Church of the Ascension (1970)

Hulme

Denomination: Church of England

Postcode: M15 5EA

 

Much has been written about Wilson and Womersley’s notorious Hulme Crescents (1972) and the subsequent rounds of ‘regeneration’ the neighbourhood has undergone; Birley Fields Campus for Manchester Metropolitan University being the most recent. However, very little commentary exists on the spiritual life embedded within Hulme. Visual evidence includes A Practical Faith (1980), a student documentary film which follows the work of Reverend Mike Taylor from Hulme United Reform Church – formerly Tatton Street Congregational Church (1969) and now the New Hope Fellowship Church – as he tries to engage local residents through activities such as amateur dramatics and football.

There is physical evidence, too, in the many post-war churches located in and around Hulme. These include Union Hall Evangelical Church (1968), Pilgrim Wesleyan Holiness (1968), Wesley Methodist Chapel (1968), and Emmanuel Pentecostal Church (1969). Though the redevelopment of Hulme is often criticised for being harsh and uncompromising, a consideration of these buildings – and their relation to the wider planning of Hulme – may allow for a small reassessment of this supposed post-war debacle.

The first point to make is that the 1960s redevelopment of Hulme did not entirely decimate the area. Buildings such as the Zion Congregational Chapel (1911) by Bradshaw Gass and Hope and St Wilfrid’s RC Church (1842) by A.W.N. Pugin were retained because of their amenity value; the former now put to use as an arts centre. Many older churches, however, were compulsory purchased to the benefit of the Methodists and the Church of England who were, in any instance, over supplied with buildings even before the clearances took place. Faced with the problem of existing and potential congregants being relocated to places such as the Wythenshawe Estate, new church buildings were needed which took account of the alternative housing types being erected. In this regard, Church of the Ascension (1970) is of particular note.

 

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Designed by Robert Maguire and Keith Murray, a firm widely regarded as the key protagonists of (and form givers to) the liturgical renewal that resonated throughout the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, Church of the Ascension responded to its yet-to-be-completed high-rise neighbours with a complex roof design. It was reasoned that, for the tenants of the Crescents, the roof would be the most common view of the church and, therefore, required due architectural treatment. As Maguire observed, roof design is all too often disregarded by architects resulting in:

 

‘an ill-kept mix of dirty puddles and minor technological trash put there in the belief that it isn’t seen.’

 

It is this level of thought in the design processes of Robert Maguire & Keith Murray that has led some to refer to their architecture as ‘Human Brutalism’; neither Maguire nor Murray, it should be noted, were admirers of the Crescents, and referred to them as ‘dead worm blocks’. Yet, Church of the Ascension was also not without its critics. Its somewhat unremarkable exterior of buff blockwork and high-level glazing reputedly led those less familiar with Hulme to mistake the building for the local gym!

 

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Nonetheless, one is rewarded amply once inside the church. Here, the asymmetric main worship space sits almost within a separate structure. Free-standing columns support a ring beam which, in turn, supports a succession of rings beams; each rotated 45 degrees to create an elaborate soffit, with the central portion glazed to form a roof light. A gallery, unique for a Maguire and Murray church, incorporates the organ loft.

 

Interior towards organ loft Ascension

 

Along with a church, the building complex includes a hall and a rectory, all of which can be accessed from the entrance lobby which is located centrally on plan. By the 1970s, as seen with the contemporaneous St Robert, Longsight, the inclusion of a hall was considered essential to provide much-needed recreational space. At Church of the Ascension, varied social groups such as the Mothers’ Union, Boys and Girls’ Brigades, and local tenants associations made good use of it. However, predicted attendance at Sunday worship was wildly over-estimated. Despite the provision of 300 seats, the congregation typically numbered just fifty to seventy persons.

 

Postscript

Problems with the Hulme Crescents began to emerge in local press reports soon after occupation. According to a survey of the tenants, most would have ‘preferred to live in a house with a garden’. Whilst the suitability of the Crescents for families was certainly questionable, problems with refuse chutes and broken lifts were more a consequence of poor maintenance than design flaws; the oil-crisis of 1973 meant that the local authority was as cash-strapped as those tenants struggling to pay their exorbitant heating bills – the consequence of an experimental heating system.

Whilst the many local churches worked to alleviate some of the social problems arising from the crisis, the-then rector of Church of the Ascension observed that ‘more and more people are being housed there who are inadequate to meet the problems’. Single-parent families were often less able to pay the bills than those other families fortunate enough to have been rehoused.

After a long-period of decline and eventual abandonment, the Hulme Crescents were finally demolished in 1991. Without the context it was designed to respond to, those passing Church of Ascension today are, perhaps, even more likely to mistake it for the local gym. We would urge you to take a closer look at this architectural gem, however. Pop in, marvel at the central worship space, and listen to the splendid sounds of the Maguire-designed organ.

 

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Robert Maguire, along with Reverend Canon Alma Servant and Reverend Falak Sher, for assisting us in our research. Feature image, and other exterior images, are courtesy of the Manchester Local Image Collection.

