Building » Denton – St Mary (Our Lady of Sorrows)

Denton – St Mary (Our Lady of Sorrows)

Duke Street, Denton, Manchester M34 2AN

A striking design, reflecting the emerging liturgical ideas of the Second Vatican Council. The building has dramatic roof forms inside and out, with notable original furnishings including dalle-de-verre glass by Carl Edwards of Whitefriars.

Denton is a township between Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester and Stockport, which grew as a result of industrialisation in the nineteenth century. Coalmining and hatmaking were the principal industries. The Catholic mission was dependent upon St Ann’s, Ashton-under-Lyne and a combined school and chapel was built to the designs of John Eaton and opened in 1867. Eaton was a local architect whose firm designed a number of buildings in the Ashton-under-Lyne area.

The foundation stone for the first church, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, was laid by the Rev. William Crombleholme of St Ann’s in May 1869. Mass was first celebrated there in September 1869. The mission did not become independent until 1889, when the Rev. Wilfrid Hampson became the resident priest. In 1890 the basement of the church was converted to a Sunday school and lads’ club. The presbytery was completed in 1892 and a new school was built in 1893.

Always intended for replacement, the old chapel-of-ease was finally demolished in 1961 and the foundation stone for the present building laid by Bishop Beck in August 1962. He returned to bless and open the church on 25 June 1963. The new church was built from designs by Walter Stirrup & Sons (job architect Kevin Houghton), at a cost of about £60,000. The church is notable for its dalle de verre glass, by Carl Edwards of Whitefriars.

The church was built shortly before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and in 1966 the altar was moved forward. Another reordering took place in 1988, in preparation for the dedication of the church by Bishop Kelly. The altar was reduced in size, the central altar rails removed and a new font and ambo were introduced.


All orientations given are liturgical. The church is a very striking and characterful building with a hyperbolic paraboloid roof rising in peaks on four sides, with clerestory lighting in the angles, that on the west side jutting out to form a canopy over the entrance. It was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘wildly expressionist’. This type of roof enjoyed some popularity during the 1960s and 70s, but it is not a common type. The architects were at pains to describe the use of the roof shapes as ‘logical’, and a consequence of site restrictions which dictated that a square plan must be used, though the striking effect must have been part of the aim. The way in which the roof plan creates a centralising space is also relevant, as the emerging thinking of the Second Vatican Council, which was in session at the time of the building’s erection, and the need for good sight lines to the altar were taken into account. The church is attached to the earlier presbytery on the east side and a connecting parish centre is recessed on the north side.

The interior is dominated by the roof, which effectively creates a quadripartite vault, with curving forms framing the sanctuary on one side and the entrance and west gallery over a narthex on the other. The west window has dalle de verre glass with Marian symbols by Carl Edwards of Whitefriars. Although the sanctuary has been reordered, the Crucifix and sections of the altar rails remain. A Pietà at the back of the church was brought from the old building. Nearby a board with a central Crucifix is inscribed with the names of the English Martyrs. Stations of the Cross take the form of prints or line drawings in frames, and the original font position is marked by a larger scene showing the Baptism of Christ. The style of the drawings suggests a 1960s or 1970s date, but no documentation for them has been identified.

The church was listed Grade II in 2017, following Taking Stock. List description at:

Heritage Details

Architect: Walter Stirrup & Sons

Original Date: 1963

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II