Building » Ramsbottom – St Joseph

Ramsbottom – St Joseph

Bolton Street, Ramsbottom, Bury BL0

A simply detailed but well handled church of 1880 in early Gothic style designed by a little-known Manchester architect on a difficult and sloping site. Both the church and the adjacent earlier presbytery make a positive contribution to the character of the Ramsbottom Conservation Area.

Ramsbottom is a small town in the Irwell valley which had a long association with calico printing. The first mill was established in the 1780s and was acquired in 1806 by the Grant family of Strathspey, who retained ownership for the rest of the nineteenth century and were large benefactors to the town, whose steeply-sloping streets have a slightly Scottish character. The Catholic mission to Ramsbottom was established in 1861 under the Rev. Laurence Schneider and a presbytery was built in 1862. In 1869 the Rev. Bernard De Mullewie, a Belgian priest, took over the struggling mission. He built a church with a schoolroom below and behind, making best advantage of the steeply sloping site.  The church was opened by Cardinal Manning in 1880. The architect is given as G. F. Whittenbury in The Buildings of England, but another possibility is C. W. Whittenbury of Manchester, who enlarged Urmston Anglican church in 1887.An undated and unattributed drawing in the Diocesan Archive, presumably by the architect, shows a tall semi-detached bell tower with what looks like a steep saddleback roof, never built. The blocked-off and windowless chancel arch suggests that an intended chancel was also not built.

An early view of the sanctuary, with an elaborate timber and polychrome high altar reredos in the manner of Stuflesser. To mark the 1961 centenary of the founding of the parish, the sanctuary was completely refitted and the old schoolroom was remodelled to form a parish hall.  The architects for these works were Richard Byrom Hill & Partners. The sanctuary was again reordered and simplified and the church completely redecorated in 2001.


The church is built in a simple thirteenth-century Gothic style and comprises a nave fronting directly onto the street with north and south aisles. The existence of a chancel arch inside the building suggests that a chancel or sanctuary may originally have been intended, but if so it was never built.  The walls are faced with local stone; the west elevation to the street is of coursed and rock-faced masonry, while the stonework of the side and rear walls is laid in random courses. The tall pitched roof is covered with blue Westmoreland slate banded with red and green slate. The pent roofs of the aisles are plain blue slate.

The gabled west front has a central entrance with twin doorways and a roundel under a shafted pointed arch with a gabled hoodmould and the date 1880 beneath. At the head of the wall is a large five-light window with a tall central light flanked by cusped roundels.  The end walls of the side aisles have stepped triple lancet windows. Both sides of the church abut other buildings and the aisle walls are windowless. The nave clerestory has nine lancet windows on each side. The east wall is blind.

The interior is simply finished, with plain plastered walls and a woodblock floor now covered with carpet. The nave has a west gallery containing the organ and four-bay north and south arcades of moulded arches on cylindrical stone columns with moulded capitals and bases.  The clerestory windows are deeply inset with clear leaded lights and coloured borders. Above the clerestory the timber wall plate, tie-beams, kingposts and the ribs of the curved wagon ceiling are exposed. The aisle roofs are braced from the piers of the arcades.  A tall pointed arch fills the east wall of the nave but there is no recess behind.   The present sanctuary arrangements apparently date from about 2000, though the altar is adapted from an altar installed in 1961 as part of a more elaborate pre-Vatican II scheme of decoration with altar rails, altar steps, reredos and tester. Fittings of interest include the original timber benches and the south side altar.

Heritage Details

Architect: G. F. Whittenbury (or possibly C. W. Whittenbury)

Original Date: 1880

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed