Building » Halifax – St Marie

Halifax – St Marie

Gibbet Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire

A most curious and interesting church, with a complex and unclear building history. Although something of a mixture, the building has much character, with the strong muscular design of the tower and the almost Georgian Gothick quality of much of the interior. Good stained glass.

Mass was said in various houses or workshops in Halifax from 1732, but it was not until 1831 that a purpose-built church was projected and funds raised. The foundation stone of St Marie’s (the first post-Reformation Catholic church in Halifax) was laid on 20 September 1836 and the church opened on 27 November 1839. A storm on 18 October 1863 caused a partial collapse and in rebuilding the opportunity was taken to enlarge the church. The architect was Ralph Nicholson. A new foundation stone was laid on 8 October 1864 but the new church was apparently opened on November 5 of that year. The old church seems to have been effectively reconstructed although this can not have taken place in just one month. The walls are  said to have been lowered and the roof completely renewed; new arcades built and the tower added. The cost was reported as about £2,000. The work was reported in the Halifax Courier for 11 November 1865 (not seen). Further enlargement was carried out in 1923-4 by Clement Williams architects, increasing the seating capacity from 380 to 900 and at a cost of £11,000 but once more it is unclear what work took place or whether there were external changes. The transpetal projections may date from this time. The church was reopened on 9 November 1924 though the works were not completed until 1926.


The church has the altar facing south but in this section all references will be to conventional orientation, i.e. as if the church faced east.

The church is built of local stone under slate roofs, comprising an aisled nave, west tower (embraced by the aisles) with projecting porch, irregular and broad transeptal projections with further two-storey domestic style accommodation on the north side and a canted sanctuary. In fact the whole of the eastern half of the church is wider than the western half. Whilst the main pitched roof runs from end to end there are various accreted roofs to either side of the eastern parts of the church. Sturdy west tower with  High Victorian ‘Rogue’ characteristics in the attached northwest stair turret of diminishing polygonal form and at the top cylindrical with a conical roof, and the fanciful porch with an almost French Pavilion roof. The porch has a pointed arch clipped by the coping of a gabled hood that starts low down. Pair of doorways with Caernarvon arches and divided by a trumeau. In the tympanum, a relief carving and sculpture of Our Lady. High up to either side encircled quatrefoil windows. The aisles embrace the sides of the tower. The next stage, unusually, has big four-light windows with Geometrical tracery in the style of circa 1300. These windows light the interior of the tower below. Bell stage with three stepped lancets, once more a curious design. Crenellated parapet.

After the tower the remainder of the church externally, though equally idiosyncratic, is disappointing in its lack of clarity.  The aisles have square-  headed two-light windows with cross mullions, the upper parts enclosing octofoils, very shallowly done. Deep buttresses between with just one set-off. Tiny octofoil windows to the clerestory, which is just three stone courses in depth. On the south side the transeptal projection has two windows of the same form as the aisles, either side of a plain four- light Gothic window. On the north side there are irregular projections with just one three-light mullioned and transomed window facing west and then a gabled addition, facing west, two-stories and of domestic character, with a ground floor cross window of French character with its curved corners and a pair of sashes in stone surround above. On the Clarence Street side the school buildings are attached without a break, two storeys with mullioned and transomed windows. The first section is probably the school of 1887 by Edward  Simpson. The further  section is  dated 1894. The east elevation of the church has a gable to the left, above the canted apse roofed with patent glazing. Two-storey element to the right with a three-light Gothic window below and a two-light mullioned and transomed window above.

The interior is as complex and disparate as the exterior. It is spacious but not light, owing to the tiny clerestory windows and the lack of light into the cavernous eastern parts. The high altar is however bathed in light from the patent glazed roof of the apse. The character of the interior is more plausibly 1830s, though the evidence seems to suggest the 1860s. Entrance is from the south side of the tower into one then a second lobby and a shop beyond, all enclosed by timber screens probably dating from the 1970s. High three-bay nave arcades, the broad Gothic arches on slender octagonal piers. The westernmost arches (beneath the tower) are narrower and taller, with transverse arches in the aisles. Trio of arches into the wider eastern half of the nave. The aisle arches lower and with solid tympana pierced by two spherical triangles. Beyond these the church opens into the broad but shallow transepts, resulting in an almost square proportion on plan. Three- bay arcades, again with octagonal piers. The spandrels of the arches are pierced with Gothic tracery. The easternmost arch incorporates the main part of the sanctuary with chapels to either side divided by marble screens of fanciful Gothick character. Transverse arches separate off this easternmost  bay. Canted panelled ceiling with decorative painted scheme, more richly treated in the sanctuary. The lowest slope is pierced by three horizontal clerestory windows, more like skylights, blocked on the north side.

The sanctuary and side chapels are uniformly treated with Gothic marble screens (said to resemble screens at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh), reredos, altars, communion rails, pavement and pulpit. Statues, of St Joseph, St Patrick and St Anthony, in niches. Brass and iron gates. All richly done but with some alteration circa 1970s, when a nave altar and chair were added. The work was carried out as late as 1931 and later. Marble font in the north transept, similar to the marble work of the sanctuary etc. A second marble font is located at the west end of the church. Also in the north transept a low canted recess with plaster reliefs and a sunburst stained glass, all under ogee heads. The first bay of the south transept is taken up by the organ of circa 1935. Simple open backed pews throughout. Varied and interesting stained glass. In the Lady Chapel of 1911, possibly by Edmundson & Son, of Manchester. The main east window is brightly coloured and dates from the 1861 (reset from the old church). North transept west window and one south transept window, 1985 by Sep Waugh of York. In the Sacred Heart chapel, another striking modern window, by Chapel Studios, in memory of Fr James Noonan, who died in 1973 (Chapel Studios was set up in 1973 by Alfred Fisher and Peter Archer, both of whom had worked at the Whitefriars Studios). The window at St Marie’s is the work of Alfred Fisher. Further, but generally less interesting glass in the nave. Tower west windows of the 1990s, also by Sep Waugh. Stations of the Cross, mosaic panels with trefoiled heads, set in Connemara marble frames.

Heritage Details

Architect: Ralph Nicholson & Clement Williams

Original Date: 1836

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed