Manchester - English Martyrs

Alexandra Road South, Whalley Range, Manchester M16

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A good example of the somewhat eclectic architectural style adopted for churches at the end of the nineteenth century, with added interest contributed by the addition of a distinctive spire from another building. The interior has impressive volumes and retains a range of furnishings of interest and artistic worth. Good stained glass includes windows by Atkinson of Newcastle, Mayer of Munich and Daniell & Fricker.

Whalley Range was laid out as an exclusive residential settlement in the early nineteenth century. Churches, chapels and educational institutions, including St Bede’s College, were built in the area in the later years of the century. The neighbourhood became more mixed in the twentieth century, with the building of the Wilbraham and Moss Side council estates on the borders of the area.  Pastoral care was the responsibility of St Bede’s College until 1893, when Rev. James Rowan took sole charge of the mission. 

The church was built from designs by the Manchester architect F. H. Oldham (figure 1). The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Bilsborrow on 4 May 1895 and when the church opened in 1896 it consisted of only nave and aisles. The 1903 Diocesan Almanac records that in the previous year a pulpit had been placed in the church, and bench seating and stained glass windows of English Martyrs added in the aisles. The sanctuary was opened in 1908, and the Lady altar dedicated in 1910. A few months later the St Joseph altar was added. Altar rails were soon added, to commemorate the silver jubilee of Fr Rowan. In 1919 the rose window, depicting the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost, was installed.

The church was consecrated on the feast of the English Martyrs in 1922 by the Bishops of Clifton, Shrewsbury and Teos. The appearance at this time is shown in figure 2. By this time the high altar had been installed and dedicated; a First World War memorial was also in place in the church. 

A tower and spire had been intended by Oldham, but not originally built. They were finally completed in 1926-7, under the direction of E. B. Norris,  re-using the top of the spire from the demolished Presbyterian Church of St Andrew in Ramsbottom (1873, by James and Robert Garnet), which had passed to the church from Our Lady and St John, Chorlton (qv).

The decoration of the interior of the church proceeded incrementally. Further research might elucidate the exact sequence of events and donations in furnishing the interior. In 1935 mosaic decoration was installed on the east wall of the sanctuary, and other furnishings may have been introduced at the same time. Since the mosaic is designed to fit around the reredos, that must have been in place before or in 1935.  

Church and presbytery were badly damaged in 1940 during the Manchester Blitz and repaired in 1941. Much of the glass was lost and that in the west rose window and the south aisle was replaced after the war, while the windows of the north aisle and chapel were repaired. After the Second Vatican Council the altar was brought forward and the font brought into the sanctuary. The original baptistery became a piety shop. The benches in the church were replaced in 1970.

The presbytery, which had suffered war damage, is dated 1955, suggesting that it was replaced or rebuilt at that time. 

All orientations given are liturgical. For a description see the listing entry below.  This states that the style adopted as Early English, however it would be more accurate to describe it as a freely based on Early English and Decorated styles, with a west rose window recalling that of Westminster Abbey. The description of the interior is very brief; the following expands upon this:

The church is entered from the west end via a narthex beneath a west gallery which has a large Jardine organ. The open timber roof is arch-braced, and arcades of pointed arches have sturdy circular piers with moulded octagonal caps. There is a tall chancel arch flanked by lower arches to chapels. On the south side a doorway and steps beside the chapel lead to a link to the presbytery. The sanctuary retains altar rails of marble with wrought iron gates incorporating copper plates with Latin inscriptions, illustrated in photographs of 1922. The altar is of stone with a carving of a lamb. The reredos is intricately carved and gilded. On each side of it mosaics of 1935 include panels showing the newly canonised St Thomas More and St John Fisher. The work is almost certainly to designs by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Co., as it has parallels with work known to be his elsewhere. The sanctuary is panelled and has matching carved oak parclose screens of Gothic design with traceried openings to the chapels on each side.  Other furnishings include a pulpit of later twentieth century date and an octagonal font. The south Lady Chapel has an ornate carved stone reredos incorporating gold mosaic and a statue of the Virgin, and an altar.  The north chapel of St Joseph also has an ornate stone reredos, this time with painted scenes.  There is a First World War memorial panel on the north wall of the chapel with carved angels. Above, a four-light war memorial window by Daniell & Fricker shows soldier saints. Stained glass in the north aisle includes windows by Atkinson of Newcastle and Mayer of Munich, showing saints and English Martyrs. The theme is continued on the south side, in glass by an unknown artist, installed after the Second World War. Glass in the south side of the Lady Chapel and at the east end is by another hand, perhaps by the Lightfoot Co. 

LIST DESCRUOTION:

Roman Catholic church. 1895-6, by F.H. Oldham. Coursed sandstone rubble with some ashlar, slate roof. Early English style. Nave with north-west tower, north and south aisles (short confessional wing attached to north aisle), chancel with transeptal side chapels. The gabled 3-bay west facade has buttresses flanking a 2-centred arched doorway with a gable surmounted by a statue in a niche, blank arches in the outer bays containing coupled lancets, and above the doorway a giant blank arch containing a wheel window. The tower, to the left, has upper stages of ashlar, with clasping pilasters, tall coupled lancets with shafts and louvres, a corbel-table with corner gargoyles, weathered coping with corner pinnacles, and an unusual broach spire interrupted at mid height by an arcaded stage which has stout colonnettes, trefoil arches and crocketed gablets. The nave and aisles have lancet windows, those to the nave with trefoil tracery. Interior: 5-bay aisle arcades of stout cylindrical piers with moulded octagonal caps and double-chamfered arches; arch-braced collar truss roof.

Diocese: Salford

Architect: F. H. Oldham

Original Date: 1896

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II