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Posted by: mike on Mar 28, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (March 13th 2014)

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (March 13th 2014)

No sooner had I posted a blog-article complaining that St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield had stood a roofless ruin for six months than the demolition team moved in.

Within a week, March 10th-14th 2014, the building was flattened – an eyesore that need never have been an eyesore.

The earliest reference I’ve so far found to the possibility of closure is in 1993.  As late as 2004, Ruth Harman and John Minnis clearly thought it merited an illustration in their Pevsner Architectural Guide Sheffield (2004), p 188.

By the time I became aware it was threatened and my neighbours started a campaign to save it at the end of 2011 it was far too late to have any effect.

This is what I’ve learned from following the fate of St Hilda’s Church:

  • the Church of England’s procedure for disposing of redundant churches is ponderous, glacially slow and largely ignores the possibility that the secular community might resolve the problems of disposal
  • local politicians, hammered for a generation by central governments’ stripping away of their autonomy, think in terms of solving problems rather than exploring possibilities
  • the network of amenity organisations, particularly English Heritage and the national amenity societies, prioritises its concerns in terms of national perspectives, with a bias against twentieth-century architecture and buildings of purely local significance
  • just as the churches declined because people think they’re going to be there for ever and never set foot across the threshold, so local people will sign petitions but aren’t inclined to participate actively in seeking uses for derelict local buildings

It was always on the cards that St Hilda’s would go.

One less twentieth-century suburban church makes the others that remain marginally more valuable.

Posted by: mike on Mar 10, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield – nave & baptistery

After I’d taken part in the Church Commissioners’ meeting to discuss the redundancy and proposed demolition of St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield, I spent some time talking to people in the Parson Cross community about the building’s practical possibilities.

Apparently, there aren’t any.

Local community workers told me that there’s already full provision of community facilities on the Parson Cross and neighbouring Foxhill estates:  a further facility, if it could be financed, would threaten the viability of those already existing.

Public finance is, of course, an impossibility.

One City Councillor told me with understandable passion of the difficulties of maintaining social provision in the face of draconian financial cuts.  One particular priority at present, justifiably, is somehow to maintain a branch library within reach of local residents.

Yet the emotional pull of St Cecilia’s still remains.  A clergyman spoke movingly of how the building holds the prayers of seventy years of congregational worship, and is a monument to the revered Kelham Fathers who built up the parish from nothing.

The one positive insight I heard came from someone with enterprise experience:  “The only hope for that building,” he said, “is serendipity.”

That, after all, is what happened at Gorton Monastery in Manchester, the Abbeydale Cinema on the south side of Sheffield, and the former St Thomas’ Church, Brightside, which is now Greentop Circus.

The Gorton Monastery project was co-founded by Elaine Griffiths, MBE;  the Abbeydale Cinema turned a corner when Phil Robins spotted its possibilities as a climbing centre;  the founders of Greentop Circus had the wit to challenge Anneka Rice.

In other words, the only possibility of finding a use for the building is if someone comes along with a practical idea that no-one else has thought of.

The only way of saving St Cecilia’s is for someone who needs an attractive space on the north side of Sheffield to come up with a business plan that relieves the Church Commissioners of the need to spend nearly £200,000 knocking the place down brick by brick to the great inconvenience of the neighbours.

Posted by: mike on Mar 6, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (September 27th 2013)

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (September 27th 2013)

Last August the scaffolding went up around St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield, and it was apparent that it would be demolished.

I was told that the schedule was to have the site cleared by the end of September 2013.

A cheerful crew duly turned up and over a matter of two or three weeks removed the entire roof.

Then they went away, and nothing further has happened.

The place continues to stand a roofless ruin.

My diocesan source tells me that the delay results from “discussion between the Sheffield City Council Planning Department, Church Commissioners, Diocese and the Contractor”.

The Church authorities don’t seem to have much luck either with keeping redundant buildings standing or knocking them down.

St Hilda’s is now neither one thing nor the other.

It’s perhaps mischievous to point out that roofless churches have been preserved against all the odds, such as the Welsh Presbyterian Church, Toxteth, Liverpool [http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/toxteths-welsh-presbyterian-church-new-6086259] and the Welsh Baptist Chapel, Upper Brook Street, Manchester  [http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/the-unitarianchapel-upper-brook-street-manchester].

Both these examples are listed, and are of undeniable historical and architectural merit.

But sometimes even the most unassuming derelict buildings gain a purpose that keeps them standing and restored to good order:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=1461.

Update – March 11th 2014:  The interrupted demolition of St Hilda's has resumed, and it should be gone within a matter of days.

Posted by: mike on Mar 2, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Thomas' Church, Brightside, Sheffield

Because of the discussions about the future of the redundant St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield, I’m looking at examples of successful conversions of redundant religious buildings which have preserved the architecture while enabling the building to earn its keep.

I’ve already written about the former St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Seel Street, Liverpool (now a restaurant) and the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield (now a Muslim community centre) and the spectacular revival of the Monastery of St Francis, Gorton.

One of the best examples I’ve come across is the former St Thomas’ Church, Brightside, Sheffield, a modest Victorian parish church of 1854 by the local architects Flockton & Son, built to serve the first growth of artisan housing as the steelworks crept across the Lower Don Valley after the arrival of the railway in 1839.

It’s a more modest building than Flockton & Son’s contemporaneous work in Sheffield – the General Cemetery Church and Christ Church, Pitsmoor (both 1850), and St Matthew’s, Carver Street (1855) – but it is, as the cliché goes, small and perfectly formed, with a nave and chancel, a south aisle but no north aisle, a bell-tower and spire.  The architects’ plans are online at
http://www.churchplansonline.org/show_full_image.asp?resource_id=04465.tif  and http://www.churchplansonline.org/show_full_image.asp?resource_id=04465a.tif

It was listed Grade II in 1973 and made redundant in 1979.  At first it was converted as a gymnasium for the Sheffield School of Gymnastics but then fell into neglect.

It was rescued by Anneka Rice’s TV programme, Challenge Anneka, broadcast on August 27th 1995 [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9vZ1FI6Mwc and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gGPhlmeY5s] as a circus school for Greentop Circus [http://www.greentop.org].

Apart from a shortage of storage-space, the interior is ideal for its present purpose.  The trapeze rig sits comfortably on the load-bearing walls of the nave;  there is ample height and floor-area and cramped but well-organised office-space in the west gallery, accessible by an intriguing spiral staircase in the tower.

Greentop is an arts education charity which provides, alongside training facilities for professional performers, school workshops and team-building for adults as part of its mission “to use contemporary circus skills to enhance people’s lives and inspire positive change”.

When I met a committee of the Church Commissioners to discuss the proposal to demolish St Cecilia’s, I was asked if there weren’t already enough community facilities on the Parson Cross estate.  I replied that if the existing six buildings were sufficient, the area would not figure so high on indices of deprivation.

Greentop’s value to the local Firvale community is incalculable.  Some of the young people who have become involved are from the local Roma community, who have had a famously bad press recently: 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10452130/Roma-in-Sheffield-When-it-goes-off-it-will-be-like-an-atom-bomb-here.html.

And without Greentop, the consecrated churchyard of St Thomas would contain only graves and a wreck or an empty space.

Posted by: mike on Feb 11, 2014

Category:Sacred placesExploring New YorkLatest

New York City:  Riverside Church

On Riverside Drive overlooking the River Hudson is a great twentieth-century Gothic church of surprising proportions, the Baptist Riverside Church, largely financed by John D Rockefeller Jnr, and opened in 1929 to the designs of Allen, Pelten & Collens.

Especially when seen from the river, the huge tower, 392 feet high, dominates the church, which is itself a hundred feet high and 215 feet long. 

The tower is in fact a 22-storey office building for the church administration, surmounted by a 72-bell carillon which visitors can inspect on their way to view the panorama from the top of the tower. 

From here the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan dot the horizon.

Riverside Church is proud of its stained glass and sculpture.  It has two Epsteins, the bronze ‘Madonna and Child’ (1927) and the gilded mould of the cast ‘Christ in Majesty’ at Llandaff Cathedral, Wales.

From the outset of its ministry, started by Rev Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969), Riverside Church has been a springboard for all kinds of social intervention, and has provided a pulpit for a dazzling array of speakers, from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson to Desmond Tutu, and Fidel Castro to Bill Clinton.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 7, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New YorkLatest

New York City:  Trinity Church

Perhaps the most famous image of Wall Street is the vista westwards along the canyon of tall twentieth-century buildings to the apparently modest-sized Trinity Church, designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846.

This was itself once the tallest building on Manhattan, 281 feet high.

The original foundation dates from a royal charter of 1697, and the present building is the third on the site.

The great wealth of the trustees arose from Queen Anne’s 1705 grant of the land west of Broadway between Fulton and Christopher Streets, the rentals of which have supported widespread endowments, educational institutions and subsidiary chapels.

Upjohn’s church was a significant influence on the architecture of nineteenth-century New York, firstly because it effectively established the Gothic Revival here (though its suspended plaster vault would have offended contemporary English purists such as Pugin), and because it helped to popularise the use of the local brownstone, a material which became synonymous with New York housing in the half-century that followed.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Dec 4, 2013

Category:Sacred placesLatest

Panacea Museum, Bedford

Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance states that the brain cannot simultaneously hold two contradictory ideas.  It’s a useful device in empowerment training.  He developed it from research into a group of Canadian millenniarists who convinced themselves that the world would end on December 21st 1954, and when no such cataclysm took place declared that the light which spread from their group had saved the world.

Leon Festinger (1919-1989) would have dined out on the Panacea Society, founded in 1919 by Mabel Barltrop, the widow of an Anglican curate, who received a message that she was a new messiah.  This was the first of a succession of messages from God, delivered promptly at 5.30pm each day, which ultimately filled sixteen handwritten volumes.

The Panaceans became custodians of Joanna Southcott’s box, which that prophetess had prepared before her death in 1814 with strict instructions that it was only to be opened at a time of national crisis by an assembly of twenty-four Anglican bishops.

Mabel’s supporters renamed her ‘Octavia’ and bought houses near to hers in and around Albany Road in Bedford.  Here they lived in a community of genteel and elegant delusion.

Here also the Society duly prepared a residence for twenty of the requisite bishops (the other four would have to make do with a nearby hotel) to carry out the box-opening ceremonies in appropriate dignity and comfort.  Endless petitions and advertisements in the national media failed to persuade their lordships to take Joanna Southcott at all seriously.

Mabel herself would not step more than 77 paces away from her home for fear of being attacked by Satan.

She identified this Bedford colony as the original site of the Garden of Eden, and the location to which Jesus Christ would return at the Second Coming.  No 18 Albany Road, “The Ark”, was duly prepared for His reception.  There was agonised debate about whether He would need a shower, being “radiant”, but one was provided in case.

Mabel, who administered the Sacrament to her flock wearing a Liberty scarf, began a healing ministry, breathing over tap-water that was used to soak linen which was then cut into little squares for dispatch to something like 130,000 applicants between 1921 and the end of the century.

The Society received a considerable jolt in 1934 when Mabel was found dead in bed.  This extraordinary behaviour seemed inexplicable, and they waited four days for her to resurrect.  When she became increasingly off-colour they eventually called an undertaker.

Nevertheless, the last believing member of the Society survived until 2012, and the Society has now reinvented itself as a philanthropic charity to disburse its accumulated resources of at least £22 million.

One of these projects is the Panacea Museum [http://panaceatrust.org/the-panacea-museum], an unusually fascinating place that needs a couple of hours to assimilate.

When I photographed it on a visit with the Ancient Monuments Society, one image of the garden included a glowing apple within the frame.  A trick of the light, surely?

Panacea Museum, Bedford:  garden

Posted by: mike on Nov 30, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLatest

Bunyan Meeting, Bedford

The Bunyan Meeting is a Free Church congregation in Bedford which dates back to 1650 and was led by Rev John Bunyan (1628-1688) from the time of his release from his first imprisonment in 1672 until his death.

John Bunyan is regarded as a literary giant as the author of Pilgrim’s Progress (1678/84), which is at once a great devotional work and a precursor of the English novel.  One section of Part Two became the hymn of which the original first line is ‘Who would true valour see’.

His life was a remarkable journey from working as a tinker, through an agonising religious conversion to imprisonment for his Puritan beliefs in the Restoration period and a subsequent career as a powerful popular preacher.

The fine 1849 galleried chapel has stained-glass windows and elaborate bronze doors by Frederick Thrupp depicting scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress, and Bunyan’s life is commemorated in a compact, vividly displayed museum adjacent to the Meeting church:  http://www.bunyanmeeting.co.uk/museum.

The great prison reformer John Howard (1726-1790) is Bedford’s other figure of international importance.

He had an estate nearby at Cardington:  when he attended the Bunyan Meeting services he stayed at the adjacent house from Saturday night to Monday morning so that his coachman didn’t have to drive on the Sabbath.

As a result of the controversy over paedobaptism, John Howard founded a breakaway congregation which became the Howard Church (1775-6):  http://www.howardmemorialchurch.co.uk/HistoryFOMPages/HFOM2.html.

Posted by: mike on Nov 20, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesBirmingham's HeritageLatest

All Saint's (formerly St Aidan's) Church, Small Heath, Birmingham

The Anglican parishes around the Birmingham Small Arms factory in Small Heath were carved out of the ancient parish of Aston between 1846 and the end of the nineteenth century, and became part of the Anglo-Catholic “biretta belt” of South Birmingham. 

One of the last of these was St Aidan's Church, begun in 1893, designed in red brick with buff terracotta by Thomas Frederick Proud (d 1901), with a clergy house, intended for a team of single curates, by the Birmingham metalworker and architect Arthur Stansfield Dixon (1856-1929).

The eastern end of the church – chancel, guild chapel and two bays of the nave – was completed in 1894 and consecrated two years later;  the western end including the baptistery and bellcote was finished by the end of 1898.

Once the shell of the church was complete, Arts & Crafts designers supplied much of the decoration:  Bertram Lamplugh of the Birmingham School of Art designed the Good Shepherd window in the Guild Chapel in 1907, and Frederick Bligh Bond (1864-1945) and W E Ellery Anderson (1888-1942) collaborated with the incumbent, Canon Newell Long, to begin an ambitious decorative scheme, some of which remained unexecuted because of the intervention of the Great War.  The last decorative addition during Canon Long’s incumbency was the free-standing reredos for the Sanctuary by Ellery Anderson, executed by Mowbray & Sons of Oxford and dedicated in 1921.

The grandiose celebrations of Anglo-Catholic worship created continuing problems within the politics of the Birmingham diocese.  Bishop Ernest W Barnes (1874-1953;  bishop 1924-1953) took against the figures on the Rood Screen, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and the use of incense, and at one stage refused to take confirmations within the parish.

St Aidan’s was valued highly by the early aficionados of Victorian and Edwardian art and architecture, such as John Betjeman – “[a] successful Perpendicular design in red brick and terra cotta”, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner – “a striking and successful example of the local red brick and terracotta school...with an atmosphere much encouraged by the splendid Rood and Screens”.  The Victorian Society identified it as “one of the six or seven finest Victorian churches in Birmingham”.

Housing clearance and the collapse of the BSA company in 1973 encouraged the flight of the local population.  By 1991, only nine of St Aidan’s communicants lived within the parish boundary.  Meanwhile an influx of Asian families meant that by 1997 at least 65% of the population within the parish was Muslim, and most of the local schools had at least 90% Muslim pupils on roll.

From 1994 the diocese of Birmingham closed and disposed of surplus buildings in the parishes of St Gregory and St Oswald, and concentrated activity on the St Aidan’s site, while renaming the parish All Saints to commemorate the dedication of the original early Victorian parish.

The St Aidan’s building was radically reordered, reversing the direction of worship to use the apsidal baptistery as a sanctuary, enlarging the Lady Chapel to provide an intimate worship space and forging an entrance directly on to the street with a meeting-hall above where the High Altar had formerly stood.

The Victorian Society vigorously opposed this attack on the historical integrity of the building, and in 1998 forced the issue to a Consistory Court where the Chancellor found against them, accusing the Society of acting “arrogantly, unreasonably and without common sense”.

This fine church, the “Cathedral of the Back Streets”, continues to serve its purpose under the oversight of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet in an environment vastly different to that for which it was built.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLatest

Reform Synagogue, Bowland Street, Bradford

Reform Synagogue, Bowland Street, Bradford

The Bradford Jewish communities were never numerically large, perhaps a hundred families in the late-nineteenth century, but they were extremely influential.

The German and Danish Jews whose warehouses are now called “Little Germany” were not refugees, but came in search of prosperity in the early decades of the nineteenth century.  They assimilated, and then coalesced into the city’s Reform Congregation.

From their ranks came four Bradford mayors, including Charles Joseph Semon (1814-1877;  Mayor 1864-5) and Jacob Moser (1839-1922;  Mayor 1910-11), as well as the merchant Sir Jacob Behrens (1806-1889) and Professor Friederich Wilhelm Eurich (1867–1945) who led the search for a cure for cutaneous anthrax or “wool-sorter’s disease”.  The composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and the painter Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) both came from Bradford German-Jewish families.

This Reform Congregation built the magnificent Moorish Grade II*-listed Reform Synagogue on Bowland Street, designed by T H & F Healey in 1881, a rare and fine survival of the Islamic Revival style.

In the 1880s, fleeing the pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, came Russian Jews who disliked the practices of the Reform Synagogue and founded their own Orthodox Synagogue in Spring Gardens in 1906.

The Orthodox community were sufficiently confident of their future to close the Spring Gardens synagogue in 1970 and move to a modern building at Springhurst Road, Shipley.  The Spring Gardens building, with the inscription above its doorway, “How goodly are your tents, O Israel”, is now the Al Mumin independent Muslim primary school, and the Orthodox Congregation had to close their Shipley synagogue in April 2013 because they no longer had sufficient numbers to hold services.

Meanwhile, the Reform Congregation of around thirty-five people somehow manages to maintain their building and hold monthly services:  http://www.bradfordsynagogue.co.uk/index.htm.

Among the supporters who have helped this tiny community financially are the Bradford Council of Mosques and other members of the local Muslim community:  http://www.bradfordsynagogue.co.uk/index.htm.

The local MP, George Galloway, tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons which congratulated “the members of the Bradford Muslim community for their extraordinary ecumenical gesture in raising a very large sum of money to repair the roof of Bradford’s last remaining synagogue, thereby enabling members of the Jewish community to continue to worship there;  and believes that this generous gesture shows the true spirit of Islam towards other People of the Book.”

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Oct 29, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (August 2013) – nave

I remarked in an earlier blog-article that I couldn’t understand how the Gloucestershire architect Kenneth B Mackenzie got the commission to build St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield in the late 1930s.

He certainly had no previous experience of designing churches, though he was apparently a sensitive restorer of existing church buildings in the Diocese of Gloucester.

St Cecilia’s is a fine essay in twentieth-century Gothic revival design.  Its stone exterior sits comfortably in its tight little close of council houses, now protected by trees that have matured over three-quarters of a century.  Its stubby little tower is in scale with its domestic surroundings, so that Chaucer Close has the feeling of a village green in the midst of the vast Parson Cross municipal housing estate.

Within, its concrete rendered walls, lit by the plain glass of the rectangular traceried windows, enclose a calm, expansive space, entered through a narthex into an aisled nave, with a sanctuary dominated not by an east window but by a reredos that was added in 1971.  Above the narthex is a west gallery filled with the magnificent case of the 1986 Cousans organ.

Kenneth Mackenzie was clearly fluent in the aesthetic language that the Anglo-Catholic congregation required, and left plenty of scope for additions and embellishments.

He was, like many architects of his generation, less adept at making his building easy to maintain.  He probably, in the late 1930s, assumed that future generations would give priority to preserving the building, in particular giving regular attention to the slate and asphalt roofs.

He couldn’t know that the electrical wiring installed in 1938 would still be in place seventy-five years later.

And he took it for granted that the stream that runs beneath the building would behave itself, which it hasn’t.  The presbytery, always known as the Priory, regularly flooded before it was demolished in 1994, and now that the church is disused the undercroft floor is heaving.

As a source close to the Church Commissioners remarked, the current difficulties with the building arise from defects of maintenance, not from its structural integrity.

It’s certainly untrue that St Cecilia’s Church has necessarily reached the end of its life.

But the unintended consequences of Kenneth Mackenzie’s decisions about structure and design have left a heavy legacy for anyone who contemplates bringing it back to any kind of use.

It seems that Kenneth Mackenzie was the nephew of Mr A R Heathcote, the then anonymous benefactor who paid for the building.

Posted by: mike on Oct 27, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (August 2013) – sanctuary

Campaigning to save the church of St Hilda, Shiregreen, Sheffield (Leslie T Moore, 1938) was a frustrating experience because of the opacity of the Church Commissioners’ processes for the closure and disposal of redundant churches.

Earlier blog-articles record my interest in the subsequent closure of the nearby church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939).  Because I formally objected to the proposed demolition I’ve been given far more information about the building than ever we saw about St Hilda’s, and I was invited to make direct representations to the Commissioners’ Pastoral and Church Buildings (Uses & Disposals) Committees.

The condition and location of St Cecilia’s Church presents an intractable dilemma for the parish and the Commissioners.

It’s practically unusable because of the state of the roof and the wiring, yet the parishioners are saddled with the considerable monthly expense of securing and insuring it while trying to maintain the more compact daughter-church of St Bernard of Clairvaux, in which they now worship, at the other end of the parish in Southey Green.

The diocesan authorities fear the expense and disruption of demolishing a building hemmed in by inhabited houses with restricted road access.

Sheffield City Council has made it clear that the only acceptable change of use would be residential, yet the existing building would not adapt well and a replacement apartment block would be uneconomic in an area where substantial three-bedroomed houses sell for £80,000.

For the moment, the Commissioners have referred back the Diocese’s proposals in an attempt to find an alternative use that avoids the punitive cost and disruption of demolition.

Meanwhile, the small combined congregation of St Cecilia’s and St Bernard’s pay an inordinate price because St Cecilia’s is not yet formally redundant – though almost everyone agrees it should be – and St Bernard’s is not yet consecrated as the parish church of the future.

I continue to argue that the secular community around St Cecilia’s has been given insufficient opportunity to work towards an alternative secular practical use for the building, yet the take-up at the two public meetings that were called was disappointing – fifteen people in 2011 and twenty in August this year.

The Church of England hasn’t been able to find a way to dispose of St Cecilia’s Church from within its own resources and procedures.

The building needs a use that takes advantage of its quiet setting and its light, airy interior space, and that can somehow be supported financially.

Posted by: mike on Oct 14, 2013

Category:Sacred places

Wentworth Old Church

When the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam provided the village of Wentworth with a huge new parish church in 1877, he made sure its predecessor would not remain in use.

The final service in the old church was evensong on Sunday July 29th 1877, prior to the consecration of the new church by the Archbishop of York two days later on Tuesday July 31st.  Shortly afterwards, the old Holy Trinity parish church was stripped of its roof and some of its walls, leaving only the tower and the Wentworth Chapel containing monuments to the Earl’s distant ancestors from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The most distinguished of these is Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (1593 -1641), executed in the run-up to the English Civil War.  No-one knows where his body is buried, though some in Wentworth say his grave is near the monument that his son erected in the old church.

Later members of the family were buried in a vault in the churchyard provided by the 4th Earl, but in the twentieth century the Fitzwilliams preferred more modest graves to the south of the new church.

The churchyard of the old church, however, contains some fascinating graves – the Marquis of Rockingham’s housekeeper, Miss Hannah Jennet, and endless other estate workers, Joshua Oxley (d 1803), Edward Carr (d 1859) and Job Winter (d 1873), all drowned in Elsecar Reservoir, and John Hague, “local preacher amongst the people who call themselves Methodists”.

Most poignant of all is Chow Kwang Tseay, who came to England in 1847 and was baptised John Dennis Blonde, taking his surname from the ship that brought him.

The Wentworth Chapel was restored, and the ruined parts of the old church consolidated, in 1925 by the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam.  It was declared redundant in 1976 and is now vested in the Churches Conservation Trust.

The Country Houses of South Yorkshire (June 5th-9th 2014) tour, based at Wortley Hall near Sheffield, includes visits to the two parish churches in the estate village of Wentworth and several of the Wentworth Monuments, together with a Connoisseurs Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse.  For details please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 12, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

Wentworth New Church

The estate-church of Holy Trinity, Wentworth (1875-7), with its spire nearly two hundred feet high, was commissioned by the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam (1815-1902) and designed by John Loughborough Pearson in his scholarly, dignified Gothic Revival manner, in late thirteenth-century Geometrical style.

Holy Trinity is an imposing cruciform building with elegant rib-vaulting and a distinctly understated simplicity.  The east window (1888) is by Clayton & Bell and the west window (c1903) by Kempe.

Other windows with coloured glass are mostly given in memory of successive Agents, and in the south transept is a sequence of brasses commemorating members of the Fitzwilliam family from the generation that built the church onwards.

There is a story that the 6th Earl needed a bigger church to accommodate his large family:  certainly the pews on the north aisle are designed for children.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner [in The Buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding (2nd edn, revised by Enid Radcliffe, Penguin 1967)] comments, “The Fitzwilliams of the day could not have spent their money more judiciously.”

The Country Houses of South Yorkshire (June 5th-9th 2014) tour, based at Wortley Hall near Sheffield, includes visits to the two parish churches in the estate village of Wentworth and several of the Wentworth Monuments, together with a Connoisseurs Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse.  For details please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 6, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, New South Wales

St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, stands just round the corner from its Catholic neighbour.  Though both are Gothic in style, their differences are distinctive.

St Peter’s was designed by John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), the Canadian-born original architect of Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle (begun 1869) on the New South Wales coast and Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton (1881).

Hunt favoured brick, an unexpected material for a cathedral, because its relative cheapness ensured that as much as possible could be built with the limited amount of money available.

The first Bishop of Grafton & Armidale, James F Turner, commented, “Our architect has studied carefully to give the church a certain stateliness of character, and therein has succeeded admirably…it is real, honest, and true; and shows what may be done in a material often too little regarded, viz, common brick.”

Hunt used local blue brick sourced from clay on the Saumarez estate, with Uralla granite dressings and a scissor-truss roof.  Building began in 1873 and after two years the first phase was opened.  The vestries and chapter house were added in 1910, and the tower completed in 1938.

I visited Armidale to lecture to the local decorative and fine arts society on Chicago.  Illustrating skyscrapers in that city, I remarked the Mies van der Rohe’s IBM Tower ignores its surroundings while the earlier Wrigley Building is carefully shaped to fit into its geographical context on the bend of a river – very like, I said, the modern annexes to St Peter’s Cathedral, which blend in a neighbourly way with Hunt’s original design.

At the end the gentleman who gave the vote of thanks remarked how pleased he was that I’d mentioned the extensions to St Peter’s Cathedral because he was Tony Deakin, the architect who designed the Parish Hall:  http://focusmag.com.au/ne/interviews/tony-deakin.

When you address an audience, you never know who’s listening.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here. 

Posted by: mike on Oct 2, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Mary & St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral, Armidale, New South Wales

Sited in the midst of the Northern Tablelands above the Hunter Valley, Armidale is a strange city to British eyes:  it has two cathedrals, a university, and a population of less than twenty thousand.  Its oddity to most Australians is that because of its altitude, over 3,000 feet above sea-level, it has seasons, so they call the region “New England”.

Many of the early settlers were Irish, and Catholicism has remained a significant force in the community.

The fine Catholic Cathedral of St Mary & St Joseph was designed by Joseph Ignatius Sheerin (d 1915) & John Francis Hennessy (1853-1924) of Sydney, and built in polychrome brick and Pyrmont sandstone by the Armidale building contractor George Nott in 1911-12.

The Anglican George Nott (1865-1940) owned timber mills and brickworks in the area, and supplied the 1.1 million bricks for the cathedral, the largest project of his career.  Built in a little over twenty months, it cost A£32,000.  Its needle spire, 155 feet high, is a major landmark.

It was one of the last works of the Sheerin & Hennesssy partnership, designers of a series of prestigious Catholic buildings in and around Sydney – the Archbishop’s House (1885) and St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly (1885-1889), St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill (1884-94), St Vincent’s College, Potts Point (1886), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Randwick (1888)and the Sacred Heart Monastery, West Kensington, Sydney (1895).

When St Mary & St Joseph’s Cathedral celebrated its centenary, a member of the congregation was George Nott’s daughter, 91-year-old Peggy Becke, wearing the gold chain from the watch that the parishioners presented to her father when the building was completed:  http://www.armidaleexpress.com.au/story/410529/armidale-catholic-cathedral-turns-100.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Sep 5, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (August 2013)

After the public meeting about the demolition of St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield Paul Beckett, the Assistant Diocesan Secretary (Property) of the Diocese of Sheffield, invited me to see the interior of the church to gain a better idea of its condition.

It would indeed need serious money to deal with the water ingress, the fallen plaster, the undulating floor in the undercroft and the shot-to-pieces wiring.

If someone could contrive a practical way of recouping an investment of up to a million pounds to save the Church Commissioners spending perhaps £200,000 demolishing the place, they’d have a very beautiful building for their money.

Kenneth McKenzie’s church looks much bigger inside than you’d expect.  It’s a broad, light, elegant space, picking up the elements of traditional churches in the stripped-back manner of inter-war architecture.

As it stands, it has a melancholy time-warp feel:  although disused for the past couple of years, the hymn-books are still on the shelf and the vestments hang in the vestry.

Because the parish was always at the high end of Anglo-Catholicism, it retains statues of saints, a Pietà and a highly ornate reredos of 1923 which is in fact a refugee from the demolished church of Holy Trinity, Preston via another demolished church, St Margaret’s, Burnley.  Presumably it will once more go on its travels.

St Cecilia’s also has an impressive-looking organ, built in 1986 by Cousans of Lincoln from the previous organ by Vincent’s of Durham (1972) with additional parts from two other organs by the Sheffield firm of Brindley & Foster.

Checking the organ in the National Pipe Organ Register [http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N01088] alerted me to a revealing chronology:

1972:  new organ
1986:  another new organ
1999-2003:  renovation of undercroft (nearly £400,000 funded largely by the Single Regeneration Budget and the National Lottery)
2010:  roof, heating and electrical wiring beyond economic repair
2011:  church closed

It’s clear, with the luxury of hindsight, that it would have been better to prioritise maintaining the outer envelope of the building rather than embellishing the interior.

As it is, the cost of doing anything with it – knocking it down or reviving it – will be onerous.

I mentioned again the stern requirement in the Pastoral Scheme for St Cecilia’s that the church shall be demolished, and Paul assured me that if anyone were to come up with a practical scheme to save the building the process towards demolition could be stalled.

It’s a big ask to fill an empty envelope.

The empty envelope

Posted by: mike on Sep 3, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (August 31st 2013)

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (August 31st 2013)

At the belated start of the belated campaign to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield I knew a good deal less about the byzantine workings of the Church Commissioners than I now do.

As the scaffolding goes up to begin destroying St Hilda’s, I’ve learned that to develop the land on which an Anglican church has stood requires unusual tenacity.

The conditions of sale demand that a prospective purchaser has a practical business plan and planning permission for the proposed development.

Planning permission involves a significant amount of expensive professional support.

Then, I’ve discovered, the prospective purchaser has to demolish the church building before they can purchase it.

Clearly, this requires nerves of steel and a great deal of faith, because it can cost close on a six-figure sum even to create an empty site.

I hope whatever goes up in place of St Hilda’s looks at least as good.

Posted by: mike on Aug 22, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield

The huge Parson Cross municipal housing-estate on the north side of Sheffield dates only from the 1930s, though the place-name – written as “Parson’s Crosse Lane” – goes back at least to 1637.

There are, inevitably, lots of jokes about grumpy clergy.

Because the adjacent Shiregreen community missed out on opportunities to intervene in the plan to demolish the redundant church of St Hilda, I’ve since kept an eye on the disused church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross.

Not far off £400,000 was apparently spent on upgrading St Cecilia’s undercroft as a youth club as recently as the Millennium.  Yet demolition has been on the cards since at least 2010.

Early in August I responded to the Church Commissioners’ pianissimo advertisement of a drop-in meeting to discuss the proposed scheme to demolish.

The local residents who turned up vehemently opposed the destruction of St Cecilia’s, though none of them were members of the final congregation of ten that moved out in 2011.

People care deeply about their local parish church even if they don’t darken its doors from one year’s end to the next.  The place where their families were baptised, married and taken for their funerals means a great deal.

It’s strange that clergy and active church members have such difficulty attracting new members.

The process of disposing of redundant church buildings is convoluted.  The building is vested in the incumbent, and is the responsibility of the parishioners.  When the parish can no longer maintain the building, a divided responsibility between the diocese and the Church Commissioners triggers a byzantine legal process with little scope for the secular community to intervene.

It all looks underhand, and it makes local people impotently angry.

A diocesan document of 2010 which I’ve quoted in a previous blog-article about St Cecilia’s declared, “The Church building has reached the end of its life.”

Conversely, the Church of England Church Buildings Council in 2011 advised, “The problems are superficial, although investment would be required to rectify them.”

The Statutory Advisory Committee of the Church Buildings Council concluded a few months later that demolition was ill-advised because of the “low cost of essential repair and [the] potential for the cost of long-term repairs to be (part) absorbed into the cost of conversion”.

Yet a Scheme, as it’s called, for demolition is under way.

I wanted to know why demolition was presented as the only option, and I was told that demolition has to be written into Pastoral Schemes in case it may become necessary, but an acceptable scheme to retain the building, backed by planning permission and a credible business plan, would be preferred.

I’d love to see the people of Parson Cross put together a credible proposal for re-use, but to give them a fair chance, they should have been alerted at least three years ago.

Objections to the Scheme for demolition can be submitted, in writing or by e-mail, up to September 2nd 2013 to –

Ms Katie Lowe
The Church of England Church Commissioners
Church House
Great Smith Street
London
SW1P 3AZ

katie.lowe@churchofengland.org

Posted by: mike on Jul 28, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St James' Church, Morpeth, New South Wales

St James' Church, Morpeth, New South Wales

The final church that Phil and Jane Pullin showed me when I stayed with them on my ADFAS tour is a contrast to Edmund Blacket’s other churches in the area.

Whereas St Mary’s, West Maitland and St Peter’s, East Maitland replaced earlier functional buildings, St James’ Church, Morpeth [http://www.stjamesanglicanchurchmorpeth.com.au/page/315332271] is Blacket’s 1860s adaptation of an existing building of 1837-40:  he added the sanctuary and sacristy and designed the font and pulpit.

It was rebuilt by John Horbury Hunt after a fire in 1874:  he raised the nave walls and devised the lightweight hammerbeam roof, but left the tower at its original height so that it now looks undersized.

The organ (1877) is a rarity, one of the few surviving instruments by the Sydney organ-builder William Davison.  St James’ has two fine statues, of St James and the Virgin Mary, by the sculptor Englebert Piccolrauz (b 1942).

All this I would have missed as a tourist.  It makes all the difference to spend time in a foreign country working and receiving the hospitality of people who’ve lived there all their lives.

And in the Hunter Valley coalfield of New South Wales, with its Tyneside place-names, there is a constant reminder to a Brit that Australia is, in many respects, remarkably like home.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 26, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Peter's Church, East Maitland, New South Wales (exterior)

St Peter's Church, East Maitland, New South Wales (interior)

St Peter’s Church, East Maitland (1875-85) was designed by Edmund Blacket in 1875 and built 1884-6 under the supervision of his son Cyril (1857-1937).  It is more ornate than St Mary’s, West Maitland, but lacks the intended 180-foot-high tower and spire, so that the west wall is blank apart from a clearly temporary doorway.  Another aisled church, built of local sandstone, it has an apsed east end has three traceried windows.  The interior columns are granite capped with Melbourne bluestone basalt.  St Peter’s has a fine Willis organ of 1876, installed in the church in 1886:  http://www.ohta.org.au/confs/Sydney/STPETERSANGLICAN.html.

In the years after its completion St Peter’s was richly embellished by local benefactors.  The very fine alabaster and marble pulpit by Rhodes of Birmingham dates from 1893;  the reredos is made of Oamuru stone from New Zealand, with red Girotte marble shafts from the Pyrenees and Ashburton marble from England;  the lectern dates from 1897, and the floor was tiled in 1900-4.

Blacket’s tower will presumably never be built, yet St Peter’s is as fine and impressive a Victorian church as any you could find in Britain.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Mary's Church, West Maitland, New South Wales

 St Mary’s Church, West Maitland, New South Wales

Phil and Jane Pullin were my final Australian Decorative & Fine Arts Society hosts, when I lectured to the Pokolbin DFAS.  I warmed to them immediately because, when I texted to say I was stuck on a train with no buffet, they greeted me on the platform with a bottle of water and a chicken sandwich.

They were also enormously helpful in filling my free time with visits to a collection of Victorian Gothic churches in around the amalgamated towns of Maitland and Morpeth, which lie at the tidal limit of the River Hunter and became an important junction on the Great Northern Railway between Sydney and Brisbane.

The modern city of Maitland is a good place to see the work of the English-born, self-taught Australian architect Edmund Blacket (1817-1883), who is best known for his St Saviour’s Cathedral, Goulbourn, New South Wales (1884) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GoulburnStSaviour%27sCathedral.jpg], St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney (1868), and the Great Hall and Quadrangle of the University of Sydney (1861) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SydneyUniversity_MainBuilding_Panorama.jpg].  He was the mentor of other major nineteenth-century Australian architects such as John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904).  Blacket is regarded as a safe, conformist architect, who seems to have been most comfortable designing small parish churches.  In fact, some of his parish churches are quite grand.

St Mary’s Church, West Maitland (1860-7) is a spacious, gracious, aisled church with twin porches and a tower added in 1880, two years after the church was consecrated.  Built of local Ravensfield stone, its oddity is the undersized west window, which lights the west gallery in which the 1881 Willis organ was placed in 1959:  http://www.maitlandanglican.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=56.

The plainer, brick sister church, St Paul’s, West Maitland (1858) is also by Edmund Blacket.  Its detached bell tower of 1888 was part of an uncompleted enlargement plan.  It is now deconsecrated:  http://www.maitlandanglican.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=57.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 2, 2013

Category:Sacred placesHumber Heritage

St Mary's Church, Beverley

Though Beverley is famous first for its magnificent minster [see Room at the top in Beverley Minster] its parish church of St Mary is well worth visiting, not least for its carvings.

After the tower collapsed into the nave during Divine Service on April 29th 1520, killing many of the inhabitants, the generous donations that paid for its rebuilding were commemorated in the north arcade of the nave:  the merchant John Crossley and his wife gave “two pillars and a half” and the “good Wyffes of Beverley...gave two pillars – God reward them”.

Most enjoyable of all, the “Maynstrells” gave the easternmost pier, on which five of them, including their robed and badged president, appear.

Indeed, St Mary’s church and Beverley Minster between them contain a quite unparalleled collection of medieval carvings of musicians and their instruments – pipes and tabors, viols, rebecs, bombardes, shawms, citterns, hautboys, bagpipes, twin horns and nakers – no doubt because the town was the headquarters of the Northern Guild of Minstrels.

St Mary’s has other notable carvings including the Beverley Imp (arguably more frightening than the one at Lincoln) and a so-called Pilgrim Rabbit which is supposed to be the inspiration for the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Posted by: mike on Jun 22, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

Newcastle Cathedral, New South Wales

Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales

Every major Australian and New Zealand city possesses at least one, usually two, fine cathedrals, many of them started in the Gothic Revival style in the early years of settlement.  Some, such as St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Perth and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, were completed to newer, cheaper, more practical designs;  others such as William Wilkinson Wardell’s magnificent St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, were eventually completed as the original architect intended.

The Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales, begun in 1869, is a superb essay in Gothic Revival style by the Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), who designed (among much else) Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton (1881-4), St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Armidale (1871) and rebuilt the charming little church of St James, Morpeth after a fire (1874-7) – all three in New South Wales.

The original design by the architects Leonard Terry (1825–1884) and Robert Speechly (1840-1884) proved unworkable, and John Horbury Hunt provided a new design in 1882.  It has the signature of this talented, often controversial architect – an uncompromising choice of materials, in this case brick, and a forthright acceptance of asymmetry.  The building as it stands is not exactly as John Horbury Hunt intended:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/4128635375/in/photostream.

Construction stalled in 1893 in a flurry of litigation over contracts and costs, and resumed in 1900 under the supervision of the Sydney architect John Hingeston Buckeridge (1857-1934), so that the nave and crossing could be brought into use in 1902.

Thereafter, a succession of architects progressively extended the building:  Frederick George & A C Castleden designed the Warrior’s Chapel (1924) at the east end, using Buckeridge’s plans, and the nave was completed with a roof unlike Hunt’s intention in 1928.

E C Sara of the practice Castleden & Sara added the Columbarium in 1955.  Eventually, in 1979, the transepts and tower were completed, largely according to Hunt’s intentions, by E C Sara’s son John.

The only omission from the spirit of Hunt’s design was the spire, which is almost certainly for the best, because the Cathedral was damaged in the 1989 earthquake, and the repairs that took place in 1995-1997 were only practicable because of the quality of the original structure:  http://www.newcastlecathedral.org.au/earthquake.html.

The result is a magnificent, remarkably harmonious essay in Gothic architecture, completed in the 1970s and rescued in the 1990s.  At the time of its consecration in 1983 it had been in use for eighty years.

I was fortunate to be shown round by Bronwen Orrock, who has inventorised the cathedral’s many treasures, including sixty stained-glass windows by Kempe & Co and one, the Dies Domini window of 1907, by Edward Burne-Jones and Morris & Co.

The font and the bishop’s throne are by William Douglas Caroe (1857-1938);  the pulpit is by the German-born artist Frederick Burnhardt  Menkens (1855-1910);  in the Warriors’ Chapel are fourteen terracotta panels designed by the Doulton ceramicist George Tinworth (1843-1913).

The Cathedral is the parent church of Toc H in Australia and is rich in war memorials, from Gallipoli, Flanders, Singapore, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam.

Newcastle is, perhaps, off the tourist beat, yet Christ Church Cathedral is one of the most memorable buildings I’ve so far seen in this vast and varied country.

The Cathedral website is at www.newcastlecathedral.org.au.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 7, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Paul's Church, Cobbitty, New South Wales

When I lectured to the Camden Decorative & Fine Arts Society, on the south-western outskirts of Sydney, my hostess Nola Tegel insisted on taking me to one of the oldest intact churches in Australia, St Paul’s Church, Cobbitty.

Cobbitty was developed around the pioneer ranch of Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall, missionaries who arrived in Australia in 1798.  Their son, Rev Thomas Hassall (1794-1868), founded the first Sunday School in Australia when he was nineteen years old, was the first Australian-born Anglican priest and became the first rector of Cobbitty in 1827.

He built the Heber Chapel, a simple stone schoolroom dedicated in 1829 to the memory of the much-travelled Rt Rev Reginald Heber (1783-1826), who was Bishop of Calcutta at the time when the whole of Australia was one of its archdeaconries.

Known as the “galloping parson”, Thomas Hassall farmed sheep and acted as magistrate while serving a huge parish:  http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hassall-thomas-2167.

The later church, a simple Gothic building with a spire, was designed by John Verge (1782-1861), the English-born architect who is best-known for a series of fine villas in the Sydney suburbs, and was at least partly responsible for Elizabeth Bay House (1835-9).

St Paul's Church was completed in 1842.  In the churchyard is the grave of Edward Wise, aged 21, who was struck by lightning while building the steeple.

Recent renovations have revealed, so I’m told, that the unusual shape, with a vestigial sanctuary and broad transepts, results from a decision during construction to extend and reorientate the church.

The church has one of the very few surviving organs by William Davidson (1876):  http://www.sydneyorgan.com/Cobbity.html.

Thomas Hassall is buried at Cobbitty, and his family are still linked to the parish:  the grandson of his great-great-nephew was christened there in 2011:  http://macarthur-chronicle-camden.whereilive.com.au/news/story/path-of-restoration-for-cobbitty-church.

Brits used to be sniffy about the lack of history in the former outposts of Empire.  In fact, Cobbity has all the history you’d expect in a traditional English village – buildings going back to the roots of the settlement, fascinating characters, archaeology, and family links back to the Australian equivalent of the Norman Conquest:  http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/cobbitty.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 6, 2013

Category:Sacred placesLife-enhancing experiencesExploring Australia

St John's Anglican Church, Launceston, Tasmania

St John's Anglican Church, Launceston, Tasmania

My only chance to see the scale of Tasmania was a bus-journey from Hobart north to Launceston (pronounced Laun-ces-ton with three syllables) – an enjoyable journey following by road an entirely serviceable railway track that hasn’t seen a passenger train since 1978.

My curiosity was aroused by odd places I’d have stopped at if I’d been in a car – Oatlands, its early-nineteenth-century sandstone buildings constructed by convicts, Callington Mill (1837) the only functioning Lincolnshire windmill in the southern hemisphere [http://www.callingtonmill.com.au/mill], Perth, which has a dignified octagonal Baptist church and a rather sad locomotive “plinthed”, as the website describes it, in a park:  http://www.australiansteam.com/H6.htm.

The Launceston Decorative & Fine Arts Society booked me into the splendidly named Clarion City Park Grand Hotel [http://www.clarionhotel.com/hotel-launceston-australia-AU738] and made sure I didn’t starve:  I like to sample southern-hemisphere fish, so at lunch I ordered gummy and potato salad at Silt @ Seaport [now apparently closed – http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g255344-d1652423-Reviews-Silt_Seaport-Launceston_Tasmania.html] and after the lecture I was taken for dinner at a carnivore’s nirvana, the Black Cow Bistrohttp://blackcowbistro.com.au.

I liked Launceston, where I had a free morning before flying back to Sydney.  The shopping streets are particularly rich in Art Deco buildings.  My particular favourite building, however, was St John’s Anglican Church, a weird pot-pourri of different building phases – a “Regency Gothic” tower dating back to 1830, the chancel and transepts added according to an unfinished plan by the Huddersfield-born architect Alexander North (1848-1945) between 1901 and 1911, with the nave enlarged, again by Alexander North, in 1937-8.  North’s splendid crossing is spanned by a concrete dome, but the massive central tower remains unbuilt.

At the time I visited St John’s I didn’t realise – there’s no reason why I should – that the organ was first installed by Charles Brindley, organ-builder of my native Sheffield, in 1861:  http://www.ohta.org.au/organs/organs/LauncestonStJohns.html.   It seems that Brindley, together with his eventual business-partner, Albert Healey Foster, exported organs to the southern hemisphere on a regular basis.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St George's Parish Church, Hobart

St George's Parish Church, Hobart, Tasmania

My only visit to Tasmania so far was a whistle-stop affair.  The lecture-tour itinerary I was following meant that I flew into Hobart on Sunday night, lectured there on Monday night, travelled to Launceston on Tuesday to lecture, and left for Sydney on Wednesday morning.

Van Diemen's Land was a bad place to be in the early nineteenth century.  British criminals feared it;  colonial administrators hated it, and the settlers’ activities ultimately exterminated the indigenous population.

It is a beautiful island, and a place to which I must return.

I stayed at Battery Point, on the hill above Sullivans Cove, at the comfortable Battery Point Boutique Accommodation [http://www.batterypointaccommodation.com.au/aboutus/index.htm], and my hosts, Jill and Bill Bale, made sure I saw as much of their city as possible in a short time.

Battery Point and the harbour-front below it, Salamanca Place, reminded me strongly of Whitby, which is plausible because Hobart dates from 1804 and its oldest streets are more Georgian than Victorian.

In the limited time available I needed to check out Hobart's cathedrals for my 'Antipodean Gothic' lecture and publication. 

I’m glad that Bill, my host, insisted on pointing me towards St George’s Parish Church, a superb Greek-revival building of 1836-8, designed by the Irish-born Civil Engineer & Colonial Architect John Lee Archer (1791-1852).  The particularly elegant tower (1840s, based on the Tower of the Winds, Athens) and the imposing Doric porch (1888) were added by the convict-architect James Blackburn (1803-1854), who had been transported for forgery and who at the end of his life designed the first water-supply system for Melbourne.

St Mary’s Cathedral, seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, is Gothic, imperfectly constructed 1860-6 and re-erected 1876-81.  It has a memorial stained-glass window by John Hardman & Co and a statue of the Virgin and Child, designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and carved by George Myers.  Three modern stained-glass windows are by the Hungarian-born designer Stephen Moor (1915-2003).  In contrast, the font – of unknown provenance – is thought to be Norman.

St David’s Cathedral, the centre of the Anglican diocese of Tasmania, is an early design of the late-Victorian English architect, George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907).  It replaced an earlier classical parish church of 1823.  St David’s Cathedral was begun in 1868 and the nave was consecrated in 1874.  It took until 1936 to complete:  the chancel, consecrated in 1894, proved unsafe and had to be reconstructed in 1908-9;  the tower, for which the foundation-stone had been laid in 1892, was eventually constructed 1931-6.

I keep finding similar stories in the origins of Australian cities – diligent, determined congregations building churches, designed either by people on the spot who’ve brought their skills across the seas, or by British architects sending out plans that they knew they’d never see built.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 21, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St George's Church, Doncaster

When I last visited Doncaster Minster, formerly the parish church of St George, I was shown the monument to Rev Charles John Vaughan (1816-1897), the much-respected vicar between 1860 and 1869.

His story, hidden for many years and still incompletely recorded, is not broadcast in Doncaster.

He was headmaster of Harrow School for fifteen years from 1844, credited with turning the school round in emulation of the great Dr Arnold of Rugby, and widely tipped for a bishopric or the mastership of a university college.

In 1859 he resigned suddenly and, to universal surprise, became vicar of Doncaster, then rapidly expanding as a major railway town.

The truth was that his love-affair with a student, Alfred Pretor (1840-1908), had come to light, and Vaughan was practically blackmailed, not by Pretor’s parents but by the father of another student, John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), who himself in adult life became a poet and advocate of male love, which he termed “l'amour de l'impossible”.  John Addington Symonds Snr, a doctor, rejected the pleas of Vaughan’s wife, Catherine, and insisted that Vaughan should retire to the life of a humble pastor.

At Doncaster he did great work among the people:  he also had a splendid new church, rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott after a fire in the 1850s;   its magnificent Schultz organ was installed in 1862.

When Vaughan was offered, and accepted, the bishopric of Rochester, a telegram from Symonds Snr forced him to reverse his acceptance, to the astonishment of all who knew him.  When he was subsequently offered the see of Worcester, he again declined it.

In 1869 he left Doncaster to become Master of the Temple Church in the city of London.  Only after the death of Symonds Snr was he able to accept the Deanery of Llandaff in 1879.

His greatest work for the Church carries a powerful irony.  From his arrival in Doncaster until shortly before his death he prepared no less than 462 young men for the ministry.  These included Randall Davison, a future Archbishop of Canterbury.  His protégés were so recognisable and highly regarded that they were known as “Vaughan’s doves”.

He clearly had a flair for spotting and successfully recruiting Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates who shared his passion for serving God and ministering to the people.  Archbishop Edward Benson of Canterbury said of Vaughan, without irony, “No man laid the Church of England under a greater obligation.”

In modern times his Harrow indiscretion would have ended his career.  In the heyday of the Victorian Church of England he achieved a remarkable redemption.

Posted by: mike on Feb 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesBirmingham's Heritage

St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham (1977)

St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham – viewed from the old Snow Hill Station (1977)

Birmingham’s Catholic St Chad’s Cathedral was conceived in a white-heat enthusiasm following the Emancipation of Britain’s Catholics in 1829.

It was the first major work of the architect August Welby Northmore Pugin, built 1839-41 for around £20,000.

Pugin himself gave an “ancient German carved oak figure of the Blessed Virgin and Child...said to have been the first image of the Blessed Virgin exposed for public veneration in England since the Reformation”.

John, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury gave £1,000 towards the construction-costs and a fifteenth-century brass lectern from Louvain, along with an elaborate set of High Mass vestments.

It was one of the first Pugin churches in which he installed, despite opposition from Cardinal Wiseman, one of the rood screens about which he quickly became notoriously obsessive.

Pugin’s total plan was only fully complete when the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor was constructed to a design by Sebastian Pugin Powell in 1933.

St Chad’s became a cathedral on October 27th 1850.  Edward Ilsley, who had been bishop since 1879, became the first archbishop when the see was elevated in 1911.

During the Birmingham blitz, on November 22nd 1941, an incendiary bomb penetrated the south-aisle roof and burnt a radiator which extinguished it.  This remarkable incident is commemorated in the replacement roof-panel, which is marked “Deo Gratias”.

This romantic North German structure once towered above Birmingham’s Gun Quarter until 1960, when the surrounding buildings including Pugin’s Bishop’s House across Water Street was demolished to make way for a bleak stretch of the inner-ring road.

In 1967 the rood-screen was taken down and transferred to the Anglican church of Holy Trinity, Reading and in the same remodelling the lectern given by Lord Shrewsbury was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of New York for £105,000.

St Chad’s is still an awe-inspiring place, but it’s no longer seen as Pugin visualised it.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 2, 2013

Category:Sacred placesBirmingham's Heritage

St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham

St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham

The parish church of St Philip was designed by Thomas Archer in 1709 and consecrated in 1715.  It was intended to serve the new northern streets, then called High Town, away from the ancient parish church of St Martin in the Bull Ring.

Archer was an interesting character, brought up in Henley-in-Arden, the son of the MP for Warwick, and as Groom Porter to Queen Anne he effectively held a patent to tax gambling across the nation.

St Philip’s was his first attempt at church-design and he went on to build St John’s, Smith Square, in London (1712-30) and St Paul’s, Deptford (1714-28).

He gave up architectural work when he was appointed Controller of Customs at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1715.  He died in May 1743 worth £100,000, which he bequeathed to his youngest nephew, Henry Archer, MP for Warwick.

As well as knowing the right people to make a lot of money, he was an exceptional designer.  Sir Nikolaus Pevsner & Alexandra Wedgwood point out that St Philip’s was “the first English church since St Paul Covent Garden to be designed by an architect who had seen for himself major Continental buildings”.

Its form is rectangular yet subtly varied and makes lively use of Doric and Corinthian orders.

The tower, which was not completed until 1725, is immediately recognisable by its scrolls and octagonal dome and may have inspired Cuthbert Brodrick’s tower for Leeds Town Hall (1853-8).

Archer’s original plan was to surmount his tower with a large cross, but this was replaced by a boar’s-head weathervane to acknowledge Sir Richard Gough’s influence in obtaining the £600 donation from King George I that enabled the lantern to be finished.

Money talks.

The Victorian architect J A Chatwin (1830-1907) extended the original chancel, adding extra Corinthian columns and a stepped entablature in white and gold to Archer’s square piers and round arches.  Ian Nairn described Chatwin’s work as “grand-slam Classical”.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1838-1898), who was born at Bennett’s Hill a short walk away and had been baptised in the church, designed for the three windows of Chatwin’s apse a triptych of the Nativity, Crucifixion and Ascension in William Morris glass, and subsequently gifted the design for the West Window which represents the Last Judgement.

St Philip’s became the cathedral when the Anglican Diocese was formed in 1905.

Incendiary bombs destroyed the roof in 1941, and the Cathedral was restored in 1947-8 by Philip and Anthony Chatwin, the son and great-nephew of J A Chatwin.

This must be one of the most intimate and welcoming of all the English cathedrals.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 4, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield

As a result of last winter’s campaign to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, I became intrigued by the history of inter-war churches in north Sheffield, built at the instigation of the first Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Rev Leonard Hedley Burrows (1857-1940;  bishop 1914-1939), in order to serve the housing-estates that mushroomed on what had previously been open countryside.

It seems that Bishop Burrows enlisted the Society of the Sacred Mission, the “Kelham Fathers”, to staff up to six churches as they were built.  The Kelham Fathers made a point of recruiting non-graduates to the ministry, and their practice was highly Anglo-Catholic.  The bishop and the director of the SSM must have thought this the most suitable approach for ministry to aspirant Sheffield working people transplanted from the slums to the splendid new council estates.

One of these new parishes was served by St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, built in 1939 to the designs of a little-known architect, Kenneth B Mackenzie (1891-1977) of Bibury, Gloucestershire.  How he came by the commission is a mystery:  he built hardly any major buildings and no other churches:  http://ww3.gloucestershire.gov.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqPos=5&dsqSearch=%28%28%28text%29%3D%27Kenneth%27%29AND%28%28text%29%3D%27B%27%29AND%28%28text%29%3D%27Mackenzie%27%29%29.

Yet St Cecilia’s is an interestingly rectilinear take on the form of the traditional gothic parish church, built of stone and set in a tight close of council houses.  It has a tower, and at the east end no window but a blank wall.

The congregation moved out of the church in 2011 because of “numerous issues with the building – failure of heating system, life-expired roofs and electrical installation to name but a few”, and the parishioners now worship in the practical but unlovely little mission church of St Bernard of Clairvaux, Southey Hillhttp://www.churchonthecross.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html.

This move follows the direction indicated by a 2010 diocesan document, ‘Task & Tools:  Bishop’s commission to review ministry and mission in the North Sheffield estates’, which wrote off St Cecilia’s in a stark paragraph:

We believe that the decision on redundancy is right and should stand.  The Church building has reached the end of its life.  We also believe that demolition is the right course of action.  And we also believe that this should proceed swiftly – with the Church’s procedures for demolition being made to deliver that outcome.  Delay neither serves the mission of the Church nor heals the hearts of the congregation and its priest.

So that’s that, then.  Or is it?  The building may have reached the end of its life as a church, but it appears to be physically secure, and could stand for years not doing anything, not earning its keep.

I wonder about this determined ditching of substantial buildings.  All the mainstream Christian denominations are lumbered with expensive structures, many of which they cannot use.  Yet in such churches as St Cecilia’s there is financial capital, quality material, environmental energy and community potential that once discarded can never be recovered.

Posted by: mike on Jan 2, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (December 2011)

It’s a year now since one of my neighbours started up a campaign – seven years too late – to raise awareness of the intended demolition of St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen after I’d raised an alert following a news item in the Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter.

Approximately 350 people signed the campaign petition, few of whom had probably set foot in the building for years, if ever, but all of whom didn’t want to see it go, whether they valued it as a landmark, a piece of the local heritage, or somewhere with which they had associations through baptism, marriage or other family connections.

The campaign generated more heat than light, because the Diocese and the Church Commissioners declared that they had followed all the necessary protocols to consult the local community, which appeared to amount to sticking an A4-size notice on the church door for six weeks, and were on the point of selling the building to a developer.

Months later, the identity of the developer remains a mystery and the building still stands.

It’s easy to sympathise with the church position:  Archdeacon Martyn Snow has pointed out that “…within a two mile radius of St Hilda’s we have six other church buildings all of which I would regard as ‘at risk’ ie the current congregations are struggling to pay for the upkeep of the buildings and if nothing changes in the next 5-10 years they may all face closure”.

Yet if the St Hilda’s building had been properly secured in the first place it would now be in better condition, and more likely to recoup the capital invested in it.

One very good way to send an unwanted building into decline is to leave half the windows unprotected so that the local ne’er-do-wells lob bricks at the glass and let the birds and the weather in.

And, ironically, if the fabric had been protected the members of the community who didn’t attend church and weren’t aware it was declared redundant in 2007 might have found a way to take it off the Church’s hands.

As matters stand, the building stands.  In the present economic situation it’s probably not worth demolishing.  It might yet be turned to use.

Posted by: mike on Nov 25, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesHistoric Chester

Chester St John's Church

St John’s Church, Chester, which lies outside the city walls near the half-exposed Roman amphitheatre, looks to all practical purposes Victorian, though with a ruined east end that has to be older and a stump of a tower in south-west corner.

When you step inside, the fine Norman interior comes as a surprise.

It has an architectural feature unique among English churches – the nave arcades have a barely perceptible but deliberate outward lean – and there is a noteworthy wall-painting of St John the Baptist on one of the columns.

This church was from 1075 until 1102 the cathedral of the former diocese of Lichfield, and even after the see was transferred to Coventry, St John’s remained a nominal cathedral within what was known as the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield until the Reformation, when the nave became a parish church and the east end was left to ruin.

You can see in the Norman architecture exactly where the bishop’s departure interrupted the building programme:  the nave triforium and clerestory are anything up to a century newer than the arches on which they stand.

Although the Victorian architect R C Hussey had carried out a restoration in 1859-66, the mainly sixteenth-century north-west tower collapsed in 1881.  The Chester architect John Douglas rebuilt the north porch, leaving the ruins of the Norman choir and Lady Chapel and the fourteenth-century choir chapels.

Most historic buildings are a palimpsest – a document repeatedly erased and rewritten – but St John’s has suffered more alterations than most.

St John's Church is open daily for visitors and worshippers.  No admission-charge is levied, and donations are welcomed:  http://www.parishofchester.com/donations.html.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 23, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesHistoric Chester

Chester Cathedral

The present-day Chester Cathedral began as the tenth-century church of St Werburgh, was refounded as a Benedictine abbey by the Norman Hugh Lupus, first Earl of Chester, and at the Dissolution of the Monasteries became the centre of a new diocese, when the last abbot became the first Dean of Chester.  (Henry VIII had apparently first considered locating the see at Fountains, where the abbey buildings were kept intact for a brief, deliberate pause.) 

The present building was begun in 1092 and then remodelled and enlarged from the late thirteenth century onwards:  the later generations of builders kept their work in harmony with their predecessors, as did their contemporaries at Westminster Abbey and Beverley Minster.

Its exterior has been so repeatedly and heavily restored, by Thomas Harrison (1818-20), R C Hussey (from 1844), Sir George Gilbert Scott (from 1868) and Sir Arthur W Blomfield (after 1882), that it’s difficult to be sure if any of the visible fabric is earlier than the nineteenth century.

Certainly the apse at the end of the south choir aisle, with its exaggerated roof, is pure Scott.  This most notorious of the Victorian “Scrape” school of restorers, obsessively committed to tidying up and purifying the style of medieval churches, was heavily criticised for his work at Chester, yet some of his contributions, such as the choir screen and its wrought-iron gates (1876) are now highly-regarded designs in their own right.

He was not the only author of Victorian depredations:  Dean Howson, regrettably, ordered the removal of five medieval misericords, of which the subject-matter was considered to be “very improper”.

Ironically the medieval shrine of St Werburgh survived the Reformation because the base was used for the Bishop’s throne.  Sir Arthur W Blomfield restored it as best he could in the late Victorian period.

The Chapter House, described by Pevsner as “the aesthetic climax of the cathedral”, dates from the thirteenth-century, but was restored by R C Hussey in the mid-nineteenth century.  Similarly, the south side of the cloisters is a reproduction by Sir George Gilbert Scott.  The refectory, still with its monastic pulpit, has an east window by Giles Gilbert Scott, installed in 1913, and the roof is by F H Crossley, completed in 1939.

In contrast, the most modern, uncompromising yet least obtrusive addition to the Cathedral is the Addleshaw Tower, a detached bell-tower by George Pace, completed in 1972-4, after the old bell-frame in the central tower was found to be beyond safe restoration.

So Chester Cathedral looks now like it never did in the past.  This is true of most ancient buildings.  I think this complexity makes it all the more interesting, once you know what you’re looking at.

Chester Cathedral operates as a tourist attraction, charging for entry outside service-times:  http://www.chestercathedral.com/chester-cathedral-visiting-opening-hours.htm.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Oct 15, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath

A few weeks ago I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Friendless Churches – not something I do every year, but an opportunity to see and photograph the immaculate restoration of the Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath, designed by Guy Dawber (1861-1938) for Mrs Louisa Sophia Harris, who lived at The Rocks, on the cliffside above Artists’ Corner in Matlock Dale.

Mrs Harris disliked the liturgical practices of the vicar of St Giles’, Matlock, and objected to his refusal to memorialise her pet dog, so she erected her own private Anglo-Catholic chapel at the end of her garden in 1897.

St John’s Chapel is a delightful architectural composition, its simplicity relieved by the oriel window and bell turret that punctuate its setting on the side of the cliff.

It’s also a gem of Arts & Crafts design, with stained glass by Louis Davis (1860-1941), plasterwork, embellished with painted vines and individually-modelled swallows, by George Bankart (1866-1929) and a painted altarpiece by John Cooke.  The rood screen, and probably the other interior fittings, were designed by Guy Dawber.

After many years of neglect and wanton vandalism, the chapel was vested in the Friends of Friendless Churches in 2002, and they have spent some £300,000 returning it to immaculate condition.

The Friends’ website is at http://www.friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk/CMSMS/index.php, which is the portal for gaining access to their properties.  There is an introduction to the Friends by the Secretary, Matthew Saunders, at http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/fiftyyears/friendless_churches.htm.

The AGM took place at Masson Farm [http://www.massonfarm.com/index.html] and included a high-quality afternoon tea with a view to match.

You know you’re at an upscale AGM when someone sends apologies for absence because they’re helping to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Posted by: mike on Sep 24, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

St Andrew's Cathedral (top) and St Mary's Cathedral (above), Sydney

Catholic cathedrals in most Australian cities were deliberately designed to outshine their Anglican neighbours.

In Sydney, Australia’s earliest settlement founded in 1788, the Anglicans were quicker off the mark, and after a couple of false starts completed St Andrew’s Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1868.

The architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883) had a difficult time adapting the existing foundations and part-construction of an earlier project, and produced a modest-sized but imposing composition, with more than a passing resemblance to York Minster.

Sadly, St Andrew’s Cathedral has been compromised more than once.  Because of the noise of Sydney’s trams passing the east end of the cathedral, the entire church was reversed, placing the entrance on the east so that communion was celebrated as far as possible from the tramlines at the west end where the choir had to fight, not the trams, but the acoustics.

When in 1999-2000 the original layout was restored, liturgical considerations required that the old altar had to go.  It was, in addition, riddled with termites.

As a result, the fine reredos designed by John Loughborough Pearson and carved by Thomas Earp was left framing a vacancy.

The seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney is the splendid St Mary’s Cathedral – also the successor to a couple of earlier structures which were successively destroyed by fire.

The foundation stone of St Mary’s was laid in 1868, the year St Andrew’s was consecrated.

The Catholics had the unforeseen advantage, however, of a spacious site on the edge of the built-up city-centre, and they chose as their architect William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), who already had St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, well under way.

Wardell lived long enough to see St Patrick’s substantially completed, but St Mary’s took much longer.  Work on the nave began in 1913 and was completed in 1928.

Even then, Wardell’s elegant design was truncated, because there were insufficient funds to complete the twin western towers with spires.

Indeed, it seemed unlikely that such expensive luxuries would ever be justified, until an A$5,000,000 grant from the New South Wales Government prompted the ingenious solution of flying in steel frames by helicopter and cladding them in Wondabyne sandstone to match Wardell’s original design and intentions.

St Mary’s Cathedral was topped out, in the literal sense, in August 2000, completing a project that began in 1868.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 19, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne

As Australian cities grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Anglicans in each place set about building their cathedral but were often trumped by the Catholics, who were mostly poor Irish settlers escaping the penury and famine of their native land.

Catholic cathedrals in Australia usually stand on top of a hill, and are richly ornate.  Their builders – congregations, priests and architects – went out of their way to state that only the best was good enough for God.

In Melbourne, the Anglican Cathedral, St Paul’s, [see Exporting Gothic Architecture] is particularly fine, yet the Catholic Cathedral, St Patrick’s, is magnificent.  Its spire, 344 feet high, is the highest in Australia.

The architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral was William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), a London-born convert to Catholicism, trained by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.

The cathedral was begun in 1858 and consecrated in 1897:  William Wardell was one of the few architects of Gothic cathedrals to see his design substantially completed in his lifetime, though the spires were added in 1939 by Archbishop Daniel Mannix, the politically powerful Irish-Australian who held the see from 1917 until his death at the age of 99 in 1963.

Mannix’s statue by Nigel Boonham (1997) stands outside Wardell’s cathedral, gazing across to Parliament House, symbolising the lengthy struggle to overcome the early disdain towards Irish and Catholic settlers in Australia.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 12, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

All Souls' Church, Haley Hill, Halifax

At the same time that Colonel Edward Akroyd set out his model village of Akroyden in 1855-6, he began work on his greatest gift to the locality, All Soul’s Church, Haley Hill.

He employed George Gilbert Scott, who also provided the original layout for the village, to design the grandest possible statement of High Anglican pride, a fourteenth-century Gothic church with a tower 236 feet high, one foot higher than that of his carpet-manufacturing rivals, the Crossleys’ Congregational Square Church down in the valley below.

Scott was and is generally regarded as the best architect alive at the time, and Scott himself described All Souls’ as “on the whole, my best church”.

As might be expected, the finest decorative materials were used – Minton tiles, glass by Clayton & Bell, Hardman & Co, and William Wailes, ironwork by Skidmore & Co, the font of Lizard serpentine marble standing on an Aberdeen granite base, Caen stone for the pulpit, alabaster for the reredos.

The tower houses a ring of eight bells by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and the four-manual Foster & Andrews organ of 1868 was the biggest in Halifax.

This huge church became redundant in 1979, and stood neglected until 1989 when the Churches Conservation Trust took it over.

Unfortunately, the Steetley limestone Scott chose for the structure reacted badly to atmospheric pollution, and the twin tasks of conserving the fabric and securing it against vandalism are prodigious.

Details of access and coming events at All Souls’ are at http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/Ourchurches/Completelistofchurches/All-Souls-Church-Halifax-Haley-Hill-West-Yorkshire.

Graham White’s fine set of photographs is at  http://www.flickr.com/photos/strabod72/sets/72157627625944270/with/6128063605.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 8, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St Stephen's Church, Copley, West Yorkshire

I find it hard to imagine the sheer power of churches in nineteenth-century England.

There’s a specific reason why the magnificent parish church of St Stephen, Copley, West Yorkshire, was built on the opposite side of the River Calder from Colonel Edward Akroyd’s model village beside the mill.

The vicar of All Saints’, Dudwell, objected having a new church so near his own, so the site was moved from the main road to the woods beyond the village.

The £4,000 cost of the building was raised by public subscription, and Colonel Akroyd spent a further £5,000 of his own money on the furnishings, stained glass, and building the chancel and sacristy. 

Consecrated in 1865, it’s a complete essay in Victorian church design by the Huddersfield architect William Henry Crossland (1835-1908) – rich in stained-glass, some of it by Hardman & Co, carving, mosaic and painted decoration.

Furthermore, according to Malcolm Bull’s informative Calderdale Companion website http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calderdalecompanion/qq_12.html, Colonel Akroyd contributed to the vicar’s stipend.

In 1872 Colonel Akroyd took against the practices of the vicar he’d appointed, Rev J B Sidgwick, and stopped paying his voluntary contribution.  A group of parishioners promptly made up the deficiency, while others decamped to the local Methodist church.

St Stephen’s, which is big enough to seat a third of the village, is now redundant, and is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust:  http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/Ourchurches/Completelistofchurches/St-Stephens-Church-Copley-West-Yorkshire.

Graham White has an admirable series of photographs of the interior at http://www.flickr.com/photos/strabod72/sets/72157627628722184/with/6227123155.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 23, 2012

Category:Sacred placesExploring New Zealand

Nelson Cathedral, New Zealand:  west front

It would be good to think that Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson, on New Zealand’s South Island, was a work in progress.  Its frankly odd appearance is a result of its history:  it reached its current shape and style through earthquake, fire and not a little controversy.

In 1842, within a year of the establishment of what became the town of Nelson, Bishop George Selwyn [see Gothic New Zealand: Auckland 2] arrived with a tent which he planted at the top of what is now called Church Hill.  He returned in 1851 to dedicate the replacement wooden church as Christ Church [see http://find.natlib.govt.nz/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=TF&docId=nlnz_tapuhi670250].

This structure was enlarged and altered in 1859, 1866 and again when it was inaugurated as a cathedral in 1887.  The spire was damaged by an earthquake in 1893 and the tower demolished as unsafe in 1921, shortly before the building was further damaged by fire.

In 1927 an ambitious new stone Gothic cathedral was begun to the designs of Frank Peck (1863-1931), a British architect trained by Sir Aston Webb, who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1915.  (He may be the same Frank Peck who designed Petwood, Grace Maple’s house at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire:  [Eat your way round Woodhall Spa].)

Peck’s design would have looked magnificent [http://photonews.org.nz/nelson/issue/NPN76_19670304/fig-NPN76_19670304_053b.html], but hardly had work begun than the Murchison earthquake of 1929 led to tighter building regulations, and construction came to a halt in 1932.

The result was that Peck’s nave stopped abruptly at clerestory level:  a temporary roof was installed, and the previous wooden chancel attached to the east end.

A simplified design of 1954 by Ron Muston brought a sense of closure and practicality to the interrupted design.  Muston used reinforced concrete, faced with ground marble, to complement Peck’s marble blocks.

The dominant feature is the tower, a tall, spare essay in lightweight Gothic, much more adventurous than Peck’s orthodox Gothic Revival design.

Not everyone liked it.  The Nelson Evening Mail grumbled, “We are apparently to be satisfied with the second best.”

The cathedral was completed in 1967 and consecrated, once it became clear of debt, in 1972.

Of course, it doesn’t look complete.  Peck’s cathedral proved to be unbuildable on its tectonically vulnerable site.

But perhaps one day it might be possible at least to complete the nave.  Some medieval cathedrals stood incomplete for centuries:  Cologne, paused in 1473, was finished in 1880;  Bristol, interrupted at the Reformation, was eventually completed in 1888;  the first stone of Milan Cathedral was laid in 1386 and construction ended in 1965.

Never say never.

Nelson Cathedral, New Zealand:  tower

Posted by: mike on Jun 18, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

Wainsgate Baptist Church

Visitors to Hebden Bridge often find their way to the older hilltop town of Heptonstall, but few find their way to the other hilltop settlement on the opposite side of the valley of the Hebden Water – Old Town.

Up the hill above Old Town stands the Wainsgate Baptist Church, founded by the Particular Baptists c1750.

The second minister, Rev John Fawcett (1740-1817), had packed up ready to move to a better-placed ministry in London, when the distress of his Yorkshire congregation at losing him made him change his mind and remain in Hebden Bridge for the rest of his life.  He used this experience when he wrote the great nonconformist hymn, ‘Blest be the tie that binds’.

The present church dates from 1859-60, a typically robust, elegant classical, galleried chapel, expensively embellished at the end of the nineteenth century.

It’s hard to imagine how the houses scattered along the hillside could fill the chapel and the Sunday school – and the graveyard – year in, year out, but they did.

This fine Grade II* listed building was taken over by the Historic Chapels Trust after it closed in 2001 [http://www.hct.org.uk/chapels/yorkshire/wainsgate-baptist-church/21], and it’s now used as a venue for musical events.

To see what’s on, go to http://wainsgate.co.uk.  It’s worth turning up in good time to be sure of a parking place.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 6, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

Todmorden Unitarian Church

Todmorden Unitarian Church (1864-9) is a highly unusual piece of nonconformist architecture, designed and built as a splendid recreation of a fourteenth-century Gothic church, with a spire 192 feet high and internal arrangements which – but for the absence of an altar – are largely Anglican in layout and design.

It has an elaborate font and pulpit, a William Hill organ originally powered by a water-powered air pump, and very fine stained glass by the Belgian designer, Jean-Baptiste Capronnier.  The tower contains a clock, carillon and a ring of eight bells hung for change-ringing.  The final cost amounted to £35,000, almost six times the initial estimate.

It was paid for by the Fielden brothers, Samuel, Joshua and John, as a memorial to their father, “Honest John” Fielden (1784-1849) by John Gibson, who also built Todmorden Town Hall and John Jnr’s residence, Dobroyd Castle, overlooking the town and the Unitarian Church.

John Gibson (1814–1892) is an under-rated architect, otherwise best known for his “Marble Church”, St Margaret’s, Bodelwyddan, in Denbighshire.

William Gaskell, the widower of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and the respected minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester gave the address in the inaugural service.  He suggested that it was entirely proper to enlist art to serve religious observance – if it was done sincerely.

The Fieldens transferred ownership to a trust in 1882, and inevitably over the years the available income became increasingly unequal to the costs of maintaining the structure.

After a centenary refurbishment, the building became increasingly impractical, and in 1987 the diminished congregation moved down to the lodge at the bottom of the drive.  The decaying and increasingly vandalised Grade I listed church was taken over by the Historic Chapels Trust in 1994 and is now cared for by local volunteers:  http://todunitarianchurch.caldercats.com/index.html.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 23, 2012

Category:Sacred placesExploring New Zealand

St Paul's Cathedral, Wellington, New Zealand

St Mary & the Angels Church, Wellington, New Zealand

St Paul's Cathedral (top) and St Mary & the Angels Church (above), Wellington, New Zealand

The city of Wellington stands on shaky ground, lying across a major geological fault in an area of constant seismic activity.  When I visited Wellington in February 2011, local people were particularly concerned at the tribulations in Christchurch, a city which had been considered much less vulnerable than their own.

Within a very few years of its first settlement in 1840, two major earthquakes occurred in 1848 and 1855, and as a result all Wellington’s early buildings were built in timber, including what are now called the Old Government Buildings (1875-6), the second-largest wooden building in the world, and the pro-cathedral, Old St Paul’s (1866) [see Gothic New Zealand:  Wellington 1].

The Anglican diocese of Wellington was about to start the replacement for Old St Paul’s when the Second World War intervened.  Influenced by the effect of the 1931 earthquake in Napier, North Island, the architect Cecil Walter Wood (1878–1947) decided against building a medieval-Gothic building in ferro-concrete and instead used reinforced concrete to create a design that uses Gothic forms, modernised under the influence of Ragnar Östberg’s Stockholm City Hall (1911-23) and the Art Deco movement, and looking towards Sir Edwin Maufe’s Guildford Cathedral (1936-61):  http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4w25/1/2.

(Similar influences are visible in Charles Towle’s uncompleted design for Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland [see Gothic New Zealand:  Auckland 2].)

Cecil Wood never saw even the beginning of his St Paul's Cathedral.  Queen Elizabeth II laid the foundation stone in 1954, and the first phase was opened ten years later.  The bulk of the nave was added in the second phase, 1970-2.  A historic Lady Chapel, formerly the 1905 timber St Paul's Church, Paraparaumu, North Island, was added in 1991, and the westernmost bays of the nave, the narthex and the bell-tower were finished in 1998.

Though it was criticised from the start, and modified after his death, Cecil Wood’s design has retained its integrity.

I found it attractive – an architectural essay at the furthest edge of anything you could call Gothic – with a traditional layout, high round arches, subtle use of natural light and quirky arcades that reminded me of details from J R Leathart & W F Granger’s late 1920s cinemas, of which the Odeon, Richmond-on-Thames (1929) survives.

The glass entrance-screen is immediately familiar to British eyes, because the engraved angels are by New Zealand artist John Hutton (1906-1978), who also made the Screen of Saints and Angels for the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral (1962).  [See http://wellingtoncathedral.org.nz/index.php/Cathedral_History.]

The Catholic Cathedral in Wellington is the opposite of Gothic:  the Sacred Heart Cathedral is an uncompromisingly Italianate basilica of 1901, replacing the Gothic St Mary’s, built in 1851 and destroyed by fire in 1898:  http://www.shcathedral.wellington.net.nz/history/index.htm.

However, Wellington has a rare example of modern Gothic, the Catholic Church of St Mary & the Angels, built 1919-22 in ferro-concrete by Frederick de Jersey Clere.  It’s a world away from Cecil Wood’s cathedral, yet hides its modern construction within traditional architectural forms:  http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister/RegisterSearch/RegisterResults.aspx?RID=36&m=advanced.

Posted by: mike on Apr 21, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

Old St Paul's, Wellington, New Zealand

I explained in Gothic New Zealand:  Auckland 2 that the first and only Bishop of New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878), brought to the antipodes the Ecclesiological idea that a church must have pointed arches and all the architectural paraphernalia of the Middle Ages.

He was an Anglican cleric operating in a context where, until a few years before he reached New Zealand in 1841, Australia had been an archdeaconry in the diocese of Calcutta.  By the time he returned to England for the last time in 1868, New Zealand had seven Anglican bishoprics.

A visible part of Selwyn’s legacy is the New Zealand tradition of building timber churches that have the shapes of masonry construction.

The first Anglican cathedral in Wellington, now known as Old St Paul’s, was designed by an architect-turned-clergyman, Rev Frederick Thatcher (1814-1890), who was closely associated with Bishop Selwyn.

It was the pro-cathedral for the Diocese of Wellington from 1866, when it was built, until 1964, when the bishop’s throne, the cathedra, moved to the new St Paul’s Cathedral.

To save it from demolition the New Zealand Government took on Old St Paul’s as a historic site, and it remains consecrated.

Like other “Selwyn” churches, it is a warm and welcoming place, the darkness of its walls contrasting with the brilliance of its stained glass windows.

I didn’t have the opportunity to join a service in my short stay, but I sat at dinner with a lady who told me she always visits St Paul’s at Christmas, and at other times, because singing hymns and carols there is “like singing inside a violin”.

For further details, see http://www.historicplaces.org.nz/placestovisit/lowernorthisland/oldstpauls.aspx.

Posted by: mike on Apr 9, 2012

Category:Sacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

St George's Church, Everton, Liverpool

St George's Church, Everton, Liverpool

The idea of prefabricating architectural bits and pieces for export to the colonies predates the Victorian period.

There was a remarkable collaboration between Thomas Rickman (1776-1841), who became Professor of Architecture at the Liverpool Academy, and John Cragg (1767-1854), the owner of the Mersey Iron Foundry, who was described by a contemporary as “a remarkable man to whom I cannot find a single gracious allusion on anybody’s part”.

Rickman is the archaeological scholar who worked out the chronology of medieval churches, and gave us the expressions ‘Norman’, ‘Early English’ and ‘Decorated’:  [See ‘Buried Lives’ in Barton-on-Humber].

The pair collaborated on three pilot projects in Liverpool:  one, St Philip, Hardman Street, has long gone;  the other two survive as distinctive monuments to nineteenth-century innovation.

At St George’s Church, Everton (1812-14), though the external walls and the tower are stone, the whole of the interior structure – columns, roof-beams, braces and panels – and the window-tracery are of delicate, finely-detailed castings.

The same moulds were also used in Cragg’s own neighbourhood when they built St Michael-in-the-Hamlet, Toxteth (1814-15), where the walls are brick (at one time stuccoed), and all the external architectural detail, such as pinnacles and copings, is also of iron.

Thomas Rickman felt confident that churches could be constructed on these lines for no more than £6,000 each.  In fact, when John Cragg built St Michael-in-the-Hamlet at his own expense, the total outlay using the moulds from St George’s came to £7,865.

Though cast-iron tracery and other ecclesiastical decoration is not uncommon in early-nineteenth century churches and other Gothic Revival buildings, I’ve never come across any reference to recognisable examples of Rickman’s designs for the Mersey Iron Foundry turning up anywhere outside England.

Perhaps somewhere, in a distant land, there’s a church or chapel built from the same kit as the two Liverpool churches.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Apr 1, 2012

Category:Sacred placesHistoric York

St Martin's Church, Coney Street, York

The church of St Martin, Coney Street (otherwise known as St Martin-le-Grand) is a familiar and much-loved York landmark because of its overhanging clock surmounted by the figure known as the “Little Admiral”.

The actual clock is mounted in the tower, and the hands are turned by a drive-shaft that runs the length of the building.

The clock, the dials and the Little Admiral have been restored in order to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the “Baedeker” blitz which gutted the church and the Guildhall nearby, along with the railway station and the Bar Convent, and killed some 79 people on the night of April 28th-29th 1942.

The present-day clergy and parishioners dislike the name St Martin-le-Grand, which they dismiss as a piece of Victorian pretension:  http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk/history/churchname.html

Certainly the church was grand, a mid-fourteenth century rebuilding of an earlier building, and it traditionally gained prestige from its proximity to the Guildhall and the Mansion House.

After the War, the decision was taken to rebuild only the south aisle of the gutted church, keeping the rest of the shell as a memorial garden. 

The outstanding restoration was carried out by George G Pace (1915-1975) between 1961 and 1968, and the church rededicated as “a shrine of remembrance for all who died in the two world wars, a chapel of peace and reconciliation between nations and between men”.

The stained glass of 1437, which had been removed from the west window before the bombing, was installed in the new north transept:  it depicts the life of St Martin.

The east window, in contrast, dates from c1965 and shows the night of the bombing.  It was designed by the artist Harry Stammers (1902-1969), instigator of the York School of Glaziers after the Second World War.

There is a well-illustrated description of St Martin’s at http://www.yorkstories.co.uk/churches/st_martin_le_grand_york.php.

The parish has a ministry of peace and reconciliation, affirmed by the coincidence that the feast day of St Martin is November 11th.  Current discussions about the work of the parish are outlined at http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk/pdf/transcending_the_parish.pdf.  Other pages of the well-designed website http://www.stmartinsyork.org.uk provide details of regular services and the 70th Anniversary Service.

There are oral testimonies of the Baedeker Blitz in York at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-17872823 and images at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-17872824.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 30, 2012

Category:Sacred placesHistoric York

All Saints', Pavement, York

York has churches to spare.  There were forty-five of them in 1300.  Nineteen of these still stand, though only eight are used for worship.

They’re worth seeking out, because most have hidden treasures, and many have been so much altered that they are fascinating archaeological jigsaws.

Perhaps the most distinctive is All Saints’, Pavement, which stands higher than the surrounding streets, directly aligned on the Ouse Bridge.  Its lantern tower was an inland lighthouse, guiding travellers through the Forest of Galtres towards the city.  Now it’s lit as a war memorial.

Though the present building dates from the fourteenth century, the site has been used for worship for much longer – possibly back to the time of St Cuthbert c685 AD.  There was certainly a church in existence by the time of Domesday Book (1086).

This was an imposing cruciform church, with transepts and an aisled chancel, until the east end was demolished for road-widening in 1782.

It now contains the 1634 pulpit from which John Wesley once preached, as well as the fifteenth-century lectern and the 1688 Royal Arms from the nearby lost church of St Crux, which became structurally unsound and was demolished in the 1880s [http://allsaintschurchpavementyork.co.uk/StCrux.aspx].

The stained glass ranges in date from the fourteenth-century west window (transferred from the church of St Saviour), to four Victorian windows by Charles Kempe and a modern addition of 2002.

All Saints’ is the Guild and Civic church, with a ministry for the shops and businesses of the city-centre, and the regimental church of the Royal Dragoon Guards.

The parish clergy and congregation take pride in welcoming visitors.  There is a website at http://allsaintschurchpavementyork.co.uk/default.aspx, but it’s not necessarily up to date:  current services are posted at http://www.achurchnearyou.com/venue.php?V=18961.

There’s a positive “mystery worshipper” report at http://ship-of-fools.com/mystery/2009/1686.html.  The choir and the chocolate biscuits are particularly commended.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 28, 2012

Category:Sacred placesHistoric York

York Minster

York Minster is a symphony in stone – Tadcaster stone, actually.  The great church dominates the city from a distance and when you glimpse it through the streetscape.  It tells you where you are as you walk round the city walls, and it tells you where you’ve arrived when you pass north on the train.

The Yorkshire:  York and the East Riding volume of Pevsner’s Buildings of England comments, “it tells us a more consistent and complete story of the Gothic styles in England than any other cathedral”.

Throughout what we now call the Middle Ages it was a building site, rebuilt not once but twice between c1230 and c1472.  That’s as if we were now to see the completion of a building begun the year Captain Cook discovered Australia.

It’s likely that its builders at some point intended it to be bigger and even more dominant than it is.

Misjudgements in rebuilding work in 1407 caused the collapse of the central tower, which contained a belfry.

The replacement central tower is an oddity.  It’s only two feet higher, at 198 feet, than the western towers, which were built in the same period (south-west, 1432-56; north-west, 1470-4).

It has an oddly truncated appearance, abruptly cut off above the great windows which light the crossing within.

It seems unlikely that this huge structure would have been built simply to act as an empty lantern, but it’s never had a belfry:  the Minster’s bells have hung in the south-west tower ever since it was built.

Perhaps the fifteenth-century builders got nervous about the foundations, and decided that a peal of bells swinging around two hundred feet up might not be a good idea.

If so, their judgement was sound, as became clear in the mid-twentieth century when active settlement around the central crossing required a vast stabilisation programme, directed by Dr Bernard Feilden, between 1967 and 1972.

Huge medieval spires had a poor track-record.  Lincoln Cathedral used to be the tallest building in the world:  it had a 524-foot spire until it blew down in a storm in 1549.  The 493-foot spire of London’s Old St Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed by lightning in 1561.

It’s interesting to gaze at York Minster from a distance and visualise it with a taller central tower and perhaps a spire.  Even if they had been built it’s unlikely they would have lasted.

As with Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”, we must be grateful for what we have.

Tourists are charged admission to York Minster [see http://www.yorkminster.org/visiting/opening-times-prices/], with the customary concession that you can enter free of charge to pray or light a candle.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

Old St Mary's Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand

Old St Mary's (top) and Holy Trinity Cathedral (above), Auckland, New Zealand

The city of Auckland has a special place in the history of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, because it was the base from which Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878) set up missions across the two islands as the first and only Bishop of New Zealand between 1841 and 1858.

Selwyn, who rowed in the first ever Oxford-Cambridge boat race and after whom Selwyn College is named, was a fellow of St John’s College when the Cambridge Camden Society, later known as the Ecclesiological Society, began to promote the idea that a truly Christian building should be built in the Gothic manner.

As Bishop of New Zealand he had to face the fact that masonry architecture was out of reach:  the cost and time involved in building in stone meant that the first New Zealand churches had to be timber.

But they could still be Gothic, and the Anglican community in Auckland outgrew a succession of churches until what is now called Old St Mary’s was begun in 1886 to the ambitious designs of Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898).  Mountfort was a prolific first-generation New Zealand architect, and at St Mary’s he provided all the detail that would be found in a much larger stone-built European cathedral, with a three-sided sanctuary and lancet windows under a generous cat-slide roof.

The largest timber church in the world, it was designated as Auckland’s Anglican Cathedral in 1887 and was completed in 1898.

Its much larger successor, Holy Trinity Cathedral, was begun in 1959 to a reduced version of a twenty-year-old design by Charles Towle that had been stalled by the start of the Second World War.  The choir, transepts and crossing – reminiscent of Sir Edward Maufe’s contemporary Guildford Cathedral in Surrey – were completed in 1973.

The nave, to a much lighter design with a glazed west wall by Richard Toy, was added in 1991-5.  Now a further chapel, to the liturgical east (geographical south) is under way, due to be completed by Christmas 2014, the bicentenary of the arrival of Christianity on the North Island:  http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/digest/index.cfm/2012/5/8/Dramatic-chapel-for-Holy-Trinity.

The conjunction between the two is vibrant:  it’s a very special interior space.  Next door, Old St Mary’s stands – a very different, antique interior – on a new site.  It was transported bodily across the road and turned ninety degrees in 1982.

Update:  Stewart Buckthorp has added a very useful and detailed comment to this article:  unfortunately the website design strips comments of all paragraph indents and other paraphernalia, so a reformatted version of Stewart's text is available here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

St Stephen's Chapel, Auckland, New Zealand

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand

St Stephen's Chapel (top) and St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral (above), Auckland, New Zealand

It’s all too easy to forget how much history is packed into the nineteenth-century outposts of the British empire.  A country like New Zealand grew to maturity within two or three generations, who brought their baggage with them and established a home-from-home in a land that belonged to others.

When I visited Auckland to lecture to the Auckland Decorative & Fine Arts Society, I wanted to see as many nineteenth-century churches as possible for a lecture I’m researching on Antipodean Gothic architecture.  My host Anne Gambrill propelled me in record time to a succession of unexpected treasures.

She took me to the tiny cruciform St Stephen’s Chapel at Judges Bay, no bigger than a modest bungalow, where the original Constitution of the Church of the Province of New Zealand was signed in 1857 – a location I’d probably not have found unassisted.

She also alerted me to St Matthew’s Church in the city-centre, unmistakably a design by the British architect John Loughborough Pearson, who was responsible for Truro Cathedral in England and St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

In fact, the design was completed after his death in 1898 by his son Frank Loughborough Pearson.  This tall, chaste, cruciform, stone-vaulted building was completed in 1905, though without the intended spire.

As St Matthew-in-the-City, the parish has a proud record of social activism:  http://www.stmatthews.org.nz.

The mother church of the Catholic diocese of Auckland is the ornate St Patrick’s Cathedral, designed by the Auckland father-and-son practice of Edward (1824/5-1895) and Thomas Mahoney (1855-1923) and completed in 1908.  The third church on the site, St Patrick’s is revered as the base of the original Catholic mission on North Island, led by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier (1801-1871).

The nineteenth-century development of New Zealand churches – alike in the sense of congregations and buildings – was extremely fast.  An entire heritage of individual endeavour and architectural heritage evolved within the first three generations of Europeans to settle.

And each of those church-building generations, Catholic and Anglican alike, looked back to the home country for the styles and imagery of their places of worship.

The Anglican diocese of Auckland, however, ended up with a more complex and distinctive architectural legacy…

Posted by: mike on Feb 6, 2012

Category:Sacred places

Canterbury Cathedral

I visited Canterbury for the first time in my life last month, and the only reason I didn’t visit the Cathedral was because it would have cost me £8.00 to get in and I had less than an hour.

Charging people to visit places of worship turns them into tourist shrines.  Originally they were shrines for believers.

The huge cost of building the great churches and monasteries in the Middle Ages was covered by milking pilgrims to supplement donations from the great, the good and the not-so-good.

According to the journalist Alex Kirby, writing in The Times (February 4th 2012), twelve of the forty-four major places of worship in the Association of British Cathedrals charge the public for entry outside service times.

Mr Ben Fuller, in a letter to The Times following Alex Kirby’s article (February 6th), makes the suggestion that the Association (which embraces major Anglican, Catholic and Methodist places of worship) should operate a membership-card scheme like the National Trust and English Heritage.

He points out that Church of England members are irked at having to pay to visit their own diocesan cathedral.

They could receive cards as evidence of their subscribing membership of the Church, while other believers as well as faithless tourists would have a ready means of contributing to the upkeep of these venerable and expensive buildings.

This in turn might increase what retailers call “footfall”, which would swell the takings in the restaurants and souvenir stalls that places of worship generally provide.

And those of us who like sometimes to sit in a church to think and reflect – without taking part in a service or making any fuss – could do so with a clear conscience.

Update:  Mr Brian Gant followed up Ben Fuller's letter in the February 7th edition of The Times, pouring cold water on the idea of a National Trust-style membership card because it "would probably not contribute a large enough sum of money to individual buildings to enable them to abolish entry charges unless there was a very considerable take-up of membership".  Of course!  The whole idea is to get more people into churches.  Charging them nearly £10 a time isn't a particularly promising approach, especially for families and the less affluent.

The Church of England isn't noted for its success in encouraging increasing numbers of worshippers through its doors in recent decades.  The National Trust, on the other hand, has proved to be a roaring success.  Both institutions add immeasurably to the spiritual and emotional wealth of the country, uplifting citizens and visitors alike.

It's a pity the Church isn't as enterprising as the Trust.

Further update:  In the February 9th edition of The Times there were two further letters, from the Very Rev Charles Taylor, Dean of Peterborough, showing that it is possible to maintain free public access to a great religious building and from Scirard Lancelyn Green providing figures suggesting that the economic cost of a casual visit to a cathedral, stripped of parochial subsidy, is in the region of £10 per head.

Posted by: mike on Jan 13, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield:  interior December 2011

I didn’t realise when I first posted an article about St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield [Losing a landmark, followed by Church going] how many of my neighbours I would stir up.

A local resident has started a website to campaign for the future of the building – http://sthildas.webs.com/:  the associated petition has attracted around three hundred signatures, most of them local.

I’ve done an interview on BBC Radio Sheffield and an article has appeared in the Sheffield Star newspaper.

Local people are waking up to the probability that a distinguished local landmark is about to disappear, and those individuals who have a past connection with St Hilda’s are particularly upset that it may disappear.

Since it finally closed for services in 2007, there seems to have been no mention or discussion of its fate in the local media, and I’ve yet to find any proposal to replace it with any other kind of building.

Local politicians have explained, politely but wearily, that the problem has been around for years, and say that they wouldn’t stand in the way of a practical, businesslike scheme to save the building.

Some national amenity societies have been encouraging, but their brief is primarily to engage with English Heritage within their guidelines, which are interpreted to the disadvantage of St Hilda’s [See Praised with faint damns.]

Members of the core group of supporters have made contact with the Church Commissioners, who currently still own the building and have invited bids to redevelop or demolish it.

One can’t blame the Church Commissioners for their disinclination to support a redundant building at the expense of the real work of the Church.  It’s a pity, nevertheless, that the situation wasn’t advertised a good deal more loudly in the streets that surround St Hilda's.

Not everyone loves the building.  One commentator on a web forum said she thought it looked like a factory, which suggests a sanguine view of Sheffield’s industrial architecture.

In the Sheffield Local Studies Library I came across a run of parish magazines from the late 1980s which show exactly how a once thriving parish went downhill.

In April 1988, the month before the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration, the vicar, Father Roger Bellamy, enumerated the previous year’s rites of passage:   baptisms – 11;  confirmations – 0;  marriages – 0;  blessing of a marriage – 1;  funerals – 57.  He noted that fund-raising was “not a great success”.

At the end of 1988 he estimated the active membership of the parish at 42, and expected around ten of those to be “lost”, through age or migration, over the following year.

At the start of 1990 he commented:  “We are facing the realities of our situation:  a small congregation, a largeish building and a remarkable indifference to us from the parish.”

It’s not so much the eleventh hour as five-to-midnight for St Hilda’s, so it’s time for those of us who live on the spot and care about the building’s existence to audit whether there really are community and commercial needs that it could serve, and to identify any positive, practical proposals to present to the owners and the planners.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Jan 11, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Catherine's RC Church, Pitsmoor, Sheffield

When I was collecting signatures for the petition to save St Hilda’s Church, Wincobank, Sheffield [see Losing a landmark, Church going and Praised with faint damns], a gentleman who knows a thing or two about historic building conservation told me a scurrilous tale suggesting that listed-building inspectors aren’t always infallible.

Apparently the very fine Italianate St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, Pitsmoor, Sheffield was originally listed Grade II and dated “c1860”.

In fact, the original, temporary St Catherine’s by M E Hadfield & Son was built in 1884 on an entirely different site on Andover Street.

Eventually, the very fine permanent church that stands on the corner of Burngreave Road and Melrose Street was built to designs by the Halifax architects Charles Edward Fox & Son and consecrated with great ceremony in 1926.

Its interior is sumptuous:  black marble columns with Carrara capitals support a coffered ceiling over the nave.  The aisles are vaulted.  The chancel apse has a mosaic frieze with a cornice of Connemara marble, under which stands a baldachino, its canopy supporting a statue of Christ the King.

I'm told that when this date came to light English Heritage promptly delisted it on the grounds that it was so recent – and so old-fashioned for its date.

I've found no evidence to back this story, except that St Catherine's does not appear on the current English Heritage list.

The fact that an authentic-looking Italian basilica was planted in the midst of inner-city Sheffield in the year of the General Strike is actually more significant than if it was simply a mid-Victorian Italianate church.

On the night of its consecration – the Feast of St Catherine – the Bishop of Leeds carried the Sacred Host from the temporary church to the new building in a torchlit procession.  Two thousand Sheffield Catholics turned out to witness their faith, and Canon Charles Leteux pointed out in an address to the crowds that “their public procession made history, for not twenty years before, a similar function in London had been banned by the orders of the Prime Minister”.

Apparently, the legislation banning public processions by clergy and members of the Roman Catholic Church was repealed soon after St Catherine’s opened.

It’s salutary to consider the power and energy that invested organised religion in Britain up to the Second World War.

For this reason, apart from its aesthetic value, St Catherine’s deserves to be recognised for its historic interest.  Fortunately, this church apparently continues to thrive, unlike so many.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving the Anglican parish church of St Hilda, Wincobank (which is also unlisted, partly because it's "old-fashioned for its date"):  http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Jan 9, 2012

Category:Sacred placesLiverpool's HeritageLife-enhancing experiences

Liverpool Alma de Cuba

If you’re looking for somewhere unusual to eat in the centre of Liverpool you can do a lot worse than Alma de Cuba [http://www.alma-de-cuba.com/homepage] on Seel Street, one of the streets running parallel to, and between, Bold Street and Duke Street, within easy walking distance of Lime Street and Liverpool One.

This vibrant, ultra-modern bar restaurant sits inside the oldest surviving Catholic church building in Liverpool.

Indeed, St Peter’s Church is astonishingly old for a post-Reformation Catholic place of worship.  It opened in 1788, ten years after the passing of the first Act of Parliament rescinding the penal laws governing the persecution of Catholics ever since Tudor times.

St Peter’s thrived as a place of worship for nearly two hundred years.

When it could no longer support a local congregation it was transferred in 1976 to the Polish Catholic community and rededicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa.  This attempt to keep it going lasted only two years.

Eventually, the developer Urban Splash rescued the building and it opened as a particularly fine Latin American restaurant in August 2005.

It’s the sort of place where award-winning barmen toss glasses in the air and usually catch them.  And Sunday brunch is enlivened with, of all things, a Gospel choir.

The walls are stripped to the bare brickwork and the ceiling has been removed, revealing the roof-beams.  The ornate Classical sanctuary is intact, with a plate-glass mirror in place of the reredos.

It’s disconcerting to eat and drink and listen to music while staring at the inscription “TU ES PETRUS” – Christ’s words to St Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” [Matthew 16:18].

The contrast between spirituality and hedonism isn’t quite comfortable, and some customers might look askance at the restaurant’s tag-line “Heaven can wait”.

Nevertheless, the building – arguably the most precious archaeological gem of the proud Liverpool Catholic community – survives and is physically safe.  It needn’t be a restaurant for ever, and at least it’s not a pile of rubble.

For so many former places of worship, that’s all too likely a fate.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s Church, Wincobank, Sheffield [see Losing a landmark, Church going and Praised with faint damns]:  http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Jan 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageSacred places

Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Bodmin Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Some buildings stick in the memory for entirely sentimental reasons.  I passed the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Bodmin Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield every morning in my first five years of schooling.

My Auntie Nellie lived literally next door.  It formed the background to my earliest memories of backyard Bonfire Nights when Uncle Charlie was in charge of the box of matches:  in Coronation year the biggest bang of all came when Auntie Nellie’s new pressure-cooker, inexpertly screwed down, exploded and spattered mushy peas all over the kitchen ceiling.

My latest memory of this thriving temple of Methodism is of my cousin Cathryn singing at a chapel anniversary in the early 1960s.

It’s an austerely attractive, utterly unremarkable building, unlisted, invisible in the Sheffield Local Studies Library index.

Built in 1890, its foundation stones were laid by a star-studded cast of Sheffield’s most important Methodists, such as Jethro and Samson Chambers, Robert Hadfield and Sir Frederick Mappin.

Its registration for marriages was cancelled because it was no longer used for worship in 1966.

I have a 1977 image of the building, with the brickwork still encrusted with industrial grime and most of the windows smashed.

No-one would have given tuppence for its chances of survival.

Nowadays it sparkles:  it’s well-maintained;  its windows are renewed and its brickwork is beautifully cleaned.  It serves as the Jamia Mosque.

So historic buildings which are not worth listing can survive if someone finds an appropriate use for them that will justify their upkeep.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s Church, Wincobank, Sheffield [see Losing a landmark, Church going and Praised with faint damns]:  http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Jan 5, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield from Firth Park

After I first expressed an interest in the threatened St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield [Losing a landmark] I was shown the Council for the Care of Churches 2006 report, from which I quoted in Church going, which recommended the building for listing.

I’ve now seen the latest English Heritage advice-report rejecting that recommendation.  The task of an English Heritage inspector is to evaluate the building in the context of its national significance, according to guidelines which are set out at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/publications/docs/places_of_worship_final.pdf.  At the end of these guidelines (p 20) is a comment that “while all listed buildings are of national importance, local factors may sometimes be of significance”.

St Hilda’s failed the tests when it was last inspected in October 2011.  There’s more than a hint of de haut en bas about the inspector’s silky comments.

The architect, Leslie Moore, is described as a “junior partner” to his better-known father-in-law, which he would be, being the son-in-law.  The original design of 1922 had a “strong resemblance” to Temple Moore’s St Mary, Nunthorpe, but the rather different building of 1935-8 is “simplified down” – as if an imitation is preferable to an adaptation while still not quite good enough.

It’s described as a “plain rectangular box”, which it certainly isn’t, “old-fashioned for [its] date”, built of red engineering brick which is “common”, like most of inter-war Sheffield, and the interior, embellished by George Pace, is “austere”.  Ruth Harman and John Minnis clearly thought it merited an illustration in their Pevsner Architectural Guide Sheffield (2004), p 188.

All this suggests that if St Hilda’s has aesthetic worth, it belongs on a local list in “recognition of its architectural or historical importance and its value to the local community” [see https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/planning-and-city-development/urban-design--conservation/locallisting-.html].  Somehow, it seems not to have been considered so far as a candidate for the local list.

It’s not for me to assert that the national inspector and the local planners are wrong about St Hilda’s.  I think it’s a memorable, exciting, confident building that could once more be put to good use.  None of those epithets is necessarily a criterion for listing.

It would be peevish to point to listed buildings in the locality that might compare with St Hilda’s, but it is pertinent to point to some of the interesting, attractive and potentially useful structures that Sheffield has lost over the decades when listed-building legislation has existed to protect the built environment – the Britannia Music Hall, Huntsman’s Gardens Schools and the Pavilion Cinema, Attercliffe.

While St Hilda’s stands, there’s a chance of saving it – and it’s worth saving, whether it’s worth listing or not.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s: http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Jan 3, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesManchester's Heritage

Monastery of St Francis, Gorton

In November 1861 four Franciscan friars arrived in Manchester to set up the Monastery of St Francis, Gorton, serving the working-class community that grew up round the nearby railway works.

Their buildings were designed by Edward Welby Pugin (1834-75), who possessed much of the vigour and little of the subtlety of his father, A W N Pugin, and were constructed largely by the physical labour of the brothers and their parishioners.

The first stone was laid on May 24th 1862, and the three wings of the original monastery were complete by 1867.  To raise funds for the Infant School in 1867 Father Francis hired the Free Trade Hall for a bazaar which raised £1,000.

E W Pugin’s magnificent church, 184ft long, 98ft wide and 100ft high, dominates the streets of Gorton and is clearly visible from central Manchester.

By 1900 the Catholic population of Gorton had increased from 300 to over 6,000.  The fathers saw the parish change from a poor village community, initially dependent on cotton (and badly hit by the effects of the American Civil War), into an industrial inner-city suburb.

For almost a century they provided spiritual and pastoral support to the people of Gorton, and – because many of those people were drawn from Wexford, Waterford and Cork – Gaelic classes, lantern lectures on Irish history and St Patrick’s Day celebrations.  They also exported missionaries to China, Peru and elsewhere. 

The surrounding nineteenth-century housing was cleared in the early 1970s, and the Monastery became unsustainable.  Eventually, the Franciscans sold the site for £75,000 to a developer who planned to divide the church into a seven-storey apartment-block but instead went bankrupt. 

The abandoned buildings were quickly and badly vandalised.  Lead and slates were removed, and there were repeated arson attacks.  Virtually all the decorative features of interest or value were removed or smashed.

In 1997 the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust bought the Monastery for £1 and began the formidable task of bringing the place back into use.  Cornering funds was not the least of their labours:  the Architectural Heritage Fund, English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, New East Manchester (NEM) and the North West Development Agency (NWDA) between them chipped in millions.

Fixtures that had disappeared in the dark days of dereliction have returned.  A complete set of twelve statues, stolen from the lofty nave arcades, famously appeared as garden ornaments at Sotheby’s:  Manchester City Council bought them for £25,000 and stored them until September 2011 when they returned to the site for restoration.

The art-dealer Patricia Wengraft [http://www.patwengraf.com/Patricia-Wengraf-Fine-European-Sculpture-and-Works-Art-Intro-DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=1] secured the return of the huge crucifix:  http://www.manchester.gov.uk/news/article/1954/monasterys_giant_crucifix_is_hoisted_back_into_place.  The chains to support it had been handed in mysteriously some time before.

I remember the first public opening in September 2005:  people queued down the street, showing immediately how much St Francis’ Monastery meant to local people who’d grown up, been baptised or married here, and had been uprooted.

The Monastery reopened fully as a community, conference and events centre in 2007.  It’s open to the public most Sundays:  see what’s on offer at http://www.themonastery.co.uk/Whats-on.html.

I’d like to see something similar happen to St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield, which I’ve written about in Losing a landmark and Church going.

Just because a place of worship is no longer needed for worship doesn’t prevent it having enormous value to people.

But making the transition requires enormous energy, imagination, devotion, acumen – and the creative support of people in power.

Shiregreen waits...

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Manchester's Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester's Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 28, 2011

Category:Sacred places

Heptonstall Octagon Chapel

John Wesley (1703-1791) is a towering figure in the history of the English church.

He forms part of a huge dynasty of clergymen and poets, the son of the writer Samuel Wesley (1662-1735) and older brother of the hymn-writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788), who wrote ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ and the basis for ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’ among much else.

Though he is recognised as one of the founders of the Methodist church, he was in fact an ordained Anglican priest until his death.  He regarded his ministry as additional to, rather than a replacement for, the Established Church.

Dr Samuel Johnson found his energy irritating:  “John Wesley’s conversation is good, but he is never at leisure.  He is always obliged to go at a certain hour.  This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have out his talk, as I do.”

This isn’t surprising.  During his long life, his workload as a preacher was prodigious.  One biographer says that he “rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds,...and preached more than 40,000 sermons”.

More often than not, he preached out of doors [see Not quite paradise].  When his followers built their own chapels, he favoured an octagonal plan, of which the best survivor is the Octagon Chapel, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire (1764).  Originally built as a pure octagon, it was extended in 1802 by lengthening two sides to accommodate regular congregations of over a thousand.

It’s still in use, and visitors are welcome.  It’s a delightful place to be quiet in.  It must be a particularly satisfying space to preach in.  For contact details see http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/heptonstalloctagonalchapel.htm.

To read more about Heptonstall and its two Anglican parish churches, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 17, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield:  interior December 2011

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield:  interior, December 2011

I’ve learned more about the plight of St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield as a result of my earlier article Losing a landmark.

It seems that the verbal information on which Matthew Saunders, Secretary of the Ancient Monuments Society, based his report in the recent Newsletter was perhaps over-dramatic.

Recent images by an urban explorer show that though the building has indeed been repeatedly vandalised, the attempts at arson have not caused major damage, and that George Pace and Ron Sims’ screen and the eighteenth-century organ case from the bombed church of St James remain, battered but intact.

I sense that the vandals' acrobatics on the roof could only have been motivated by a search for scrap:  since the roof itself is tiled, the most likely source of scrap metal would have been the organ pipes, if they remained in situ.

The Council for the Care of Churches 2006 report on the building describes it as “striking...very ambitious...for its setting...[with] considerable townscape value” and in conclusion commented, “A fine church by an architect whose work deserves to be re-evaluated, with a particularly good and dramatic...interior.”

It ends:  "The Council has previously voiced concern about the number of churches of this period being considered for redundancy, and thought this church of a quality comparable to many listed churches."

A private individual has lodged an application for emergency listing with English Heritage, making a judgement that there remains enough about the building to justify listed-building protection.

I can understand entirely why the Church of England authorities are anxious to divest themselves of liability for a redundant structure.  They have enough work to do in their Christian mission.

However, I don’t see why that must involve destroying the local heritage.  I’ve yet to hear of any positive proposal to use the site in any new way.

St Hilda’s, prominent on its ridge about Firth Park, belongs to the locality.  It offers substantial, well-built space for local people’s social activities.

If it remains standing, someone in the future can find a worthwhile use for it.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone for ever.

And with it would go a relatively economical opportunity to offer local people somewhere to congregate, which St Hilda’s was for decades before, during and after the Second World War.

Philip Larkin, in his poem ‘Church going’ [The Less Deceived, 1955], asked –

When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into...?

“Rubble” was not the answer he was looking for.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Dec 5, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield

I learned from that fountain of useful information and news, the Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter, that the only historic building I can see from my office window is about to disappear.

St Hilda’s Parish Church, Shiregreen is an interesting inter-war brick church on a literally outstanding site.  It stands on an abrupt cliff-edge alongside the Flower Estate, itself a notable landmark of early-twentieth century municipal housing [see Ruth Harman & John Minnis, Sheffield (Pevsner Architectural Guides 2004), pp 185-8, http://www.lookingatbuildings.org.uk/cities/sheffield/the-flower-estate.html and http://www.lookingatbuildings.org.uk/cities/sheffield/the-flower-estate/tour-part-2.html].

The church was designed by Leslie Moore (1883-1957) in 1935-8, presumably to serve the council estate and the slightly earlier community down the hill.  Moore made clever use of an extremely steep site, building his nave above a community room, accessible by steep steps built into the hillside.

The interior was high quality:  the white-and-gold classical gallery by the York architect George Pace (1915-1975) supported an eighteenth-century organ case with pipes brought from the blitzed city-centre church of St James.

St Hilda’s was closed, no doubt surplus to requirements, in 2007.

The Newsletter tells the regrettable tale of three arson attacks and some spectacularly energetic vandalism (which I suspect was an attempt at theft of lead organ-pipes).  The only way intruders could penetrate the secured building was to climb on to the roof ridge and then drop down through an access door behind the bell turret.  This is 35 metres above the sloping ground level.

I can’t help thinking that the athleticism and ingenuity behind such burglary would command a healthy wage in a healthy legitimate economy.

Apparently, the Church Commissioners and the Diocese of Sheffield have given up any attempt to save the building and intend it to be demolished.

This is a pity.  The local community is not blessed with public spaces, or indeed social opportunities.  The precipitous plot on which the church stands won’t be easy to redevelop.  The views from the site are magnificent, but any replacement structure will need high-quality design to deserve a place in the landscape.

There’s an obvious argument for mothballing St Hilda's in the hope of better economic times, sometime in the indefinable future.  But it’s only practical if there’s some guarantee that the local villains won’t keep trashing the place, and possibly killing themselves, in the process.

The saddest fact of all, of course, is that it’s a fine building nobody wants.  It’s not the first time that Sheffield has lost a useful historic building because no-one – owners, city planners, local amenity groups, interested individuals like me – took sufficient notice to appreciate its value [See Rue Britannia].

I can’t imagine why St Hilda’s isn’t listed.  And if you don’t use it, you lose it.

A detailed examination of the challenges facing the Anglican Church in north Sheffield is posted at http://sheffield.anglican.org/attachments/275_Final%20Report.pdf.

The Ancient Monuments Society can be contacted at http://www.ancientmonumentssociety.org.uk.  The Twentieth Century Society, which has a brief to support and conserve buildings dating from after 1914, is at http://www.c20society.org.uk.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  http://sthildas.webs.com.  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-St-Hildas/343231285708143?sk=wall.

Posted by: mike on Nov 30, 2011

Category:Sacred placesLife-enhancing experiences

Heptonstall Old Church

Drive up the steep tortuous hill from the A6033 from Hebden Bridge, or better still catch the bus so you can enjoy the view as you climb, to Heptonstall at the top of the hill, where you find yourself in West Yorkshire at the end of the eighteenth century.

There has been a settlement at since before Domesday, straddling the packhorse route, the “causey”, from Lancashire at the point where it drops steeply down to cross the brook at “Hepton Brig”.

This was a place so bleak that farming was at best an uncertain living, and the inhabitants boosted their income with hand-loom weaving.

The rugged gritstone houses with their mullioned windows, clustered round the medieval church, have changed relatively little since canal transport and water-power, followed by steam-power and railways, altered the scale of local industry and moved the centre of population into the Calder valley below.

The last handloom weaver in Heptonstall worked till the end of the nineteenth century and died in 1902.

Heptonstall churchyard contains two churches.  The Old Church, dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, dates from the mid-thirteenth century.  Repeatedly extended, it has two naves as well as two aisles.  John Wesley described it as “the Ugliest Church I know”.  It was damaged by a gale in 1847 and patched up only until its replacement opened in 1854.  Afterwards it was allowed to fall into ruin.

The New Church, dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, contains the thirteenth-century font, the 1809 clock, and the Royal Arms of King George III from the Old Church.  The New Church was modernised and extended in 1963-4 by a legacy of Mr Abraham Gibson (d 1956).

Buried in the churchyard is David Hartley, ‘King’ of the Cragg Coiners, hanged for “unlawfully stamping and clipping a public coin” on May 1st 1770.

The poet and novelist Sylvia Plath (1937-1963) is buried in the new churchyard.  Her admirers don’t take kindly to the fact that her stone bears the name of her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes.

Another, less well-known poet, Asa Benveniste (1925-1990), who latterly ran a bookshop in Hebden Bridge, is also buried here.  Roy Fuller wryly describes how the locals automatically assume any stranger in the graveyard must be looking for Plath:  http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=1520

Heptonstall is an oddly mordant place, full of Yorkshire ambiguities, best visited on a sunny day.  To find the real warmth, you need to step inside either of the pubs, the White Lion [http://www.whitelionheptonstall.com] or the Cross Inn [http://heptonstall.org/mambo/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=26&id=54&Itemid=83] or the Towngate Tea Room & Deli [http://heptonstall.org/mambo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=128&Itemid=102].

To read about the Octagon Chapel, Heptonstall, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 23, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New York

Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City

The Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City, is a game of two halves.  It was begun to the Romanesque/Byzantine style designs of Heins & LaFarge, in 1892, and grew so slowly that the rumour circulated it was being built by an old man and his son.  In fact it was nineteen years before the choir and crossing could be consecrated.

The problem of roofing the vault until the central tower could be built was resolved by inserting a Guastavino tile dome (similar to the Registry Building at Ellis Island and the concourse of Grand Central Terminal) at a cost of $8,500:  this temporary expedient, completed in only fifteen weeks, is still in place.  The Guastavino family were also responsible for the vaulting of the whole church, and of the crypt which supports the nave, crossing and choir floors.

Oddly, the Heins & LaFarge design was summarily abandoned in 1909 in favour of a longer French Gothic plan by Ralph Adams Cram, so that the nave and west front are being continued to the designs of his firm, Cram & Ferguson.  The junction between the two is abrupt, and can never be wholly successful.

By the autumn of 1941 the entire length of the nave was complete.  Construction was stopped when the United States entered World War II, and by the time work resumed in 1982 it proved necessary to import stonemasons from England to apprentice unemployed Harlem youths in the traditional skills.

When it’s finally completed, the Cathedral of St John the Divine, centre of the Episcopal archdiocese of New York, will be the largest (but not the longest) Gothic church in the world – 601 feet long, 320 feet wide across the transepts, with a nave vault 124 feet high.

But it can never be an entirely Gothic church without destroying and rebuilding the whole of the east end.

The Cathedral of St John the Divine website is at http://www.stjohndivine.org.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 22, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

Christchurch Cathedral (February 16th 2011)

Christchurch Cathedral, New Zealand:  Wednesday February 16th 2011

On Tuesday February 22nd 2011 I left Christchurch airport on the 1100 flight to Auckland.  Less than two hours later the most destructive of a succession of earthquakes hit the city.  I was tremendously lucky.  Apart from avoiding the danger, the trauma and the disruption, I had the good fortune to experience Christchurch, which had already endured two major tremors almost without casualties, immediately before it was wrecked.

New Zealanders kept reminding me that Christchurch is their most English city, and asking if I agreed.  Up to a point, I said:  its nineteenth-century architecture grew directly from Victorian architecture in England.  The gridiron street-pattern, however, reminded me inevitably of America – and of Adelaide.

In the days before February 22nd, local people told me how lucky they’d been that the previous, more powerful earthquake, on September 4th 2010 at 4.35 am, had caused so few casualties, but that they were unsettled by the succession of aftershocks and the continuing disruption caused by damage to buildings.

The February 22nd disaster was altogether more destructive of life and property.  New Zealand has a population of a little under 4½ million, a quarter of whom live in the South Island, where Christchurch is the biggest city (pre-earthquake population just over 390,000).  Consequently, every New Zealander was affected by the tragedy, either directly, through acquaintances or by association with the city.

Most of the 181 fatalities on February 22nd occurred in buildings designed in the 1960s and 1970s, but many of the city’s heritage buildings will not survive.  Traditionally-built masonry structures with load-bearing walls react badly to being violently shaken.

Astonishingly, no-one was taking a tower tour at the moment when the Christchurch Cathedral tower collapsed.  The spire had been damaged in three previous earthquakes, 1881, 1888 and 1901, after which the tip was replaced by a hardwood structure covered in copper.  This time the entire spire and the belfry came down.

Further damage in subsequent aftershocks, including the collapse of the west rose window, has led to speculation that the entire cathedral will have to be demolished and reconstructed, possibly on another safer site.  If so, it is unlikely to be a slavish reproduction of George Gilbert Scott’s 1864 design.

According to a recent press report, http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/5150179/Cathedral-future-now-uncertain, the decision hinges on the wider question of whether the entire city-centre needs to be shifted.

It’s almost impossible to imagine, in general or in detail, what the inhabitants of Christchurch have to put up with as the slow process of recovery gathers momentum.  The journalist Pam Vickers has contributed a series of dispatches to the BBC News website:  see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13141491, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12805131, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12664290 and
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13452122.  BBC news provided a nine-month update at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15786697.

Christchurch will never be the same.  A huge debate about its future is under way among the citizens of Christchurch and with the national government:  well-wishers from outside can only hope that the resurgent city gains new beauty to replace what is lost.

Update:  Despite some popular outcry, it seems inevitable that the ruins of Scott's Cathedral must be demolished.  Its planned temporary substitute, on a nearby site, is innovative:  http://www.ecumenicalnews.com/article/new-zealand-cardboard-cathedral-approved-1334.

Further update:  The new cardboard Christchurch Cathedral opened in August 2013:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23698795.

Posted by: mike on Aug 7, 2011

Category:Sacred placesExploring California

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Grace Cathedral, up on the heights of Nob Hill above downtown San Francisco, is an uplifting space.

It's a pure thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral, built of concrete between 1928 and 1964 to the designs of Lewis Parsons Hobart (1873-1954) to replace a predecessor destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.  Hobart's wife was a cousin of William H Crocker, the donor of the site.

In the tradition of much older churches, the interior of Grace Cathedral is an essay and a narrative, with murals by Jan Henryk De Rosen, and stained glass by Charles Connick of Boston and Gabriel Loire of Chartres, two of the greatest stained-glass designers of the twentieth century.  The bronze Ghiberti west doors are the reproductions that the Nazis made of the Florentine originals which they removed during the Second World War.  The 44-bell carillon in the north tower was built by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, and donated by a Methodist dentist from Penzance, Nathaniel T Coulson:  it was first played in 1940.

It's a beautiful building to visit – light, spacious, peaceful, welcoming.  The glass tints the interior blue, Gabriel Loire's preferred colour because, he said, "La paix donne la joie." (Peace gives joy.)  There are two labyrinths, one on the forecourt and the other at the west end of the nave – mysterious aids to meditation based on the medieval original at Chartres.

There's something curiously Californian about this inclusive, relaxed place that takes itself seriously with delicacy.

The Grace Cathedral website is at http://www.gracecathedral.org.

Posted by: mike on Aug 5, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New York

St Patrick's Cathedral, New York City

When building began on the site of St Patrick's Cathedral in 1858, New York City's Catholics complained about how far out of town it was.  The cathedral fills the block between 50th and 51st Streets, Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.

In mid-Victorian times the area was barely populated;  now it's in the midst of "the most expensive street in the world", directly opposite the Rockefeller Center, from where it's possible to gaze down on the 333-feet-high spires of James Renwick Jnr's very conventional English and French Gothic Revival church.

The church, built of brick faced with white marble, was dedicated in 1879, and the towers added in 1888;  Charles T Mathews designed the Lady Chapel addition which was finished in 1906.  It was eventually consecrated, having being declared free from debt, on October 5th 1911:  it had cost, up to that time, around $4 million.

The impact of twentieth-century development on its surroundings is stunning.  Yet, inside its dark portal, the seductive darkness of soaring Gothic arches provides a dramatic sense of entering a different world with different priorities to the world outside.

Over the years it has been the centre of solemn events not only for New York's Catholics but for its wider population:  here in June 1968 Edward Kennedy eulogised his dead brother Robert, the New York Senator;  here also were ceremonies to remember the victims and heroes of 9/11.

Somehow, the thick walls and dark glass shut out the noise of Manhattan.  Here is a haunting, dignified, echoing space in which to rest and be thankful.

I've visited New York City repeatedly, and even if I'm only there for a day or two I always try to visit St Patrick's.

The St Patrick's Cathedral website is at http://www.saintpatrickscathedral.org.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 23, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St Martin-on-the-Hill Church, Scarborough

St Martin-on-the-Hill Parish Church (1861-2) on the South Cliff at Scarborough is celebrated for its rich collection of pre-Raphaelite art.

It was financed by Miss Mary Craven as a memorial to her father, a wealthy Hull industrialist.  She provided £7,600 of the initial £8,000 cost of this remarkable building, and in the period up to the time of her death in 1889 contributed a further £2,000.

Naturally, this meant that she largely got her own way in determining what the church would be like, and how it would be run.  Her architect was the young George Frederick Bodley, whose father was a Hull physician, and he introduced his friend William Morris and his associates Edward Burne Jones, Daniel Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb.  Between them, they provided brilliant stained glass, wall decoration, carving and furniture.

Mary Craven’s role as sponsor also allowed her to choose the first vicar, Rev Robert Henning Parr, previously the young and enthusiastic curate of Holy Trinity, Hull.  It seems that the establishment of this beautiful church was a remarkably harmonious project:  Mary Craven, G F Bodley, William Morris and Robert Henning Parr all appear to have got on well with each other.

This is just as well, because the High Church tendencies of the new parish upset many Anglicans in Scarborough, and for a time Archbishop Thomson refused to consecrate it because Rev Parr declined to charge pew rents.  Even then, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s exquisite painted pulpit had to be curtained over to avoid offending the archbishop.

Ironically, one pew was reserved, and still carries its brass plate – “Miss Mary Craven’s seat”.

Furious arguments about the Anglo-Catholic goings on at St Martin’s were tempered for a long time by Archbishop Thomson’s friendship with Archdeacon Blunt of Scarborough, with whom he regularly spent seaside holidays.

So often, the history of Victorian parishes reads like a Trollope novel.  Here at least the vicar didn’t end up in jail [see Liverpool 8 Churches (1)].

And Scarborough has, to this day, the finest collection of pre-Raphaelite art in the north of England.

For a detailed history of St Martin-on-the-Hill Church see http://www.st-martin-on-the-hill.org.uk.

Posted by: mike on Jun 6, 2011

Category:Sacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral 2

When I take groups to Liverpool, I love to lead them from one cathedral to the other, usually from the Anglican Cathedral, which has pointed arches and a vista towards a distant high altar, to the spectacular circular space of the uncompromisingly modern Catholic Cathedral.

The Metropolitan Cathedral, as it is properly known, was initiated in 1960 when Archibishop (later Cardinal) John Heenan decided a cathedral had to be built, and quickly, on the Brownlow Hill land that had been a building site since the 1930s.

His brief, in the years before the Second Vatican Council, was to have a building that would give a congregation of two thousand an uninterrupted view of the high altar, would cost no more than a million pounds, and could be built within five years.

The competition winner was Sir Frederick Gibberd, who engineered a circular space, with a corona supported by ring beams held in place by sixteen angled pillars and diagonal concrete buttresses.

Within each bay of this structure he placed a variety of free-standing chapels, most of which were initially left plain for future generations to embellish.  The echoing space of the interior is lit by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens' deeply coloured glass.

The Metropolitan Cathedral was consecrated in 1967 – completed on time and within budget.

Like so much 1960s architecture, the haste to complete meant that new, untried materials were used which did not stand the test of time.  Within a generation, the leaking roof had to be reinstated and much of the cladding replaced.  The processional approach that Gibberd intended was only constructed at the start of this century.

Nevertheless, the spiky profile of the Metropolitan Cathedral has integrated into the Liverpool skyline with a much lighter touch than Lutyens' bombastic basilica ever could.

It's ironic that the architect of the Anglican Cathedral, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was a Catholic;  Sir Frederick Gibberd, architect of the Catholic Cathedral, was in fact a Methodist.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 4, 2011

Category:Sacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral 1

When Liverpool's Catholic community returned to the task of erecting a cathedral in 1930 under Archbishop Richard Downey using the site of the former Brownlow Hill Workhouse, they planned a church to dominate the cityscape even more than E W Pugin's elegant Gothic design of 1853 at Everton would have done [see Liverpool's Catholic Cathedral (Pugin version)].

Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) designed a monster basilica in what he called his "Wrenaissance" style.  Nearly as long, yet wider and higher than St Peter's in Rome, its dome would have been half as tall again as the tower of the Anglican Cathedral, and significantly larger than the domes of St Peter's or London's St Paul's.  The Victoria Tower of Liverpool University, across the road on Brownlow Hill, would have fitted inside the entrance arch.

A vast architectural model, seventeen feet long and over eleven feet high, was built as an aid to fund-raising:  it has survived and will be displayed in the new Liverpool Museum:  [http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/conservation/departments/models/lutyens]

Lutyens cheerfully declared that the actual cathedral would take four hundred years to build.  The foundation stone was laid in 1933 and the first mass said in the crypt in 1937.  At the time of the 1941 Blitz, the sole remaining mason was obliged to down tools and work stopped entirely.  The crypt, which had already consumed four million blue bricks, was partly adapted as an air-raid shelter, and otherwise left open to the weather.

After the war, a reduced version of Lutyens' design was commissioned from Adrian Gilbert Scott, brother of the architect of the Anglican Cathedral, but dismissed as unworkable.  The incomplete crypt was put to use for worship and as a parish centre.

What was built of Lutyens' cathedral is an awesome space which hints at the scale of the unbuilt structure.  Within, under what would have been the high altar, the tombs of some of the early archbishops are contained in a vault guarded by a seven-ton marble rolling stone, representing Christ's tomb in Gethsemane.

I once saw the rolling stone roll.  It's operated by the sort of winch that's still sometimes used for the house-tabs in school assembly halls.  The sound of seven tons of marble rolling into a doorway is like nothing else.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 2, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Everton Our Lady Immaculate RC Church

Roman Catholic Parish Church of Our Lady Immaculate, Everton, Liverpool (1990)

Almost as soon as Liverpool became the centre of a re-established Catholic diocese in 1850, the first bishop, Alexander Goss, commissioned Edward Welby Pugin to design a magnificent Gothic cathedral which was to stand on Everton Brow.

There is an image of E W Pugin's perspective view of the planned St Edward's Cathedral at http://www.liverpoolmetrocathedral.org.uk/content/Visitus/ABriefHistory.aspx.  The complete building would have been a dignified cruciform structure with a tall tower and spire, providing a fine landmark overlooking the Mersey.

From a vessel in the river, you can pinpoint its location behind and slightly to the north of the existing St George's Parish Church

Building began in 1853, and stopped again three years later because of the pressure to provide churches, schools and welfare for the huge population of Irish and other immigrants that flooded into mid-nineteenth century Liverpool.  There simply wasn't the money to spare for grand building projects.

All that was ever built of Pugin's great cathedral was the Lady Chapel and its two side chapels, and these were converted into an odd-looking parish church, Our Lady Immaculate, which stood on St Domingo Road until it was demolished in the early 1990s.

It was said at that time to be unsafe, though I felt – and still feel – that it was a pity that this relic of the early Victorian growth of Catholic Liverpool wasn't somehow preserved.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 30, 2011

Category:Sacred placesManx Heritage

Our Lady Star of the Sea & St Maughold RC Church, Ramsey

The Isle of Man lacks a volume of Pevsner's great buildings series:  Sir Nikolaus spent much of his life compiling the first edition Buildings of England, and since he completed the original series in 1974 his successor editors have additionally laboured at the Buildings of Wales, Buildings of Scotland and Buildings of Ireland.  The Isle of Man belongs to none of these territories, and so far has no comparable catalogue of its architectural heritage.

This is a pity, because the island contains a wealth of structures, from pre-medieval crosses and chapels, called keeills, to high-quality nineteenth- and twentieth-century churches and public buildings.  Among the nationally-known architects who have worked on the island are George Steuart, Peter Paul Pugin, John Loughborough Pearson and his son Frank Loughborough Pearson, Ewan Christian (based in England but descended from an old Manx family), Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and the theatre-architect Frank Matcham.

Alongside these luminaries, Giles Gilbert Scott built Our Lady Star of the Sea & St Maughold RC Church on the seafront at Ramsey in 1908-10.

It's immediately recognisable as by the same hand as Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral [see Younger architect in Liverpool] by its simple, sheer surfaces, tricked out with decorative features high up, including a crucifix high on the liturgical east wall (which actually faces west) and a balcony at the top of the hip-roofed tower.  Carving dies into the stonework, exactly like the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral.  Much of the Horsforth stone tracery is obscured on the outside by protective glazing.

Within, the interior is lit only on the (geographical) south:  the opposite wall is blank except for a low Gothic arch opening into the Lady Chapel and the windowless wall behind the altar is dominated by a dramatic full-height painted triptych.

Designed when Scott was in his twenties, shortly after he began work on his great cathedral, Our Lady Star of the Sea is an unexpected, precious piece of architectural genius in the wide-open spaces of the under-developed resort-town.

The Isle of Man is full of surprises.

Service times for Our Lady Star of the Sea & St Maughold are available at http://www.ourladyandstmaughold.org.  Background information on all the Catholic churches on the Isle of Man is at http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/parishes/rcath/rc.htm.

The Manx Heritage (September 9th-15th 2014) tour includes a visit to Ramsey with time to see Our Lady Star of the Sea Church.  For details please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 9, 2011

Category:Sacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Cathedral (1983)

The achievement of Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, winning two competitions to design what became St George's Hall, Liverpool, between the ages of 25 and 27, is remarkable [see Young architect in Liverpool];  even more surprising was the result of the competition to build Liverpool Cathedral fifty years later.

1880s plans to build an Anglican cathedral on the St John's site, backing on to St George's Hall, came to nothing:  no-one could find a way of building a church that would sit comfortably alongside Elmes & Cockerill's great classical temple.

The eventual site, St James' Mount, was chosen and the customary architectural competition organised, with a controversial stipulation that Gothic designs would be preferred.

When the 103 anonymous entries were assessed, the judges were disconcerted to discover that the winner was the 21-year-old Giles Gilbert Scott, grandson of the great Gothic Revival architect, George Gilbert Scott, who had designed, amid much else, the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station [see Midland Grand].  To add to their discomfort, Giles Scott was a Roman Catholic.

The committee asked him if he'd designed anything before.  Yes, he said, a pipe-rack for his sister.  In the end, Scott was given the commission, as was his right, but under the supervision of one of the assessors, the veteran Gothic Revival architect, George Frederick Bodley.

Bodley's influence is apparent in the florid decoration of the first section of Scott's cathedral, the Lady Chapel, begun in 1904.  It was an uncomfortable arrangement:  Giles Scott's resignation was ready to post when he heard the news of Bodley's death in 1907.

By the time the Lady Chapel was consecrated in 1910, Scott went to the building committee and calmly proposed a radical redesign.  Instead of twin towers, he wanted a single tower above a majestic central space.  This was not straightforward, for the foundations of the two towers were already in place, which is why the cathedral as built has twin transepts and twin central porches, one of which stares vacantly over the chasm of St James' Cemetery.

The 331-foot Vestey Tower, named after the Dewhurst butchers' dynasty that paid for it, contains the highest and heaviest ringing peal of bells in the world.  The central space below could accommodate Nelson's Column if Nelson took his hat off.  The tower was completed in 1941, in the darkest days of the Second World War.  "Keep going, whatever you do, even if you can only go on in a small way," King George VI advised on a wartime visit.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott died in 1960, his final contribution the Nave Bridge which frames the vista towards the High Altar.  The west end was eventually finished, to modified designs by his professional partner, Frederick Thomas in collaboration with Roger Pinckney, and dedicated in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1978.

Sir Giles and Lady Scott's remains lie before the west door of the completed cathedral.  The Winter 2010-11 edition of C20 – the magazine of the Twentieth Century Society mentioned that the stone marker of [their] grave has been removed and that they rest "in an unmarked grave as cars and delivery vans to the café and shop frequently drive over [them]".

