Wythenshawe Walk

We begin at the William Temple Church

1970

The Anglican Church of William Temple was opened in 1965 on the corner of Robinswood Road and Simonsway as the church of the Civic Centre. The mission was already well-established, having begun many years previously in Shadow Moss School Room, latterly operating in a dual-purpose building on Simonsway. The architect, George Pace, agreed with the proviso that he should not design a ‘pseudo’ building, but that it should be modern in concept. This he did and particular attention was paid to the acoustics with a view to music and drama being performed there. One of Pace’s stipulations was that, as with all the churches he designed, there must be no plaques attached to the walls commemorating the dedication of the church or in memory of anyone, for he said he built his churches to the Glory of God. The only lettered stone is on the back wall of the church and it has on it the date of the consecration and a symbol, which is Pace’s original sign for William Temple Church.

The internal supports of the church are black-painted steel girders, not romantically symbolising the industry of the area, as it is sometimes said, but because when it was discovered that the church had been built on swampy ground an extra £2,000 was needed for foundations; the wooden beams of the original design had to be changed for cheaper steel ones. There is symbolism, however, in the placing of the font between and beneath the three main weight-bearing supports of the church.

The pews have an interesting history, having been brought from derelict churches in and around Manchester. 

The present lady churchwarden said:

“whenever we heard of a church being demolished we borrowed Mr. Owen’s coal cart and went off to see if we could buy any of the pews. Many times I’ve sat on the back of the wagon, in the pouring rain, with the pews, bringing them back to Wythenshawe to be stored until our church building was completed!”

Some time after the building was opened, a fire damaged some of the pews. With the insurance money all the pews were stripped and bleached, giving an element of uniformity and a bright welcoming atmosphere in the church generally. An interesting thought was voiced that as many people living in Wythenshawe now had their origins near to the centre of Manchester they may be sitting in the same pews in which their ancestors once sat.

Onwards to St Anthony’s RC – seen here under construction.

An imposing and monumental building by Adrian Gilbert Scott.

The church has a rich, little-altered interior with strong architectural qualities and notable furnishings. The church is described as ‘one of the few real landmarks of Wythenshawe’ and ‘beautifully built’, by Hartwell, Hyde and Pevsner 2004

The church was listed Grade II in 2014.

Taking Stock

It replaced the Green Hut.

Backtrack to St Andrews Architects JCG Prestwich and Son 1960 – as seen by Comrade Yuri Gagarin 12th July 1961 – detailed here.

We now take a secular route around the back of the Civic Centre to look at Centron and Delta House.

Built in 1972 to encourage white collar jobs into the area, formerly occupied by Shell and the TSB, currently partially unoccupied.

Across the way the former Barclay’s Bank IT HQ by DLG Shuldham the bank’s chief architect.

Just around the corner.

There were four eight-storey blocks of ‘Sectra’ flats that Laing built in Wythenshawe for Manchester County Borough Council, completed in 1967. The blocks were described by Laing in their monthly newsletter ‘Team Spirit’ in January 1968 as four blocks of specially designed eight-storey flats for elderly people.

Showing skeleton cladding, patterned end wall units and access balcony.

They were named Park Court, Violet Court, Birch Tree Court and Edwards Court.

Park Court and Violet Court have since been demolished to make way for retail space.

Violet Court

Tower Block 1987

Architect J Austen Bent

Local Image Collection 1972

Onwards to the most exotic magenta fire station.

Then down the road to St Luke’s 1939 by W Cecil Young of Taylor and Young.

No striving after sensational effect is strived at – Pevsner.

Down the road we go to St Martin’s.

The church is the the work of Harry Fairhurst Architects 1958.

Opened 21st March 1959.

Across the road to Tin Town.

A mini-estate of impeccably kept, neat steel-framed prefabs, designed in 1946 by Frederick Gibberd. We got a tour around one, home to former Durutti Column drummer Bruce Mitchell. The space standards and architectural quality are, as Phil Griffin points out, way above those of contemporary central Manchester luxury loft living. 

Owen Hatherley – The Guardian

New residents were given the choice of an apple or pear tree.

Finally arriving at Sir Basil Spence’s St Francis of Assisi.

2012

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 neighbourhood.

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.

St Francis of Assisi – Wythenshawe

66 Chalford Rd Wythenshawe Manchester M23 2SG

Sir Basil Spence 1959-61

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.

CANMORE

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

2015 – 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.

Mainstream Modern

Construction.

Completion.

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.

Warwick University

2012

Manchester Evening News 2013

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.

It will also hold church services.

Businessman James Munnery outside St Francis of Assisi

The sound of the pipe organ

Coventry Cathedral

On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.

Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the building was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.

Ralph Beyer carving the foundation stone for Coventry Cathedral.

© Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection.

Coventry Cathderal

The new Cathedral was itself an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others – most still to reach the peak of their artistic careers.

St. Michael and the Devil on the southern end of the east wall. It was sculpted by Sir Jacob Epstein, who, sadly, died in 1959, and therefore didn’t live to see his masterpiece mounted on the cathedral wall a year later.

Entrance to the cathedral is through the Screen of Saints and Angels – it is seventy feet high and forty five feet wide and is supported by a bronze framework hung by wires from the roof for added strength.

This unique screen formed part of Sir Basil Spence’s first vision for the new cathedral. As he stared out from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, he saw the shape for the new church through a screen of saints. This transparent wall would link the old and new – making each mutually visible from within each other. Provost Howard set out to draw up a scheme consisting of all the saints who were responsible for the bringing of Christianity to Britain. As John Hutton began to make initial designs, he soon realised that row upon row of saints would need to be broken up in some way, and suggested that angels be inserted between the saints.

The eighty one foot high Baptistery Window containing a total of one hundred and ninety five lights of stained glass in bright primary colours designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, with the Stone of Bethlehem for a font just in front. Each individual window contains an abstract design, but the overall effect is breathtaking. Basil Spence himself designed the stone containing the glass.

Study for the the seventy two foot high tapestry designed by Graham Sutherland – collection of The Herbert Art Gallery

The great tapestry was another example of a re-think in design. Basil Spence’s original intention was to depict the Crucifixion but Provost Howard suggested that the subject be Christ in Majesty and from there on, this idea prevailed

Altar cross and crown of thorns by Geoffrey Clarke, large ceramic candlesticks by Hans Coper.

Chairs by Russell Hodgson and Leigh.

The Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane is approached by following the aisle from the Baptistery window towards the altar which is at the north end. The mosaic depicts the Angel of Agony by Steven Sykes and becomes more impressive when seen from a distance through the wrought iron crown of thorns designed by Basil Spence.

A short passageway takes you through to the Chapel of Christ the Servant – also known as the Chapel of Industry due to the view of Coventry workplaces from its narrow windows. 

Monumental inscriptions to walls and floor by Ralph Beyer

Stained glass to aisle walls by Lawrence Lee, Geoffrey Clarke and Keith New.

At the far end of the aisle, opposite the Baptistery Window is the Chapel of Unity, with its detailed mosaic floor, donated by the people of Sweden, representing the nations of the world and lit by shafts of light from the narrow stained glass windows around the circumference of the star shaped chapel. 

This design was Basil Spence’s vision of a chapel representing the star which began the story of Christ – from the outside it appears shaped similarly to a Crusader’s tent.

The chapel is intended for prayer by all denominations, not just Anglican, and for this reason was purposely built with no view of the great altar. 

Historic Coventry

St Catherine of Sienna – Sheffield

Sir Basil Spence 1958-62. . Brown brick. Roof not visible. Slate cladding to entrance block of parish hall. Rectangular nave sweeping around into a semicircular apsed sanctuary .

EXTERIOR: entrance to liturgical south-west and parish hall to liturgical west with vestry. Carved words “The Church of St Catherine” to left of recessed entrance. Tower linked to liturgical south-east, and comprising two convex slabs forming a sacristy at ground level and linked by concrete beams above. Patinated bronze sculptural group with crucified Christ affixed to its east side.

INTERIOR: aisleless with vertical slit windows to north and south walls and roof sloping upwards towards chancel, on laminated timbers beams, so that roof deck is separated from the walls by a narrow glazed strip. Light is thrown onto the east wall by a concealed window at the east end of the nave. Sanctuary is raised two shallow steps, and altar was originally raised on two further steps against the east wall. It has now been moved forward. Altar is a black painted metal framed table with a varnished timber top. Font of polished limestone with fossils is in the original position to liturgical south side of sanctuary. Timber lid with schematic metal dove. Large timber cross behind altar, comprising two pairs of overlapping beams, penetrated symbolically by large nails. Timber sedilia on metal supports. Laminated timber pews. Organ above entrance to sacristy . A strongly sculptural design with a powerful presence.

British Listed Buildings.

St Catherine Sienna is a fine church, sited impressively and standing imperiously on the Sheffield outer ring road, high above the city. Brick curves, a tall detached tower and open for business, serving the outlying post war housing estate of Woodthorpe with regular services and a firm foundation of community activity.

Lit delicately from side slatted windows and higher apertures, the main body is calm and assured, the scale and proportion in harmony with the simple Spence seating and slightly raised altar. The detail of the wooden roof grid perfectly balancing the warm austerity of the walls.

My thanks to Father Phillip for his time and a fine cup of tea.

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St Paul – Ecclesfield/Sheffield

High above the city on Wordsworth Avenue, Eccleshall, built to serve the large Parson Cross post-war social housing estate, stands St Paul.

On the day of my visit, more than somewhat windswept and sleet lashed, almost imperious, the church stood steadfast set against the elements.

It is however registered as at risk by Historic England.

Designed by Sir Basil Spence and built by Charles Price of Doncaster Ltd. the church was completed in 1959 and consecrated on24th January 1959.

A large open brick steel and concrete structure, glassed and open at each end, a curved roof with vaulted detail, a detached tower is connected by a concrete cloister. There is an elegant simplicity to the body of the church, which is elevated by the staggered supporting walls.

A plain altar is complemented with ornaments, the gift of Spence, decorated by a frontal designed by Anthony Blee and an embroidered panel by Beryl Dean. A plain slatted wooden screen masks the window to the rear.

The pews – also the work of Spence were not costed in the original proposal, additional funds were found and they remain in use as an integral part of the scheme and worship.

The organ, sited in the gallery, is a later addition of 1962, puchased for £100 from Mount Tabor Church, Holland – integrated into the overall design using slatted wood.

My thanks to John Roch, church organist and lifelong member of the congregation, having attended Sunday School at St Paul on the first day of its opening, for his time and erudite instruction.

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