Monthly Archives: May 2021

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 became a promising 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.