Elbow Street, Levenshulme, Manchester M19
An interesting and ambitious design of the early 1970s. There is a debt to Frederick Gibberd’s Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King (1962-7) in the use of a lantern, but the design is carefully thought out and illustrates how the search for plan forms appropriate to the new liturgy continued to develop during the 1970s. The exterior is of striking form, and the interior is visually impressive as a space and for the extensive use of stained glass in the sanctuary.
Levenshulme was essentially a rural area before industrial expansion in the nineteenth century. Partly as a consequence of its position on important transport routes, the A6 London Road and the railway, now the West Coast Mainline, it grew to merge with neighbouring settlements during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Industry has largely disappeared, but the area remains a thriving local centre with a residential hinterland.
The Catholic mission started when land was given in 1853 by Samuel Grimshawe, a Levenshulme resident and industrialist who built Errwood Hall, near Buxton for himself in the 1840s. He also gave an endowment of £25 per annum. The area covered by the mission was initially quite large, encompassing Reddish, Heaton Norris, Longsight, Fallowfield and Withington. The first rector was Rev. Thomas Unsworth. A community of Good Shepherd Sisters became resident, followed by Sisters of the Cross and Passion, before a convent of Belgian Poor Clares was established in 1863 on a site just off Errwood Road. The thoroughfare between Errwood Road and Stockport Road was called Nunnery Lane, later changed to Clare Road. In 1877 the Rt Rev. Mgr Robert Croskell became rector and built a presbytery on the site. The foundation stone of a church there was laid by Bishop Vaughan in July 1882. The architect was H. E. Tijou (information from list entry for the chapel at Loreto College, Manchester).
In 1957 the schools and church had become too small to meet demand, and Fr Hulme purchased the Grand Cinema on Stockport Road, and an extensive plot of land behind it at a cost of £8,500. The cinema was converted for use as a church by Mather & Nutter in the same year and blessed by Bishop Beck at an inaugural service in August of that year. The old church and presbytery were converted for school use. New schools were built on the site in 1961-73, and in 1980 the Poor Clare sisters left the site and the church and convent were demolished.
In 1974 plans for a new church on land behind the cinema were developed by Tadeusz Lesisz of the Greenhalgh & Williams partnership, in collaboration with Fr Occleston. They visited a number of recently built churches in the diocese and in western Ireland to explore the best forms for the new liturgy. It was decided that a circular plan created distractions and lack of direction, so a fan shape was settled upon. Fr Occleson stipulated that the church should be modern in style, but must look like a church and create the right atmosphere for prayer and devotion. It should be of monumental size to dominate the local area, with a plan allowing uninterrupted views of the altar. Finally, it had to be finished in stone inside and to adjoin a presbytery. Work started in July 1974 and the church was opened by Bishop Holland in December 1975. It was consecrated in May 1983.
A parish hall had been built on the Elbow Street site, probably after the cinema conversion in 1957. It was demolished to make way for the new church and replaced by a large new parochial hall and parish club on the adjacent site. This was designed by Greenhalgh & Williams and built in 1974-5.
All orientations given are liturgical. The nave is fan-shaped with the sanctuary taking the form of an octagon rising up to finish as a lantern. The octagon and lantern are completely steel framed with brick cladding and the rest is of load-bearing brick with a light steelwork roof. A presbytery of brick is attached on the northeast side by means of a link with sacristies, stores, etc. The church is entered on the west side, where there is a relief statue of the Virgin by Edward Blackwell, executed in 1957 for the cinema conversion. The rectangular narthex is separately expressed, and has a gallery over it. The nave roof is supported by two slender circular columns. These columns and the gallery front are painted to resemble marble, and inner walls are finished in artificial stone. The sanctuary floor and furnishings are of pale marble, and the nave floor is composed of marble tiles in strong reds. The sanctuary has three enormous stained glass windows, twenty feet high, by the Lightfoot firm. They show the Baptism of Christ in a scene similar to designs elsewhere, for example at St John Bosco (qv); The vision of St Francis of Our Lady of Angels and St Clare and the Saracens. Stained glass in the octagon and behind the altar is abstract, the latter in blues, the former in reds and yellows. Two recessed shrines on the north side of the nave are top-side lit and contain marble statues from the previous church. Photographs of the interior after completion suggest that the sanctuary furnishings are original, though communion rails have been removed (Catholic Building Review, Northern Edition, 1976, p. 49). A plan of the church published in the same article (p. 55) shows that the layout and positions of furnishings have not been greatly altered since that time. Bench seating is also original.
Architect: Greenhalgh & Williams
Original Date: 1975
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed