The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Sacred Suburbs

Angela Connelly and Matthew Steele (Modernist Society, £7 themodernist.org)

Reviewed by Robert Drake

This is a handy folder of leaflets about post-war churches in Greater Manchester. There is one place of worship per local authority in Greater Manchester, and three in the City of Manchester itself – 12 in total. This includes Wythenshawe, the largest housing estate in Europe when built in the 1930s. RC churches predominate but there are also four interesting non-conformist churches: Unitarian, Methodist, Congregational and Baptist. Of the three Anglican churches, two are by George Pace: the William Temple Memorial Church in Wythenshawe (1965) and St Mark’s, Chadderton (1963), both listed, and one by Maguire and Murray, the Ascension, Hulme (1970). Also listed is the fan-shaped St Jude’s RC, Worsley Mesnes (1964), the church for Wigan by the leading RC practice in the North West, L A G Prichard & Son.

Also covered are the new liturgy; faith in planning; art and the modern church; and the big brick Byzantine basilicas so typical of the 1950s pre-Vatican Council style as exemplified here. By the 1960s more revolutionary shapes appeared, such as at St Mary, Our Lady of Sorrow, Denton by Walter Stirrup & Son which has a hyperbolic paraboloid roof (the 1963 St John the Baptist, Ermine in Lincoln by Sam Scorer is not the only one). A (rather hard to read) pictographic map of Greater Manchester identifies a further 42 churches.

Sacred Suburbs underlines the need for a thematic review of churches of all denominations for this intensive and innovative period of church building. This is already happening for the RC church (and the Quakers) but needs to be extended urgently. Most churches from 1945 to 1975 are unlisted, little known and at risk of closure if congregations decline or structural repairs are needed which parish or diocese feel they cannot afford.