Swinton Park Road, Irlams o’ th’ Height, Salford M6
An interesting and fairly well preserved example from the first generation of churches built to accommodate the liturgical recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. The external appearance has been changed with the replacement of the copper roof, but apart from fairly minor reordering it is largely intact, with some good furnishings, including later Stations of the Cross and other art works by Harold Riley.
Irlams o’ th’ Height is a settlement on the borders of Swinton and Pendleton, which like many neighbouring areas grew with industrialisation in the nineteenth century. A proposal for a chapel-of-ease to St James Pendleton came to nothing until a parish was formed in 1922 and a church built as a temporary structure in 1924 from designs by H. Greenhalgh of Bolton. A school was built on the adjacent site in 1935 by E. Bower Norris & F. M. Reynolds. The church was renovated after the Second World War by Gerrard & Co. of Swinton.
It was decided to build a new church in 1963, when the architects Burles, Newton & Partners were appointed and drew up a scheme for a church seating 470. Financial restraints delayed the start of building work until 1966. The contractors were William Thorpe and the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Burke in October 1967. The church was opened two years later in 1969. The church was built to reflect the emerging liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, with a wide interior affording full views of the altar. The same architects designed a presbytery, added in 1974-5. A sanctuary reordering took place at some point when the Blessed Sacrament Chapel became the Lady Chapel and the tabernacle was placed behind the altar. The altar rails were removed, and the sanctuary carpeted. Perhaps at the same time the font was brought from the baptistery into the body of the church.
All orientations given are liturgical. The church is a steel-framed structure with loadbearing gable walls built on a series of rafts to guard against mining subsidence. It was designed to ensure that the congregation would have unimpeded views of the sanctuary, and the architects described the layout as ‘in conformity with the Spirit of the new Constitution’ (Catholic Building Review, Northern Edition, 1964 p. 96). The plan is near rectangular, angled at the east end, with a striking roof swooping up at the east end and trios of sharply pointed gables on each side.
The building is entered on the northwest side via a low porch which gives to a narthex and a former baptistery lit by a pyramidal roof light, attached on the west side. Light pours in to the narthex from a screen with semi-abstract stained glass with the ox symbol of St Luke, an original fixture. The nave is an impressive and memorable space with the boarded roof forming dramatic shapes which frame the east end and sanctuary, where a pair of full-height slit windows are angled to cast light without creating glare and frame a Crucifix. The roof rises up on each side of the big triangular windows on the north and south sides. Those to the south have stained glass showing the Tree of Life the True Vine and the Cross of Faith designed by Roy Coomber of Pendle Stained Glass in 2002-3. There is a cantilevered west gallery with a pipe organ set into the wall above it and a southeast chapel, now a Lady Chapel, formerly of the Blessed Sacrament, with stained glass on sacramental themes. A Pietà in the chapel probably originated in the previous church. The tabernacle, of stainless steel with high relief abstract modelling, was repositioned behind the altar at the time of the reordering. This item and the sanctuary Crucifix with a gilded figure are by an unknown artist. Stations of the Cross are by Harold Riley, installed in circa 2003. They consist of triptychs executed in pencil and wash. Other works by Riley include a study of the Virgin dated 2003 and a print of his painting Our Lady of Manchester.
Original Date: 1969
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed