Church going

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield:  interior view towards liturgical east (December 2011)

St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield: interior view towards liturgical east (December 2011)

Photo:  Midlands Churchcrawler

I’ve learned more about the plight of St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield as a result of my earlier article.

It seems that the verbal information on which Matthew Saunders, Secretary of the Ancient Monuments Society, based his report in the recent Newsletter was perhaps over-dramatic.

Recent images by an urban explorer show that though the building has indeed been repeatedly vandalised, the attempts at arson have not caused major damage, and that George Pace and Ron Sims’ screen and the eighteenth-century organ case from the bombed church of St James remain, battered but intact.

I sense that the vandals’ acrobatics on the roof could only have been motivated by a search for scrap:  since the roof itself is tiled, the most likely source of scrap metal would have been the organ pipes, if they remained in situ.

The Council for the Care of Churches 2006 report on the building describes it as “striking…very ambitious…for its setting…[with] considerable townscape value” and in conclusion commented, “A fine church by an architect whose work deserves to be re-evaluated, with a particularly good and dramatic…interior.”

It ends:  “The Council has previously voiced concern about the number of churches of this period being considered for redundancy, and thought this church of a quality comparable to many listed churches.”

A private individual has lodged an application for emergency listing with English Heritage, making a judgement that there remains enough about the building to justify listed-building protection.

I can understand entirely why the Church of England authorities are anxious to divest themselves of liability for a redundant structure.  They have enough work to do in their Christian mission.

However, I don’t see why that must involve destroying the local heritage.  I’ve yet to hear of any positive proposal to use the site in any new way.

St Hilda’s, prominent on its ridge about Firth Park, belongs to the locality.  It offers substantial, well-built space for local people’s social activities.

If it remains standing, someone in the future can find a worthwhile use for it.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone for ever.

One less twentieth-century suburban church makes the others that remain marginally more valuable.

And with it would go a relatively economical opportunity to offer local people somewhere to congregate, which St Hilda’s was for decades before, during and after the Second World War. Philip Larkin, in his poem ‘Church going’ [The Less Deceived, 1955], asked – When churches will fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into…? “Rubble” was not the answer he was looking for.

The failed campaign to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen is featured in Demolished Sheffield, a 112-page full colour A4 publication by Mike Higginbottom.

For details please click here.

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