St Chad (1965)

Limeside

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

Postscript

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

 

Acknowledgements

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 Catherine of Siena (1957-59) Revisited

Lowton

Denomination: Roman Catholic

Postcode: WA3 1LB (Click here)

 

Further to our recent post highlighting the threat of demolition faced by St Catherine of Siena, we regrettably bring news that our application to have the church added to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest has been rejected.

English Heritage consider St Ambrose, Speke and St Mary, Leyland to be better examples of the post-war church by the firm of Weightman & Bullen. Whilst these churches are wonderful buildings, and rightly listed, we maintain that both are indebted to the architectural innovations manifest at St Catherine.

Not all buildings can, or should, be saved. However, we believe the listing system, and its methods of assessing architectural merit, still err on the side of the subjective and vague: design intent, and contemporary concerns, are not fully considered when assessing buildings. Although concerted efforts ARE being made to change the way we approach and evaluate our architectural heritage, particularly that of the twentieth century, the loss of buildings such as St Catherine, continues. For this particular sacred space, soon only memories will remain.

 

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ABOVE: This image, taken prior to a minor re-ordering of the church in late 1980s, shows the altar in its original position with altar rails intact.

BELOW: Though not fully centralised in plan, the positioning of the light fitting suggests an awareness of new liturgical ideas by the architect, Patricia Brown of Weightman & Bullen.

 

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ABOVE: The foundation stone of the church was laid by the then-Archbishop John Carmel Heenan on 28th September, 1958. The church opened on 3rd June, 1959, with Father John Connolly installed as Parish Priest.

BELOW:  Archbishop Heenan, later a participant in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), addresses the gathered congregation.

 

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We will continue to monitor developments, and provide updates where appropriate. Meanwhile, you may read our earlier blog on St Catherine here.

 

Acknowledgements

Once again, we would like to thank Dr Robert Proctor (Bath University) for the use of his images, and support in writing the listing application. He is the author of Building the Modern Church: Roman Catholic Church Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975 (Ashgate, 2014).

St Catherine of Siena (1957-59)

Lowton

Denomination: Roman Catholic

Postcode: WA3 1LB (Click here)

 

Continuing in an easterly direction along the A580 and beyond the village of Astley and St Stephen, one shortly arrives at St Catherine of Siena. This Roman Catholic church, built between 1957-59, was intended to serve housing estates proposed to the north and west of Lowton.

In the 1950s, a combination of population migration, urban development, and relatively high attendances saw the Roman Catholic Church invest heavily in developing urban areas such as Lowton. However, the subsequent decline in religious observance has left many dioceses oversupplied with places of worship. Rationalising such an extensive property portfolio tends to favour older, more traditional churches, placing others, like St Catherine, at risk: despite being well-attended and well-maintained, this church closed 2011 and is facing imminent demolition.

Although certain post-war buildings are recognised for their heritage value, listing designation is predominantly skewed towards pre-twentieth century buildings: only 3.2 per cent of buildings constructed after 1900 are listed, and only 0.2 per cent of those belong to the post-1945 period. There is a further bias towards buildings located in and around London (often the best financed). Yet many buildings beyond the south-east of England are important in understanding the evolution of the British architectural scene: First Church of Christ Scientist, Manchester (1903-04) by Edgar Wood is an example of complete innovation in the form of places of worship, this partly owing to the lack of precedence from a client who had only one other church in Europe. St Catherine was equally ground-breaking due to its deployment of an unusual plan and form that, although observable in post-war church design on mainland Europe, was a first for the Roman Catholic Church in England.

St Catherine’s hexagonal nave (described below) anticipated the ‘church in the round’ configuration seen in later churches such as Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool (1967), and is critical to our understanding of the evolution of post-war ecclesiastical building types. Designed by Weightman & Bullen, a north-west firm of architects established in the nineteenth century, the practice’s pre-war churches were fairly traditional. However, by the 1950s, the firm was employing graduates schooled in Modernist principles: Patricia Brown, an alumna of the Liverpool School of Architecture, was the architect responsible for St Catherine and, as Robert Proctor, author of Building the Modern Church: Roman Catholic Church Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975, states:

 

‘St Catherine’s seems to be the earliest of the firm’s churches in which a fully-fledged interest in modernism is seen.’

 

The nave and sanctuary of St Catherine are housed within a hexagonal form whose reinforced concrete frame is expressed externally – each side of the hexagon divided into three structural bays. The lower portion of this double-height structure is infilled with red-brown brickwork with abutting structures, including a single-storey flat roofed narthex, in matching brick with decorative features. The upper portion is generally clear-glazed to eaves level, although a band of alternating blue and clear glazing sits immediately above the brickwork. The sidewalls of the sanctuary also include vertical panels of coloured glass.

 

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Emphasising the hexagonal form of the nave and sanctuary is the folded copper roof, its dramatic form and verdigris patina, atopped with decorative finial, make the building an easily recognisable landmark. Above the narthex is the bell-tower, a concrete structure which incorporates a distinctive cruciform motif: a strong identifying feature of the church, this motif is repeated in low relief plaster internally on the wall behind the altar. The bell itself originates from the nearby parish church of St. Lewis, Croft and is a later addition.

 

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Writing in 1969, Nikolaus Pevsner initially characterised the plan as being octagonal rather than the hexagon that it is, declaring St Catherine of Siena to be ‘fussy in all details’. Delicate may be the more accurate adjective. The building conveys an attentive level of detail extended to both the interior and exterior – details that are mostly well-conserved.

 

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St Catherine can, perhaps, be considered as a prototype for St Ambrose, Speke (1961), and St Mary, Leyland (1964), both by Weightman & Bullen and Grade II listed. It has been described as a ‘pioneering’ work where the firm ‘first broke the mould’: the hexagonal plan pre-empted the involvement of congregants in the Roman Catholic liturgy who, as sanctioned during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), would no longer stand passively whilst watching rituals performed by a priest facing the alter and speaking in Latin.

Although many other denominations, such as the Quakers and the Methodists, had long advocated the inclusion of the congregation in the rites of worship (and often adopted polygonal forms), it was the Roman Catholic Church that had the finances to commission the more experimental designs to reflect the new liturgy. Architects such as Patricia Brown, however, had already anticipated the shift, and St Catherine provides ample evidence of this.

 

Postscript

On 30th September 2014, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council received a planning application from the Archdiocese of Liverpool seeking permission to demolish St Catherine; the requisite notice to proceed was served on 27th October 2014. According to the diocese, electrical rewiring costs are prohibitive to the continued use of the building as a church, although a shortage of priests has also been cited as a reason for closure. Alternative uses for the building do not appear to have been considered.

In December, a listing application was submitted to English Heritage in the hope that this important piece of post-war architecture – also notable for being by a female architect – can be saved. If unsuccessful, we hope that our story of its plight may, at least, serve to raise awareness of the threats faced by our modern places of worship.

 

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr Robert Proctor (Bath University) for his information on St Catherine of Siena, the use of his images, and support in writing the listing application. He is the author of Building the Modern Church: Roman Catholic Church Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975 (Ashgate, 2014).

We also thank Matthew Fernside for bringing this church to our attention.