Category Archives: Sacred Places

Exploring Canberra: one cathedral short…

St Christopher’s RC Cathedral, Manuka, Canberra, Australia
St Paul’s Church, Manuka, Canberra, Australia

I knew from a tablet at St John’s Church, Reid that there is no Anglican Cathedral at Rottenbury Hill in Canberra, though its site has been held since 1927 [View from the platform constructed for the dedication ceremony for the site of St. Marks Anglican Cathedral on Rottenbury Hill, Canberra, 8th May 1927 [picture] (nla.gov.au)], and I discovered that Canberra has a Catholic cathedral in a suburb called Manuka (named after the flower, Leptospermum scoparium). 

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.

Exploring Canberra: St John’s Church, Reid

St John the Baptist Church, Reid, Canberra, Australia

Having visited the one building in Canberra I’d specifically come to see, All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, I looked for the obvious tourist sites like the National Gallery and the National Museum of Australia and the obscure, unlikely places that often prove to be more interesting.

I enjoyed, for instance, the National Museum of Australia, not least for the excellent salmon sandwich and pot of tea overlooking the West Basin of Canberra’s enormous artificial lake.  Like the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, entry is free and the standard of presentation is top-quality.  It supplemented my learning in a number of ways, not least because it displays an example of the gold-diggers’ wooden cradle which I’d read about and couldn’t visualise.

I’d decided to pursue my trail of buildings by the architect Edmund Blacket (1817-1883), who had built, amid much else, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney the Necropolis Receiving Station and the Cemetery Station no 1 that became All Saints’, Ainslie, and some of the minor churches I’d spotted in Sydney and around Maitland and Morpeth, New South Wales.

I spotted that Edmund Blacket built the 1864 tower to the older Church of St John the Baptist, Reid, consecrated in 1845, sixty-odd years before Canberra was even thought of. 

There’s a photograph of it c1864 with an earlier tower, surrounded entirely by flat fields.  It’s the oldest building in the area, with a narrow nave and chancel because the original cell was small and has been three times lengthened.  It has the warm, modest atmosphere of an English parish church.  Edmund Blacket’s tower and spire of 1864 sits neatly at the end of the 1841-45 nave, and the chancel is 1872-73. 

The walls are worth reading.  One panel alerted me to the existence of an abortive St Mark’s Anglican Cathedral project, for which the federal government provided a site at Rottenbury Hill in 1927, though nothing has yet been built. 

There is also a monument to the first minister of St John’s, Rev G E Gregory, who was drowned on August 20th 1851 “while attempting to swim across the Queyanbean [River] on his return from ministering to the scattered colonists on the banks of the Murrumbidgee”. 

Outside in the churchyard, the so-called ‘Prophetic Tombstone’ to Sarah and George Webb has as its inscription Hebrews 15:14 – “For here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come”.

St John the Baptist, Tuebrook

Church of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook, Liverpool

George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) was a major figure in the second generation of Victorian architects in Britain.

Apart from his exceptional artistic acumen, which led him to collaborate with like-minded artists in a range of media, he had two outstanding qualities.

First, he capitalised the personal connections he grew up with in Hull, where his father was a physician at Hull Royal Infirmary.  He became the pupil of the great Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), whose uncle was the first of three successive generations to serve as vicar of St Mary Lowgate Church in Hull’s Old Town from 1816 to 1883.  Bodley’s sister married Scott’s brother Samuel, a doctor, in 1846.

One of his early commissions, St Martin-on-the-Hill parish church, Scarborough (1861-2) was financed as a memorial to her father by Miss Mary Craven, the wealthy daughter of a Hull surgeon.

Bodley had a knack of attracting commissions from wealthy patrons seeking a rich architectural expression of their High Church principles. 

Five years later, the £25,000 cost of his church of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook, Liverpool (consecrated 1870) was borne by the wife of the first vicar, Rev J C Reade.

Later commissions included St Augustine, Pendlebury, Salford (1870-1874, £33,000) for the banker Edward Stanley Heywood and Holy Angels, Hoar Cross, Staffordshire (1872 onwards, £28,500), a memorial to the late husband of Mrs Emily Charlotte Meynell Ingram.

