Wythenshawe's Churches in the 20thC
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The spiritual side of Wythenshawe also continued to grow and diversify. New churches were built and others refurbished. Two new Anglican, one Roman Catholic and two Nonconformist churches arose in Northenden and Wythenshawe.
The Anglican Church of William Temple was opened in 1965 on the corner of Robinswood Road and Simonsway as the church of the Civic Centre. The mission was already well-established, having begun many years previously in Shadow Moss School Room, latterly operating in a dual-purpose building on Simonsway. The architect, George Pace, agreed with the proviso that he should not design a 'pseudo' building, but that it should be modern in concept. This he did and particular attention was paid to the acoustics with a view to music and drama being performed there. One of Pace's stipulations was that, as with all the churches he designed, there must be no plaques attached to the walls commemorating the dedication of the church or in memory of anyone, for he said he built his churches to the Glory of God. The only lettered stone is on the back wall of the church and it has on it the date of the consecration and a symbol, which is Pace's original sign for William Temple Church.
The internal supports of the church are black-painted steel girders, not romantically symbolising the industry of the area, as it is sometimes said, but because when it was discovered that the church had been built on swampy ground an extra £2,000 was needed for foundations; the wooden beams of the original design had to be changed for cheaper steel ones. There is symbolism, however, in the placing of the font between and beneath the three main weight-bearing supports of the church.
The pews have an interesting history, having been brought from derelict churches in and around Manchester. The present lady churchwarden said:
“whenever we heard of a church being demolished we borrowed Mr. Owen's coal cart and went off to see if we could buy any of the pews. Many times I've sat on the back of the wagon, in the pouring rain, with the pews, bringing them back to Wythenshawe to be stored until our church building was completed!”
Some time after the building was opened a fire damaged some of the pews. With the insurance money all the pews were stripped and bleached, giving an element of uniformity and a bright welcoming atmosphere in the church generally. An interesting thought was voiced that as many people living in Wythenshawe now had their origins near to the centre of Manchester they may be sitting in the same pews in which their ancestors once sat.
The church, dedicated to St Richard on Peel Hall Road, was consecrated in 1969 and developed from a prayer cell. It was originally the Church of All Saints. Worship there was sacramentally based, centred around prayer and parish communion. The building is constructed of large greyish stone blocks, easily confused with breeze blocks. Set into the inside walls are stones from York, Canterbury and Chichester cathedrals, and one ancient stone from Manchester Cathedral. The building was designed by Gordon Thorne and seats two hundred. The silver and wood cross, which hangs in the sanctuary, was donated by St Aidan's College, Birkenhead, as was the bell, which has now been electrified. Flanking the altar are four stone amboses set at varying heights, which give a pleasant balance to the whole. Some of the furnishings of the church were made by the congregation, the men constructing the wooden pews and the ladies embroidering the vestments.
Although the parish has been said to be somewhat like a 'transit' camp, there is a nucleus of people who carry forward the work of the church and perform many of the practical tasks which other churches have done professionally. One example is the Church Magazine, which is written and printed by the clergy and parishioners, thus showing a profit.
An even more do-it-yourself church was the Full Gospel Church, which was opened in Crossacres. It was built in 1970, at a cost of £6,000, by the worshippers themselves on the site of the old building. Later the church was insured for £40,000. Resources both of labour and materials from around the area were used. The rubble from the old 1949 building was used as 'fill' and the members of the church were the labourers. Even the girls helped with the digging. Non-members helped too, for some of the local residents, admiring the keenness of the workers, supplied them with hot soup on the cold days. As each expense or difficulty arose a solution was quickly forthcoming. For example, when the time came for the electrical system to be installed money was not available, but an Altrincham businessman, newly converted to the faith, came to the rescue by allowing his electricians to do the work free of charge, and also by loaning the cost of the equipment. A pattern of good luck and goodwill obtained throughout the building of the church.
In 1970 the Roman Catholic church in Kenworthy Lane was also opened. The new church of St Hilda was built alongside the picturesque half-timbered building, which for a long time had been too small for its rapidly-growing congregation and has now been demolished to make way for flats. The new, brick-built, wigwam-style church is just as attractive as its predecessor was. The unusual design incorporates an octagonal, open-plan nave with baptistry, sanctuary, chapel, narthex and choir with an organ. The church seats 350, and has two confessionals and a literature store. Behind the baptistry is a parish room. An interesting feature of the church is the off-set apex, which supports a six foot cross. This presents an unusual view between the houses to the shoppers on Palatine Road. The building cost about £60,000, some of which was raised by 'National Fireside Bingo'. Although the church was opened at Easter the first sung mass was celebrated on 19 June in remembrance of the first mass said in the old building, on 19 June 1904.
Members of the Jehovah's Witness faith bought the A.B.C. Forum Cinema in Northenden after attempts to turn it into a bingo hall had failed. Since its purchase, often at weekends many people could be seen with ladders and paint brushes enthusiastically decorating the outside of the building. The inside, too, has been refurbished by the worshippers. They quickly turned the old cinema into the northern 'Cathedral' of their faith, and on Saturdays and Sundays the two large car parks are full and overflowing onto the side roads with vehicles that had brought members to the services.
The ecumenical movement is quite strong in the Wythenshawe area. In some parishes at Easter time open-air services are held instead of the annual Whitsun Walks, but in others the traditional type of witness continues. When William Temple, Woodhouse Park, St Anthony's Roman Catholic, St Mark's and the Salvation Army joined together the Wythenshawe Express reported:
“Two and a half thousand children, adults, band members and clergy took part in this year's combined Procession of Witness and found the idea of one meeting place for all five denominations a much better arrangement, but the longer route was not so popular.”
In Benchill, Brownley Green Methodists, St Luke's Church of England and Brownley Green Baptists walked together in the Whit Walks. Although in general the Roman Catholics joined with the other churches in making their witness, they also held their own ceremonies. Pictures in the Wythenshawe Express during the 1970s showed St Aidan's, Northern Moor, holding its annual 'Crowning of Our Lady' and children performing, in mime, aspects of Mary's life.
The four or five new churches which were built in Wythenshawe during this period had come into being because of the local people's Christian beliefs and generosity of spirit, as well as their Christian stewardship. From the mid-1930s onwards, when the first houses were erected, the people of Wythenshawe had shown how important corporate worship was, and still is to many of them, by the building of churches of all denominations, often requiring considerable self-sacrifice. Some of the churches were paid for completely by the contributions of the parishioners and local residents, and others were physically built by the worshippers. Wythenshawe is regarded by many as a cultural and spiritual wilderness and yet here, in the influence of the churches, can be found a commitment rarely seen elsewhere.