Building » Heywood – St Joseph

Heywood – St Joseph

Mary Street, Heywood OL10

A brick basilican Romanesque design of the early twentieth century by Oswald Hill, with an austerely handsome arched interior enhanced by rich decoration in the sanctuary and transepts.

The mission at Heywood was founded from Rochdale in 1855. In 1856 a church, school and presbytery were built in Dawson Street. The mission continued to grow and after the appointment of Fr Poole in 1898 discussions began about a new and larger church. The foundation stone of the present building was laid on 13 October 1913 and it was completed in 1916. A perspective view of the church in the Diocesan Archive is dated 1914 and inscribed ‘H. O. Hill 9 Albert Square M/c’ (so the architects were not W. T. Gunson & Sons, as surmised by The Buildings of England, on the basis of their having designed the school). The impressive interior contains mosaics spanning the period from its opening in 1914 to the 1960s, probably by Eric Newton and other members of the Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd workshop, who also worked at St John Rochdale and elsewhere in the diocese.


The church is in the basilican Romanesque style. On plan it consists of a short nave, north and south transepts (with an extended south transept) and a small apsidal sanctuary. The walls are faced with a mixture of grey and white brick with dressings and ornaments of hard red brick. The roofs are covered with Westmorland slate. The site slopes down from east to west so the gabled grey-brick west end with its Romanesque decoration and corbel table is given additional height. In the centre of the front is a full-height gabled projection, with a single storey canted baptistery projection at its base flanked by entrance porches up steps. The south side wall of the nave is of white brick with some banding. Broad pilaster strips divide two wide bays with triple round-headed windows under the corbel table. The pattern is continued in the south transept with two windows. A later and lower extension of the transept continues the pattern with three windows.  The north side of the church is the same as the south. There is no outer north transept but instead a fairly modern single-storey brick addition along the north wall of the nave and west wall of the transept which contains the main entrance to the church. The east wall, which was presumably intended to be hidden from view, is of white brick, without ornament but with a projecting full-height windowless apse.

The interior is a space of considerable architectural quality. The nave is of two square bays defined by giant arches in the side walls and across the nave. The piers of the arches are pierced for low passage aisles. The high canted ceiling is panelled. A third and similar bay forms the crossing, with shallower full height bays for the transepts, which both have pairs of richly decorated chapels on their eastern sides. The south transept has been further enlarged to provide an organ gallery with an arcaded front. The apsidal sanctuary is raised five steps above the nave with an elaborate nave altar and a high altar behind it. The walls of the sanctuary have a Doric arcade and both the openings of the arcade and the semi-dome of the apse have scenes from scripture in mosaic. Four large panels, two on each side of the altar, are in opus sectile and with the panels set into sanctuary floor and at the entrances to the side chapels appear to be c1916. The mosaic work in the semi-dome, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, appears to be later, pre-Second World War work. The ensemble is powerful and is further enhanced by other fittings including the marble altar rails and the bold drum font, moved from its original position in the western baptistery.

List description (church and presbytery were listed in 2015, following Taking Stock)


Summary: Roman Catholic church and presbytery. 1913-16 by Henry Oswald Hill (d.1917). North transept added between 1929 and 1937, baptistery off nave and larger, south entrance porch built prior to 1969, organ loft extension to north transept built after 1969. Mosaics by Eric Newton. Romanesque style. Mottled buff and grey brick with hard red brick dressings, Westmorland slate roofs.

Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic church of St Joseph and associated presbytery, Heywood, of 1913-16 by Henry Oswald Hill, with later additions, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: the apsidal sanctuary dominates with an impressive scheme of mosaic designed by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, a specialist mosaic company, which demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the use of mosaic in the designs, and high degree of craftsmanship and use of high-quality materials in their construction; * Architectural interest: as an urban Catholic church designed in a Romanesque style representative of the interest in early Christian architecture in the late C19 and early C20 and particularly successful in the harmonious use of internal space; * Architect: Henry Oswald Hill was a promising architect with a clear interest in contemporary church-building trends, as shown by his Byzantine design for the listed St John the Baptist, Rochdale, who was tragically killed in action in the First World War * Group value: the presbytery has functional group value with the church and both were designed by Hill, who achieved a visual unity through the use of the same materials while choosing a more domestic Queen Anne style for the presbytery.