His final, posthumously completed commission was St Chad, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire (1905-1910, £38,000) for the brewer Michael Bass, 1st Baron Burton.

Even later than this, a decent Gothic parish church could be built from scratch for less than £8,000.

All these churches are now listed Grade I.

The current Buildings of England entry describes St John the Baptist, Tuebrook as “large, unshowy, but dignified and sensitive…a key work in Bodley’s oeuvre”.  Its exterior is distinguished by its irregular polychrome banding, and the exterior and interior proportions are at the same time dignified and simple. 

The richness of the interior comes from the fittings which Bodley and his practice partner Thomas Garner provided – the marble font and pulpit, the screens painted by Kempe, leading to the choir and sanctuary, where the woodwork of the choir stalls and organ case is oak, stained black, painted and gilded, and the stained glass of the east window and the window to the south of the chancel designed by Bodley and Kempe in collaboration with William Morris. 

The reredos, also designed by Bodley, replaced the original in 1870-71, before the Bishop of Chester, Rev John Graham, would consecrate the church.  There is uncertainty about whether Bishop Graham objected to the original reredos because of suspicions that it had previously belonged to a Roman Catholic chapel, or whether Bodley had manipulated the postponement to make time for improvements to the heating system and the organ.

Bodley’s wall-decorations, painted by his assistant Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), had deteriorated by the turn of the century, and Father Brockman, vicar in 1905, commented, “It costs a good deal to live up to Mr Bodley.”  After Bodley’s death in 1907 his surviving partner, Cecil Greenwood Hare, revised the decorative scheme and this was restored by Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-1994) in 1968-71.  It is now once again in need of restoration.

Bodley designed the Vicarage, built in 1890, and also, in a corner of the churchyard, a curious and little-noticed feature, the mortuary house on Snaefell Avenue.

The rescheduled ‘Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022)’ tour includes a guided tour of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook.  For further details please click here.

Exploring Canberra: All Saints’ Church, Ainslie 1

All Saints’ Parish Church, Ainslie, Canberra, Australia

Just as I’d taken a jetlag break in Manila only to see the San Sebastian Church, in my epic journey from Hobart in Tasmania to Cairns in Queensland I took a side-trip from Sydney to Canberra specifically to see one building.

All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, deep in the Canberra suburbs, is of unique interest to anyone who studies Gothic architecture, railways, nineteenth-century funeral practices and conservation. 

The stonework of All Saints’ started out as the Haslem’s Creek Cemetery Station, the terminus of the rail spur into Rookwood Cemetery from Lidcombe Station, ten miles from Sydney Central.  This imposing structure accommodated a single track under cover, with platforms on either side and open arcades through which coffins were transferred to horse-drawn hearses to reach their burial site.  The funeral station was a highly elaborate Gothic essay, matching the high quality of the Mortuary Station alongside Central Station.  Both buildings were designed by the Colonial Architect, James Johnstone Burnet (1827-1904).

Trains entered through a Gothic arch, from which spring carved angels, the left-hand one holding a scroll with closed eyes, the right-hand with open eyes holding a trumpet:  the pair presumably symbolise death and resurrection.  The station originally ended in an octagonal apse which was removed in 1891 when the line was extended further into the cemetery to Cemetery Stations 2, 3 and 4:  the stones of the apse became the ladies’ waiting room of Cemetery Station 3 and the Haslem’s Creek station was renamed Cemetery Station 1.

The cemetery railway closed in 1948, and Cemetery Station 1 was vandalised and then burnt out, leaving only the masonry standing, sometime in the 1950s.  The stones were purchased by the parish of All Saints’, Ainslie, for A£100 and transported to Canberra in eighty-three lorry-loads in 1958.  The total cost of transport and reconstruction was A£5,101 3s 2d.

This remarkable transaction was led by the Rector, Rev Edward G Buckle, and a parishioner, Mr Stan Taunton.  Some people were not in favour.  According to Mr Buckle, “anonymous phone-calls were received, from sincere people, declaring the venture foolhardy, and urging its abandonment”.

None of the stones were lost, though there was a worrying moment when a truck carrying carved stonework including keystones of the arches and interior columns, broke down on the road and apparently disappeared.  It reappeared two days later after the driver had arranged a replacement clutch at a remote country garage.

There is a poignant photograph of the clergy and parishioners holding hands in a circle around the footings of their new church in a service based on 1 Peter 2:5 – “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 

The architect, Mr W Pierce, ingeniously adapted the 782 tons of stone, including the apse rescued from Cemetery Station no 3, in a three-dimensional jigsaw in which nothing was wasted.  To fit the site the bell-tower was re-erected on the opposite side of the building from Burnet’s original layout.  The entrance arch with the angels was taken inside to frame the sanctuary, and the rear arch became the west front.  The sanctuary itself was built from most of the stones of the original apse, except for the angled stones which became the pulpit.  The top of the chimney of the apse is now the font.

The result is a very beautiful and original building.  The Tasmanian Mountain Ash roof and interior fittings all date from 1958 and a new floor of ceramic tiles, coloured to match the sandstone stonework, was installed in 2011.  There is a west gallery with a Bishop & Starr organ from Wealdstone Baptist Church, Harrow, purchased in 1988.

The proportions of the interior are unlike a conventional Gothic church – wider, lighter and lower, big enough to accommodate an Australian-sized train.  Its proportions work perfectly as a worship space.

Jesuit gem

St Francis Xavier RC Church, Everton, Liverpool

When I was at university, one of my hall-of-residence associates was studying science in preparation for training to be a Jesuit at the English College in Rome.

From knowing him, I’ve always regarded the Jesuits as the border collies of the Catholic clergy – astute, focused, determined, committed and effective.  Adherents vow to devote their lives Ad Majorem Dei Gloria – to the greater glory of God.

The Society of Jesus built the first post-Reformation Catholic chapel in Liverpool in 1736.  It lasted two years before it was destroyed by a mob, and was promptly rebuilt, disguised as a warehouse.  Their work in Liverpool ceased after the suppression of the Society by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, and their chapel was passed to the Benedictines in 1783. 

The Jesuits returned to Liverpool in the 1840s at the invitation of a group of eight Catholic businessmen who financed the building of the church dedicated to St Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit order, on Salisbury Street, Everton. 

The foundation stone was laid in 1842.  By the time the church was completed in 1848 Liverpool was experiencing a huge influx of poor Irish people fleeing the Great Famine.  The thousand-seat capacity of the original church became inadequate and a secondary worship-space, the Sodality Chapel, was opened in 1888.  (A sodality is a lay religious brotherhood.)

The 1848 church, designed by Joseph John Scoles (1798-1863) is stone built, with separate roofs for the nave and aisles and a polygonal apse, and an impressive tower and spire at the south-west corner.  The spire was always intended, but only added in 1883.  The high altar, reredos and pulpit, and the Sacred Heart altar of 1852-53, were designed by Scoles’ pupil, Samuel Joseph Nicholl (1826-1905).

Most of the original glass by Hardman & Powell was blown out in the Blitz, but an almost complete set of fragments of a window depicting St Ignatius was found in a box and restored in 2015.

The Sodality Chapel was designed by the Liverpool-born architect Edward Kirby (1838-1920), a pupil of the Gothic Revival architect Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875).  It’s smaller but more elaborate than the main church, with a polygonal apse and an ambulatory behind the altar.  Its stained glass is by Burlison & Grylls.

In the 1930s St Francis Xavier was the largest Catholic parish in England serving a population of 13,000.  It continued to flourish, despite damage to the building in the Liverpool Blitz, until the clearance of the surrounding streets emptied its congregation. 

The Archdiocese proposed to demolish the nave in the early 1980s, until a national outcry led to a compromise:  the Archdiocese agreed to maintain the Sodality Chapel while the parish took responsibility for the nave.  As a result, a glass screen was erected in the arcade between the two, and for years the nave remained unrestored. 

On the pretext of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the parish in 1997, an impressive campaign enabled the restoration of the nave from 2000 onwards, and in 2001 the Archdiocese amalgamated two neighbouring parishes, and the Sodality Chapel was renamed the Chapel of St Mary of the Angels and St Joseph. 

In 2007, the three-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first Catholic priest in Liverpool, Father William Gillibrand SJ, a shrine was dedicated to St Mary Del Quay, commemorating the very first Christian chapel in Liverpool, founded in 1207.

The St Francis Xavier College moved into the adjacent presbytery in 1845 and then into a new building alongside by 1857.  This in turn proved too small, and a purpose-built replacement by Henry Clutton (1819-1893) opened in 1877.  The corresponding sandstone “poor schools” designed by Joseph Spencer were started in 1853 and extended by the same architect in 1857.  The College moved to Woolton in 1961.  The Salisbury Street buildings and their surroundings became derelict until they were taken over by the ecumenical Liverpool Hope University and opened as its Creative Campus in 1999.

The rescheduled ‘Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022)’ tour includes a guided tour of St Francis Xavier Church.  For further details please click here.

Down-to-earth bell-ringing

St Mary’s Church, East Bergholt, Suffolk: bell cage
St Mary’s Church, East Bergholt, Suffolk: bell cage

In East Anglia you can hardly move for beautiful medieval churches, built from the proceeds of the wool trade, but St Mary’s, East Bergholt, Suffolk has a unique claim to fame.

Dated 1350-1550, it’s a fine late-Perpendicular rebuilding in flintwork of an earlier church, containing – among much else – a priest’s room above the south porch, an Easter sepulchre in the chancel, a carved oak screen and a parish chest, c1400, hollowed out of a tree-trunk.  The church is 120 feet long and 56 feet wide.  The interior was sketched by East Bergholt’s most celebrated son, the painter John Constable (1776-1837), whose parents are buried here. 

At the west end, the beginnings of an elaborate tower stand unfinished since the Reformation.  There is a story that the funds to complete it, donated by Ipswich-born Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530), were purloined by Henry VIII.  It’s more likely that at the Reformation from the 1530s onwards, work paused, as it did at Bath Abbey and what became Bristol Cathedral, but never restarted.

As a result, the five bells intended for the tower were housed in a timber bell-cage where they remain.

For the best part of five hundred years, the bells have been rung at ground level, swung by hand, the heaviest ring of five in England – 4¼ tons in total, of which the tenor weighs 1ton 6cwt 0qr 8lb, comparable to the weight of a small car.

Change-ringing with a ring of five is practical, though repetitive.  The bells rest in an upward position, and are set in motion by a ringer grasping the headstock.  There are no wheels or ropes.

The ringers of the lightest four bells stand outside and lean into the frame to ring.  The tenor is rung from an uncomfortable, noisy position in the middle of the cage.

There’s detailed information about the bell cage, with audio and video recordings, at https://eastbergholt-bells.org.uk, which includes details of ringing times.

This 2017 Daily Mail article provides further background and images:  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4872200/Dangerous-four-tonne-church-bells-rung-HAND.html.

Organ for sale

Port Erin Methodist Church, Isle of Man

Photo: Matthew Binns

Anyone want to buy a pipe-organ?  There’s one at the southern tip of the Isle of Man that needs a good home.

The Port Erin Methodist Church in the Isle of Man is about to move into smaller premises.  The congregation no longer wishes to support the maintenance costs of the dignified stone-built 1903 building and is moving into the smaller 1960s Sunday School building next door.

This decision is a matter of refocusing rather than retrenchment. 

Not for the first time, the church members want to direct their resources towards helping the local community rather than paying to keep up an old building that is ill-suited to present-day needs.  It’s the fourth time in their long history that they’ve abandoned one building for another.

This is the oldest Christian congregation in Port Erin, dating back to 1823.

A chapel was built on Dandy Hill in 1832 and replaced in the late 1850s by a 200-seat chapel that survived as a Sunday School until 1963 and was demolished three years later.

The present 1903 chapel on Station Road was designed by the Halifax architect William Clement Williams (1847-1913), who was resident in Port Erin at the time of his death.

The organ, one of the last to be built by the Douglas organ-builder Moses Morgan, dates from 1911, and originally belonged to the Port Erin Wesleyan Methodist Church that is now the Erin Arts Centre.  When the former Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist congregations amalgamated in 1970 the Wesleyans brought their organ with them to Station Road.

It’s described as “an excellent example of a straightforward chapel organ of modest size” with very few modifications to its authentic specification.

Apart from a few judicious improvements to the pipework little has changed, though the gas lights were replaced with electric lights as recently as 2008.

Organ aficionados on the island hope it will remain intact and find a new home.  The Methodists pray that it will continue to be used for worship.

In this video the Manx organist Gareth Moore introduces the chapel and demonstrates the organ’s capabilities:  Port Erin Pipe Organ – YouTube.

Particulars of the building sale are at Port Erin Methodist Chapel – Black Grace Cowley.

Father Michael Fisher (1943-2021)

Father Michael Fisher, St John’s Parish Church, Alton, Staffordshire (September 19th 2019)

I was sad to learn that Father Michael Fisher, teacher, priest and scholar, has died.

He was a leader in studying the work of the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, who was sponsored by John, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, building Catholic churches in the Gothic Revival style across the North Midlands and particularly around the Earl’s seat at Alton Towers, near Cheadle in Staffordshire.

Michael was educated at Leek High School and the universities of Leicester and Keele and, after serving as Head of History at King Edward VI Grammar School, Stafford, was ordained in the Church of England in 1979. 

He had visited Alton Towers from boyhood, and remembered the dismemberment of the house in 1951.

In the late 1990s the Tussauds Group, then owners of the ruins and the gardens as part of their theme park, commissioned Michael to investigate the history of the site and make recommendations about how they should be conserved.

This work led to his detailed study Alton Towers:  a Gothic wonderland (Michael Fisher 1999), which was followed by a succession of books on Pugin’s work in and around Staffordshire.

His knowledge of Alton Towers enabled him to guide and encourage the present owners to respect the history of the place.

He contributed to the understanding and conservation of St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Birmingham – an Anglican priest on a Catholic committee, bringing what was described at his funeral as a “warm, ecumenical heart” to the enhancement of one of Pugin’s major buildings.

On the day of his funeral at the church where he ministered, St Chad’s, Stafford, requiem mass was sung in his honour and remembrance at St Chad’s Cathedral.

I met him only once, when I was planning my Pugin and the Gothic Revival tour which took place in September 2019.

One of my regular tour-guests happened to be Michael’s school contemporary, who gave me the privilege of enlisting him to show the group St Giles’ Roman Catholic Church in Cheadle and the tiny parish church of St John, Alton.

I couldn’t possibly have asked for a finer introduction to the area and the architect than Michael’s elegant, insightful guiding.  We were very, very lucky to have him show us round.

Zion Graveyard 3

Zion Graveyard, Attercliffe, Sheffield (April 2021)

Until last weekend, I hadn’t set foot in the Zion Graveyard – Attercliffe’s only historic site regularly open to the general public – since September 2019, the last time I was able to run a heritage Bus Ride Round Attercliffe.

A great deal has happened in eighteen months, not least at the Graveyard where, despite the constraints of lockdown and social distancing, the Friends have restored the place so that it once again looks like a graveyard rather than a jungle.

The difference they’ve made to a long-neglected, significant historic site is impressive.

The Friends of Zion Graveyard was formed in 2017 by the group who look after Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel, a couple of miles away.  They wanted to locate the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), an energetic anti-slavery campaigner and social reformer, and found it deep in the neglected burial ground of the former Zion Congregational Church, which was burnt down in 1987.

The Friends purchased the graveyard site from the Yorkshire Congregational Union in January 2018.  The events that followed are chronicled at FoZGA End of Project Photo Report final.pdf (windows.net) and come alive in Jon Harrison’s excellent video:  Zion – the Forgotten Graveyard – YouTube.

They’re a small, energetic group who’ve achieved a great deal through their enthusiasm and their ability to secure funds from such organisations as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the J G Graves Charitable Trust to supplement the donations of individuals and small businesses associated with the Lower Don Valley.

There’s been much talk about celebrating the historic heritage of Attercliffe and Carbrook.  Carbrook Hall has been restored and converted from a pub to a particularly fine Starbucks.  The Hill Top Chapel is used for worship by the Sheffield Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  And Attercliffe Library has become a promising coffee shop, wine-bar and restaurant.

There are other buildings in the Valley that deserve to be put to use.  Some, like Tinsley Tram Sheds and the Adelphi Cinema, have given conservationists cause for concern while others, such as the imposing Banner’s former department store and the former Bodmin Street Wesleyan Reform Chapel are earning their keep in new ways.

The Graveyard has remained closed to the public during the pandemic, and its gradual reopening will be publicised on their website:  Friends of Zion Graveyard – Events (btck.co.uk).  It’s a delightful and fascinating place where visitors are made very welcome.

The Heineken effect

Chapel of St Peter, Alton Towers, Staffordshire

I like my tours to include the “Heineken effect”, reaching the parts that other tours don’t reach.

I was particularly pleased when a professional architect guest on my ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour in September 2019 remarked that he’d been on a previous Pugin tour but I’d taken him to two places he’d never visited before.

One was Alton Castle, normally inaccessible to the public because its use as a retreat for Catholic school pupils involves strict safeguarding rules. We were allowed an hour between school groups departing and arriving to see Pugin’s interiors.

The other was the spectacular Chapel in the ruins of the house at Alton Towers.

I’d never seen this space, and thanks to the theme park’s Corporate Events team we were able to visit another rarely accessible Pugin interior.

The chapel was designed in 1832-33 by Thomas Fradgley, Joseph Ireland and Joseph Potter of Lichfield for the devout Catholic 16th Earl of Shrewsbury.  The nave is 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 60 feet high.  It has a slender tower with ogee windows and pinnacles that were reduced in height in the 1950s.

Augustus Welby Pugin brightened the Chapel in 1839-40 with carved and painted panels, some of medieval date from Magdalen College, Oxford – and a new reredos and altar. 

Later, in 1850, he decorated the previously plain ceiling in blue, red and gold and added a frieze with Latin texts painted on canvas. 

The angels on the roof corbels are plaster (which Pugin would be unlikely to have countenanced) but after he had designed the reredos and altar screen in 1839-40 he is known to have been “fixing figures in the chapel gallery” in 1840 and supervised the decoration of the ceiling between 1849 and 1851.

The sixteenth Earl inherited a personal estate of £400,000 from his uncle.  At one point he was spending £20,000 a year on building and restoring churches across his many estates.

When he died in 1852 the title passed to his invalid nephew, Bertram, who himself died without an heir four years later.  At his death the estate amounted to some 50,000 acres, the income from which was in excess of £50,000.

There followed a legal dispute about the succession of the titles and estates, in the course of which the contents of Alton Towers were auctioned over a period of a twenty-nine days in 1857. 

The property eventually passed to a distant Protestant member of the family, Henry, Earl Talbot of Ingestre, who became the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury.

The altar and reredos were removed in 1860 from the Chapel to St Peter’s Catholic Church, Bromsgrove where they remain;  most of the other Pugin work was stripped out in 1951 and only fragments remain.

The eighteenth Earl was the first to open the gardens to the public in 1860.  By the 1890s the annual August grand fêtes were attracting crowds of up to 30,000, mainly brought by train to Alton station.

His grandson, the twentieth Earl, died in 1921, and three years later the Alton Towers estate was sold to a business consortium, Alton Towers Ltd, which ran the estate as a tourist attraction and place of entertainment until the War. 

The house was requisitioned as an Officer Cadet Training Unit, and when the owners regained possession in 1951 the dilapidations were such that they chose to strip almost the entire interior of lead roofs and internal timber. 

The grounds were reopened to the public in 1952. 

From 1958 to 1993 the Chapel interior was obscured by a tented ceiling, beneath which spread a gigantic model railway.

In the late 1970s installing concrete floors and wooden stairs within the Towers ruins enabled visitors to appreciate the scale of the house from a variety of levels up to the roof. 

The collapse of a beam on to the Chapel floor in 1993 prompted a full structural and decorative restoration of the ceiling in 1994.

Since the late 1990s further conservation programmes have restored some parts of this exceptional building, but the owners’ priority is inevitably to encourage visitors looking for thrills and spills on amusement-park attractions.

I was particularly grateful to the Alton Towers management for allowing my tour-group to see parts of the ruins that other groups can’t reach.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.