Building » Stalybridge – St Raphael

Stalybridge – St Raphael

Huddersfield Road, Millbrook, Stalybridge, SK3

A notable example of experimental 1960s church design, retaining its original character to a high degree. The stained glass screen by Pierre Fourmaintraux, original corona and ceramic Stations and holy water stoups by Alan Boyson are all striking features of the interior.

A parish was formed in 1958 from the neighbouring parish of Stalybridge and the church was built to serve the Millbrook community, which was still dominated by industry at that time. The church was designed by Edward Massey and Alan Burton of Massey & Massey. The foundation stone was laid on 14 October 1961 by Bishop Murphy, and the building was solemnly opened by Bishop Grasar on 25 April 1963.

In 2011 an estimated repair bill of £250,000 led to a decision to close the church. A final Mass was held on 14 July 2011, and the future of the church is now uncertain. The church was listed Grade II in December 2011.


This description was written before the listing of the building. The detailed list entry has been added at the end of the report.

St Raphael is a very ambitious building which reflects the era of architectural and liturgical experiment in which it was built. Although the plan is essentially traditional, it is treated in an innovative manner. There are storeyed transepts reached by open spiral stairs, a long nave, crossing with a dome and clerestory lighting, and east Lady Chapel. The altar stands beneath the dome in front of the chapel. It is of black and white marble, with matching altar rails. The north wall of the nave is dominated by a full-height (8 ft 6 ins high x 60 ft long) screen with dalle de verre stained glass by Pierre Fourmaintraux of Powells (Whitefriars), with scenes from the story of Tobias and the Angel. Ceramic Stations of the Cross were designed for the building by Alan Boyson. There is a west end narthex and separate baptistery with a white stone font. Sacristies, toilets, etc. are along the south side of the building, to which a presbytery is attached.

The church appears today much as it does in early photographs and the architectural effect is well preserved, with a corona of light from the dome clerestory brightening the island altar and contrasting with the intense colours of the glass screen. The central light pendant is the original designed by McGoughlin of Dublin. The other main light fittings and simple bench seating with carved roundels also appear to be original.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1961-3 by Edward J Massey of architects’ practice Massey and Massey of Warrington. Dalle de verre stained glass by Pierre Fourmaintraux of Powells (Whitefriars Studios). Stations of the Cross and water stoups by Alan Boyson. Central pendant light fitting by McGloughlin of Dublin.

Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Raphael the Archangel, Millbrook, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic Interest: the internal planning of St Raphael the Archangel focuses upon an island altar, and whilst not having the fully developed centralised arrangement advocated by the Liturgical Movement, it clearly demonstrates a transitional period in the planning of Catholic churches, being a precursor of Vatican II (1962-5), after which such schemes were officially embraced. * Architectural Interest: the church references Byzantine motifs, particularly the large crossing dome and the mosaic-like appearance of the prominent dalle de verre screen, in a bold modern design of geometric blockiness and stepped massing culminating in the dominant circular dome. * Intactness: the church retains its original character to a high degree, being largely intact and architecturally unaltered, and retaining the majority of its high-quality contemporary fixtures and fittings. * Artistic Interest: the church is a showcase for contemporary arts and crafts, being embellished with Pierre Fourmaintraux’s extensive figurative dalle de verre screen of Tobias and the Archangel whose brilliant colours and organic forms epitomise good 1960s ecclesiastical glass design and dramatically enrich the interior space, which is also imbued with a full set of bespoke ceramic stations of the cross and holy water stoops by Alan Boyson. * Fixtures and Fittings: the internal character of the church is enhanced by well designed fixtures and fittings including a large contemporary pendant light designed by McGloughlin of Dublin to the ideas of the architect, whose scale serves to visually unite the dome with the crossing containing the island altar below, and is complimented by original marble altars, altar rails and font, and other light fittings.