History: The Catholic mission in Heywood was founded from Rochdale in 1855 and in 1856 a church, school, and presbytery were built in Dawson Street. The population continued to grow over the course of C19 and after the appointment of Father Poole in 1898 discussions began about building a new, larger church. The foundation stone for the new church was laid on 13 October 1913 on a new site formerly used as a gravel pit on the north side of Mary Street. It was completed in 1916. The Diocesan Archive holds a perspective view of the church and attached presbytery dated 1914 and signed H. O .Hill, 9 Albert Square, M/c. The architect Henry Oswald Hill was the son of Oswald Charles Hill (d.1911) with whom he was in practice in Manchester. He designed several Catholic churches before his untimely death when he was killed in action in 1917. The church and presbytery first appear on the third Epoch 1:2500 OS Lancashire map, published in 1929 at which time the south transept is shown but there was no north transept. The fourth Epoch 1:2500 OS Lancashire map, published in 1937, showed a north transept had been added of the same dimensions as the south transept. Subsequently, prior to 1969, a small, flat-roofed baptistery was built against the south wall of the nave and a larger, south entrance porch was also built. At an unknown date an extension was built to the north transept housing an organ loft. The church contains mosaics designed by Eric Newton (born Eric Oppenheimer, but later changing his surname by deed poll to Newton, his mother’s maiden name) of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Blackburn Street, Old Trafford, Manchester. The firm was well known for its decorative mosaic schemes notably for churches. It had been established in 1865 by Newton’s grandfather, Ludwig Oppenheimer, a German Jew who was sent to Manchester to improve his English and then married a Scottish girl and converted to Christianity. He spent a year in Venice studying the mosaic process as an apprentice before returning to England and setting up a mosaic workshop. The St Joseph mosaics use two techniques. The large sanctuary panels use opus sectile, or ‘cut work’ using specially made shaped glass tiles with a painted design on the surface. Other mosaics use the more usual tesserae. The sanctuary wall panels and small panels inset into the marble steps are likely to be c1916 in date coinciding with the building of the church. The style of the mosaic in the semi-dome of the sanctuary suggests a later, inter-war date.

Details: Roman Catholic church and presbytery. 1913-16 by Henry Oswald Hill (d.1917). North transept added between 1929 and 1937, baptistery off nave and larger, south entrance porch built prior to 1969, organ loft extension to north transept built after 1969. Mosaics by Eric Newton. Romanesque style. Mottled buff and grey brick with hard red brick dressings, Westmorland slate roofs. PLAN: the church has a short nave of two square structural bays defined by giant arches, crossing, north and south transepts, each with two side chapels on the east side, the north transept extended to include an organ loft, and a small, apsidal sanctuary. The presbytery is attached to the east side of the south transept and linked internally through the vestry. The presbytery is two storeys and an attic storey.

EXTERIOR: the site slopes down from east to west with a deep, red brick plinth, broad pilaster strips edged in red brick, red brick corbel tables, a red brick eaves band, and slate roofs. The gabled west end faces onto Taylor Street. The projecting central bay rises almost full height to a gable echoing the line of the principal west gable to its rear, which has corbel table and dentil decoration and a celtic cross at its apex. At ground-floor level the central bay has a single-storey, canted baptistery projection with a shaped parapet band and flat roof. Each face has a rectangular window set within a round-headed recess. Above the baptistery the bay has a tall, shallowly recessed, round-headed panel with a round-headed window and a terracotta crucifixion above. Flanking the baptistery in the outer bays are two single-storey, shallow, flat-roofed entrance porches with shaped parapet bands. Each has a round-headed doorway and recessed double doors reached by a flight of steps with curved, brick balustrade walls. The timber doors have upper lights and leaded, glazed overlights with vertical bars. Above the porches are wide pilasters with recessed inner panels with corbel tables and round-headed, shallow recesses. The south wall of the nave is divided into two equal bays by broad pilaster strips. Each bay has triple round-headed windows with red brick frames extending down to the plinth under a corbel table. Projecting beneath the third window of the left-hand bay is a small, rectangular baptistery extension with a flat roof behind a shaped parapet band. It has flush, red brick plinth, quoining to the corners, and eaves band. The south elevation has two small, round-headed windows. Beneath the windows in the right-hand nave bay is a shallow extension, similarly detailed, with a blind wall, which connects with the porch. The porch is a single-storey, flat-roofed rectangular extension which overlaps the south-west corner of the south transept and projects southwards. It is similarly detailed to the baptistery extension. There are three segmental-arched windows in the south elevation. The entrance doorway is in the centre of the west elevation. It is flat-headed with iron gates opening into a recessed porch with a mosaic of St Joseph on the back wall. The doorway is flanked by two small, round-headed windows to each side. The south transept has a hipped roof. The south elevation has a wide bay flanked by broad pilaster strips, with triple, round-headed windows. Beneath the windows the porch extension projects on the left-hand side. The transept has a central entrance doorway set to the rear of a recessed porch and reached by a short flight of stairs. The north wall of the nave is also divided into two equal bays by broad pilaster strips with triple round-headed windows with red brick frames extending down to the plinth under a corbel table. At the left-hand end is the north transept which has a hipped roof. Abutting its north elevation is a flat-roofed, square extension with three, shallow, round-headed, blind arches. The east elevation is largely obscured. It has a central, semi-circular apse which is lower than the east gable wall. The flanking transepts each have two round-headed windows with two slightly-projecting, gabled chapels beneath with shallow, semi-circular apses with glazed roofs (only the gables of the two south chapels are visible).

Presbytery: the presbytery stands in front of the east end of the church (obscuring the semi-circular apse) with the south elevation facing Mary Street. It is of five bays, with the central bay formed by a full-height canted bay, and two storeys with a steeply-hipped roof with overhanging eaves containing an attic storey. It has flush, red brick plinth band and corner quoining, a red brick band between the ground and first floors and flush eaves band. The ground-floor windows have segmental-arched heads of red brick, and flat-headed windows on the first floor. The windows have modern casement frames in the form of hung sashes. Above the flat-roofed canted bay is a dormer window with a hipped roof. There are two tall, brick ridge stacks. Attached to the left-hand, west, side elevation is a small, single-storey, flat-roofed outshot, which is also attached to the right-hand side of the south transept. It has a segmental-arched window in the south elevation. Above, the west, side elevation of the presbytery has a single, central window, with a dormer window with hipped roof in the roof above. The east, side elevation has a tall doorway with a segmental-arched head towards the right-hand side. It has a panelled door with a glazed overlight. A single, centrally-placed window on both floors has been blocked. There is a centrally-placed dormer window with a hipped roof. The presbytery has been extended on the right-hand side with a flat-roofed, two-storey, single-bay extension to the rear of the building and a long, single-storey, five-bay range to the north. The two-storey extension has a rectangular, ground-floor window which cuts into the brick quoining of the original north-east corner. The single-storey extension has single-light windows in the first, third and fourth bays, a wider rectangular window in the second bay and a doorway with a rectangular overlight in the fifth bay.

INTERIOR: the two bays of the nave are defined by giant, round-headed arches across the nave and set into the side walls with the arch piers pierced with round-headed openings for low passage aisles. The high canted ceilings are panelled and each bay has a large, hanging pendent light. The side wall arches encompass the triple windows set into shallow, round-headed recesses and also plaster relief Stations of the Cross in gold-painted frames. The windows in the west bay have plain, leaded glazing. The left-hand recess of the south side arch has a round-headed opening into the baptistery extension. It has a decorative iron grille and door with a blue and gold mosaic panel of a dove above the door. The central windows in the east bay have stained glass figures, flanked by windows with leaded glazing. Beneath half-height, moulded cornices each side wall has four panelled and part-glazed confessional doors. The west end also has a round-headed arch set into the wall with a central, narrower, round-headed opening into the projecting bay. Opening off is the canted-bay baptistery with a relief-carved tympanum over showing Jesus being baptised by St John. The three small windows contain stained glass roundels. In the north and south walls of the projecting bay are panelled double doors with leaded upper lights and high, semi-circular overlights with timber mullions and transoms and leaded lights which open into the two entrance porches. The crossing also has tall, round-headed arches into the sanctuary and transepts and a high, canted, panelled ceiling. On the east side is a dark grey and white marble step which continues into the side transepts. In front of the sanctuary the step is inset with patterned mosaic bands and a rectangular panel of the Lamb of God. Standing on the left-hand side is a hexagonal, stone font. In the transepts the step has altar rails of white and grey marble with inset, vertical decorative panels of mosaic, and there are panels of mosaic inset in front of the side chapels. The apsidal sanctuary is raised by a further five steps. Flanking the second step are two rectangular, coloured marble pulpits with narrow bands of blue and gold mosaic. Above are cantilevered baldachino decorated with mosaic. The walls of the sanctuary have an engaged Doric arcade with a heavy entablature band. The arcade archways to each side of the central archway contain opus sectile mosaic panels. The two left panels depict the Birth of Christ and the Flight into Egypt. The two right panels depict The Holy Family in the carpenter’s workshop of St Joseph, and the Death of St Joseph. The central panel has blue tesserae mosaic with a thin gold band and Crucifixion with stone statues and a wooden cross. The semi-dome of the apse has tessarae mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin against a gold background. The altar is of coloured marble in a classical design with engaged Doric columns and an opus sectile mosaic roundel. The east pier of the south transept arch has a round-headed doorway through to the vestry in line with the arches of the passage aisle. The east pier of the north transept has a round-headed recess containing a mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the manner of a Byzantine icon. Both transepts have two east, side chapels with marble arcades, grey marble dados, tesserae or tiled walls, top-lit statue niches with statues, and marble altars with inset mosaic panels. The south wall of the south transept has three windows containing stained glass in round-headed recesses. On the left-hand side is a First World War memorial panel. On the west side of the south transept there is a wooden and decorative ironwork narthex for the south entrance porch. The north transept has two plain, round-headed arcades in the north wall opening into the extension. The lower arcade has double timber and glazed doors flanking a central Pieta statue commemorating those lost in the Second World War. The upper arcade opens into the organ loft.

Presbytery: the presbytery retains its layout of a spine corridor containing the main staircase with rooms to either side. There is a back staircase in the north-east corner. The main staircase has square newels with shaped hexagonal finials at the bottom and returns, with a moulded timber handrail and square balusters. The main reception rooms on the ground floor have moulded cornices. The ground and first-floor rooms have vertical panelled doors with deep frieze rails and moulded architraves. The attic rooms have four-panelled doors with moulded architraves. The fireplaces have 1950s mantelpieces.


Websites: L. Oppenheimer Ltd and the Mosaics of Eric Newton, accessed from

Other: Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock (Diocese of Salford), St Joseph, Heywood (W07(a)), December 2013.

Heritage Details

Architect: Henry Oswald Hill

Original Date: 1916

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II