Rochdale - St John the Baptist

Dowling Street, Rochdale OL11

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A substantial town centre landmark church of Byzantine design, strongly influenced by Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral.  The church was designed by Henry Oswald Hill of Manchester before 1917 but was not built until the 1920s, under the direction of E. Bower Norris. The intended campanile was never built, although in some views the 1930s drill tower of the nearby fire station groups with the church to fulfil a similar function in townscape terms. The vaulted interior has a concrete dome and is enhanced by fine 1930s mosaic decoration in the sanctuary by Eric Newton.

The first Catholic priest took up residence in Rochdale in 1824, and a church opened in 1830. This was replaced by a new brick church in 1860. During the second half of the nineteenth century the church’s territory gradually diminished in size as other missions were established in Rochdale. One of a number of distinguished priests was Canon Henry Chipp, priest from 1898-1937, who presided over the building of the present church.

The church is an ambitious design in the Byzantine style, clearly influenced by Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral. A perspective drawing, showing it very much as built but with a large campanile, is in the Diocesan Archives (figure 1).  This is inscribed ‘Oswald Hill Architect Albert Square Manchester’.  Hill was killed in action in 1917, and his practice was acquired in 1918 by Henry Thomas Sandy, who was joined in 1920 by Ernest Bower Norris.  Sandy died in 1922 leaving Norris in charge of the practice which was known as Hill, Sandy and Norris and continued in business in Manchester until 1969. The design for St John’s, without the campanile, was eventually built between 1925 and 1927, presumably under the supervision of Norris. The fine mosaic decoration in the sanctuary is by Eric Newton of the Ludwig Oppenheimer firm and was added in 1930-33 (cost £4000).

In 1966 a new presbytery was built on the north side of the church and linked to it (architects Desmond Williams & Associates). In about 1998 the presbytery was demolished and the lower part of the east transept was converted to provide residential accommodation.

Diocese: Salford

Architect: Henry Oswald Hill and E. Bower Norris

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II