Failsworth - Immaculate Conception

Clive Road, Failsworth, Manchester M35

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A church of the early 1960s, built before the Second Vatican Council on a traditional basilican plan. The design is striking and unusual, with an interesting combination of Gothic, classical and modern architectural motifs. The architect, Tadeusz Lesisz of Greenhalgh & Williams, is a little known figure but a designer of some interest. The church exhibits a scheme of sculpture, stained glass and mosaic on Marian themes, mainly by local designers, and retains almost all of the original furnishings and fittings in little altered state. It also retains furnishings from the late-nineteenth-century predecessor church. 

Failsworth was an isolated rural settlement until expansion in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century came with the arrival of the Rochdale Canal and advent of industry. The mission originated as a foundation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who arrived in 1846. In 1849 cottages were converted to a school and chapel, and in 1855 a church was started. Progress was slow owing to lack of funds, and the (unfinished) church did not open until 1865. In 1868 the church was damaged in riots stirred up by the anti-Catholic agitator William Murphy. A sanctuary was added to the church in 1892. The church became prey to subsidence, closed in 1959 and was demolished in 1964.

The congregation moved into a converted cinema before a new building on a different site was erected to the designs of Greenhalgh & Williams .  The partner responsible for the design was Tadeusz Lesisz, a leading figure in the Manchester Polish community, who had studied architecture at Oxford after a distinguished naval career during the Second World War. A reordering took place, probably in the late 1960s or 1970s. The altar was brought forward and the altar rails partially removed. The surplus rails were used to make a lectern and a font. 

All orientations given are liturgical. The church is of reinforced concrete and brick with artificial stone dressings. It is built on a basilican plan, with a west spire of unusual ribbed design, a northwest circular baptistery and a projecting northeast Lady Chapel. The low, narrow aisles are surmounted by a clerestory with circular lights, and the chancel is lit by tall windows.  The west front is very striking, the broad entrance arch enclosing a suspended aluminium figure of the Virgin by E.J. Blackwell of Manchester, who also executed the moulded artificial stone friezes.  The frieze along the north side depicts the Mysteries of the Rosary in low relief (figure 2). There is a vine frieze around the baptistery and another over the west entrance with symbols of the Evangelists. The church has a narthex and a west gallery. The circular baptistery is resonant of classical temple design, with an arcade, full-height glazed openings and a low roof. It is reached via a short link from the narthex where there are decorative ironwork gates.  The red marble font has a very unusual openwork aluminium font cover probably designed by Lesisz (bottom left photograph).  Stained glass, showing the Baptism of Christ is to the same design as that of the baptistery of St John Bosco, Blackley (qv).

The nave has a coffered ceiling with some panels with plasterwork Gothic motifs.  Original fittings include recessed shrines on each side to St Anthony and St Joseph, the bench seating and light fittings. The organ in the west gallery is also thought to be original.  The sanctuary is dominated by a huge floor-to-ceiling mosaic by Alberti, Lupton & Co. of Moston (who also supplied the marble work) forming a frame for the (removed) high altar and showing Our Lady crowned by angels over a frieze of sacred symbols. The stained glass is by Charles Lightfoot, much of it to the designs of the architect, some incorporating glass from the previous church. The decorative scheme was designed to ‘cultivate special devotion to Our Lady’ (Catholic Building Review Northern Edition, 1964 p. 78) reflected, for example in the statue at the entrance, the east end mosaic and the Lady Chapel glass on Marian themes. The Lady Chapel has Gothic touches in the ceiling ribs with bosses, but the southeast Sacred Heart chapel is screened by an arcade of almost Byzantine flavour, the columns cased in marble. Here the south wall has a large window, the glass showing Instruments of the Passion.  The chapel altar (photo middle right) is part of the original from the previous church, with carved figures in the reredos and a bas-relief Pietà in the altar front. 

Last updated: 03.01.2018.

Diocese: Salford

Architect: Greenhalgh & Williams (project architect T. Lesisz)

Original Date: 1964

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II