Building » Bradford – First Martyrs

Bradford – First Martyrs

Heights Lane, Heaton, Bradford 9

Of outstanding significance for its central liturgical planning; the first such example in the country. Externally, the neo-Romanesque design is unremarkable, fitting discreetly into the street scene. Internally, a boldly cantilevered dome sits over the central altar. The latter belongs to a sensitive 1970s reordering, carried out by the son of the original architect. Significant furnishings include a statue of St John Bosco by Eric Gill.

The area west of Heaton in north Bradford was developed for private housing in the interwar years; the Chellow Grange housing estate was built in the 1930s. The area was served by St Cuthbert’s until First Martyrs church was developed as a chapel-of-ease by Fr John O’Connor, priest at St Cuthbert’s from 1919 to 1952 (and G. K. Chesterton’s model for ‘Fr Brown’). The foundation stone was laid in 1934. The innovative design of the new church, the first centrally planned church in England, was by Jack Langtry-Langton; the main contractors were W. Mitchell and the steelwork was provided by H. Barrett & Sons Ltd.; the total cost was £5,700. The church was opened on 28 May 1935 by Bishop Pearson of Lancaster, dedicated to Our Lady and the First Martyrs of Rome. First Martyrs became a separate parish in 1936 with Fr Bernard Blackburn the first parish priest.

The presbytery was built in 1959 by Fr Lehane, designed by J. Langtry-Langton. The church was reordered around the same time, with a new oak altar and central tabernacle. The latter was removed and a new marble altar installed in 1974, by Fr James Lahart (1958-1990) as part of a sensitive refurbishment. The lower ground floor of the church was remodelled to create a parish hall and club in the 1970s.


See also list entry, below. The structure of the church is steel-framed, and the curved roof ribs and purlins are of steel, concealed by plasterwork, rather than as described in the list entry. The octagonal building could more accurately be described as Romanesque, with Byzantine details, rather than Norman Revival. Additional notable features include a stone statue in the narthex, of St John Bosco with the dog Grigio, by Eric Gill, commissioned by Fr O’Connor in 1935. The quirky octagonal ceiling lights around the central dome were made by Holophane Ltd as part of the 1935 design. In the main space, opposite the entrance, there are three semi- circular arched recesses, the central arch was formerly used as a confessional and now contains a tiny chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, with a grey marble altar installed and top-light in 1974, in memory of Fr O’Connor (died 1952). The 1970s textile wall hanging behind the altar is by Trudie Forbes. The 1974 reordering also included the central Santa Marina grey marble altar, made by Eric Redhead from designs by Peter Langtry-Langton, reinforcing the original concept. The simple oak bench seating and communion rails were part of the same phase of work, all designed by P. Langtry-Langton.

List description


Roman Catholic Church. 1935. Designed by J H Langtry Langton, with minor internal alterations. Reinforced concrete frame with rock-faced stone cladding and slated roofs. Norman Revival style. Octagonal plan with porch to west and vestry to east. Dentilated eaves cornice. Built on sloping site with exposed basement to north.

EXTERIOR has gabled porch with large round arched central doorway with double plank doors and 5-light overlight in moulded arched surround supported by single columns with cushion capitals. Either side pairs of small round headed windows with columns between. Behind gable a round arched bellcote. The 3 sides to north and to south each have 7 small round headed windows, the central one in rusticated surround, with linked cills set in outer arcades with impost corbels to outer arches, at each corner a prominent battered buttress. East vestry has hipped roof and 3 round headed windows to each face. Octagonal lantern has 3 round headed window to each face topped with small wooden cupola. North basement has 5 round headed windows to central side, to left side 4 similar windows and a large round headed doorway and to right side a similar doorway and 3 windows.

INTERIOR has banded brick walling rising to chamfered coping at impost level of window arches. At each corner a pier with banded stone and brick rustication. 3 arches to east and west with moulded stone impost blocks. Double stepped octagonal central dais. Roof has 8 exposed and curved ribs with exposed purlins and rafters to octagonal lantern. This lantern has 8 octagonal lamps with bronze and glass covers, interior of lantern has plaster entablature, moulded impost band and octagonal central rose. 6 original wooden benches survive against the walls on each of the sides. Original glazed doors with overlights to east flanking arches and central organ case. This was the first centralized church to be built in England this century. Listing NGR: SE1301235174

Heritage Details

Architect: J.H. Langtry-Langton

Original Date: 1934

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II