Category Archives: Sacred Places

Exploring Melbourne – St Silas’ Church, Albert Park

St Silas' Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

St Silas’ Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

As I rode up and down the 96 tram-route between my hotel in St Kilda and central Melbourne, I kept noticing an elegant brick church across the road from the Albert Park tram stop, so one morning I took the opportunity to investigate.

It’s the parish church of St Silas [http://www.parishoftheparks.com.au/our-building.html], designed in 1925 by Louis Williams (1890-1980), a prolific Australian church architect and a committed proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement well into the post-war period.  His life and work are analysed in Gladys Moore’s 2001 Master’s degree thesis:  https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/38261/300554_MOORE%20vol.%201.pdf.

St Silas’ replaced a wooden church that had served the community since 1879 and, if it had been completed to Louis Williams’ design, would have been spectacular both inside and out.

Unfortunately, the economic depression of 1929 onwards interrupted construction, and only the chancel without its side chapels, the north transept and the first two bays of the nave were constructed.

In 1961 the church was divided horizontally:  the ground floor was adapted to serve as the church hall, and the worship space occupies the upper half of Louis Williams’ intended volume.

The result is particularly attractive inside, especially as the lack of a south transept brings huge amounts of natural light through a great window that fills the crossing arch.

Outside, the result is less satisfactory:  the contrary sloping roofs express the staircases within, but the junction with Louis Williams’ sheer brick walls is abrupt.

When the nearby 1919 church of St Anselm, Middle Park, closed in 2001 the two parishes combined, and St Anselm’s glass and other fittings were brought to St Silas’.

But for this chance visit to St Silas’, where I was made very welcome by the parishioners preparing for Sunday services, I’d have been unlikely to know of Louis Williams’ greatest work, St Andrew’s Church, Brighton (1961-62), which is both a magnificent essay in stripped mid-twentieth century Gothic, taking further the massive proportions of Sir Edwin Maufe’s Guildford Cathedral, and also a neat reuse of a the remains of an older destroyed church, in this case a fire-damaged 1857 nave, in a similar way to Sir Basil Spence’s incorporation of the bombed ruins alongside the new Coventry Cathedral:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrew%27s_Church,_Brighton#/media/File:St_Andrew%27s_Church,_Brighton,_West_Front.jpg.

The spire and the minaret

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

The multicultural, multi-faith nature of the local community, depicted in the Channel 4 documentary Keeping up with the Khans (2016) [http://www.channel4.com/programmes/keeping-up-with-the-khans], has a remarkable architectural expression in the buildings of Trinity Methodist Church, Firvale, Sheffield, which has closed because its congregation felt they could no longer maintain their large, listed building:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/a-120-year-old-sheffield-church-to-close-due-to-cost-of-upkeep-1-8561680.

The church was built in 1899, designed by the Derby architect John Wills (1846-1906), a prolific builder of nonconformist churches and chapels.  The Gothic design is remarkably church-like, with a chancel, an altar and a tall spire that dominates the narrow fork of the junction between Firth Park Road and Owler Lane.

This High-Church Methodist layout, unusual in north Sheffield, is more often found in the affluent south-western suburbs.

The interior, split to provide meeting rooms in 1979-81, still retains its alabaster pulpit and font, and a three-manual Wilcox organ.

The adjacent Sunday School, added in 1907, was sold in 1976 and has become the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, carefully extended with a domed minaret that echoes the Gothic spire at the other end of the complex.

The church itself was put up for sale, with a price of £375,000, early in 2017.

The departure of the Methodists diminishes the symbolism of the two groups of worshippers as neighbours.  It will be interesting to see whether the church is taken over by the Muslim congregation or put to some other use.

Christians and Muslims remain neighbours in the heart of Firvale, however, because the Anglican parish church of St Cuthbert continues its work, with a well-designed community centre leading from the north aisle, opened in 2014:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/community-boost-from-new-sheffield-church-1-6698115.

St Cuthbert’s is a building of quality, dating shortly after the opening of Trinity Methodist Church.  It was built 1901-5, designed by John Dodsley Webster (d 1913) whose many Sheffield buildings included the recently demolished Jessop Hospital for Women.

The diminutive tower of 1959 is an unfortunate addition.  However, the church contains fine stained glass by Archibald Davis (1877-1953) of the Bromsgrove Guild, including a particularly beautiful war-memorial east window depicting the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Whatever happens to the Trinity Methodist Church buildings, the Christians and the Muslims will continue to be neighbours and no doubt will work together for the good of the local community.

