Fir Tree Avenue, Fitton Hill, Oldham OL8
Interior (Nick Braithwaite)
Mural before partial covering (with permission of Mayer-Marton estate)
Interior, late 1960s (Stephen Haines)
A modest church built to serve a post-war estate, notable for its sanctuary mural by George Mayer-Marton.
A mission in Fitton Hill, a post-war housing estate, was established by Fr Buckley, assistant priest at St Patrick’s, Oldham. He arranged for the purchase of land in 1940, before the new housing was built. Once the estate had begun to be developed, Fr Buckley said Mass in an upper room in Maple Mill. Holy Rosary church was built from designs by W. & J. B. Ellis & Partners. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Marshall on 2 October 1954 and the church was officially opened by Mgr Cunningham in July 1955. The church is notable for its sanctuary mural (partly overpainted) by George Mayer-Marton, a Hungarian Jewish refugee who at that time was teaching at Liverpool College of Art. A presbytery was built in about 1970. The first campanile blew down and had to be rebuilt. In 2009, the parishes of Holy Family and Holy Rosary were merged, and in 2017 Holy Rosary was closed following a diocesan review. In 2022 the church was listed Grade II, in recognition of the importance of Mayer-Marton’s mural.
The church is orientated with the sanctuary approximately to the south, and in this description, conventional compass points will be used.
The church was built in 1954-5, from designs by W. & J. B. Ellis. It is of longitudinal plan, of eight bays, constructed with loadbearing walls faced in buff brick, with raking brick buttresses to express the bays. The nave, sanctuary and sacristies are under one pitched roof with low eaves, laid with concrete tiles. Rainwater goods are plastic. The nave is lit by steel horizontal windows at eaves level, the sanctuary by a gabled dormer window from the north and the west end by a tall central window. The main entrance is at the southwest corner, where a flat canopy connects the building to a brick campanile with gabled top. The southeast corner of the church is connected to the presbytery by a link block.
Inside, the low seven-bay nave has fair-faced brick to the walls, which are articulated by flush pilasters. The steel roof trusses are expressed as fins below the soffit of the roof, lined with boarded panels. The nave floor is laid with quarry tiles, with hardwood pews. The east and west walls of the nave are of fair-faced brick with segmental-headed openings to the sanctuary, Lady Chapel, former west baptistery (with good stained glass) and inner porch. There is no gallery. The sanctuary has been reordered with a new forward altar and the slate altar platform floor painted. Its east wall is dominated by a Crucifixion mosaic and mural, commissioned from George Mayer-Marton. The central large-scale mosaic figure of the Crucified Christ was originally flanked by figures of Our Lady and St John, in blue grisaille fresco with gold mosaic haloes. The tesserae of the mosaics were set into wet lime mortar, in the Byzantine manner, while the side figures were in the ‘true’ fresco style, painted onto the wet plaster and bonded with the wall surface. In about 1980 the side figures were covered with emulsion paint and plaster, but investigations in 2020 and 2021 confirmed that they remain in good condition (although the mosaic haloes are lost).
Following a campaign led by descendants of George Mayer-Marton, the church was listed Grade II in August 2022. List description at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1480269?section=official-list-entry
Report updated by AHP 11.8.2022
Architect: W. and J. B. Ellis
Original Date: 1955
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II