School Lane, Didsbury, Manchester M20
A well composed and executed building which displays strong architectural forms and attention to surface texture. It is of interest as an early work of Desmond Williams who went on to design St Augustine’s, Grosvenor Square Manchester (qv).
Didsbury is a suburb to the south of Manchester city centre which developed as a relatively affluent area during the later nineteenth century and expanded greatly thereafter. Bishop Henshaw divided the parish from Withington in 1928 with Fr Charles Wilkin in charge. Mass was initially celebrated at the local Liberal Club while money was raised to build a hall and temporary church. Plans and estimates were accepted from Hallwoods of Hyde and the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Henshaw in February 1929. It opened in June of the same year. In the meantime a school was opened in a club house and pavilion in the grounds of Didsbury Lodge, a nearby property owned by the Salford Catholic Children’s Rescue Society. In 1936 a new school building was built beside the parish hall. A wayside cross which stands beside the church was blessed in 1946.
Fundraising continued after the war and in 1956 plans for a new church designed by Arthur Farebrother & Partners were approved. The project architect was Desmond Williams and the contractors were F. Taylor & Co. Bishop Beck laid the foundation stone in October 1956 and the church was opened in December 1957. The outer west porch was added in matching style in 1961 and a few years later the old parish hall was substantially rebuilt. It remains in use as a club and social centre.
Reordering of the sanctuary was undertaken incrementally during the mid-1970s, though the font had been brought in from the baptistery some years before. The altar rails were probably removed at this time. A temporary forward altar was replaced by one of marble.
Another reordering took place in 2007, when the sanctuary was reduced in level, replacing the original five steps with three, and slightly reduced in depth with the introduction of curtains at the back and a new Crucifix in front of the curtains. A new lighting scheme was introduced and the area was carpeted.
All orientations given are liturgical. The church is in Romanesque Basilican style, of rectangular plan with a detached northwest campanile, a porch in the form of a loggia at the west end and a southeast Lady Chapel and northeast sacristies. It is attached to a contemporary presbytery of traditional design. The building is of brick, and many of the openings are composed of narrow bricks or tiles laid on edge; soldier courses and some areas of raised brick are also used for effect, reflecting the influence of Dudok and the Amsterdam school of brick expressionism. There is a narthex with round-arched openings to the nave, stairs to the gallery and a former baptistery, now WCs, on the south side. The nave is tall, with high round-arched clerestory windows and low processional aisles. The nave ceiling is deeply coffered with small roundels with crosses on them in alternate compartments. The sanctuary is approached by steps, and there is a choir loft over the sacristies opening to the north side of the sanctuary. This was planned to allow the west gallery to be used for additional seating. The Lady Chapel has a niche with a statue in the south wall and the ceiling is also coffered.
Architect: Desmond Williams of Arthur Farebrother & Partners
Original Date: 1957
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed