Manchester - St Augustine

Grosvenor Square, All Saints, Manchester M15

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An architecturally accomplished and little-altered building, particularly notable for the manner in which the architecture is integrated with an outstanding scheme of fixtures and artworks by Robert Brumby. It is historically important as a building erected with support from the War Damage Commission, and as a notable early example of a church designed to meet the needs of the post-Vatican II liturgy.  

Grosvenor Square originated in the late eighteenth century as a relatively genteel residential area on the outskirts of the centre of Manchester in the township of Chorlton-on-Medlock.  The Greek Revival style Town Hall and Dispensary (now part of the Metropolitan University) were built facing on to the square in the 1830s. However, the immediate neighbourhood became overrun with poor quality housing in the later nineteenth century. The area began to develop as an educational centre with the establishment of St Bede’s Roman Catholic College and when the premises of the Regional College of Art were built in 1880. The square and environs have become the campus of Manchester Metropolitan University (formerly Manchester Polytechnic), part of Manchester’s thriving educational quarter.

St Augustine’s was amongst the earliest post-Reformation Catholic missions in Manchester. The original church, in Granby Row, was designed by John Palmer in 1820.  Holy Family Church in Grosvenor Square originated as a Welsh Methodist Chapel built in 1846.  It was acquired by the Catholic Church in the 1870s for use as a chapel of St Bede’s College, which later moved to Alexandra Park in Manchester.  The Holy Family parish was amalgamated with St Augustine’s in 1908, and it was to these buildings that the church moved after premises in York Street were destroyed in the Blitz. The new church was built with help from the War Damage Commission, at a cost of £138,000, from designs by Desmond Williams. It was opened in 1968 and consecrated in 1970. It is notable for the manner in which the architecture is integrated with an outstanding scheme of fixtures and artworks by Robert Brumby of York.

For a detailed description, see the list entry, below. The church exhibits impressive massing and control of light and atmosphere, with roof-lighting concentrated upon the reredos and side-lighting with glass intensifying in colour as the sanctuary is approached. It has an outstanding and very complete scheme of artworks and fixtures by Robert Brumby, extending to details such as the light fittings. The attached presbytery and hall complex, while of lesser interest than the church, also exhibits some architectural quality in massing.

LIST DESCRIPTION: 

II

Roman Catholic Church 1967-8, by Desmond Williams & Associates. Load-bearing dark brown brick construction with felt roofs supported on Vierendeel girders, with rear range in brick and timber cladding.

EXTERIOR: Body of church virtually square, with corridor at rear right leading to cross wing containing offices and accommodation. Windowless façade with floating service projection to the left and four full height brick fins to the right of wide recessed central entrance reached by low flight of steps. On the projection a ceramic plaque with star and mitre and on the inner face of the left hand fin a figure of the Madonna, both by Robert Brumby. Set back returns of 6 bays, divided by pairs of projecting slim brick piers. Openings between the pairs of piers filled with coloured chipped French glass. Secondary entrance beneath large cantilevered canopy in first bay of left hand return. Slender linking block containing sacristy. The rear presbytery range, containing first floor hall, meeting rooms, kitchen, chaplaincy offices and accommodation for four priests (only one in residence) is of lesser interest. Bell tower rising from parish rooms block.

INTERIOR: Orientation reversed in simple box plan with ceiling of steel trusses clad with timber and clerestory north lights. Sanctuary of three stepped platforms with white marble altar set forward. Large ceramic reredos sculpture of Christ in Majesty by Robert Brumby of York. Bays containing either projecting confessionals or chapel recesses are divided by pairs of projecting slim brick piers. Deeply recessed within the full height narrow slot in each pair are windows of coloured glass chips in free abstract designs by the Whitefriars Studio, with tones ranging from blue at the West end through yellow, to red at the East end. Fixed seating in angular U-shape surrounding Sanctuary. Side chapel to left. Narthex. West gallery above originally with seating, now housing organ. Unified scheme of decoration by Brumby including the external plaque and statue, holy water stoups, wall light brackets, circular font with ceramic inset and aluminium lid, altar table with bronze inset and, probably, Stations of the Cross sculptures. Also by Brumby, a memorial plaque fashioned from mangled plate, damaged in the Blitz, commemorating the earlier parish church which this replaced. Interiors of the ancillary rooms are not of special interest.

HISTORY: The original St Augustine's was one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in Manchester, having been established at Granby Row in 1820. This church was sold in 1905 to make way for the Manchester Municipal Technical College, and a new church built on York Street. This church was destroyed in the Manchester Blitz of 1940. The present site previously housed a chapel of ease in a building bought from the Methodists in the 1870s. It had briefly been a separate parish, but in 1908 was amalgamated with St Augustine's parish. After the War it was the only surviving church in the parish. The new St Augustine's was built here with the help of a grant from the War Damage Commission, at a cost of £138,000, when it was clear that the original building was inadequate. The new building was opened in 1968 and consecrated in 1970. Robert Brumby, born 1934, also created a sculpture for the Lady Chapel at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool.

SOURCES: Dawson, Rev. Christopher P.P. unpub. notes Hartwell, Clare Pevsner Architectural Guides - Manchester, 2001, pp310-311 Sharp,Dennis,ed., Studio Vista 'Manchester', 1969, p52. Unknown Architecture North West, No 33, 1969, pp 18-20

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE The Roman Catholic Church of St Augustine was built in 1967-8, using money from the War Damage Commission to help fund both the building and its artistic scheme. It meets the criteria for listing by virtue of its strong modern design by Desmond Williams, imaginative use of the constricted site, innovative internal arrangements in keeping with the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-5, and outstanding artwork by Robert Brumby. The special interest of the church is not sustained throughout the ancillary buildings which are attached, and, while forming part of the overall ensemble, possess a much lesser degree of special interest.

Diocese: Salford

Architect: Desmond Williams & Associates

Original Date: 1968

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II