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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

150th Anniversary of the Holy Name Church, Manchester

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Photograph of the Holy Name Church from a postcard, c1907

This year, 15 October marks the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, or more commonly, the Holy Name, in Manchester.

RX/7: Letter from Fr Thomas Porter SJ inviting a priest to the opening of the church

The Holy Name mission actually began slightly earlier, in 1868, when a temporary structure named the Gesù (after the Jesuits’ church in Rome) but popularly known as the ‘Shed’ was solemnly opened by William Turner, first Bishop of Salford. Fr Thomas Porter SJ was the mission’s Superior, and it was his responsibility to oversee the construction of a permanent structure – what would become the Holy Name. This was the name eventually chosen, in deference to the Bishop, who preferred it to the Gesù.

When the land that the church now stands on came onto the market, it was bought for £3,500 with the help of Lady Stapleton Bretherton, and in 1869 the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Turner. The architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom, originator of the Hansom Cab, based the building on Gothic styles of France, but the interior is designed to give maximum exposure to the solemn celebration of the Mass, the cult of the Eucharist, preaching, and the hearing of confessions.

RX/9: Early plan of the area surrounding the church

When the church was first built, Chorlton-on-Medlock was a middle-class suburb. The area surrounding the church was largely residential, with green fields behind the presbytery. As well as the growing middle classes, Manchester was home to a large and expanding population of Irish immigrants. Bishop Turner was keen to have a church in Chorlton-on-Medlock staffed with priests who could meet the needs of the population. The old ‘Shed’ was turned into a school, a property on Upper Brook Street being purchased 30 years later to accommodate the growing number of pupils.

Scott's design for the tower

After the church’s opening, there was still work to be done: the presbytery and sacristy were added, the Lady, Sacred Heart and Holy Souls altars were completed, as well as the High Altar, Communion rails, iron railings, and stations of the cross. Alterations to the church fabric and building continued into the next century. The tower, designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott, was completed in 1828 in memory of Fr Bernard Vaughan SJ (browse his catalogue here), a renowned preacher whose sermons drew large crowds and who served as rector between 1888 and 1901.

During the Second World War the church escaped relatively unscathed save for some blown out windows and damage to one of the turrets by a balloon cable. Throughout this time, parish life flourished, but during the 1960s demolition of the surrounding area gained pace, and in the construction of a University precinct as well as the slum clearances, the Holy Name lost most of its former 10,000 parishioners. The bishop asked the Jesuits to close the church in 1985. The congregation had so dwindled that the church was closed for most of the day. In 1992 the Jesuits were replaced by priests and brothers hoping to form the Manchester branch of the Oratory order. In 2012 the Jesuits returned to Manchester to take over the chaplaincy to the Universities, the Royal Northern College of Music and the church.

At full capacity the Church can seat well over 1,000 people

Between 2017 and 2019, as part of a wider project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to carry out essential repairs on the Grade 1 listed building, a collection of architectural plans of the church were conserved and digitised. All the plans are original, and mostly date back to the construction of the church or the planning stages in the 1860s. Many bear the architect, Joseph Hansom’s, signature, stamp, or the stamp of his partner, forming an invaluable resource and important part of the church’s history. The digitised images can be viewed at the bottom of this page and the catalogue can be browsed here.

A history of the church published in its centenary year, 1972, can be found here and personal memories and photographs of the church collected as part of the Your Holy Name Project can be found here: Phase 1 and Phase 2.

If you are interested in what the archives hold relating to the church, please contact us.


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