Victoria Avenue, Higher Blackley, Manchester M9
A striking example of post-war church design built for the Franciscans, combining original modern forms and references to historic ecclesiastical architecture. The church predates the Second Vatican Council, and is of traditional basilican plan. Apart from the original sanctuary arrangements, the interior is well preserved, with furnishings of note by Georg Mayer-Marton, Joseph Nuttgens, David John and others.
Blackley consisted of small settlements until Manchester Corporation housing schemes started in 1903. The Higher Blackley estate was built from 1919 and the suburb continued to expand in the 1930s. The Friars Minor Conventual established a new parish in 1928 and a temporary brick church was built in 1929. This survives to the rear of the present church.
A new Friary was built in 1951 and the foundation stone for a large new church laid by Bishop Beck on 11 August 1957. The churchopened in 1958. The foundation stone records that this was the fiftieth anniversary of the return of the Grey Friars to England. Both church and Friary were designed by A. G. Bullen of Weightman & Bullen. The church was equipped with a number of furnishings of note by Georg Mayer-Marton, Joseph Nuttgens, David John and others. Mayer-Marton was a Jewish refugee from the Austrian anschlussof 1938, who taught at the Liverpool College of Art from 1952; he carried out a number of mosaic commissions for Catholic churches in the North West of England, including the Pentecost mosaic now in the Chapel of Unity at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
All orientations given are liturgical. St Clare’s is a building of great presence, characterised by the exploitation of the concrete frame to produce effect and by the bold motifs of the exterior and interior. On plan it consists of a wide aisleless nave, with side chapels on the north side, and a square-ended sanctuary. There is a large west window grid, continued at the base, where it is angled out, to form a canopy over the entrance. Mosaics in this position have been overpainted or lost.
Inside, the elaborate ribbed treatment of the roof, matched in the treatment of the west gallery front, is very striking, possibly derived from Borromini’s Propaganda Fide in Rome. Its Baroque character is an unusual contrast with the more Gothic character of the main concrete divisions of the vault. Notable original features include the large mosaic over the high altar, depicting St Clare of Assisi raising the Blessed Sacrament, by Georg Mayer-Marton, stained glass by Joseph Nuttgens and Stations of the Cross by David John. Original bench seating and what seem to be the original light fittings are preserved. The sanctuary was reordered after the Second Vatican Council. The altar rails were removed, and may have been used to create the rails in front of the side altars. The floor was relaid and steps reorganised, with provision of a forward altar. A photograph in The Catholic Building Review (1958) shows a dramatic relief stone sculpture of the Entombment of Our Lord in the original altar frontal, presumably lost when the altar was cut down and brought forward. At some point an organ was placed against the east wall. The scheme of cream and greens used in the marbles of the sanctuary is continued in the furnishings of the three chapels along the north side.
Architect: Weightman & Bullen
Original Date: 1958
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed