Church of the Ascension (1970)


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.




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!




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.



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.



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

St Chad (1965)


Denomination: Church of England

Postcode: OL8 3LE


In 1946, Oldham Corporation put out tenders for the erection of 820 new houses, 78 old-peoples’ bungalows, and 18 flats. In keeping with contemporary regional planning policy, the proposal was part of a wider plan to create one of the earliest neighbourhood units in the country. It was to be known as Limeside Estate.

The plans, drawn up by Borough Surveyor and Engineer A.L. Hobson and Oldham Corporation’s architect J. Fogson, incorporated new schools, a community hall, a library and health centre, and ‘a modern public house’. Additionally, a site was to be reserved for the construction of a new parish church.

As incoming families took up residence in their new homes, establishing an early presence on the estate was crucial for the Church of England. It was anticipated that the nearby parish of St Margaret would double in size. Thus, in 1951, it was split into two and the new parish of St Chad was created.

A temporary church, designed by Herbert Rhodes of the Manchester-based firm of architects Leach Rhodes Walker, was duly erected. Occupying a large and prominent site at the heart of the estate, this church was indicative of what was, perhaps, a bias in the formative years of post-war planning: the established Church was often privileged in its choice of sites.

Yet, it was only a temporary solution. In March 1958, Dr William Greer, the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, called for contributions from local industry to help fund the erection of fourteen permanent new churches across the city – the so-called ‘Bishop’s New Churches Appeal’. With cold war tensions rising – Sputnik 1 had recently been launched by the Soviets – Bishop Greer felt that this was the most appropriate response the church could give:


‘A church building symbolise[s] the ultimate security which [comes] from God.’


Perhaps also conscious of the imminent completion of Holy Family RC Church, opened 14th June 1958, amongst those new churches proposed was a permanent home for the parish of St Chad. Nonetheless, it was the Methodists who were next to establish a church on the estate. Limeside Methodist Church was opened on 23rd April 1960.

The delay in proceeding with the new St Chad was, in part, due to a shortfall in the sums raised from the Bishop’s appeal: the targeted £750,000 was not achieved so, to compensate, economies had to be found and all new parishes were required to repay 25 per cent of building costs. Not until early-1963 was the architectural firm of Paterson & Macaulay appointed to draw up plans.

The aim was to ‘build and equip a sober, dignified and architecturally interesting building of a permanent character’. Having recently overseen the completion of St John in Weston, Macclesfield (now demolished), Paterson & Macaulay produced a bold design. Located adjacent to Rhodes’ temporary church, which was in future to be utilised as a parish hall, the proposed building was small in scale but, resembling a crown and set in an area of greenery, it would be a distinctive landmark on the estate.

On 8th February 1963, a foundation stone was laid by Father Goodman, Parish Priest of Saint Margaret, and construction of the new church was finally underway. Progress was swift with ‘enormous enthusiasm’ shown by locals who contributed both their labour and building materials to the endeavour.




The main worship space, faced externally with brickwork, was hexagonal with a pitched, slated timber roof supported by a steel frame. Six steeply pitched gables, with side returns clad in copper, formed the rooflight above the nave. A tall post, surmounted by a cross, was positioned at the centre of the roof structure.




Entry to the nave was through a single-storey flat-roofed lobby area; a Lady Chapel, oval in plan and made separate by a glazed screen, could also be reached from here. Internally, the steel frame was left exposed around the perimeter walls, but the roof structure was under-drawn to form a timber soffit.




The sanctuary was placed to one side of the hexagon with the altar elevated onto a plinth accessed via three shallow steps. The communion rail was lacquered black and supported by a frame finished in silver. All fittings and fixtures, including the font and reading desk, were bespoke to the building.




The new church, which seated 180 persons, was finally completed in January 1965 and consecrated by Bishop Greer himself later that month.



In the years immediately following the opening of St Chad, the parish thrived. But as the local cotton spinning industry went into decline so too did the town’s extensive textile-related engineering businesses. The oil crisis of 1973 put paid to any meaningful regional economic planning and northern towns, such as Oldham, suffered particularly badly. Along with rising unemployment, civil disobedience was on the increase. Throughout the 1980s, St Chad suffered from almost constant vandalism. So, to ease the financial burden placed upon the church, the parish hall was rented out and put to use as an ‘estate’ club.

However, average attendances dwindled to around twenty persons and, although the small scale of St Chad helped engender a sense of ‘togetherness’ amongst congregants, it was eventually agreed that the parish should be merged with that of Saint Margaret. The building was finally closed in 2002 and, despite being in a state of good repair, was demolished soon after along with the former-parish hall . Housing now occupies the site.

More recently, the estate’s shopping parade has been cleared and a community centre built in its place. This begs the following question: could the shopping parade not have been retained and St Chad put to use for the same purpose?


St Chad Centre

 ABOVE: The new St Chad’s Centre, Limeside



Photographs of the now-demolished St Chad are courtesy of Geoff Stott of Paterson Macaulay & Owens.

The photograph of St Chad’s Centre is via Rowlinson Construction.


St Stephen (1968)


Denomination: Church of England

Postcode: M29 7BT (Click here)


Heading west out of Manchester, along the A580 East Lancashire Road, is the village of Astley and the parish church of St Stephen, the origins of which can be traced back to a chapel of ease erected in 1631. In 1760, this modest chapel was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate an ever-growing congregation. In later years, the chapel was further enlarged; the campanile, constructed in 1842, was intended to make the building ‘look like a church’.


