Manchester - Our Lady and St John

High Lane, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21

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An interwar suburban church of the late Gothic Revival, notable not so much for its architecture as for the high quality of the furnishings by the firm of Ferdinand Stuflesser, the good glass by Mayer of Munich and the superb mosaic which is an important work by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd., representing one of his most ambitious schemes in England. 

Chorlton is a suburb on the south side of Manchester which experienced expansion of middle-class housing from the late nineteenth century and the growth of housing estates in the interwar period.  The Catholic mission commenced in 1892 when Prior Jerome Vaughan founded St Peter’s Priory in Woodlea House on Edge Lane. Land was bought on Chequers Road in 1897 where a new school and chapel were opened in 1898 and dedicated to St Augustine.  These buildings survive in use as a parish centre and sports club. A site for a new church was acquired by the Rev. Joseph Kelly in 1917.  The presbytery appears to predate the church, and is built of different materials.  In 1919 Fr Kelly bought the contents and fabric of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, of 1873 by James & Robert Garnet, including the spire and belfry which were passed to English Martyrs Church in Whalley Range.

A new church was built on the site in 1927, largely through the generosity of the John Leeming family. It was dedicated to Our Lady and St John, possibly to avoid confusion with other Catholic churches in Manchester dedicated to St Augustine, or (as Bolton suggests) in honour of the benefactor. The architect of the new building was Harold Greenhalgh and the contractor was George Powis. Work began in January 1926 and the church was opened by Bishop Henshaw in June 1927. Although it is said that the benches came from the Ramsbottom church, it does not seem that any of the fabric was used.  

A sanctuary reordering was undertaken, perhaps in 1975 when the font was moved from the baptistery to the Lady Chapel.  The altar was brought forward, stalls removed, and the sanctuary was carpeted.  Archive photographs show a pulpit by Stuflesser which has been removed.

All orientations given are liturgical. The church is of brick with terracotta dressings supplied by Bispham Hall Terracotta Co. of Wigan. It consists of a nave with a projecting northwest baptistery, chancel flanked by chapels, and sacristies in transeptal projections behind, linked to the presbytery. The design of the church is more typical of the style associated with the late Victorian and Edwardian era than the interwar period, in that it adopts a traditional historicist approach, with reticulated window tracery of Decorated type.  The west window is within a terracotta surround with traceried panels below and a niche above it containing a statue. There is a southwest porch with a doorway in a terracotta surround surmounted by a gabled parapet with the letters AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam) in the tympanum. On the northeast side there are toilets and a door with a ramp up to the sacristy which appear to be late twentieth century additions.  Inside there is a porch, but no narthex, and the interior has a west gallery of pitch pine with decorative stair and an organ with decorated pipes. A large west window by Mayer of Munich shows the Assumption. An impressive hammerbeam roof spans the nave. The baptistery on the northwest side of the nave has been converted to a piety stall, keeping the original mosaic floor, almost certainly by Eric Newton, a wrought iron gate and stained glass showing the Baptism of Christ by Mayer of Munich. A stone set into the floor records the position of the font until 1975.  There is a Lady Chapel on the south side of the sanctuary, and a Sacred Heart chapel to the north. Like the sanctuary, both are panelled to dado height in ornate, traceried panelling with cresting and both keep original furnishings. An extensive mosaic scheme covers the whole of the east wall and the sanctuary, designed by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd. The sanctuary floor is also of mosaic or opus sectile to his design, now covered by a carpet.  Archive photographs suggest it was patterned in geometrical designs. Over the chancel arch there is a scene of Christ and the Virgin as Queen of Heaven attended by angel minstrels. Large scenes illustrating themes from the Book of Revelation adorn the sanctuary walls, and the scheme continues with decorative mosaic behind the reredos and within the window reveals.  The mosaic is highly accomplished work illustrating Newton’s mastery of the technique and his skill in creating subtlety in modelling and a fresco-like quality. Most of the original furnishings, including altars, Stations of the Cross, statuary and a magnificent reredos with good figure sculpture, are by the firm of Ferdinand Stuflesser, and the font was supplied by Myeller of Landeck in Austria.  Fr Joseph Kelly is quoted in the church guidebooks as saying of the furnishings ‘I have been all over Europe and I have chosen the best.’

Diocese: Salford

Architect: H. Greenhalgh

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II