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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.