Manchester - St Ambrose

Princess Road, Chorlton, Manchester M21

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A well-detailed, relatively modest post-war design by Reynolds & Scott, with an impressive and largely unaltered vaulted interior.  The dedication relates to St Ambrose Barlow, a Catholic martyr from nearby Barlow Hall. 

Chorlton was a small village which became popular for settlement in the nineteenth century as Manchester grew. Initially colonised by middle class dwellings, the area was expanded by housing estates in the interwar period.  Barlow Hall in the township was the family home of St Ambrose Barlow (1585-1641) who was martyred for his faith and in whose honour the church is dedicated. A bell from Barlow Hall was presented to the Bishop of Salford in 1968 and installed in the church. The Catholic mission in this part of Chorlton started  in order to serve the new housing estates when an old house and outbuildings known as Oaks Farm was acquired and a Mass centre formed in the upper storey of an old stable there, known as ‘the Barn’ or ‘Barn Chapel’. Work started on a school chapel in 1931 and the building opened in 1932. The parish was erected in the following year. The foundation stone of a new church designed by Reynolds & Scott was laid in 1956 and it opened in 1958.  The building has been the subject of only minor reordering.

All orientations given are liturgical. The church is of pale brownish brick laid in stretcher bond and adopts a quasi-Byzantine style in which round-arched forms predominate. The design has affinities with other churches by the same architects of similar date in this diocese and others. Nave and aisles are beneath one roof and there are very shallow transepts and a northeast tower of square plan with a shallow pyramidal roof. The west end has a central entrance surmounted by a statue of St Ambrose with a panel of mosaic behind. There are stair towers on each side. The east end is windowless and there is a low link to sacristies and the presbytery set back on the south side.

The interior is barrel vaulted with round-arched and coved arcades, and one (probably originally both) of the chapels and the sacristy are lit by circular ceiling openings. The sanctuary arch is flanked by lesser arches to the Sacred Heart and Lady Chapels, and there is a west gallery with a screen below pierced by round-arched openings. A baptistery takes the form of an apsidal alcove off the middle of the south aisle and retains the original font and font cover. It is lit by narrow round-arched windows with cross motifs and retains the original gates with Chi-Rho symbols. There are altar rails of different marbles, an altar with mosaic and a reredos of mosaic, probably by Oppenheimer, with a Crucifix beneath a tester. In an alcove on the south side a reliquary has been created for remains of St Ambrose Barlow and a bell said to be a Sanctus bell from Barlow Hall hangs nearby beside the entrance to the sacristy. The high altar has been brought forward and the floor levels adjusted, otherwise the sanctuary appears to be much in its original disposition as shown in a photograph of 1958. A pulpit of materials matching those of the altar rails is positioned on the north side of the sanctuary, also in the original position. Stained glass is generally restricted to geometrical banding except at the west end where a beehive, representing industry and co-operation, a Manchester emblem, appears.

Diocese: Salford

Architect: Reynolds & Scott

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed