Building » Oldham – St Mary

Oldham – St Mary

Shaw Street, Oldham OL1 3EZ

The earliest Catholic church in Oldham, built in 1839 and an early design by M. E. Hadfield. Some of this early church survives, greatly overlaid and extended later in the nineteenth century. Furnishings of note include a fine 1920s Gothic high altar and reredos by Ferdinand Stuflesser. The attached presbytery dates from 1839 but has been much altered.

Oldham grew rapidly as an industrial town during the nineteenth century, with cotton mills attracting an influx of Irish and other workers. The town was initially part of the Ashton Catholic Mission, served from St Augustine’s Manchester in the 1820s; Mass was first said in Henshaw Street, in a room over shops at Numbers 14-16 and later in a room over the Harp and Shamrock. This soon proved inadequate and from 1829 Fr James Fisher from St Augustine’s leased a former Unitarian Chapel on Lord Street. When the lease expired, Fr Adam George Fisher, nephew of the first Fr Fisher, raised funds for a new chapel on Shaw Street. M. E. Hadfield was appointed in 1837 to provide designs and supervised the building of a new chapel and house in the ‘old English’ style. This church was opened on 3 March 1839. The burial ground was in use from 1844 to 1857. The Lady Chapel and baptistery were added in the 1850s. In 1861 the church was damaged during anti-Catholic and anti-Irish rioting, the damage mainly being to the windows. In 1867 the church reopened after extensive renovations, with funds raised by Fr Grymonprez. The new roof was described in The Tablet as ‘of an open and elegant design, and pitched thirty feet higher than the old one, the walls of the church also being raised four feet’. The bell tower was added in 1880-81, designed by Thomas Mitchell of Clegg Street, Oldham (who also produced the designs for Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Patrick, Oldham, qv). Fr Andrew Ivory installed new Stations of the Cross and the pipe organ as war memorials in 1921. He also embellished the sanctuary with a new high altar and reredos by Ferdinand Stuflesser, marble steps and altar rails. Post-Vatican II re-ordering was carried out in the 1970s; the baptistery was removed and the northwest mortuary chapel adapted for a sacristy. The church was consecrated in 1989, on the 150th anniversary of its opening.


The church is orientated with the sanctuary roughly to the north. Liturgical compass points will be used in this description, with the sanctuary referred to as the east end. The church is built of coursed gritty sandstone, the local building stone, and the steeply pitched roofs are covered in Welsh slates. Rainwater goods are cast iron with some replacements in plastic or aluminium. The plan consists of northwest tower with porch in the lower stage, west gallery over narthex, wide aisleless nave, and sanctuary with side chapels. The presbytery and sacristies lie to the northeast. The latter are expressed by lower gabled roofs, and the south transept chapel is apsidal. The west end has triple lancets and a blocked roundel above a blocked doorway, with coped verge to the roof. The two-stage tower has pointed openings, angle buttresses, 1881 datestone and a pyramidal slate roof (re-roofed without the decorative detail). The nave and Lady Chapel have two-light windows with plate tracery, buttresses and a corbel table to the eaves. On the south side of the nave, the apsidal chapel has blocked round-arched windows. The sanctuary and Lady Chapel have stepped triple lancets to gable-end walls.Inside, the six-bay nave has an open roof with arch-braced scissor trusses and three tiers of purlins, dating from 1867. All interior walls are plain plastered. The pointed sanctuary arch is chamfered, without mouldings or responds. The steps are carpeted, said to cover marble. The timber high altar and reredos are by Ferdinand Stuflesser, richly carved in Gothic style and dating from 1923, while the forward sandstone altar was installed in 1989. On the south side of the sanctuary, a two-bay pointed arcade leads to the Lady Chapel, with recent fittings. The north wall of the sanctuary has 1970s windows. The (1867?) west gallery is carried on cast iron columns, with a timber panelled front with canted projection for the choir conductor. The organ case dates from the 1920s. Below, the glazed screen to the narthex dates from the 1970s. The 1929 timber altar with a pieta in the side chapel was originally in the mortuary chapel, moved to its present position in the 1970s. Other fittings include 1921 Stations of the Cross, a war memorial, and the alabaster font brought here from Corpus Christi, Miles Platting. The hardwood pews date from 1971.

*Update: the church closed in 2018*

Heritage Details

Architect: M. E. Hadfield; T. Mitchell

Original Date: 1839

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed