alter with light. This arrangement meant that the nave was on the diagonal with pew seating angled either side of a central aisle. Whilst not a true church-in-the-round, as advocated by contemporary thinking aimed at bringing congregants more fully into worship, it was certainly a strong nod in this direction.
Generally lacking perimeter glazing – resulting in a rather austere external appearance – carefully positioned roof lights lit the inner sanctum. This was further enhanced by the building’s most notable feature – a large ‘dalle de verre’ window on the west facing facade which included symbols of Christ including the Dove and the Lamb. For the uninitiated, ‘dalle de verre’ translates as ‘slabs of glass’ and is the technique of casting pieces of thickened glass, usually stained, into concrete or resin.
St. Saviour’s window was created by one of its chief practitioners, the Frenchman Pierre Fourmaintraux, who brought the technique to Britain before joining James Powell & Sons (later Whitefriars Glass Studio) in 1956. Many examples of his work, including St Raphael the Archangel, have been listed by English Heritage and he is also credited with training Dom Charles Norris, one of the most prolific British proponents of the technique. An example of a Norris ‘dalle de verre’ window can be found in the Paul Pearn designed Blessed Sacrament Chapel (1965) at Buckfast Abbey.
In 1964, The Guardian newspaper published a piece on Fourmaintraux, entitled ‘Walls of Light’ in which he remarked:
‘a window is a little bit like poetry…in a church you ought to have the feeling that you’ve got to put yourself on your knees’.
At St. Saviour’s, the simplicity of Bowman’s design ensured that Fourmaintraux’s aspirations were realised.
During the 1970s, ongoing maintenance issues relating to a leaking roof meant that mass had to be given in the assembly hall of the nearby Christ Church Primary School. With the problems unresolved, St. Saviour was abandoned for good, just twenty years after opening, when a third St. Saviour’s church was opened on Bishopgate Street in 1983.
The old building still exists and, known as Pennine House, is put to use for light-industrial purposes. Regrettably, Fourmaintraux’s window has been removed from the building and replaced with an entrance screen and roller shuttered doors. Its current whereabouts, or even existence, are unknown. Was it consigned to a skip? We don’t know for certain, but if anyone can help us to trace it please contact us.
Feature image is courtesy of the Manchester Local Image Collection
Cathy Flint at the Christ Church & Parish Office (Chadderton) provided much information and was kind enough to loan us a short history of the parish.