Blessed John Henry Newman - Latchford

Knutsford Road, Latchford, Warrington, Cheshire WA4

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A new church, built after the merging of two parishes in Latchford, and possibly the first church in the country to be dedicated to Blessed John Henry Newman. It is a well-used and flexible modern design, containing some well-crafted furnishings. The future of its listed predecessor remains unresolved at the time of writing.

A mission was established in Latchford in October 1869, as a response to a growing population  and  lack  of  Mass  centres  on  the  south  side  of  Warrington.  Cotton- spinners’ premises in St James Street were first used, and the first resident priest was appointed in 1870. Land on Slackey Lane had been purchased in 1869 for a dual purpose school-chapel, designed by Robert Curran and opened in 1871. An additional three acres of land secured with the building were put aside for the later construction of a separate church. The 1871 church was altered at various times, and was variously known as St Mary’s and Our Lady of the Assumption. In 1898 a presbytery was built nearby, to the designs of Edmund Kirby.

Soon after the appointment of Fr McGrath late in the nineteenth century plans were prepared for a new church on the site which had been set aside in 1869. Robert Curran was again appointed architect, and the foundation stone was laid in August 1901. The new church of St Mary was opened in October 1902 by the Bishop of Shrewsbury and the proceedings and a description of the church published in theWarrington Guardian. The church was built to accommodate 600 people and had cost £6,000 at the time of its opening. Several elements of the new church were never completed, most noticeably the top stage of the tower and tall spire (figure 1); instead the  southwest  tower  was  left  truncated  (figure  2).  The  church  is  notable  for  a collection of furnishings by the Chester architect John Douglas, his only work in the diocese; these include the elaborate screens to the side chapels, altar servers’ stalls and canopied sedilia. There is also good stained glass of the 1930s by Margaret Rope in the sanctuary.

In 1936 a new pulpit was added, the interior redecorated and a parish hall built behind the church. This latter was replaced by a prefabricated building in 1946. A new altar in Portland stone was commissioned in 1948, designed by F.E. Massey, a parishioner, and installed in 1950, along with a new oak reredos and panelling. The church was consecrated that year, finally being free from debt.

In line with Vatican II St Mary’s was reordered, and a new primary school built in 1970.

The old school-chapel was sold to the developers responsible for the surrounding houses in the 1970s, and finally demolished and replaced by a day care centre in 1991. In the 1990s several surveys were undertaken at St Mary’s church, highlighting areas of structural instability and poor maintenance. The congregation had also fallen to around 400. The bishop decided to merge the parish with that of St Augustine; that parish had been erected in 1929 to cater for new residential areas in Westy, but the church had been closed and demolished in 2005. A new church would be built to serve the new parish  and  old  St  Mary’s  would be demolished. However,  the old church was listed in 2005, and its future remains unresolved.

The new church was built at Latchford, on a site on Knutsford Road equidistant between the two former parish churches. In June 2008 the first designs, by David Horne of Hulme Upright Manning, were displayed, and the comments of the community carefully considered in the final design and decoration of the church. The new church opened in 2010, and may be the first newly-built Catholic church to be dedicated to Blessed John Henry Newman, who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI at Cofton Park, Birmingham on 19 September 2010.

The church has been planned and built to accommodate the liturgical and the social and community needs of the newly-formed parish.   It provides a flexible, airy and bright worship space, transformed through folding screens into a nave capable of accommodating up to 400. A large, separate hall is formed with the screens closed, served by a kitchen. There are also offices and WCs.

The church is orientated with the sanctuary to the northwest corner, which for the purposes of this description this will be referred to as the liturgical east end. Rectangular in plan, the building is faced in coursed rock-faced sandstone, although most of the walls comprise bays of vertical rectangular obscured glazing, etched with St Chad crosses. The roof is tiled, with terracotta copings to the octagonal-plan roof of the main church. The main elevation to Knutsford Road, orientated roughly to the liturgical north, comprises a central bay of vertical windows, with clear glazing above, a corner bay of clear glazing - ‘a shop window’ with changing displays, also used as a reconciliation room - to the north, and a corner bay of obscured glass adjacent to the entrance. The stone-faced walls flanking the glazing rise to a parapet. The porch is a simple pedimented shape, framed in sandstone ashlar with large clear-glazed doors. A  single  storey  block  extends  to  the  south,  rendered  and  painted  white  on  a sandstone plinth. The east elevation is similar but narrower, with two rectangular lancets to the south of the elevation. The south elevation is similar to the north with twin lancets to the east side of the elevation, and with large glazed double doors onto a terrace area from the hall. The west elevation is blind and faced with coursed rock- faced sandstone. The polygonal roof of the church is surmounted by a lantern light and simple steel cross.

Internally the main body of the church is polygonal in plan, with extensive full-length glazing and plain plastered walls. The structure is exposed and comprises cylindrical piers at each corner of the plan, from which laminated pine trusses rise to the central lantern light. The sanctuary in the corner, raised  on two steps with pine treads, although a ramp is also provided. Near the entrance, to the west, is a stone font with incised carvings of stylised fish (photo bottom right). This is part of a suite of stone furnishings designed by by Angela Godfrey, using stone from Limpley Stoke quarry, near Bath, also including the stone altar and ambo, the former (photo middle right) carved with incised Eucharistic depictions of wheat and grapes, and the latter reflecting Isaiah 55: 10-11. The polished steel tabernacle is inscribed with words from the Gospel of St John (photo bottom left) and set on a sandstone pedestal. The tabernacle, processional cross and Star of Bethlehem which hangs from the central lantern light were made of polished steel by Eddie Norris. The floor of the church is laid with linoleum tiles, with a lino labyrinth at the centre (said to be based on that at Chartres Cathedral). There is a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham at the west end of the church, carved by a Bolivian craftsman. The electronic organ was made in Bideford, and its case on the west wall with a display of pipes and trumpets, hides the speakers. Lighting is provided by a suspended rig, and seating by moveable chairs.

Diocese: Shrewsbury

Architect: Hulme Upright Manning

Original Date: 2010

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed