Building » Manchester (Chorlton-on-Medlock) – The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (University Chaplaincy)

Manchester (Chorlton-on-Medlock) – The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (University Chaplaincy)

Oxford Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester M13 9PG

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

A church of cathedral scale, built for the Jesuits in 1869-71 and one of J. A. Hansom’s best designs. The tower was completed in 1928 from designs by Adrian Gilbert Scott and, in the words of The Buildings of England, ‘could not be better suited to its task’. The church is notable for the quality and richness of its internal furnishings.

In 1860, William Turner, the first bishop of Salford, invited Fr Thomas Harper SJ to give a course of sermons at St John’s Cathedral. These drew large crowds and led the bishop to invite the Jesuits to settle in Chorlton-on-Medlock, then a middle-class suburb. Bishop Turner urgently needed a large and well-staffed church to meet the needs of the growing Catholic population of Manchester, which had been swelled by mainly Irish immigrants seeking work in the textile mills. His brief was that the church should be large and capable of being built quickly.

On 4 April 1868 a temporary structure was opened. The Jesuits had originally wanted to call it the Gesù, after their mother church in Rome. They were persuaded to give it the clearer (to an English audience) dedication to the Holy Name of Jesus. Bishop Turner presided at the opening, when Cardinal Manning preached. The present church was built from designs by J. A. Hansom assisted by his son J. S. Hansom. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Turner in June 1869 and the church opened for public worship on 15 October 1871.

Fr Bernard Vaughan SJ, rector from 1888-1901, was another gifted and controversial Jesuit preacher, whose debates with Anglican Bishop James Moorhouse on the claims of the Catholic Church made him famous. Fr Vaughan was responsible for much of the church’s fine decoration.

Hansom had intended a 240 ft steeple, never executed. The tower was completed to a different design in 1928, in memory of Fr Vaughan and from designs by Adrian Gilbert Scott. A ring of fifteen bells, by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, was installed in the tower for the sixtieth anniversary of the church on 18 October 1931.

The parish’s heyday lasted a hundred years until the housing clearances of the 1960s and 70s depopulated Chorlton-on-Medlock and the universities moved in. The Jesuits withdrew in the 1990s and the church was taken over by the Oratorians. In 2012 the Oratorians moved to Cheetham Hill and The Holy Name was returned to the Jesuits. The building now serves as the church of the University Catholic Chaplaincy, and is no longer a parish church.

The church has musical as well as architectural significance. Its choir in 1871 included the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who later as a Jesuit priest preached here. In 1895 the funeral of Sir Charles Hallé, founder of Manchester’s symphony orchestra, filled the church and streets with ‘vast crowds’. More recently the church is name-checked in The Smiths’ hit song Vicar in a Tutu. The Mancunian author Anthony Burgess described the role played by The Holy Name in his spiritual development.


See also list description, below.

The church is of cathedral proportions, 86 feet long east to west and 112 feet wide. Although its style is thirteenth century French Gothic, the church is planned on Counter-Reformation principles. It gives maximum exposure to the solemn celebration of the Mass (a raised altar near the congregation with no rood screen, and a shallow, broad sanctuary), the Eucharist (the eye is first carried to the tabernacle and the exposition throne above), preaching (a large pulpit to place the preacher intimately in the congregation), and the hearing of confessions (the whole north side is taken up with confessionals).

The church is constructed of brick, faced externally with coursed sandstone and internally with buff terracotta bricks (sandblasted in 1972). The tower incorporates reinforced concrete beams and slabs within the predominantly stone faced brick structure. Roofs are generally of slate, though there are sections of lead roofing over the sacristy and north chapels. The 185ft tower was designed Adrian Gilbert Scott and is faced in Yorkshire granite, chosen to withstand the atmosphere of an industrial town. The life-size Calvary in the tower is the work of Manchester sculptor A. Sherwood Edwards.

The nave is of four bays, five including the transepts, with north and south aisles and transepts. The pillars are unusually slender, achieved by creating the vaulting from hollow polygonal terracotta pots (by Gibbs & Canning Limited) rather than carved stone which would have been expensive, time-consuming, and heavy. The nave can accommodate 800 worshippers. Confessionals, some of which have been converted to office and meeting spaces, run along the entire length of the north aisle. The south aisle has chapels and the south entrance porch running along its length. North and south transepts have chapels extending to the east. At the west end of the nave is the tower and main west porch entrance. The baptistery is located to the south of the tower and to the north is a stair that gives access to the organ gallery within the tower. To the east of the nave is the sanctuary which has a polygonal ambulatory. A mortuary chapel was intended to the south of the south transept chapels but this was never built, and the external walls in this area are simply made good in rendered brickwork.

Joseph Stanislaus Hansom, the son of Joseph Hansom, designed the original main altar, using Caen limestone for the upper parts and Derbyshire alabaster for the altar itself. It was first used at Midnight Mass in 1866. The traceries on the tabernacle are of Russian malachite. The bas-relief under the altar is of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper. The ten statues on the reredos above the altar represent Jesuit saints: Ignatius Loyola, Aloysius Gonzaga, Francis Jerome, John Berchmans, Francis Borgia, John Nepomucene, John Francis Regis, Peter Claver, Francis Xavier and Stanislaus Kostka.

The chancel has four chapels; from north to south:

  • St Joseph,patron of a happy death, with a picture of the saint on his deathbed comforted by Jesus and Mary. It was one result of Fr Bernard Vaughan’s successful fundraising to enhance the church.
  • The Lady Chapel was the first to be completed, in 1872, and was a gift from a Portuguese merchant Mr Pinto Leite. Made in Paris, it is a small-scale reproduction of the altar at Notre Dame des Victoires.
  • The Sacred Heart altar was erected in 1885, in Brunswick stone. Below the altar is a bas-relief of the Agony in the Garden. Over the tabernacle Our Lord in glory appears to St Margaret Mary showing her his Sacred Heart. To the left kneels St Claude de la Colombiere SJ, her spiritual director.
  • The Holy Souls altar was also completed in 1885.The central section shows Our Lord welcoming to the Church Triumphant a soul newly released from purgatory. Depicted below are souls detained in purgatory. Around seventy memorial tiles with names and dates are located on the south wall.

Along the south aisle are three small chapels. These were originally one chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of the Wayside. However, during the 1980s it was discovered that the wall adjoining Ackers Street was sinking. The three open arches in the chapel were filled in and smaller chapels created. The first remains dedicated to Our Lady of the Wayside. St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), had a great devotion to this image of Mary and it was incorporated into the church of the Gesù in Rome. The altar panels feature Old Testament prophets, each with his appropriate symbol. The middle chapel contains life-size figures of Christ on the cross with St Mary and St John on either side, now dedicated to persecuted Christians. The rear chapel is dedicated to (St) John Henry Newman and was erected by the Oratorians while they had care of the church 1994-2012. Above the brass altar is a portrait of Cardinal Newman and to the side is a Newman relic.

The pulpit was installed by Fr Bernard Vaughan SJ. It incorporates mosaic panels of five English Martyrs: John Fisher, Thomas More, Edmund Campion SJ, John Forest OFM and John Houghton O.Cart. Fr Vaughan raised funds to place a marble statue against each pillar in the nave, but it was decided that they detracted from the general lines of the church and so they were moved to more suitable locations. They are: St Anthony, St Anne, St Agnes, St Bernard, St Clare, St Vincent de Paul, Angel Guardian, St Aloysius, St Joachim, St Theresa of Avila, Our Lady of Fatima, St Francis Xavier and St Ignatius Loyola. There are also representations of St Joan of Arc, St Theresa of Lisieux, St Patrick, the Sacred Heart, a Lourdes grotto and a shrine of the Holy Face. At the east end on either side of the entrance to the sanctuary, are two alabaster statues. On the left is a representation of the Immaculate Conception and on the right – probably the finest statue in the church – St Joseph.

The organ is located at the west end of the nave. Built in 1871 by William Hill & Son of London, it has 48 speaking stops over three-manuals and pedals. It was completely rebuilt in 1926 by Messrs Wadsworth Ltd and restored in 2004. The lead pipes on the front of the case are ornately diapered and were restored to their original colour scheme of lighter shades of red and green with gold motifs. Above the organ and choir loft are two gilded angels.

Attached to the sacristy on the north side is the presbytery, in domestic Tudor style, from designs by Henry Clutton (listed Grade II, now owned by the University of Manchester). The chaplaincy building to the north of the church is by Mather & Nutter, and dates from the 1960s. The former church hall by Edmund Kirby (1892) is now a pub.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1867-71, by J. A. Hansom; completed 1928 by A. G. Scott. Coursed sandstone rubble, steeply-pitched slate roofs. C13 Gothic style. Nave with west tower, north and south aisles with side chapels, north and south transepts, polygonal apse. The west front, formed by a rectangular 2-bay tower of 2 high stages with added 3rd stage (1928), and differing side- pieces to left and right, has angle buttresses, full-width steps up to a shallow gabled porch with deeply-moulded 2-centred arched west doorway containing 2 doors, pinnacled side buttresses and a multifoil in the gable; a pilaster to the 2nd stage flanked by pairs of tall 2-centred arched 2- light windows; blind-arcaded parapet, and large octagonal top stage with pinnacles, corner buttresses, a large 2-light window with a wheel in the head, and a blind-arcaded parapet. Various niches and blind-arcading; octagonal 2-stage turret attached at right-hand corner, with moulded lancets at ground floor and spherical-triangles to the top. The 4-bay nave and aisles have flying buttresses, various gabled projections, and 2 traceried 2-light windows to each bay. Two-bay transepts in similar style; pinnacled turrets at the junction with the apse. Polygonal apse with ambulatory and flying buttresses, tall traceried 2-light windows with gablets in the parapet. Interior: spacious and airy; very tall aisle arcades on quatrefoil piers; rib-vaulted roofs with banded cells of polygonal terracotta blocks; aisles lined with differing arcades of large traceried arches to side-chapels and confessionals, with arched doorways at the lower levels and elaborately-traceried glazed windows above (geometrical on the north side, Early English on the south), carved Stations of the Cross (etc); ambulatory to apse; elaborate pinnacled reredos. Generally regarded as the finest of this architect’s churches.


The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus was not included in the original Taking Stock review of the Diocese of Salford. This entry has been added in March 2021, from text provided by Jane Hellings (edited by AHP)

Heritage Details

Architect: J. A. and J. S. Hansom; A. G. Scott

Original Date: 1871

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade I