In December 1956 Basil Spence and Partners were commissioned to design St Francis Church in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester. The project was part of a large building programme by the Manchester Diocese and was to service the new post-war housing estate at Newall Green. The site housed an existing hall that had been serving a dual-purpose as church and church hall but which reverted to use as a church hall once the new church was opened. The foundation stone was laid by Colin Skinner CBE on 23 April 1960 and the church was consecrated on 25 March 1961 by the Bishop of Manchester, W D L Greer.
The main building is predominantly brick; it is set back from the road by a landscaped courtyard that includes a brick tower and 73ft concrete cross. Another large cross rises from the front wall of the church itself making it highly visible from the surrounding neighborhood.
The church can hold a congregation of 250. A small chapel is separated from the main church by a sliding screen and can be used independently for private prayer and mid week-services. On busy days the screen can be retracted to provide additional seating to the main church. A gallery over the entrance porch houses two organs and the choir.
Embroidery for the Church was designed by Anthony Blee and carried out by Beryl Dean and Associates, and Communion silver was specially designed by Gerald Benney.
An austerely simple deign, saved from bleakness by a few deft touches – Pevsner.
The lettering on the font cover is by Ralph Beyer, the painting on the east wall by William Chattaway, who came specially from Paris to paint.
2010 – John Richards
The church also contains four stones brought from prominent Christian locations across the globe including a rose hued stone from Assisi itself, these are embedded in the walls and floor around the building.
St Francis of Assisi’s Church in Wythenshawe stands testimony to the vigour of its first priest, the Reverend Ronald Pitcher. It was Pitcher who organised a local campaign to raise money for its construction, even before William Greer, Lord Bishop of Manchester, launched a wider appeal to fund churches and vicarages in new housing areas throughout the diocese.
It was probably also Pitcher who chose the architect, since he made initial contact with Basil Spence late in 1956. Drawings and a watercolour perspective were prepared by the beginning of 1958, when the scheme was priced at £17,500, exclusive of professional fees.
Following discussions with the congregation it was modified to provide side-aisles, and the estimate increased to £27,000, including an organ. Although the diocese believed the final cost might be as high as £35,000,the design was accepted and Spence formally commissioned at the end of the year.
A church forced to close three years ago after its congregation dwindled to just two has been reborn – as a community centre.
St Francis of Assisi, in Wythenshawe, was forced to shut its doors when its popularity waned and repairs became too expensive.
Now, thanks to businessman James Munnery and Pastor William Simoes, the former Church of England building is rising again as a beacon of hope for the neighbourhood. The pair have teamed up to re-open the church as the New Life Opportunities Centre. Ambitious plans for the not-for-profit venture include sports pitches, a recording studio, and a hall for events and dancing.
Well of course we’ve all been here before, haven’t we?
Well I have – I even wrote all about it right here.
The tower was designed by the architects of the Ministry of Public Building and Works: the chief architects were Eric Bedford and G. R. Yeats. Typical for its time, the building is concrete clad in glass. The narrow cylindrical shape was chosen because of the requirements of the communications aerials: the building will shift no more than 25 centimetres in wind speeds of up to 95 mph. Initially, the first 16 floors were for technical equipment and power. Above that was a 35-metre section for the microwave aerials, and above that were six floors of suites, kitchens, technical equipment and finally a cantilevered steel lattice tower. To prevent heat build-up, the glass cladding was of a special tint. The construction cost was £2.5 million.
The tower was topped out on 15 July 1964, and officially opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 8 October 1965. The main contractor was Peter Lind & Co Ltd.
One fine sunny Monday morning I set out cycling to Ashton-under-Lyne to buy an enamel pie dish. Almost inevitably I was pushed and pulled in a variety of unforeseen directions, incautiously distracted and diverted serendipitously – towards Droylsden.
Idly pedalling down Greenside Lane looking this way and that I was drawn magnetically to a pitched roof tower, towering over the red brick semis. Rounding the corner I discovered the delightful St Stephen’s RC church, stood high and proud on a grassy corner, glowing golden in the March sunlight.
I leaned my bike against the presbytery wall and with the kindly bidding of a passing parishioner, I went inside.
Thanks to Father Tierney for his time and permission to snap the interior. It was a calm space, the large open volume side lit by high octagonal honeycomb modular windows. The elegant plain pitched concrete gambrel roof beams a simple engineered solution.
The church and attached presbytery were built from designs by Greenhalgh & Williams in 1958-9, the church being consecrated on 12 May 1960. A reordering took place, probably in the 1960s or 70s, when the altar rails were removed and the altar moved forward. Probably at the same time, the font was brought into the church from the baptistery.
The altar and apse beautifully restrained in colour form and choice of materials. The design and detailing on the pews so warm and understated.
I was loathe to leave.
The exterior does not disappoint, the repetition of modular window shapes, the integration of doors, brick and mixed stone facing.This is a building of elegant grandeur, well proportioned, happily at home in its setting.
Well it’s almost a mighty long way to cycle from Stockport to here, but well worth it.
A clear functional design of the 1970s, designed to place all the internal focus on the top-lit altar, which beneath its modern cladding incorporates a pre-Reformation altar stone. The external appearance of the church is slightly forbidding but the interior is enhanced by vibrant slab glass.
More than somewhat bunker like in its recessed situation, well below street level, yet interesting and engaging nonetheless – I’m rather fond of grey.
Working around the comings and goings of the adjacent school, I half circumnavigated the site, capturing something of the detail and exterior views of the stained glass. The interior will have to wait until another day.
Planned and newly constructed housing developments in Norden and Bamford made it apparent that a new church was needed nearer the geographical centre of the parish. In June 1975 the present church of St Vincent de Paul was opened, nearly a mile away from the old church. The architect was Bernard Ashton of the Cassidy & Ashton Partnership, Preston.
Internally the church is simply fitted with plain white plastered or boarded walls. The low level of daylighting enhances the effect of the four corner windows, which are filled with rainbow glass, and of the top-lit altar. The dalle de verre glass was designed by Eddie Blackwell and made in Dom. Charles Norris’s workshop at Buckfast Abbey. The figure of the risen Christ on the roof over the entrance porch were also designed by Blackwell.
It never fails to surprise, turning the corner of a somewhat anonymous suburban street to find:
A building of outstanding importance for its architectural design, advanced liturgical planning and artistic quality of the fixtures and fittings.
Broadfield Drive Leyland Lancashire PR25 1PD
The Benedictines came to Leyland in 1845 and the first Church of St. Mary’s was built on Worden Lane in 1854. The Catholic population was small at this time, but had grown to around 500 by 1900. Growth was assisted by the industrial development of Leyland and after the Second World War the town was earmarked as the centre of a new town planned in central Lancashire. By the early 1960’s, the Catholic population was 5,000. Fr Edmund Fitzsimmons, parish priest from 1952, was a guiding force in the decision to build a large new church of advanced liturgical design, inspired by progressive continental church architecture of the mid 20th century. The church was designed by Jerzy Faczynski of Weightman and Bullen. Cardinal Heenan blessed the foundation stone in 1962 and the new church was completed ready for its consecration and dedication by Archbishop Beck in April 1964.
Pink brick, reinforced concrete, copper covered roofs, zig-zag to main space and flat to aisle. Circular, aisled plan with projecting entrance and five projecting chapels.
Central altar. Entrance in large projecting porch with roof rising outwards and the roof slab cantilevered above the doors, its underside curving upward.
Large polychrome ceramic mural representing the Last Judgment by Adam Kossowski occupies the width of the porch above the two double- doored entrances.
Brick rotunda with projecting painted reinforced concrete chapels to left and right, of organic round-cornered form.
Folded radial roof above main space, leaning outwards to shelter triangular clerestory windows. Circular glazed light to centre of roof, its sides leaning outwards, culminating in a sculpted finial of copper or bronze.
Internally, sanctuary is floored in white marble, raised by a step, and the white marble altar is raised by three further steps.
Fixed curved timber benches are placed on slightly raked floor.
`Y’ shaped concrete aisle posts, designed to incorporate the Stations of the Cross, sculpted by Arthur Dooley.
Above these the exposed brick drum rises to the exposed, board-marked concrete folded roof. The aisle walls comprise thirty-six panels of abstract dalle-de-verre stained glass, totalling 233 feet in length, by Patrick Reyntiens, mostly in blues and greens. The theme is the first day of Creation. Suspended above the altar is the original ring-shaped light fixture, and also Adam Kossowski’s ceramic of Christ the King.
Further original light fittings are suspended above the congregation.
The font is placed in the narthex, in a shallow, marble-lined depression in the floor. It comprises a concrete cylinder with an inscribed bronze lid.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with its rising roof slab, contains a green marble altar with in-built raking supports.
Behind it is a tapestry representing the Trinity, designed by the architect J. Faczynski.