Bradford - First Martyrs

Heights Lane, Heaton, Bradford 9

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First Martyrs is of outstanding significance for its central liturgical planning; the first such example in the country. Externally, the neo-Romanesque design is unremarkable, fitting discreetly into the street scene. Internally, a boldly cantilevered dome sits over the central altar. The latter belongs to a sensitive 1970s re-ordering, carried out by the son of the original architect. Significant furnishings include a statue of St John Bosco, by Eric Gill.

The area west of Heaton in north Bradford was developed for private housing in the inter-war years; the Chellow Grange housing estate was built in the 1930s. The area was served by St Cuthbert’s until First Martyrs church was developed as a chapel of ease by Fr John O’Connor, the progressive priest at St Cuthbert’s from 1919 to 1952, (and G.K. Chesterton’s original for ‘Fr Brown’). The foundation stone was laid in 1934. The innovative design of the new church, the first centrally planned church in England, was by Jack Langtry-Langton; the main contractors were W. Mitchell and the steelwork was provided by H. Barrett and Sons Ltd.; the total cost was £5,700. The church was opened on 28 May 1935 by Bishop Pearson of Lancaster, dedicated to Our Lady and the First Martyrs of Rome. First Martyrs became a separate parish in 1936 with Fr Bernard Blackburn the first parish priest. The presbytery was built in 1959 by Fr Lehane, designed by J. Langtry-Langton. The church was re-ordered in the same period, with a new oak altar and central tabernacle. The latter was removed and a new marble altar installed in 1974, by Fr James Lahart (1958-1990) as part of a sensitive refurbishment. The lower ground floor of the church was remodelled to create a parish hall and club in the 1970s.

Heights Lane is a long residential road lined with semi-detached inter-war houses, falling steeply to the north; there are fine views across north Bradford to the hills beyond. The church is built on the slope, with level access from the street to the ground floor, and access to the lower ground floor from the lower level of the presbytery, or reached by steep steps beside the church. At a terraced level above the church, there is a fenced car park, also designed for use as a 5-a-side football pitch. A low dry stone wall separated the church forecourt from the street.

The structure of the church is steel-framed, and the curved roof ribs and purlins are of steel, concealed by plasterwork, rather than as described in the list entry. The octagonal building could more accurately be described as Romanesque, with Byzantine details, rather than Norman Revival. Additional notable features include a stone statue in the narthex, of St John Bosco with the dog Grigio, by Eric Gill, commissioned by Fr O’Connor in 1935. The quirky octagonal ceiling lights around the central dome were made by Holophane Ltd as part of the 1935 design. In the main space, opposite the entrance, there are three semi- circular arched recesses, the central arch was formerly used as a confessional and now contains a tiny chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, with a grey marble altar installed and top-light in 1974, in memory of Fr O’Connor (died 1952). The 1970s textile wall hanging behind the altar is by Trudie Forbes. The 1974 re-ordering also included the central Santa Marina grey marble altar, made by Eric Redhead from designs by Peter Langtry-Langton, reinforcing the original concept. The simple oak bench seating and communion rails were part of the same phase of work, all designed by P. Langtry-Langton.

Diocese: Leeds

Architect: J.H. Langtry-Langton

Original Date: 1934

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1974

Listed Grade: Grade II