That may be true, but it can't be right.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 5, 2011

Category:Sacred placesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Padley Chapel, Grindleford

Padley Chapel, Grindleford, interior

North Lees Hall [see No sign of Mrs Rochester] was built by the Jessop family, associates of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, probably in the 1570s.  Lord Shrewsbury was staunchly Protestant, and had a political need to distance himself from the Catholic captive queen, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom he guarded for fourteen years.  The pressure to demonstrate adherence to Queen Elizabeth's Protestant settlement was at its most intense in the late 1580s, the period of Mary Stuart's execution and the Armada, and Lord Shrewsbury made a particular point as Lord Lieutenant of enforcing the recusancy laws that oppressed practising Catholics.

The resulting atmosphere of paranoia and persecution must have been akin to modern totalitarian regimes.

At that time North Lees was leased to Richard Fenton, one of the original Twelve Capital Burgesses of Sheffield and a Mayor and alderman of Doncaster who lost influence in the late 1570s because of his Catholicism.  By 1580 he had chosen to retire to obscurity at North Lees:  on his way through Sheffield his baggage was searched and revealed "books and other furniture for Mass", a discovery which aroused no immediate comment but was doubtless carefully noted.

On Candlemas Day, 1588, acting under the Earl's orders, one Roger Columbell –

...went to the Northelees and took Mr Fenton, and searched his house, but found no suspicious persons.  He used himself very obediently and came with him willingly to Haddon where he shewed a protection and desireth if it may stande with your Lordship's pleasure, to have the benefit thereof for the liberty to be in his owne house,...And if this cannot be graunted him then his humble request is that he maye have respit to goe to his own howse for a week to take order for his things, and, chiefly, to comfort his doughter [sic], who was broughte in bed the same morninge and seemed amazed at his soden apprehension.

It seems likely that Richard Fenton was not released to return to North Lees until he left detention in London late in 1589.  He was repeatedly imprisoned until his death around 1604.

A couple of miles away, Padley Hall, outside Grindleford, belonged to Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, a recusant who in 1588 was found to be harbouring two priests, Nicholas Garlick (c1555-1588), Robert Ludlam (c1551-1588), who along with a third priest, Richard Simpson (c1553-1588), were subsequently martyred at Derby on July 25th of that year. These three – energetic and determined men in the prime of life – were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, who was also arrested, died in the Tower of London in 1591.

Padley Hall itself gradually declined until in the late nineteenth century much of it was ruinous.  In 1933 the remaining barn was converted into a Roman Catholic chapel to commemorate the Padley Martyrs by the Sheffield architects, Hadfield & Cawkwell.

Padley Chapel is usually open to visitors on Sundays through the summer.  Its website is still under construction but details of opening arrangements are at http://www.derbychurch.net/find/detail.php?OrgRef=padleychapel.  The nearest Tourist Information Centres are Bakewell [01629-816558] and Castleton [01433-620679].

Posted by: mike on Mar 21, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Ullet Road Unitarian Church

Ullet Road Unitarian Church, Liverpool:  Library

Alongside the three Horsfall churches I mentioned in Liverpool 8 Churches (1), the Toxteth area is studded with fine Victorian places of worship.  Almost next door to St Margaret's, Princes Road (1868) is the Old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue (1871), and across the road the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas (1870).  Round the corner, as Princes Road widens into a leafy dual carriageway where the trams once ran on a reservation, stands the Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute (1886-7) which had an octagonal chapel so that the whole congregation could see the minister's signing, and further down on the opposite side is the desperately sad wreck of the Welsh Presbyterian Church (1868), apparently the richest and finest of them all, now a largely roofless shell.

Of all the Christian places of worship in Liverpool 8, perhaps the most surprising is the Ullet Road Unitarian Church, designed by Thomas Worthington and his son Percy in two stages, 1896-9 and 1900-1.  Unitarianism is a very individualistic creed, centred on the belief in the single personality of God, which regards Jesus Christ as a prophet rather than a divine person of the Holy Trinity.  It comes as a surprise to the non-Unitarian visitor, then, that the Worthington's church has virtually all the features of an Anglican parish church, pews, pulpit, lectern, choir-stalls and reredos, all in the finest Gothic Revival style using the very best materials.

The place is an opulent essay in Gothic and Art Nouveau, with reliefs and wall paintings by George Moira and Morris & Co stained glass mostly designed by Edward Burne-Jones.  The electroliers that light the nave are original, and tucked away behind the chancel arch are original 1890s electric lamps.

This was a congregation that wielded heavy political clout in nineteenth-century Liverpool:  the previous church in Renshaw Street included among its members the poet and anti-slavery campaigner William Roscoe, William Rathbone V, who was Mayor of Liverpool in 1837-8, his son William Rathbone VI, who was MP for Liverpool from 1868 to 1880 and helped found University College Liverpool and the University College of North Wales, and Robert Durning Holt, the last Mayor and first Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1892-3.

The generation that moved their church out of the city-centre to Sefton Park could command serious money.  Robert Durning Holt's mother, Mrs George Holt, didn't like the idea of an interior in bright red Ruabon brick, and paid for it to be faced in dignified Runcorn sandstone.  The cloister and meeting hall were funded by Sir John Brunner, whose chemical company later formed the basis for ICI, and Sir Henry Tate, whose name lives on in the sugar company and the gallery that he gave to the nation.  Sir John Brunner appears in one of Moira's wall-paintings as the philosopher Aristotle.

To see all these places of worship around Sefton Park would take two days minimum.  Even to see a couple is a forcible reminder that this was a city of huge mercantile wealth a century ago, a place where adherents of every faith sought to assert their presence with the finest architecture of their day.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 19, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool St Agnes' Church, Ullet Road

St Agnes' Church, Ullet Road, Liverpool

A couple of years ago I spent a fascinating four days researching and photographing places of worship in suburban Liverpool, south of the city, to add to my 'Liverpool's Heritage' lecture and study-day for NADFAS [the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies].

I found a whole collection of fabulous Victorian buildings, and met some particularly interesting people in the process.

One group of Anglican churches is the series founded by the Horsfall family over two generations.  Robert Horsfall commissioned the great Gothic Revival architect, George Edmund Street, to build St Margaret's, Princes Road, in 1868, at least partly because the diocese was vehemently low church, and he wished to promote elaborate, Anglo-Catholic worship.  This magnificent building, sumptuously embellished with wall paintings and stained glass, much of it designed by Maddox & Pearce and Clayton & Bell, is much loved by the local community, but desperately short of funds.

Robert Horsfall may well have been provoked by the statement of his low-church younger brother George's project to build Christ Church, Linnet Lane (1867-71), not far away.  This church, by William Culshaw and Henry Sumners, has an elaborately sculpted exterior and a much plainer, though costly interior.  Its peculiar gabled aisles are particularly difficult to keep watertight, and the parish apparently struggles financially.

Robert Horsfall's son, Howard Douglas Horsfall (1856-1936), was responsible for St Agnes', Ullet Road, opposite Sefton Park.  Designed by the architect of Truro Cathedral, John Loughborough Pearson, this large but outwardly modest brick church has a dramatic interior, like a miniature cathedral, rich in carvings, stained glass and alabaster.  Pearson's aim, in his own words, was to design "what will bring people soonest to their knees".

The controversies of the Victorian Church of England are difficult to grasp in an age when Anglicans fall out about female and gay priests and bishops.  The second vicar of St Margaret's went to jail for contempt of court over a liturgical dispute with the first Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle.  There were serious fears that the consecration of St Agnes' would be interrupted by "some disturbance" following "heated newspaper agitation".  Within weeks of the opening, the first vicar of St Agnes was in disagreement with Bishop Ryle over "the illegal use of Eucharistic Lights, Wafer-Bread, the Mixed Chalice, the Agnus Dei and the hymn sung during Holy Communion" and waited twelve years before the bishop backed down.

All three of these superb buildings still house congregations, though the days of packed pews and arguments over ritual are long gone.  Rev Robert Gallagher, the current vicar of St Margaret's, wryly observes, "the capital used for St Margaret's beginnings came largely from Liverpool merchants' involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade and down through grandparents' bank accounts...an irony not lost on a parish that is now the heart of Liverpool's black community."

The Ship of Fools' mystery worshipper describes the "pious gaiety" of St Agnes' at http://www.ship-of-fools.com/mystery/2012/2330.html.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 24, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St Mary's Church, West Tofts

St Mary's Church, West Tofts, Norfolk:  reredos

Last summer I was privileged to visit, with the Victorian Society during their AGM weekend in Norwich, the church of St Mary, West Tofts, in the midst of the Ministry of Defence's Stanford Battle Area.

The 30,000-acre training site was cleared of its population in 1942, to provide a battle-training area in preparation for Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy which followed D-Day in 1944.  Six villages – Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts – were emptied within four weeks.  Four of these settlements, Langford, Stanford, Tottington and West Tofts, had functioning parish churches at the time.

At the end of hostilities the villagers' expectations of being allowed to return were denied, and still the area is sealed and in regular military use.  Indeed, a replica Afghan village, staffed – if that is the word – by ex-Ghurka soldiers and amputee veterans, was constructed in 2009 at a cost of £14 million to assist in the current conflict.  The site was also used as a location for outdoor sequences of the TV series Dad's Army, which was set in nearby Thetford [see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/holidaytypeshub/article-587698/Take-trip-Dads-Army-country.html].

Access to West Tofts Church is necessarily limited, and its isolation gives it an odd atmosphere.  West Tofts was of particular interest to the Victorian Society because it was restored in the late 1840s by the great Gothic Revival architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, who rebuilt the chancel and added the quirky vestry and organ loft on the north side of the chancel, prompted by the wealthy parson, Rev Augustus Sutton (1825-1885), younger son of a Nottinghamshire baronet.

The transept contains an elaborate memorial to Sutton's wife, Mary Elizabeth;  his more modest tomb lies in an external recess under the chancel wall.  The organ was transferred in the 1950s to the church of All Saints', South Pickenham:  it has a spectacular organ-case, with leaves that open out in the manner of a triptych.

The likelihood of the battle area becoming safely accessible to the general public is virtually zero:  the military necessity remains and there is an accumulation of live ammunition.

There is a beautifully written and illustrated account of West Tofts and the other battle-area churches at http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/battlezone/battlezoneintro.htm.  Detailed accounts of the requisitioning of the Stanford Battle Area are in the excellent BBC WW2 People's War series at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/62/a3258362.shtml#top, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/07/a3258407.shtml#top and http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/20/a3291220.shtml.

The BBC website has an audio-slideshow of another deserted village, Imber on Salisbury Plain:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11345287.  [Further background on Imber is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imber with a cross-reference to the entry on Tyneham, Dorset, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyneham.]

The Ministry of Defence discourages requests for access to West Toft Church and other sites in the Stanford Battle Area, and priority is given to those with a personal or family connection.

Posted by: mike on Aug 31, 2010

Category:Sacred placesHumber Heritage

Thornton Abbey Gatehouse

It's natural to assume that our best historic buildings always were the best – that Chatsworth and Blenheim are among the finest English country houses, that Fountains, Rievaulx, Lindisfarne and Tintern are among the finest medieval abbeys.

That may be so, but not necessarily, because it's hard to credit other great buildings that have vanished long ago and can now be judged only from contemporary illustrations or archaeological remains.

Thornton Abbey, in the very far north of Lincolnshire, is one such.  Its fourteenth-century gatehouse is huge – the biggest of all surviving monastic gatehouses in England – and particularly splendid, built of brick at an unusually early date.  It's approached by a long barbican and was clearly designed to keep out unwelcome visitors.  Above the vaulted gateway are two substantial chambers, one above the other, and a warren of corridors and chambers, some of which would have been lavatories.  The roofline is shorn of its battlements, but the front still contains a number of lifesized statues.

This was the frontispiece of a powerful and influential institution.  When Thornton Abbey was dissolved in 1539 it was worth £591 0s 2¾d.

Yet when you walk through the gateway, there is little but fields to see.  The abbey church, of which only the foundations now remain, was 282 feet long.  All that remains is a section of the cloister and domestic range, with two splendid bays of the octagonal chapter house.  That tells us that this place was as impressive as the greatest surviving abbey ruins in England.

The church and most of the other structures had gone by the early seventeenth century, demolished by Sir Vincent Skinner, who "built a most stately house out of the same, on the west side of the abbey plot within the moat, which hall, when it was finished, fell quite down to the bare ground without any visible cause".

Serves him right.

Thornton Abbey is an English Heritage property and is regularly open:  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/thornton-abbey-and-gatehouse.  Unusually, it has its own railway station with a regular two-hourly service from Cleethorpes:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thornton_Abbey_railway_station.

Posted by: mike on Aug 10, 2010

Category:Sacred placesCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Milton Mausoleum, Markham Clinton

Authoritarians have a way of undermining themselves.

The 4th Duke of Newcastle (1785-1851) was a clumsy politician.  Queen Victoria sacked him from the post of Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire because he wouldn't appoint magistrates he disapproved of:  "for though his integrity could never be suspected, his discretion was by no means remarkable".

When his Duchess died giving birth to twins in 1822, he built the stern and chilly Milton Mausoleum at Markham Clinton, Nottinghamshire designed by Sir Robert Smirke.  This project, which took eleven years to complete, became a lugubrious farce.  Known in the family as the "Dormitory", it was intended to supersede the cramped family vault at Bothamsall Church, and was designed to accommodate 72 coffins.  It was also to serve as a replacement for the tiny medieval parish church of All Saints', West Markham.

The fourth Duke himself was eventually buried there with his wife, but only fourteen members of the family lie in the vault, and the parishioners of West Markham abandoned its dismal isolation to return to their more homely church in the heart of their village.

Sir Richard Westmacott's superb monument to the Duchess was carried off to Clumber Chapel, and later returned to its original resting-place where it remains.

The Milton Mausoleum is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and can be visited: 
http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/findachurch/milton-mausoleum-newark.  There is a description at hhttp://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/view/134/Newcastle_Mausoleum.

Visitor-information for Clumber Park, including the Chapel, is at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park/.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 22, 2010

Category:Sacred placesHumber Heritage

Beverley Minster crossing from above

Photo:  Harriet Cheshire

One of the highlights of the Humber Heritage (September 17th-20th 2010) tour will be a roof-tour of Beverley Minster, one of the most beautiful churches in England.  The Minster came into being as a shrine of St John of Beverley, who was canonised in 1037, and rose from two disasters within a generation, the Great Fire of Beverley in 1188 and the collapse of the central tower around 1213.

You can stand outside the church and see exactly how it grew over the centuries:  the east end and transepts are mid-thirteenth century;  most of the nave is mid-fourteenth century but construction was interrupted by the Black Death in 1349 and the west front and towers date mainly from the fifteenth century.

It's called a minster because, though never a monastery or a cathedral, it was run by a college of clergymen up to the time of the Reformation.  In Henry VIII's reign it became simply a huge parish church, partly maintained by funds provided by Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.

By the early eighteenth century maintenance had fallen back so much that the gable of the north transept leaned four feet outwards from the perpendicular.  That the church is still standing is to the credit of the architect William Thornton (c1670-1721) who, in 1719, built a huge timber scaffold against the leaning wall and screwed it back into the fabric of the building.

To appreciate the scale of the building, and to recognise the strength of Thornton's work, it's worth taking the roof tour, which involves a steep stair-climb but isn't vertiginous, to look through the great rose window, to see how each wing of the building has distinctive roof-architecture, and to see close up the largest architectural treadwheel in England.

Thornton was understandably nervous about the stability of the central crossing, which had been a cause for concern for centuries, and which Nicholas Hawksmoor surmounted with a dome, now demolished.  From inside it's clear that the stubby central tower is built of eighteenth-century brick, and incorporates a giant treadwheel that acted as a crane to bring materials to roof level.

It still works, and lifts the central boss from the crossing vault, providing a vertiginous and securely fenced view down on to the floor below.

It's one of the most memorable experiences for miles around:  http://beverleyminster.org.uk/visit-us/tours.

Posted by: mike on Jul 9, 2010

Category:Sacred placesHumber Heritage

St Peter's Church, Barton-on-Humber

Barton-on-Humber is not Hull.

If King Edward I had not taken over the port of Wyke, where the River Hull drains into the northern shore of the Humber, in 1293 and turned it into Kingston-upon-Hull, Barton might be better known.

Nevertheless, the haven on the south bank of the Humber prospered gently through the centuries on the strength of its rich agricultural hinterland, alongside its downstream neighbour Grimsby, the great fishing port.  Maritime industries such as shipbuilding and rope-making continued well into the twentieth century, alongside other industries based on local products, such as brick-making and malting.

Following the excellent Barton-on-Humber Civic Society Town Guide reveals an attractive mix of prosperous eighteenth-century housing and dignified nineteenth-century public buildings.

But the real evidence of this town's considerable antiquity is that, like Hull, it has two parish churches close together.  Indeed, until the early 1970s, both served the same parish.

St Mary's, which remains the parish church, has fabric dating back to Norman times.  St Peter's, however, has a tower that is unmistakably Saxon in style – with enormously thick walls and narrow internal arches, and exterior walls decorated with stripwork and triangular-headed windows – though its builders were more likely of Viking descent.  Two-thirds of the original church still stands, with a slightly later upper stage to the tower and a spacious medieval church repeatedly extended over the centuries.

Thomas Rickman (1776-1841), the architect who originated the terms 'Norman', 'Early English' and 'Decorated' to describe phases of gothic architecture, determined the chronological sequence of late Saxon and early Norman architecture on the principle of "structural stratification" visible in the tower of St Peter's:  simply, the lower walls must be older than the upper stages, so if the top of the tower is recognisably Norman, the base must be earlier.

Since St Peter's was deconsecrated it has been thoroughly investigated by English Heritage archaeologists, and now houses a fascinating exhibition of based on the examination of some 2,800 skeletons, most of which now rest in an ossuary on site while some, with intact coffins and grave goods, are shown as part of an unparalleled chronological account of the lives and deaths of Barton's inhabitants entitled 'Buried Lives'.

Details of opening-times at St Peter's Church, Barton-on-Humber, can be found at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/st-peters-church-barton-upon-humber.

In addition to their updated Town Guide (2009), price £3.00, the Barton Civic Society offers a series of free downloadable walks at http://www.bartoncivicsociety.co.uk.

Posted by: mike on Jul 1, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne

St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia

If asked to make a list of what the British Empire exported to the colonies – tangible and intangible items – it's unlikely that most people would, unprompted, include churches with pointed arches, towers and spires.

Wander around any city in a former British colony and it's more than likely you'll encounter a Gothic cathedral.  On my travels I've found examples in Hong Kong, Singapore and every Australian city I visited.  In fact, each of the major Australian cities – Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart – has not one but two Gothic cathedrals, one each for Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

Stepping inside these churches, even in tropical heat, immediately evokes Englishness, whether the denomination is Anglican or Roman Catholic.  The moment you set foot in the particularly splendid Anglican St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne [http://www.stpaulscathedral.org.au], its stripey polychrome stonework is immediately recognisable as the work of William Butterfield, an English architect who never actually saw the place.

I'm intrigued by the way English ideas of architecture and worship were exported virtually intact to the other side of the world.  Several major Victorian architects had a hand in Australian cathedrals:  William Butterfield provided plans for the Anglican cathedrals in Adelaide and Melbourne, and fell out with the sponsors of both;  George Frederick Bodley designed St David's Cathedral, Hobart;  at the end of his life, John Loughborough Pearson, builder of Truro Cathedral, designed the Anglican cathedral in Brisbane, though actual construction was overseen by his son, Frank.

Most other Australian cathedrals were designed by English immigrants:  Edmund Blacket (St Andrew's Cathedral, Perth) was born in Southwark;  Benjamin Backhouse (who built St Stephen's, Brisbane alongside a chapel by A W N Pugin) was born in Ipswich.  William Wardell, designer of two magnificent Roman Catholic cathedrals (Melbourne and Sydney) was British, a friend of A W N Pugin.

I want to know more about the men and women who envisioned, conceived, constructed and paid for these resolutely European places of worship in places that had hardly seen masonry until their lifetimes.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.


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