History: The Millbrook parish was formed in 1958 from the neighbouring parish of Stalybridge; the first Mass in Millbrook had been held in 1946 in the canteen of Staley Mill. The Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Right Reverend John A Murphy (later Archbishop of Cardiff) commissioned the architect Edward J Massey of Massey and Massey, Warrington, to design the Church of St Raphael in 1960; the foundation stone was laid in 1961 and the Church was officially opened on 25th April 1963. During the commissioning process, the Bishop stipulated that the High Altar should be such that, if the Liturgy required it, Mass could be celebrated facing the congregation. An article was published in the Catholic Building Review, northern edition, in 1960 (p98) in which the architects’ practice stated that ‘ The Church is in the new manner whereby Mass may be said from both sides of the Altar and the Congregation is grouped about the Sanctuary on three sides’. The bringing forward of the altar and move away from longitudinal planning was encouraged by the Liturgical Movement, which favoured the closer involvement of the faithful in the Mass, and is one of the first espousals of this approach in the Roman Catholic church in England; it may also be seen in the centralized arrangement at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, designed by Frederick Gibberd for a competition held in 1959, and built in 1962-7. Such planning predates the Vatican II Constitution on Sacred Liturgy which was approved in 1963, the same year that St Raphael’s opened. The Church incorporated a screen of dalle de verre glass by Pierre Fourmaintraux in its north wall. Dalle de verre glass is richly translucent, comprising slabs of thick coloured glass with chipped or facetted edges set in a concrete frame, and was developed in France from the late 1920s. Pierre Fourmaintraux was at the forefront of the technique’s use in Britain having moved from northern France in 1956 to become the chief designer of slab glass and abstract windows for Powell’s at their highly-regarded Whitefriars Studios. His design here is unusual for his work, as rather than being non-figurative it forms a narrative sequence depicting scenes from the story of Tobias and St Raphael the Archangel. Christ Church, Coventry, built in 1954-8 and containing stained glass by Fourmaintraux depicting the life of Christ, is listed at Grade II. He also designed three lights in the north-east chapel of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Edinburgh, listed Category A. The artist Alan Boyson designed the ceramic Stations of the Cross and holy water stoups for the church. Boyson worked on many artworks for public buildings in the post-war period, often using ceramics; his Tree of Knowledge of 1962 at the former Cromwell Secondary School, Salford, is listed at Grade II.

In 2011, the high estimated cost of repairs led to the decision to close the Church and the final Mass was held on 14th July 2011.


MATERIALS: Brick and concrete. PLAN: rectangular with an entrance hall at either end of the north wall (liturgical rather than cardinal points used throughout), a west end narthex and separate baptistery, nave, crossing with a dome 13.7 metres (45 ft) in diameter with clerestorey lighting, storeyed transepts reached by spiral staircases and an east Blessed Sacrament chapel. The altar stands beneath the dome in front of the chapel. Sacristies, confessionals, and WCs are arranged along the south side of the building.

EXTERIOR: the church is flat-roofed with brick walls and concrete coping. A large, low inset concrete dome is set on a clerestorey drum with concrete mullions and tie rings. This stands on a raised brick square with moulded concrete coping and projecting concrete rain-water spouts. On the north side is a long entrance colonnade with eight segmental concrete arches; the circular columns are of textured concrete sections with mosaic tiles to the inset heads and bases and stand on a narrow cobbled strip. The first and eighth bays each contain a timber double doorway with glazed overlight and side lights. In the second to sixth bays are concrete panels of dalle de verre glass each divided into three by narrow concrete mullion fins, with timber panelled glazing (now painted over) in the seventh bay. There are upper, flat-roofed transepts to both north and south sides; that to the north has a concrete panel of abstract forms (this replaces the original mural of St Raphael the Archangel with Tobias by Pilkington’s Tiles Ltd, which was damaged by inclement weather). The west end narthex and adjacent baptistery are lit by a full-height glazed screen with narrow concrete mullion fins and a central glazed double doorway opening into the narthex. At the right-hand end is a doorway into the church located beneath a covered walkway attached to the adjacent presbytery.

INTERIOR: side colonnades of circular piers with an inset frill of fluting at the top and bottom and shallow segmental arches; the upper transepts have flat lintels each supported by two similar piers. The transepts are reached by spiral staircases and have plain metal balustrades. The east Blessed Sacrament chapel is screened off by high metal railings and gates, painted white. The island altar is of black and white marble with matching marble altar rails to the front and stands on a plinth of three shallow steps; the chapel altar is of grey and white marble. The baptistery contains a tall circular white stone font. The north wall of the nave is dominated by a full-height screen of intensely-coloured dalle de verre stained glass by Pierre Fourmaintraux with scenes from Tobias and the Archangel Raphael. Inner plain-glazed screens to the narthex and baptistery allow light into the nave, and the island altar is lit by a corona of light from the dome clerestorey. Above the colonnade piers and over the baptistery and narthex screens are fourteen ceramic Stations of the Cross designed by Alan Boyson for the building. The two ceramic water stoups in the east entrance hall and similar water stoup on the south wall of the nave are also by Boyson. Suspended from the centre of the crossing dome is a large rectangular pendant light of twenty-two lights mounted in polished diamond plates fixed to a tubular frame designed by McGloughlin of Dublin to the architect’s ideas. There are contemporary chandeliers over the nave with white glass shades. The simple bench seating with carved roundels is also contemporary.

Selected Sources

Hartwell Clare, Hyde Matthew; Hubbard Edward and Pevsner Nikolaus – Title: Cheshire (Buildings of England), 2011, 482; Anon, The Church of St Raphael the Archangel in Millbrook, Stalybridge, Cheshire, c1963; Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock (Diocese of Shrewsbury), 2011, forthcoming.

Heritage Details

Architect: Massey & Massey

Original Date: 1961

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II