Category Archives: Sacred Places

Providential curry

Former Providence Place Congregational Chapel, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Former Providence Place Congregational Chapel, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

When my curry-loving mate Richard and I go to Bradford to meet my friend Mohammed he usually takes us to one of the many curry houses in inner-city Bradford, but on our last meeting we set off on a mystery tour to Cleckheaton.

Our destination was Aakash, which claims to be the largest curry house in the world.

It occupies the former Providence Place Congregational Chapel of 1857-1859, a gigantic temple of nonconformity designed by the prestigious Bradford practice of Henry Francis Lockwood and William Mawson, who built much that is fine in the Bradford area in the mid-nineteenth century including St George’s Hall (1851-52), the Wool Exchange (1864-7), the City Hall (1869-73), and almost every building in Saltaire (1851-76).

Providence Chapel cost about £9,000, an impressive sum that sounds considerable until it’s compared with the £16,000 that Sir Titus Salt spent on the Congregational Church in Saltaire.  At the time you could get a modest but respectable Gothic parish church for around £4,000.

For their money, Cleckheaton Congregationalists were given seating for 1,500 and a grandeur that would flatter a municipal town hall.  Its ashlar façade has a giant portico of five unfluted Corinthian columns supporting a pediment containing a roundel, surrounded by carved foliage, with the inscription “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men”.  In front are cast-iron gates and lamp standards.

Listed Grade II*, the chapel was described in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England as “amazingly pompous for a religious building”.

It closed in 1991 when the remaining congregation combined with the amalgamated Spendborough Group of United Reformed Churches at Grove, Gomersal, and it became an Indian restaurant founded by a former taxi-rank owner, Mohammad Iqbal Tabassum.

It was named Aakash, the Urdu word for “sky”, and the coffered ceiling was painted with clouds.

The box pews inevitably went and the rake of the gallery floor was levelled, but the organ and the pulpit, described by a reviewer at the time as “skip-sized”, remained as a “lookout post” for the restaurant manager.

Sometime before 2008 it closed and reopened under new management.  Perhaps that was when the pulpit was replaced by a series of staircases linking the main floor with the gallery.  The organ pipes remain, heavily painted, but the organ has gone.

The buffet-style curry is as splendid as the surroundings:  http://aakashrestaurant.co.uk.

St Cecilia’s – starting a new chapter

St Cecilia's Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield:  baptistery (2014)

St Cecilia’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield: baptistery (2013)

Some years ago I made a nuisance of myself querying the determination of the Diocese of Sheffield to demolish the attractive 1939 parish church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross:

Last week I received a letter from the Church Commissioners (because I’d made a formal objection to the demolition in 2013) notifying me that St Cecilia’s has at last been closed and the daughter-church of St Bernard of Clairvaux is the parish church with effect from August 16th 2018.

St Bernard’s was completed, using recycled bricks from the demolished mansion at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, in 1954 as one of two mission churches in the vast Parson Cross parish.

The other church, Christ the King, Deerlands Avenue, was consecrated on the afternoon of the first Sheffield Blitz, December 12th 1940.  It closed in 1970 and was sold:  it became a Roman Catholic social club, St Patrick’s, and is now a showroom.

The notice of closure indicates that St Cecilia’s “shall be appropriate to use for residential purposes and for purposes ancillary thereto”, and “the contents of the old church building shall be disposed of as the Bishop shall direct”, in line with the Draft Pastoral Scheme about which I posted an article in 2016.

It’s probably the best possible outcome.

It saves the residents of Chaucer Close from the noise and mess of a brick-by-brick demolition.

It preserves an unobtrusive but attractive building on a housing estate that has few landmarks, having lost an outstanding but unlisted cinema in 2013.

I’ll be interested to see how this wide building, with a nave and two aisles, adapts to housing.

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Paola, Malta

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Paola, Malta

It’s easy to explore Malta, which is not a big island, by red double-deck open-top tourist bus for €20 for one day, €37 for two:  http://www.citysightseeing.com.mt/en/home.htm.

I chose to buy a seven-day Explorer pass from Malta Public Transport for €21:  https://www.publictransport.com.mt/en/bus-card-and-ticketing.  (Indeed, the ExplorerPlus card at €39 includes ferry-rides and a day on the open-topper.)

Breezing around the island on a succession of service buses, I spotted the distinctive Gothic outline of the chapel of Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery [The Cemetery of St Mary of Sorrows] on Tal-Horr hill at Paola, just south of Valletta.

The lady in the bus station information booth recommended an 81 or 82 bus, and assured me there was a stop labelled Addolorata.  What she didn’t tell me, because she presumably hadn’t ever travelled to the cemetery by bus, was that though the inbound Addolorata bus stop is right by the cemetery gates, there are two outbound bus stops, one for each route, both labelled Addolorata, neither of them anywhere near the cemetery.

I got off at the one by the prison – Addolorata is indeed a suburb of sorrows – and with directions from a succession of passers-by, walked for at least half an hour before I reached the cemetery gates.

Addolorata Cemetery is a classic example of a mid-Victorian landscaped cemetery, built 1862-1868, opened 1869 but not actually used until 1872.

Designed by the Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia (1830-1907), it makes use of the steep site:  graded drives and flights of steps divide terraces of superb mausolea, many of them still in use and immaculately kept.

Galizia travelled in Italy, France and England to undertake extensive research into contemporary ideas about cemetery design.

The delicate Strawberry Hill gothic stonework of the entrance court and the simple Gothic of the cemetery church contrast with the predominance of Baroque church architecture throughout the island.

There are 268 Commonwealth war graves within the cemetery, along with a plot for the remains of French servicemen.

It was run by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin until they relinquished responsibility to the Maltese government in 2011.

There has been recent press comment suggesting that the cemetery is not well maintained:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170401/local/addolorata-cemetery-in-pieces-not-in-peace.644064.

Photography is not allowed within the cemetery, and there is a conflict in local attitudes about how the place should be used and respected.  A recent survey indicated that about seventy per cent of interviewees were not in favour of photographs or video recordings being made on the cemetery grounds, yet 72.5% of respondents wanted to have organised tours of the site:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20171120/community/the-addolorata-cemetery-a-unique-cultural-asset.663594.

Indeed, there is widespread recognition of the broad appeal of Addolorata to Maltese people and visitors who have no direct family connection with it:  https://lovinmalta.com/opinion/survey/30-of-addolorata-cemeterys-visitors-arent-there-to-visit-family-graves.

Though extensive research has been written up for academic theses [https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160529/letters/addolorata-and-our-cultural-heritage.613597], there appears to be no publication celebrating this magnificent necropolis.

I was content to enjoy walking around the cemetery admiring the tombs and reading the inscriptions, but I’d have valued the opportunity to learn more about it as well.

Zion Graveyard 2

Zion Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Zion Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield

The Friends of Zion Graveyard have made great progress since their inauguration last May:  they have secured funds to buy the land from the United Reformed Church, and have continued to clear the graves which had become buried in undergrowth.

In the course of researching the Zion Congregational Church which stood on the site I’ve become fascinated by the history of the congregation, which stretches back almost continuously to the early history of Dissent in Sheffield.

Attercliffe and Carbrook, two of the three villages in the Lower Don Valley, were centres of Puritan and later Dissenting activity from before the Civil War, when Hill Top Chapel was built as a chapel-of-ease to Sheffield Parish Church (now the Anglican Cathedral).

There was a college for training Dissenting clergy at Attercliffe Old Hall in the late seventeenth-century, and informal congregations worshipped in several locations north of Sheffield during the eighteenth century.

A temporary chapel was built on the site that became the Zion Sabbath School in 1793, and a permanent building was erected on the opposite side of what became Zion Lane in 1805.  The existing Sabbath School building dates from 1854, and a fine Romanesque brick chapel with a tower and spire was opened in 1863.  This building was demolished after a fire in June 1987.

The 1863 chapel was founded on the energetic ministry of Rev John Calvert (1832-1922), who was invited to become minister in 1857.

His leadership made Zion Church prominent, until its attendances exceeded any other place of worship in Attercliffe.  Zion members helped to form branch churches in Brightside and Darnall, and a mission church at Baldwin Street, half a mile away.

When Mr Calvert retired to Southport in 1895 he named his house ‘Attercliffe’.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Zion was the largest Congregational community, measured by membership, in Sheffield:  it had four hundred members when the four city-centre chapels each had around three hundred each.

To accommodate the Sunday School and young people’s activities, in 1911 the congregation opened an extensive Institute next to the chapel, designed by the Sheffield architects Hemsoll & Chapman, whose best surviving building is Cavendish Buildings on West Street.  When first built, the Institute offered football, cricket, tennis, a gymnasium and a literary and debating section to young members of the congregation.

This vigorous Christian community filled its extensive buildings for only twenty years.  By 1930 the Sabbath School was leased as a printing works, and after the Second World War rooms in the Institute were leased to the Ministry of Works for use by civil-service departments.

Gale-damage in 1962 made the church itself unusable, and services moved next door into the Institute.  Zion Congregational Church closed entirely at the end of 1969 when the congregation amalgamated with Darnall Congregational Church.

Photographic evidence shows that the Institute building was completely demolished by July 1977.

The Church continued to be used as a furniture store until a serious fire on June 22nd 1987 led to its subsequent demolition.

Now only the Sabbath School and the graveyard remain – unobtrusive monuments to a long, proud tradition of Nonconformist worship in north Sheffield.

On Thursday May 24th the Friends of Zion Graveyard present Mike Higginbottom’s talk on Victorian Cemeteries at the Upper Wincobank Chapel, Sheffield.  For further details, please click here.

Christmas in a T-shirt: St Maarten

Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

When my friend Jenny and I cruised the eastern Caribbean in 2011, one of our stops was in the tiny town of Philipsburg in the divided island which is the Dutch Sint Maarten in the south and the French St Martin in the north.

I’d have liked to explore both halves of this fascinating place, which was named by Christopher Columbus and has been divided since the Treaty of Concordia of 1648.

But when you’re on a cruise you can’t afford to miss the boat.

So Jenny and I settled for refreshing cool drinks at the Fire House [https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g147347-d2618585-Reviews-Firehouse_Bar_and_Restaurant-Philipsburg_Sint_Maarten_St_Maarten_St_Martin.html], a shrine for emergency workers on holiday.

It sits on the Boardwalk, overlooking the beach and the beach-umbrellas.

But even the sunny, unassuming Philipsburg has history connections I can recognise.

One block in from the Boardwalk, on the Voorstraat [Front Street], stands Philipsburg Methodist Church, which at the time was celebrating its 160th anniversary.

I’m used to nonconformist churches in Britain having annual anniversary festivals, but I wasn’t expecting to see one in the Caribbean.

In fact, there seems to have been a Methodist presence on St Maarten since the mid-eighteenth century.

There has been a chapel on Voorstraat since 1851, hence the anniversary, though the present building, with its tile-hung façade, slim porch and stubby little tower, is a reconstruction of 1957.

There are images of its galleried interior at http://filipdemuinck-kristelpardon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-methodist-church-of-philipsburg-st.html.

I wrote this article, and last year’s article on Martinique, before the Caribbean suffered significant hurricane damage in 2017.

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.