Images from our ongoing research form part of the ManModSoc exhibition, organised by the Manchester Modernist Society, and will be on display from 19th until 26th June, 2015 at: Hodder+Partners SGI Studios, 1 Kelso Place, Manchester, M15 4LE

Trinity Methodist Church (1964)

Ancoats

Denomination: Methodist

Postcode: M4 7JE (Click here)

 

Beyond the ambition to provide a better standard of living for its citizens, the post-war re-planning of Manchester, as set out in Rowland Nicholas’ City of Manchester Plan (1945), had other indirect consequences. Proposed new housing schemes, which required the clearance of existing sites such as Ancoats and Hulme, provided ample opportunities for the various church authorities to plan and execute new buildings.

By the 1950s, the Methodists were haemorrhaging worshippers; religious observance was generally suffering from population migration whilst the old church buildings were thought to look decrepit when set in a landscape of modern development. As the Methodist Church sought to reduce the number of its churches, the instrument of the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) proved something of a boon.

In 1961, a new housing estate, consisting of approximately 29 per cent individual dwellings and 71 per cent low rise flats and maisonettes, was proposed by Manchester Corporation for Ancoats – the city’s original industrial slum. Around the same time, the Methodist Church received planning approval to erect a small church in the heart of the new estate. This modest church would replace three Victorian Methodist churches, all located in proximity to one another.

Lengthy negotiations took place between the Corporation and the Methodist Church before a suitable site, one which satisfied the Manchester Mission’s aspiration to be ‘part of a redesigned centre for the Ancoats and Beswick districts’, could be identified. A cross marking the agreed location of new church, a site adjacent to where the Mission’s Victoria Hall had once stood, was placed in the ground.

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In contrast to the Church of England and the Roman Catholics who had, prior to the 1950s, been fairly conservative in the extent to which they were willing to experiment with new forms, the Methodists were less cautious. They regarded the gathering of worshippers, not the church building itself, as central to the creation of sacred space; for example, the Albert Hall (1910) on Peter Street was designed by William J. Morley to look like a secular theatre in order to draw people away from the more salubrious music halls and pubs. It was the Central Halls that the noted Methodist architect Edward D. Mills cited as a precedent for those post-war dual purpose churches which aimed to combine the secular with the sacred; novel to the Anglicans and Roman Catholics, but entirely familiar to the Methodist Church.

At Ancoats, the Manchester Mission was keen to impress the need for both a modern worship space AND rooms which could be utilised for its daily outreach work. The resulting Trinity Methodist Church – designed by the architect Mr Harrison of the firm J.C.G Prestwich & Sons of Leigh and constructed by Seddon of Little Hulton –  was of traditional brick construction and, accessed off Ridgway Street via a central lobby, satisfied the brief  by providing a double-height worship space along with a single-storey block housing a series of rooms available for community purposes. These rooms were later put to a variety of uses including a Folk Club on Monday nights, a ‘motorcyclists’ night on Wednesdays, with Friday nights reserved for a youth club.

 

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The building was intended to appear welcoming in order to encourage all passers-by to drop in – this in-keeping with the Manchester Mission’s motto of ‘Need not Creed’. For this reason, one end of the double-height main worship space, which provided seating for 100-persons, was fully glazed; a large window with decorative coloured glass was positioned above the glazed entrance screen off the central lobby area. Further, a floor-to-ceiling clear-glazed window, placed to one side of the sanctuary, meant that the communion table was visible from the street.

 

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In common with other nonconformist churches, there were few other embellishments. The side walls of the main worship space were originally rendered and painted white, whilst the wall behind the communion table retained an exposed brick finish. The ceiling was under-drawn with strips of timber and simple pendant lighting provided. These and other fitting and fixtures, such as the seats, communion rails, and cross remain in situ. The choice of materials was intended to make the church easy to maintain, and well-maintained it has been.

Although Trinity Methodist Church was intentionally a somewhat restrained building, the erection of a 24ft-high illuminated cross made its sacred function apparent. Increasing costs of labour and materials meant that economies were a necessity, but it forced both church authorities and designers alike to focus on the social, as well as spiritual, aspects of church life. As Mills himself noted:

 

‘[A] church of this character might then, like the medieval church, again become a vital part of the community’.

 

When opened on 30th May 1964, the provision of closed-circuit television, to ensure that the packed-out opening services could be relayed to those gathered outside, suggested the role of Trinity Methodist Church in Ancoats would, indeed, be a vital one.

 

Postscript

Soon after opening, the Ancoats area began to suffer from the effects of industrial decline. The William Plant Hat Works and the Railway Goods Yard closed, and employment opportunities dwindled. Despite such difficulties, Trinity Methodist Church continued to work with existing community groups whilst providing essential social services.

Eventually, owing to a reduction in local industry and, in part, a consequence of migration from former British colonies, the original community began to dissipate and the local demographic changed. Today, Sunday services at Trinity Methodist Church are enriched by the ethnic diversity of its congregation .

With the surrounding area of Ancoats in a state of flux as subsequent waves of regeneration initiatives come and go, the church – and the estate it was built to serve – may appear anomalous amongst its brassy neighbours in New Islington, yet it maintains a dignified presence. Then again, the congregation in Ancoats always did have brass…

 

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to Rev. Susan Williamson, Trinity Methodist Church, Ancoats, and the Manchester Local Image Collection for use of the above images.

Also, thank you to the Methodist Church Property Office for granting access to their extensive collection of literature.

St Saviour (1962)

Chadderton

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.

 

St Saviour Mission Church 1910-62

 

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.

 

St Saviour Church Morning Worship 1970

 

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.

 

Postscript

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.

St Saviours 2014

 

 

Acknowledgements

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.