St Cuthbert's Church, Firvale, Sheffield:  east window

St Cuthbert’s Church, Firvale, Sheffield: east window

Exploring Melbourne – William Wilkinson Wardell

St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia

The architect William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899) is a classic example of the British expatriates who made their career in the growing cities of mid-nineteenth-century Australia.

A Londoner, born in Poplar, a Catholic convert and a pupil of the Gothic Revival architect A W N Pugin, he had designed or restored at least thirty English churches when at the age of thirty-five he and his family emigrated to Melbourne and he was appointed Government Architect.

As such he was responsible for the design of Government House (1871-6) in an Italianate style that hinted at Prince Albert’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.  He also designed the noble Gothic St Patrick’s Cathedral (1857-1897) and, later in his career, St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney (1868-1928).

In his private practice, which ran alongside his government work, he built the flamboyant ANZ Gothic Bank, Collins Street, Melbourne (1883-1887) and the Australasian Steam Navigation Co Building, The Rock, Sydney (1884).

Inevitably, his position in Melbourne’s government and Catholic circles meant that he built numerous parish churches, including St Mary’s Catholic Church, East St Kilda (1858), where Wardell and his family worshipped, and the magnificent St Ignatius’ Catholic Church, Richmond (begun 1867), both in the basalt bluestone characteristic of Victoria, quarried in north Melbourne.

William Wilkinson Wardell is an example of the pioneering English architects – others include the Southwark-born Edmund Blacket (1817-1883) and Ipswich-born Benjamin Backhouse (1829-1904) – who brought their expertise to Australia in the days before the new colonies could call on a generation of Australian-born architects.

Chapel of ease

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

It’s no accident that the main road through Attercliffe, the industrial east end of Sheffield, is called Attercliffe Common.

Until 1811 it was indeed agricultural common land, where the highwayman Spence Broughton was gibbeted in 1792 near to the scene of his crime.  His name and the location are commemorated in nearby Broughton Lane.

After the enclosure the salubrious country homes and villas of the valley were overrun by steelworks and housing, so that only their names survive in the street-plan – Attercliffe Old and New Halls, Woodbourn Hall and Chippingham House, though part of the Jacobean Carbrook Hall, with its original panelling, plaster ceilings and ghost, survived and still survives as a public house.

Of similar age to Carbrook Hall is another unlikely survival, Hill Top Chapel, a simple Gothic-survival building of 1629, built ostensibly because the journey to Sheffield parish church, now the Cathedral, was said to be impossible in winter.

It was built by subscription, with contributions from William Spencer of Attercliffe Hall and Stephen Bright (1583-1642) of Carbrook Hall.  His younger brother Rev John Bright (1594/5-1643) was vicar of Sheffield from 1635 until the year of his death.  Both of them, like most influential people in Sheffield, were Puritans.

Stephen Bright’s son, John (1619-1688), was an important figure supporting Parliament in the Civil Wars, and politically astute enough to be awarded a baronetcy at the Restoration.  He retired to Badsworth, near Wakefield.

The Brights’ puritan influence remained in Attercliffe, where a dissenting academy was founded in 1686.

The steelmaker Benjamin Huntsman was buried in the Hill Top graveyard in 1776.

The Hill Top Chapel remained the only Anglican place of worship between Sheffield and Rotherham until a new parish church, Christ Church, Attercliffe, was consecrated in 1826. 

By the 1840s the chapel served only for funerals in the surrounding graveyard. 

After Attercliffe Cemetery opened in 1859 alongside Christ Church, even that function declined, yet the chapel and the graveyard survived amid the grimy industrial works and densely packed streets of terraced housing.

The structure was reduced and substantially rebuilt by John Dodsley Webster in 1909.

The exterior featured in the music video of ‘Sensoria’, by the Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2vCpT1H7u0 – made in 1984, an interesting moment of change in the landscape of the Lower Don Valley.

In the late 1990s Hill Top Chapel accommodated an offshoot of the Nine o’Clock Service [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/nine-oclock-church-relaunches-services-1303804.html], which was witnessed by a bemused mystery worshipper from the Ship of Fools website:  http://shipoffools.com/mystery/1998/026Mystery.html.

The building is now used, appropriately, by a Presbyterian congregation that proudly recalls the building’s Puritan heritage:  http://sheffieldpres.org.uk/about-us/hill-top-chapel.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

San Sebastian Church, Manila

Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, Manila, Philippines

Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, Manila, Philippines

Deep within the hot, noisy, grimy centre of Manila, in the district of Quiapo, stands one of the most remarkable nineteenth-century churches anywhere.  It’s not a place that many tourists reach, though it’s not far from Manila’s old walled town, Intramuros.

The Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, or San Sebastian Church in English, is fabricated entirely of steel:  its exterior is unmistakably metallic because it looks like a cardboard wedding cake;  the interior is a scholarly and innovative essay in pure Gothic Revival, designed by a Spanish architect, Genaro Palacios, then the director of public works in Manila, and fabricated by a Belgian company, the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques, which sent over fifty tons of castings to be erected by local labour.

San Sebastian Church was intended as a permanent replacement for the last of a succession of earlier churches, the first in timber, the others in brick, that had succumbed to fire or earthquake since 1651.  Its priest, Esteban Martínez, was a member of the Order of the Augustinian Recollects, a contemplative order that had played a major part in evangelising the Philippine islands from the seventeenth century onwards.  He was determined that the new church should be fire-resistant and earthquake-proof.

Before construction began it was designated as a Minor Basilica by Pope Leo XIII and it was completed, from first column to consecration, within a year in 1890-1.

Inside, the steel looks like stone, most of the surfaces painted gloomy grey with faded images of saints.  The proportions are authentically European Gothic:  indeed, the only real giveaway is that the piers are square in section with rounded corners.  The transepts don’t protrude from the aisles, and the crossing between the transepts is lit by a vaulted octagonal tower very like Ely Cathedral. 

The interior is light and airy because there are plenty of stained-glass windows, and the great steel doors at the west end and each transept are left open, so the nave chandeliers sway gently in the breeze.  As often in Catholic countries, a constant stream of people came in to pray and go again.

There’s no evidence, and indeed little likelihood, that Gustave Eiffel was involved in its design.  Perhaps his name has attached to the building by association, like the Martinique buildings of Pierre-Henri Picq (1833-1911) – or the numerous late-seventeenth century English buildings that were once hopefully ascribed to Inigo Jones.

As an island of calm in the bustle of the city, it is a welcoming place. 

Christmas in a T-shirt: Martinique

Cathedrale de Saint-Louis, Fort de France, Martinique

Cathedrale de Saint-Louis, Fort de France, Martinique

Cruises are a good way to explore the world superficially.  A few hours on dry land is only long enough to sniff the atmosphere.

When my friend Jenny and I took a Caribbean cruise in 2011 my priority at our first port of call, Fort de France on the French island of Martinique, was to buy a pair of jeans, having omitted to pack any informal trousers.

My French is limited.  I now know that you should ask for le jeanLes jeans is apparently permissible, but you may get more than you bargained for.

Once that mission was accomplished Jenny and I wandered around Fort de France and drank mojito at Le Foyaal (now apparently closed):  https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g147328-d1567683-Reviews-Le_Foyaal-Fort_de_France_Arrondissement_of_Fort_de_France_Martinique.html.

I intended to follow the cruise spirit and simply idle away my days in tropical luxury, but my history antennae twitched when we passed the Cathedrale de Saint-Louis (1895), which looked for all the world like a British Commissioners’ Church but in Roman-Byzantine style, tricked out in tan and brown decoration with a tower and spire 186 feet high.

The building was being renovated, so we couldn’t go inside.  I simply photographed the exterior and looked it up later.

In fact, it’s an interesting and significant building, the seventh on the site since 1657.  The sixth church was destroyed in the great fire of Fort de France on June 22nd 1890, and a temporary repair-job was swept away by a cyclone the following year.

After this latest in a succession of natural disasters, the Archdiocese resolved to build an iron-framed structure that would resist hurricanes, storms and earthquakes.

The design of St Louis’ Cathedral is by Pierre-Henri Picq (1833-1911), who had worked alongside the ubiquitous Gustav Eiffel (1832-1923) in France.  Picq built the Palais du Chili [Chile Pavilion] for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle for which Eiffel’s great tower was the landmark.

Both men used their knowledge of iron construction to construct public buildings abroad.  Eiffel, for instance, is responsible for the General Post Office (1886-1891) in Saigon, Vietnam.

Judging by photographs, the interior of Picq’s St Louis’ Cathedral [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Louis_Cathedral,_Fort-de-France#/media/File:Cath%C3%A9drale_de_Fort_de_France_-_Int%C3%A9rieur.jpg], is glorious – light, colourful and unmistakably iron rather than masonry.

Despite its iron construction, an earthquake in 1953 destabilised the tower so that the spire had to be dismantled.  A replacement spire was installed in a restoration programme of 1976-9.

Since the cathedral was designated a historic monument in 1990, successive restoration programmes have taken place.

Picq also designed the Bibliothèque Schœlcher [Schœlcher Library] (1893), commemorating Victor Schœlcher (1804-1893), the French abolitionist writer and Martinique politician.  The Library is recognisably by the same hand, in an eclectic Byzantine style, making use of an iron frame, glass, tiles and mosaic.

Another of Picq’s buildings in Fort de France is the Magasin du Printemps (1901).

You don’t see much of a place when you arrive on a cruise ship.  The way to know anywhere is to stay there, and in most places there are interesting buildings to look out for.

If I ever find my way back to Martinique, I now know what else there is to see.

Take a pew

Bench-end, Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull

Bench-end, Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull

Years ago, when I was involved with what was then called the Main Committee of the Victorian Society, I recall overhearing a conversation in which someone was indignant that “…they want to punch a doorway through the east end of the church, and it’s a Grade II* listed building!”

Years later, preparing a Birmingham’s Heritage tour, I wandered into All Saints’ Church, Small Heath, and eventually realised that this was the church in question.  In fact, it’s a model conversion that retains most if not all of the original features, radically reordered to suit modern worship needs.

The Victorian Society lost that particular case, but the building still stands, recognisably intact, and continues its Christian mission in what is now a predominantly Muslim area.

I took my Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour-group to Saltaire, for lunch at what was then the Vicars Café Bistro (now the Saltaire Canteen).  One of our members was a retired Anglican canon, to whom I pointed out the Bradford Cathedral choir CDs on sale, and remarked that Vicars was run by vicars.  He replied that it’s possible to do a great deal to further the Gospel without preaching.

More recently, I’ve taken my Humber Heritage tour group to Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull, shortly to be redesignated Hull Minster and the subject of a radical reordering scheme which aims to bring members of the public, whether or not they embrace the Christian faith, into the building for all sorts of purposes:  http://www.holytrinityhull.com/amazing-development.

In the process, the church authorities wish to clear the nave of pews, returning it, as they say, to its medieval emptiness and flexibility.

The Victorian Society objects to the scheme, and I can see their point.  The beautiful, highly individual pews, carved by George Peck in the 1840s, are a huge cultural asset and deserve to be kept, or at least kept together.

I haven’t the remotest clue how to resolve this conflict, because I support the conservationist principles of our major amenity societies at the same time that I’m concerned to see the Church of England find useful purposes for its stock of beautiful buildings and their contents.

And I hope Peck’s pews remain intact.

The cakes at Café Trinity in the south choir aisle are heavenly:  http://www.holytrinityhull.com/cafe.

Update:  The pews are coming out, to be truncated and returned in a state that makes them removable:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4233202/Britain-s-largest-parish-church-removes-pews-concerts.html and http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/houlton-starts-stripping-out-victorian-pews-in-hull-s-holy-trinity-church/story-30132370-detail/story.html.

Not-so-primitive Methodists

Former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

Former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

When I took my Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016) group to the Wilderspin National School at Barton-on-Humber we were among the first to see the current restoration of the Primitive Methodist Chapel next door to the school.

The Primitive Methodists were a break-away group that followed a simpler, more frugal style of worship than the Wesleyans.  They have a reputation for plain, unostentatious buildings but the Barton-on-Humber example is relatively grand.

It was built, with its associated Sunday School, in eight months flat in 1867 in polychrome brick to the Romanesque designs of Joseph Wright (1818-1885).

Joseph Wright was a prolific architect of Primitive Methodist chapels and a pupil of Cuthbert Brodrick, the Hull-born architect of Leeds Town Hall and the Grand Hotel, Scarborough.  At the time Barton belonged within the Hull circuit of its denomination.

The existing house next door, No 2 Queen Street, was adapted for the chapel caretaker after it had been shortened to make way for the new chapel by removing the left-hand bay.

For their outlay of £1,500 the Barton Primitive Methodists got an imposing building with an impressive galleried interior, seating six hundred.

It was arguably as impressive as the Wesleyans’ Trinity Methodist Chapel of 1861 on Chapel Lane:  it dominates the National School next door and holds up alongside the surrounding public buildings on Queen Street, the Temperance Hall (1843) opposite, the Oddfellows’ Hall (1864) on the corner and the Police Station (1847) round the corner on High Street.

