Monthly Archives: September 2021

Exploring Canberra: All Saints’ Church, Ainslie 2

All Saints’ Parish Church, Ainslie, Canberra, Australia

My curiosity to visit All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, was prompted not only by its unusual provenance as a cemetery railway-station, but because of a local association between my native Sheffield and this antipodean suburb in Australia’s federal capital.

The sanctuary of All Saints’ is dominated by the east window by Charles Kempe & Co.  The glass comes from St Clement’s Church, Newhall, Sheffield (1914), paid for by a subscription of parishioners and dedicated in 1919 to the memory of the war dead of the parish.

St Clement’s closed in July 1961, as the congregation had dwindled and the surrounding housing was cleared.  The All Saints’ guide-book, A Station of the Cross, relates that the gift was at the instigation of Lady Jacqueline De L’Isle, wife of the Governor-General who served from 1961.  Lady De L’Isle liked to worship at All Saints’, and once brought the poet John Betjeman to a service. He advised her where in Britain she could source glass to fill the east window at All Saints’.

The glass in the east window at All Saints’ is not the entire window from St Clement’s:  photographs indicate that John Dodsley Webster’s design for Newhall was taller and the window longer:  http://www.picturesheffield.com/frontend.php?keywords=Ref_No_increment;EQUALS;y02488&pos=2&action=zoom

It’s apparent that the prophets Joel, Micah, Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Malachi are omitted along with the original inscription “Remember ye with thanksgiving and all honour before God and man those who went forth from Newhall to the Great War 1914-19, and returned not again.”  Canon William Odom’s description of the window in its original form is quoted at http://www.sheffieldsoldierww1.co.uk/Memorial/St%20Clements.html.

Furthermore, some panels of glass at Ainslie are clearly intended to fit cusped tracery, yet the Sydney designer Phillip Handel has mounted all the glass in a single steel frame.  Some of the surplus glass was used in the entrances to the side vestries.

All Saints’ possesses further English glass by Charles Kempe from the parish church of St Margaret, Bagendon, Gloucestershire.

The original bell, which at Rookwood alerted mourners to the departure of the return train to Sydney, had disappeared and was replaced by the bell of an American Shay locomotive that worked at the Wolgan Valley Railway near Lithgow, New South Wales, presented to All Saints’ by the New South Wales Steam Tram & Train Preservation Society in 1958.

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.

Super cinema

Plaza Cinema, Stockport

One of the most enjoyable residential leisure-learning weekends I’ve ever had the pleasure to lead was ‘Dream Palaces:  an introduction to cinema architecture’ in November 2004 for the now-closed and much-lamented Wedgwood Memorial College at Barlaston, near Stoke-on-Trent.

The College was blessed with a cosy atmosphere, an eclectic selection of subjects for study, staff who alike knew the regular students and welcomed newcomers, and home cooking.

The centrepiece of my two-day programme of talks, videos and slide presentations was a half-day trip to visit the Plaza Cinema, Stockport, a magnificent example of an early-Thirties super-cinema, designed by William Thornley and a near twin of his Regal, Altrincham, which opened in 1931 and burnt down in 1956.

The Plaza is unusual in that it’s built into a cliff, its façade facing Mersey Square, once the gathering place for the town’s trams and buses.  Much of the 1,800-seat auditorium is practically underground.  In an evacuation, some members of the audience go upstairs to the emergency exits rather than down.

The interior displays an eclectic mixture of Egyptian, classical, Moorish and Art Deco features of unusual richness:  the original decorative scheme was dominated by the burnished silver dome, lit by a Holophane system of 6,000 variable coloured lights. 

The three-manual, eleven-rank Compton organ, like its sister at the Regal, Altrincham, was built to the specification of Norman Cocker, deputy organist at Manchester Cathedral, and was the very first Compton organ to have an illuminated console.

The Plaza opened in on Friday October 6th 1932, showing Laurel and Hardy in Jailbirds and Jessie Matthews in Out of the Blue.  Its prominent central site protected it from increased competition in its early years and from the inexorable decline of cinema audiences in the 1950s, even though its nearest large competitors belonged to national first-release circuits. 

It was bought by the Mecca Group in 1965, and after initial opposition from Stockport Borough Council a replacement bingo club opened on February 6th 1967.  The stage machinery was removed in 1989 to increase the bingo playing-area, and for a time the café operated as a night-club. Because the building was used as a bingo club until 1998 the auditorium was never subdivided, and its intact interior was in sufficiently good condition to merit Grade II listing.

Even before the closure of the bingo operation, an active campaign for preservation led to the founding of the Friends of the Plaza, an energetic group of volunteers supporting the Stockport Plaza Trust, whose campaign, in turn backed by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, English Heritage and the National Trust, has provided the town with a venue for live performances, recitals and films.

The Trust took possession in March 2000.  Six months later the listing was upgraded to II*, and on October 7th 2000 the building returned to public use.

In 2009, the Plaza closed for a comprehensive £3,200,000 refurbishment, and reopened on 11th December the same year with a cine/variety show, similar to its original 1932 opening show, featuring Gold Diggers of 1933, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in Towed in a Hole, soprano Marilyn Hill-Smith leading a tribute to Gracie Fields with the Plaza Orchestra, and Richard Hills playing the Compton organ.

When my Wedgwood Memorial College group visited a month before Christmas 2004, after a behind-the-scenes tour we joined an audience for Holiday Inn, the film for which Irving Berlin wrote ‘White Christmas’, together with a period newsreel, Pearl & Dean advertisements, the Compton organ, the lady with the ice-cream tray and, at the very end, we all stood up for The Queen.

There could hardly a better prelude to Christmas – all in the cause of adult continuing education. 

Learning should be fun.

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.