Building » Manchester (Clayton) – St Willibrord

Manchester (Clayton) – St Willibrord

North Road, Clayton, Manchester M11 4WQ

A fine church of unusual design which exhibits strong character in the external massing and internal volumes. The interior incorporates extensive mosaic work by the Ludwig Oppenheimer firm.

Clayton was a small settlement around the moated medieval Clayton Hall. The area became built up during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and is now part of the Manchester suburbs. The mission was established in 1906 and the choice of St Willibrord, the first bishop of Utrecht, as patron was made by the Dutch priest, Fr Sassen, who had acquired land for the church in 1905. The present church was built in 1937-8. Its design is attributed in the list entry and in The Buildings of England to Reynolds & Scott, but that partnership did not in fact begin until 1946. The church is similar in date and architectural character to St Dunstan, Moston (qv), a documented work by Norris & Reynolds, who were in partnership from the mid-1930s until 1946. St Willibrord can therefore safely be attributed to Norris & Reynolds.

Archive photographs in Manchester Central Library image collection include one showing the apse in 1968, before reordering. Since that time the altar rails have partly removed and the original altar moved forward. The west end of the church was divided off by a screen to form a social and meeting area in circa 2006.


All orientations given are liturgical. For a description, see the list entry below. St Willibrord is similar in many ways to St Dunstan, Moston (qv), which was designed by Reynolds & Norris. The attribution to Reynolds & Scott in the list entry for St Willibrord is considered to be incorrect.

Both churches are of brick adopting Byzantine style with complex domed interiors, and both have mosaic schemes by the firm of Ludwig Oppenheimer, which also undertook mosaic work for St Patrick, Collyhurst (qv). Nikolaus Pevsner suggests that the churches may have been inspired by an Anglican church in nearby Gorton, Our Lady with St Thomas of Canterbury which was built to the designs of Walter Tapper in 1927. That church is also domed and similar in plan, but was never completed.  Like St Dunstan, St Willibrord is notable for the power of the external massing and the impressive character of its internal volumes. Mosaic includes work in the apse with a dove, similar to the scheme at St Dunstan, panels over the northeast and southeast chapels, and other work.  A narthex incorporates a sunken baptistery at the north end, now disused. There is coloured textured glass in yellow shades in many of the windows, the panels arranged in the form of a cross in the larger openings. Fixtures and fittings include an original altar with elaborate mosaic front and Stations of the Cross in mosaic panels. Part of the west end has been screened off to form a meeting area. The screen is of high quality and the glazing has been chosen to harmonise with existing glazing in the church. The architects responsible for the work were Bate & Taylor.

List description


SJ89NE NORTH ROAD, Beswick And Clayton 698-1/5/534 (North side) Roman Catholic church of St Willibrords


Roman Catholic church. 1937-38, by Reynolds and Scott. Buff brick (roof not visible). Modernist Byzantine style. Nave with low central tower, west narthex with south porch, tall north and south aisles, north chapels and vestry, chancel and apse. Very high nave with pilastered parapet stepped up in the centre to meet chamfered corners of low tower which has 3 small round-headed lancets at parapet level and a band of small rectangular windows below the cornice (alternately blind); tall south aisle in the form of 3 gabled transeptal bays with narrow links (the gables false), a square-headed doorway to the centre bay with stone surround flanked by small square-headed lancets, 3 similar lancets in each of the outer bays, and above these openings in each bay a tall round-headed lancet in a round-headed blank arch. Tall gabled porch to left with doorway like that in centre but including a statue in a niche, and an oculus above. Tall narthex with similar west doorway, and west window above like those of the aisle. North aisle similar to south aisle but with low chapels attached to centre and west bays.

Interior: 3 sail-domes with transverse arches on wall-piers pierced for aisle passages and by semi-circular arches at the tops; north aisle chapels formed of 3 low semi-circular arches diminishing in succession; apsidal sanctuary with mosaic arcading ceiling depicting the Holy Spirit as dove, side chapels and altars also with mosaics. Similar to Church of St Dunstan, Moston Lane, Lightbowne (q.v.), also by Reynolds.

Listing NGR: SJ8833898785

Heritage Details

Architect: Norris & Reynolds

Original Date: 1938

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II