When I was collecting signatures for the petition to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield, a gentleman who knows a thing or two about historic building conservation told me a scurrilous tale suggesting that listed-building inspectors aren’t always infallible.
Apparently the very fine Italianate St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, Pitsmoor, Sheffield was originally listed Grade II and dated “c1860”.
In fact, the original, temporary St Catherine’s by M E Hadfield & Son was built in 1884 on an entirely different site on Andover Street.
Eventually, the very fine permanent church that stands on the corner of Burngreave Road and Melrose Street was built to designs by the Halifax architects Charles Edward Fox & Son and consecrated with great ceremony in 1926.
Its interior is sumptuous: black marble columns with Carrara capitals support a coffered ceiling over the nave. The aisles are vaulted. The chancel apse has a mosaic frieze with a cornice of Connemara marble, under which stands a baldachino, its canopy supporting a statue of Christ the King.
I’m told that when this date came to light English Heritage promptly delisted it on the grounds that it was so recent – and so old-fashioned for its date.
I’ve found no evidence to back this story, except that St Catherine’s does not appear on the current English Heritage list.
The fact that an authentic-looking Italian basilica was planted in the midst of inner-city Sheffield in the year of the General Strike is actually more significant than if it was simply a mid-Victorian Italianate church.
On the night of its consecration – the Feast of St Catherine – the Bishop of Leeds carried the Sacred Host from the temporary church to the new building in a torchlit procession. Two thousand Sheffield Catholics turned out to witness their faith, and Canon Charles Leteux pointed out in an address to the crowds that “their public procession made history, for not twenty years before, a similar function in London had been banned by the orders of the Prime Minister”.
Apparently, the legislation banning public processions by clergy and members of the Roman Catholic Church was repealed soon after St Catherine’s opened.
It’s salutary to consider the power and energy that invested organised religion in Britain up to the Second World War.
For this reason, apart from its aesthetic value, St Catherine’s deserves to be recognised for its historic interest. Fortunately, this church apparently continues to thrive, unlike so many.