06 December 2018, The Tablet

How a new scheme is bringing some of our most beautiful churches back into community use

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How a new scheme is bringing some of our most beautiful churches back into community use

Detail of the mosaic scheme in the Grade II* St John the Baptist, Rochdale
Photo: © Alex Ramsay Photography

 

There is an opportunity – and a desperate need – for churches that are architectural gems to be restored. These heritage buildings may serve as places of prayer and quiet reflection for all

Times have changed: the church of All Saints, Barton upon Irwell, once had a tranquil riverside setting beside the estate of one of Manchester’s great recusant families, the de Traffords. Now it is next to the Manchester Ship Canal and the biggest industrial estate in Europe.

Sir Humphrey de Trafford spared no expense, hiring the foremost Catholic architect of the day, Edward Welby Pugin, son of Augustus Welby Pugin, to build a parish church that incorporated the family’s chantry chapel. Designed in the neo-Gothic style with soaring arches in stripes of pink and white stone, it has a Grade I listing and is described by Pevsner as the architect’s “masterwork”.

The sanctuary is particularly beautiful, with a ceiling painted in gold leaf, and a graceful high altar of white Caen limestone decorated with precious marbles. A wall painting shows Edward Pugin himself, among local worthies, kneeling in prayer and holding his plan for the church.

Today, thousands drive past this church each day with no inkling of its glorious interior. All Saints is no longer a parish church, and its custodians are the Greyfriars, who once used the site as their novitiate and centre for printing The Crusader magazine. The church is open for Mass just twice a month.

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