The Early Nineteenth-Century Church

I am a member of Churchcrawling – A Passion for Churches on Facebook, run by Fr Allan Barton. An article came up about a church in Manchester with a kind of architecture I have never really liked. It is the “preaching barn” built in about 1830 with “gothick” windows and a bell tower, usually well built in stone, but with a large space enclosed by the outside walls and a two-pitched roof. The design excludes side aisle or pillars, and especially eliminates the quire, leaving only a small stubby sanctuary for the altar.

The east window is ghastly and the style is manifestly very low church, though there are icons and candles on the altar.

Coming from the north myself, this is the typical church from about 1830, the answer to the Industrial Revolution. They are not only low-church Anglican buildings, but the RC Church also sometimes built in this style rather than copying the native pre-Reformation style of most Anglican buildings. An example is Holy Trinity & St George in Kendal (my home town). This design did away with the choir of the church, as did the Counter-Reformation.

The sanctuary is very Strawberry Hill gothick. The church was built between 1835 and 1837 for the growing Roman Catholic community in Kendal. Until the 1980’s, there were two side altars with nice German-style retables. The old altar is still in situ, but it might only be the front without any depth to give room for versus populum celebration. Note the arrangement of the pews with two side passages and no central aisle. St Thomas’ has the same arrangement.

The church has no tower, doubtlessly for financial reasons and because Roman Catholic churches were not allowed to ring bells until the early nineteenth century. The façade is quite French.

The low church Anglican parish in the same town, St Thomas. I was baptised in this church in October 1959.

The architecture is stark, and the scissor beam arrangement for the sanctuary roof is interesting. The structure had to be reinforced with tie rods pulling the end walls together. For its time, it would have been quite a feat of engineering.

St George’s (more high church) near Stramongate Bridge was built in the same style without pillars or side aisles, but had an Edwardian sanctuary in the early 20th century. This was my childhood parish and where hearing the organ started me off on a whole quest in life.

This is the church from the outside. There were twin spires which had to come down because of weaknesses in the foundations. The architecture of the nave is remarkably similar to St Thomas’ and the RC parish church.

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2 Responses to The Early Nineteenth-Century Church

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you – this is so interesting (to use that feeble word)! The things I haven’t paid attention to, in ‘Gothic Revival’… (!)

    (Is there a choir massed under the pulpit in St. George’s? Is that (in part) an acoustic choice?)

    • I have no idea about the modern arrangements (eg. plastic chairs) in these churches I last entered more than 40 years ago. This kind of gothic revival was very different from Pugin, Viollet le Duc and others at the very end of the 19th century who sought to imitate more liturgical notions of gothic churches.

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