Twenty-two years after the opening, the congregation ordered an elaborate organ by the Hull manufacturer Forster & Andrews.  This was sold in the early 1960s to St Andrew’s Parish Church, Immingham;  it moved on in 1996 to All Saints’ parish church, Pickwell, Leicestershire.

Most of the disparate branches of Methodism united in 1932, and the Barton-on-Humber congregations joined together in the Trinity Methodist building in 1960.

The Primitive Methodist chapel closed after Easter Day 1961, and it was sold to the Salvation Army, which reopened it on May 22nd 1965.  They inserted a floor at gallery level and removed the ground-floor pews.  Most of the gallery pews, the fine plaster ceiling and the round arch that framed the organ case remained.

Latterly the Queen Street School Preservation Trust, owners of the Wilderspin National School, has taken over the chapel building as an extension of their premises.

Birthplace of gospel music

Pilgrim Baptist Church, Bronzeville, Chicago

Pilgrim Baptist Church, Bronzeville, Chicago

Buildings by the Chicago architects Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan are precious both for their quality and their rarity.  In Chicago itself, their Auditorium Building and the exquisite Getty Tomb are celebrated, but their Old Chicago Stock Exchange Building was demolished in 1972, and one of their most powerful and resonant surviving structures in the city faces an uncertain future.

The Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville, south of the Loop, was originally built in 1890-1 as the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue.  Dankmar Adler’s father, Liebman, was rabbi there.

This powerful corner-site building was sold in 1922 to the Pilgrim Baptist Church which had been founded in 1915.  It is celebrated as the birthplace of black gospel music:  its music director from 1932 was Thomas A Dorsey (1899-1993), writer of – among much else – ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’.  In 1936-7 the interior was decorated with murals by the African-American painter William Edouard Scott (1884-1864).

Its spectacular interior and excellent acoustics [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilgrim_Baptist_Church#/media/File:Pilgrim_Baptist_HABS_ILL-1054.jpg] derived from the metal-clad timber superstructure  that almost doubled the height of the robust masonry walls, which feature round-arched windows and a monumental entrance, embellished with the inscription, in Hebrew and English, “Open for me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them, to praise the Lord” [Psalm 118 v 19].

When the roof caught fire during restoration work on January 6th 2006 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2R9V7LiHYI] the interior was completely destroyed but more than three quarters of the walls survived.  They remain supported by an obtrusive steel scaffold while plans for either a complete restoration or conversion to a memorial garden are stalled by controversy and litigation:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-pilgrim-baptist-rebuild-met-20150723-story.html.

There is an extended essay about the Pilgrim Baptist Church by Lynn Becker, ‘Kaddish for a Legendary Church’, http://www.lynnbecker.com/repeat/pilgrim/pilgrim.htm (2005-6).

Undisturbed by Victorian hands: Kirk Malew, Isle of Man

Kirk Malew, Isle of Man

Kirk Malew, Isle of Man

Change comes very slowly in the Isle of Man.

Kirk Malew, the ancient parish church for Castletown, then the capital of the island, probably dates from the twelfth century, though an earlier cell, or keill, probably occupied the site in the centuries before.

The core of the church is a simple rectangle, combining nave and chancel, with a bell turret added c1770.

The chancel was rebuilt in 1781, and two years later a substantial north wing with a raked floor – much more an auditorium than a transept – was added and the entire interior filled with box pews.

A gallery was added for the Billowne family in 1818.

Not only does the interior retain the customary box pews of an eighteenth-century church, it is an odd-shaped space, a T-plan which forces some members of the congregation to face the organ rather than the altar.

The Victorian period brought little change – a window by William Wales of Newcastle (1843) and another signed by the mid-nineteenth century artists Baillie and Mayer.  The old church, dedicated to St Lupus, declined in importance after the opening of St Mary’s in the centre of Castletown, a mile and a half away, in 1828, and Castletown itself lost prestige when the Manx parliament, Tynwald, moved to Douglas in 1869.

Its most recent addition is the Manx artist Bryan Kneale’s monument to Illiam Dhone, “Brown-haired William”, otherwise William Christian, the Receiver of the Island and latterly Governor during the Commonwealth period, executed arbitrarily in 1663.  His nickel-silver bust gazes at the site of his burial in the chancel.

Even though St Lupus’ church is no longer the parish church of Castletown, a tradition remains that each Bishop of Sodor & Man preaches his first and last sermon in the diocese at Kirk Malew.