When I went looking for the site of the Zion Congregational Church in 2017 while reconnoitring my Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe, all that could be seen through the boundary fence was a twelve-foot-high jungle.
Coincidentally, that was the summer when the group that maintains the undenominational Upper Wincobank Chapel came looking for the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887).
It took a great deal of work to locate her family tomb, and the group resolved to form the Friends of Zion Graveyard, which quickly purchased and restored the site and made it accessible.
I don’t do gardening, so instead I’ve brought visitors to the Graveyard through my Walks Round Attercliffe and Bus Rides Round Attercliffe and busied myself researching the history of the buildings and the generations of worshippers dating back to the end of the eighteenth century.
During the lockdown period the Friends produced a series of interpretation boards – to which I contributed – to fix to the boundaries of the Graveyard.
These make a significant difference to visitors’ understanding, particularly because the images show how much the surroundings have changed since the 1970s: two of the congregation’s three buildings have been destroyed, along with all of the surrounding housing.
Visitors to the Zion Graveyard can now take away the information and the pictures in a guide-book, The Story of Zion Graveyard Attercliffe:
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was a miraculous human being.
If central London were obliterated by a sudden disaster nowadays, it’s unlikely that its restoration would be entrusted to a professor of astronomy, but after the Great Fire in 1666 it was the obvious solution. At that time the best professionals to employ in construction were academics who understood the physics of making buildings stand up.
King Charles II had already consulted Wren, the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University, over several projects, including a much-needed restoration of the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral, when two-thirds of the City was burnt down in five days beginning in the early hours of September 2nd 1666. Wren surveyed the wreckage, mapped out a comprehensive, radical plan to rebuild and laid it before the King on September 11th. This adventurous scheme was scuppered because it necessitated wholesale revision of property boundaries.
Nevertheless, Wren – then in his mid-thirties – spent the rest of his long life embellishing London with replacements for the many destroyed parish churches and constructing his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral.
One of these parish churches is distinctive as what Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as “a try-out for St Paul’s”.
The site of the medieval St Stephen’s Walbrook was hemmed in on three sides by other buildings and the street, which takes its name from the now-hidden river that runs south into the Thames. On part of this footprint Wren laid out his biggest London parish church to a largely symmetrical plan and graced it with a top-lit dome.
Pevsner describes in intricate detail the tension Wren contrived between the visitor’s perception of a longitudinal rectangular interior and the overarching centrality of the dome and its supporting columns [Simon Bradley & Nikolaus Pevsner,The Buildings of England: London 1: The City of London (Yale University Press 2002), pp 260-261].
It’s a breathtaking space which, despite repeated restorations, retains the integrity of Wren’s intentions in all respects but one.
In 1987 the churchwarden, Peter Palumbo (b 1935), supervised a much-needed refurbishment and reordered the layout, reducing the linearity that Wren intended and emphasising the space beneath the dome.
Lord Palumbo (as he became in 1991) had commissioned the sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) to design a white polished stone altar that sits directly beneath the dome. It gives priest and people the more direct intimacy that suits present-day worship, and contributes to the lively ministry of a London church, which has few if any resident parishioners, literally next door to the Mansion House.
I saw a well-attended weekday lunchtime Choral Eucharist sung by a youthful choir of organ scholars accompanied by the demure playing of a young lady organist. The place clearly serves the needs of a community of city workers seeking a calming interlude in their working day. I wish I could have caught the monthly Rush Hour Jazz.
In Berlin after 1945 the priorities were necessities. Half the buildings in the city were uninhabitable and the division of the city into four sectors compounded the difficulties of everyday life.
No-one had much time to consider historical conservation or what was left of the built environment.
And yet, the uproar over the demolition of the Anhalter Bahnhof showed that significant numbers of Berliners were keen to keep some built reminders of the historic city, not least to ensure that the horrors of the end of the war were not forgotten.
The most conspicuous of these reminders is of the course the Reichstag, notoriously burnt down in 1933, almost the last redoubt in the battle for the city in 1945, finally restored in 1999.
In the bustling Kurfürstendamm, however, stands a more poignant reminder of the impact of war – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church [Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche], or rather the blasted remains of its substantial tower, which people call “der hohle Zahn – the Hollow Tooth”. The church was designed by Franz Heinrich Schwechten, who had made his name with the Anhalter Bahnhof, and it was dedicated in 1895 as a memorial to the first German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888).
Most of the remains of the church were taken down as unsafe after the end of the war, and the architect of the reconstruction, Egon Eiermann (1904-1970), proposed to demolish the old tower but was prevented by a public outcry.
Instead, alongside a new octagonal church and a separate hexagonal bell-tower (1959-63), the gaunt ruin of the 1895 church stands as a landmark and a symbol of hope and reconciliation. The walls of the new church are a concrete honeycomb, lit by blue stained glass which floods the interior. There are six bronze bells in the new tower, the largest of which is inscribed “Your cities are burned with fire.” (Isaiah 1:7) and “But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” (Isaiah, 51:6).
The new church was consecrated on May 25th 1962, the same day that Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs in 1940 and rebuilt alongside the ruins, was also consecrated.
The parallels with Coventry Cathedral are powerful, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a recipient of a Coventry cross of nails, which is displayed next to the damaged statue of Christ which stood on the original altar.
The only surviving interior of the 1895 church is the entrance lobby, rich with gilding and mosaics, the cracks resulting from the bombing filled but left visible like Japanese kintsugi [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi].
It’s an overbearing space, lightened a little by the contrast of the modern exhibition dedicated to peace and reconciliation.
It’s easy to see why the Allied administrators were not anxious to preserve the unstable walls of the bombed nave, a temple to the aspirations of Wilhelm I’s newly united Germany from which had sprung two world wars.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church lacks the sense of wholeness of Coventry Cathedral, where the ruins of the old become a prelude and a pendant to Sir Basil Spence’s 1962 church, or the integrity of St Martin’s Church, Coney Street, York or St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, where in each case the altered form of the bombed church reminds the visitor of what happened and invites reflection.
But after even a moments’ consideration of the rigours of life in late 1940s Berlin, we must be grateful that some raised their voices and persuaded Egon Eiermann to keep the tower as a reminder of the darkest days of the city’s and the German nation’s history.
Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887) was a celebrated campaigner for the anti-slavery movement, who corresponded with such luminaries as Frederick Douglass, Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce and promoted social reforms of all kinds throughout her long life.
The daughter of a prosperous Sheffield refiner of precious metals and the widow of a Nottingham businessman who died young, she was in an extraordinary position, as a woman in early nineteenth-century England, to work to benefit humanity.
She bought back the family home, Wincobank Hall, which had been sold to cover her father’s business difficulties, and lived there with her sister Emily to the end of her life.
Her philanthropy ranged widely and her views were lifelong and determined. James Montgomery, who had been editor of Sheffield’s radical newspaper, the Sheffield Iris, considered she held “such extreme notions – such extreme views” about total abstinence and the abolition of the death penalty. She was one of the first, in 1839, to sign the teetotal Pledge.
Though she campaigned nationally and internationally, she also did good on her own doorstep, in particular by selling her silverware to found a school for local children in 1841, and she afterwards financed a school house that “would attract a good School Master”. In 1880 she established a Charitable Trust to ensure that the building would continue to benefit the community beyond her lifetime. Her Trust Deed specified that it could be used as a place of worship but must remain undenominational and totally in the control of the congregation.
The Chapel trustees, together with members of the Friends of Zion Graveyard, the Friends of Wincobank Hill and local residents are refurbishing the Old School House to provide a community hub and heritage centre, thanks to support from the Veolia Environmental Trust, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Town Trust, the J G Graves Charitable Trust, the Clothmakers Foundation and South Yorkshire Community Foundation.
Rising costs and increasingly urgent needs, including a warm hub this winter, mean that the working group needs additional funds to complete the scheme.
The Friends of Zion Graveyard Annual General Meeting takes place at the Upper Wincobank Chapel, Wincobank Avenue, Sheffield, S5 6BB on Monday December 12th 2022 at 7.00pm. It’s open to anyone who has connections with the Wincobank community or is interested in the Chapel, the Graveyard.
Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875) was the eldest son of the better-known Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852), and after his father’s early death at the age of forty-one continued the practice until his own early death at the same age.
Augustus Pugin was inevitably a hard act to follow, and though his son’s designs are less intense Edward was prolific and his work is impressive. He designed over a hundred churches and a few secular buildings, and at the height of his powers he completed seventeen projects in the years 1865-68.
Nikolaus Pevsner identified E W Pugin’s “masterpiece” as All Saints’ Church, Barton-upon-Irwell (actually in Urmston, west Manchester). Paid for by the local landowner Sir Humphrey de Trafford, 2nd Bt (1808-1866) and his wife Lady Annette at a cost of £25,000, it was built in 1867-68 alongside the de Trafford family’s mortuary chapel (1863).
Edward Pugin had previously built another church for the de Traffords, St Ann, Chester Road, Stretford (1862-7), and within the same few years designed his Monastery of St Francis, Gorton (1866-72), larger in scale but coarser in detail because it lacked the generous funds provided by the de Traffords.
The exterior of All Saints’ echoes some of his other churches in the North West and elsewhere, with a nave and apsidal chancel and an elaborate bell-turret in the form of a flèche, set diagonally above the west front.
The interior is richly decorated and narrows towards the sanctuary, emphasising the height of the building. The nave columns are alternately banded with Runcorn red sandstone and buff Painswick stone, and the roof is made of English oak and Savannah pitch-pine.
To embellish the interior as the de Traffords required – “a grand church…erected to the glory of God” – Edward Pugin brought together craftsmen from his father’s favourite ecclesiastical artists, Hardman & Co of Birmingham, including J Alphege Pippett (1841-1903), whose ‘The Adoration of the Lamb’ on the south side of the chancel depicts the de Traffords accompanied by Edward Pugin in medieval dress holding a plan of the church.
The walls of the sanctuary are of Caen stone and the columns of Painswick stone; the floor is crimson marble and encaustic tile; the altar itself is built of Caen stone, finished with Carrara, Siena and Devonshire marble, with flights of angels standing on the alabaster tabernacle, its doors marked by a bejewelled cross.
The surviving nineteenth-century stained glass, disarranged as a result of Blitz damage, is by Powell & Hardman of Birmingham. The late-twentieth-century glass in the west rose window is unfortunate.
Sir Humphrey’s son and heir sold most of Trafford Park for £360,000 to Ernest Terah Hooley (1859-1947) who became known as “The Splendid Bankrupt”, but retained the western portion, including Barton, until 1924.
The canal bisected the parish, and the unpredictable closing of the Barton swing-bridge meant that parishioners were frequently delayed to the extent that it became impossible to fix Mass times precisely. The population gradually moved away: by the 1950s Catholic churches were opening on the new housing estates, and All Saints’ remained open only out of deference to an ageing congregation who had worshipped there all their lives.
All Saints’ finally closed as a parish church in 1961, and in September 1962 it was handed over to the Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual, who had provided priests for the parish since 1928. They renamed it the Church of the City of Mary Immaculate, but it is still commonly known by its original dedication. The church was listed Grade I on May 9th 1978.
I first met the architect Vincente Stienlet in Sheffield in 2015 when the Hand Of team who promoted the Abbeydale Picture House Revival invited him to watch a silent film in the cinema his grandfather, Pascal J Stienlet, had designed in 1920.
Together we watched The Call of the Road, the very first film shown in the building, accompanied by a live pianist, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
Recently Vincente invited me to accompany the Northern Architectural History Society when they visited St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Wetherby, which he designed and which was dedicated in 1986.
The chance to explore a building with the person who designed it is unmissable, and I was doubly blessed because when I arrived early I met the parish priest, the Very Rev Canon John Nunan, who took me on a liturgical tour of Vincente’s distinctive church.
When the NAHS coach arrived I then experienced a parallel tour with Vincente explaining to the group the structure as well as the symbolism. The two commentaries fitted hand in glove.
At the beginning of the 1980s the parish had reached the point where their modest Gothic 1882 church, designed by Edward Simpson of Bradford, could no longer serve the growing congregation: it seated 150, and every Sunday four Masses in succession were celebrated for up to six hundred worshippers.
The old St Joseph’s stands on a cramped and oddly shaped patch of land, alongside a former Methodist manse which had become the presbytery in 1939. The only available space for expansion was the modest gap between the two buildings and behind that the unused presbytery garden.
Vincente’s response was to design a polygonal tent that connects the two buildings and occupies very nearly every square foot of land the parish possessed.
The gap between the old building, which became the parish hall, and the presbytery is filled by an imposing narthex, leading beneath the gallery to the worship space that embraces the visitor and draws the eye to the Baptistery, the place of admission to the faith.
On the wall behind the baptistery hang the Stations of the Cross – bold, chunky, enigmatic elm, carved with a chainsaw, designed by the artist Fenwick Lawson as an uncompromising reminder of the sacrifice of the Crucifixion.
The Stations of the Cross lead the eye rightwards to Fenwick Lawson’s Risen Christ, mounted on a beam above the High Altar. Representing the triumph of the Resurrection it’s not a crucifix as such: the crossbeam has been removed from the outstretched arms and the figure looks left extending an open hand towards the light gained by two south-facing gables, and beyond to the Celebration Window, by Fenwick Lawson’s son Gerard, gold and green, portraying a sunburst over the blue ribbon of the River Wharfe and the red of the roads crossing at Wetherby combining to make the PX symbol that the early church used for Christ’s name.
Canon Nunan described Vincente’s building to me as “a theological statement”. It stands for the faith it belongs to, and it works as a practical structure.
You need an architect to tell you that the Gerard Lawson’s window is double-glazed, separated by a metre-wide space from the external glazing to suppress traffic noise, and that the beautiful polished teak that furnishes the Sanctuary was recycled from the handrails of the Byker Bridge near to his office in Newcastle.
There is more, much more to this superb church which, like a finely tuned instrument, calms the spirit and inspires reflection.
I was privileged to understand it – at least a little – with Canon Nunan, who this year celebrates his Golden Jubilee and is about to begin his well-earned retirement, and with Vincente Stienlet who describes it, in his book A Life in Architecture (Pascal Stienlet & Son Architects 2020), as “a dream for an architect”.
When you sail into the Mersey estuary towards the city of Liverpool, the chart indicates as a landmark the distinctive tower and lantern of the Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas, still prominent alongside newer and higher structures.
“St Nick’s”, as it’s commonly known in the city, dates back to a time when the little riverside port was a remote corner of the medieval parish of Walton.
Though there was a church on the site by c1360, and nearby an earlier church, St Mary-del-Key, dating from at least 1257, the existing building is much later.
The tower was designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester (1811-5) after its predecessor collapsed in 1810 killing twenty-five people; the body of the church is a post-war replacement for the burnt-out shell destroyed in the Blitz.
In 1699, the Parish of Liverpool separated from Walton, and under an unusual arrangement Our Lady & St Nicholas was paired with a new church, St Peter’s (consecrated 1704) and served by two ministers of equal status who were required to preach in each church alternately.
In 1714 the tower of Our Lady & St Nicholas was embellished with a distinctive spire that acted as a waymark for vessels on the river. In the late eighteenth century the church was described as “ruinous” and it was rebuilt, but the medieval tower remained unaltered until its collapse in 1810. It fell as the congregation were entering for morning service; of the twenty-five fatalities, seventeen were girls from Moorfields Charity School.
The replacement tower was designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester (1744-1829), surmounted by “an elegant and appropriate Lantern” topped by a ship weathervane possibly retrieved from the ruins of the old tower.
St Peter’s became the Pro-Cathedral for the new Diocese of Liverpool in 1880 and was demolished in 1922, superseded by the partly-built new Anglican Cathedral.
An air raid on December 21st 1940 burnt out Our Lady & St Nicholas, and on the night of May 5th-6th 1941 a further bomb left only the outer walls, the tower and the adjacent parish centre.
Services continued in temporary structures or in the open air throughout the war, and the new church, designed by Edward C Butler, was consecrated in 1952, a simple Gothic design in which the interior was reoriented to place the high altar at the west end.
The Maritime Memorial Chapel in the north aisle was dedicated in 1993. It contains a statue of Our Lady of the Quay, commemorating the very first church on the site, the work of the revered Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley (1929-1994).
Our Lady and St Nicholas has high status in Liverpool. Though its actual parish boundaries, embracing a population of 16,000, embrace the river-front extending to Lime Street, Liverpool ONE and the Albert Dock, it serves the wider city as Liverpool Parish Church and its minister is the Rector of Liverpool.
The present Rector, Father Crispin Pailing, is the author of God’s Town: Liverpool and her Parish since 1207 (Palatine 2019), which traces the history of the church and its ministry through the centuries.
St Lawrence Chapel in the centre of Ashburton in Devon isn’t any kind of Nonconformist chapel. It’s much older than Nonconformity.
It’s a medieval chantry chapel, established so that a priest, financed by a guild, could say masses for the soul of the founder – in this case Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter from 1308 and co-founder of Exeter College, Oxford.
He suffered a violent end, along with his older brother Sir Richard Stapledon, in a riot in London in 1326. His body was defiled and buried on the bank of the Thames until Queen Isabella, the consort of King Edward II, ordered his remains to be taken to Exeter Cathedral, “there to be honoured with most magnificent exequies”. He lies beneath an exquisite tomb in the cathedral.
The chantry building in Ashburton looks at first glance like a church, not least because of its sixteenth-century tower and spire. The east end contained an altar for the celebration of mass, and the pupils were taught in the nave.
Chantries were, in the beliefs of the time, spiritual insurance policies, intended to shorten the ordeal of the soul in purgatory by employing priests to say masses in perpetuity. They also operated, in this life, as accumulations of capital until they were appropriated by King Henry VIII in 1545 and 1547.
Successive chantry priests at Ashburton had run a grammar school, and to preserve this amenity a group of townsmen purchased the chantry assets and supervised the school from the mid-sixteenth century until 1938.
The nave was refurbished in the eighteenth-century and the classroom accommodation was extended in the late-nineteenth century and in 1911.
The Grammar School moved to more modern premises in 1938, and the chantry building continued as a local school until the 1980s.
This remarkable building has seen centuries of children through their elementary education, among them the Dean of Westminster, John Ireland (1761-1842), his friend the satirist William Gifford (1756-1826) and the Australian explorer William John Wills (1834-c1861).
The Devon market town of Ashburton has a long history: as a stannary town it was an important centre for the administration of the tin-mining industry, and it was a staging post on the road between Exeter and Plymouth.
Among its historic buildings the Old Methodist Church stands out, and I was lucky to visit it in the summer of 2017, which turned out to be the end of an era.
Its prominent portico, set back from the street-line, is dated 1835, though the building behind appears to be later.
Immediately behind the entrance doors there’s a schoolroom on the ground floor and a meeting room above.
Corridors on either side lead to a dignified, typically Methodist space with a gallery round three sides of the chapel.
It was comprehensively refurbished in 1896 with the installation of pitch-pine pews in place of box-pews, a green-and-chocolate rostrum instead of the former pulpit, and an upholstered alcove for the preacher.
On the way to the Catholic cathedral through the Canberra suburbs, misdirected by a bus driver, I came across the Anglican Church, St Paul’s, an immaculate brick essay in Art Deco with Gothic hints by the Sydney architects Burcham Clamp & Son, begun in 1939 and most recently extended in 2001. The Anglican diocese remains based in Goulburn, where there is a particularly fine cathedral of St Saviour (1884) by Edmund Blacket, one of his best works. As a result, St Paul’s, though only a parish church, often hosts civic and government services. St Paul’s has Canberra’s only ring of eight bells for change ringing and its largest pipe organ.
St Christopher’s Catholic Cathedral is a few hundred yards away, a Romanesque design by Clement Glancy Snr, begun in 1939 and extended by his son, also Clement Glancy, in 1973 when the previous Catholic cathedral in Goulburn was demoted. St Christopher’s is the largest place of worship in Canberra, so it vies with St Paul’s Church to receive major services and events. This building is not the intended design and doesn’t stand on the intended site of the planned Catholic Cathedral for Canberra: GC447YC Canberra Cathedrals (Multi-cache) in Australian Capital Territory, Australia created by Pacmania (geocaching.com).
Meanwhile Rottenbury Hill, the site designated in 1927 for an Anglican cathedral in the national capital, has never been used for its intended purpose. Instead, there are plans, apparently, for a Southern Cross Sanctuary: Southern Cross Sanctuary | civicarts.
The story is one of masterly clerical inactivity: http://anglicanhistory.org/aus/campbell_canberra2002.pdf. Successive synods of the Church of England in Australia (since 1962 the Anglican Church of Australia) have repeatedly kicked into touch discussion of how a bishopric for the capital would fit into the Australian hierarchy, as well as the practical question of how an actual cathedral would be financed and built.
At the outset it fell to the then Bishop of Goulburn, Lewis Bostock Radford (1869-1937), to raise questions about this project in Synod because the New Capital Territory lay within his vast diocese.
He spent much of his career as bishop urging his fellow clergy to decide what to do while distancing himself from taking responsibility for a nebulous and unwieldy scheme that was beyond his capacity as an individual.
He retired at the end of 1933 and died in England four years later.
His ashes lie in St John’s Church, Reid, waiting to be interred in the new national cathedral if and when it is built.
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