1 astley-edit


By 1956, the church was in need of serious repair. Dry-rot and death-watch beetle, the scourge of many a church, had seriously affected the roof timbers. Further, the nave was considered overly cluttered with ‘horse-box pews’, prompting one aged churchwarden to complain that he had not been able to see the altar for forty years. The renowned ecclesiastical architect George Pace, later responsible for both St Mark, Chadderton (1963) and William Temple Memorial Church, Wythenshawe (1965), was charged with overseeing the reordering and restoration of the church.

Works included replacing rotted roof timbers, the removal of pews to improve circulation, and the laying of a new black-and-white tiled floor. The interior of the church was to be decorated in white and gold, whilst additional oak panelling was to adorn the walls. Pace was said to be extremely fond of the restored church which was duly re-dedicated by the Bishop of Hulme on 7th October, 1956. Just five years later, however, disaster stuck.

On 18th June 1961, a fire, initially thought to have been caused by an electrical fault, swept through the building. Efforts to control the blaze were hampered by inadequate water supplies and, in just five hours, Pace’s restoration work was reduced to cinders: only the charred outer walls of the church remained. When it emerged that the church had been the victim of an arson attack, the parish council was determined that the church should be rebuilt. With Pace otherwise engaged, W. Cecil Young (later one half of the enduring Manchester firm of architects, Taylor & Young) was appointed to assess the ruins of the church.

When Young concluded that the remaining walls were structurally sound, there was great optimism that St. Stephen could indeed be restored, but these hopes proved false. Proposals by Young, which incorporated the walls of the old church, had been enthusiastically received. However, once building work had got underway, it was discovered that the existing foundations were more seriously damaged than previously thought. Reluctantly, the decision was taken to abandon the restoration. Was this the end for St. Stephen?




The 1950s were not kind to Astley. Following the fire at St. Stephen, mining subsidence had forced the closure of Arrowsmith’s Mill, a major source of local employment: new investment into the area was not forthcoming. In the 1960s, however, things began to change. The coal mines began to close, and land previously considered unsuitable for development was reclaimed. New housing estates were erected and light industry returned to the area. Astley, commutable from both Liverpool and Manchester, enjoyed something of a resurgence. The population was increasing, and so too was demand for local amenity. Thus, when plans for a new school were approved in 1965, it was decided that a new church should be erected in close proximity. The chosen site, known locally as The Ley, would accommodate both school and church.

By this time, considerable change was occurring in the design of churches. Liturgical change, brought forward by the Second Vatican Council in 1962, coincided with the widespread embrace of modernist design principles in Britain. Radical new church designs, not just Roman Catholic, began to appear, and the Building Committee in Astley were aware of such change. Visits to other modern churches were arranged, and considerable discussion took place regarding the form of the new church. A square-shaped building would, it was felt, engender a sense of ‘togetherness’, and although a central altar with surrounding pews was considered, parishioners were vocal in their criticism for such arrangements: the faces of fellow worshipers were distracting!

It was a visit to St. George, Rugby (1963) by Denys Hinton that proved most influential. Here, the architect had created a church that was not only modern in appearance but, in accordance with the wishes of the congregants, retained a traditional layout. The new St Stephen would not be a replica of this church, but it would adopt the underlying principles of its design. Raymond Nutter of Mather & Nutter was appointed to design both school and church, with Messrs W. Snape & Sons of Eccles acting as contractor. Building work began in June 1967, and on 26th October 1968, the new St Stephen was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.


3 St Stephen


Set back from the main road, visitors enter the brick structure through a circular narthex at the west end of the building. Moving into the nave, the ceiling is low on account of an elevated Lady Chapel (and gallery) just beyond the main entrance and at the rear end of the interior space.  The altar, at the east end, is simple and was designed to be visible from all viewpoints. The main worship space is rectangular on plan, with pews arranged either side of a central aisle; although appearing regimented, these are moveable in order to increase the flexibility of the building. The severity of the form is offset with curved features that favourably enhance the acoustics. The furnishings are largely plain and simple, all of them original to the building.


4 Interior


Of particular note are the abstract stained glass panels by Hans Unger & Eberhard Schulze which depict the life and martyrdom of St Stephen. Unger & Schulze are, perhaps, better known for their posters for London Transport, but they also provided a mosaic of the crucifixion for St Jude, Wigan (1965) by L.A.G. Pritchard & Son. The panels at St Stephen are dalle de verre, but differ from those of Pierre Fourmaintraux. Here, the colourful glass pieces (dalles) are layered using a resin, whilst the ‘cement fondue’ between the glass pieces is moulded to give added texture.  Although the panels have been renovated on two occasions owing to vandalism, the original technique has proved difficult to replicate.


5 Unger & Schulze 2


Contemporary reactions upon the opening of the new church were largely favourable, although a few dissenters considered St Stephen to be ‘stark and depressing’. Others, however, felt the church, though different in form to the old, struck the right balance between modern and traditional. One life-long member of the congregation declared:


‘Why, it’s just like th’owd church!’



Between 1956 and 1961, the old church of St Stephen was reordered and restored by George Pace. Prior to the fire which destroyed the church, further alterations were being prepared by Pace. Unfortunately we have not, thus far, located any images of the old church interior dating from this period. If anyone can help, we would be delighted if you could contact us.



Photograph of the destroyed St Stephen church is courtesy of Steve Bulman at The Churches of Britain and Ireland.

Reverend Jonathan Carmyllie, Team Minister of The United Benefice of Astley, Tyldesley & Mosley Common, kindly granted us access to the ‘new’ church and provided a copy of ‘Bells and Pomegranates’ by the Reverend William King – a detailed history of the parish.


St Saviour (1962)


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.



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




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.