Praise for Atkinson’s Cheetham Hill church

St Luke’s Church in Cheetham Hill, Manchester – now, sadly, mostly demolished – has always been regarded as one of Thomas Atkinson’s best church designs. I have just located a glowing appraisal of the church, written by architect Frank Taylor Bellhouse and published in 1841 by The Civil Engineer and Architects Journal that completely justifies this description.

St Lukes, Cheetham Hill-hi-res
St Luke’s before it was mostly demolished (from a postcard)

Like so many of Atkinson’s other ecclesiastical buildings, it was what is referred to as a Commissioner’s Church, completed in 1839 with money received from the French as reparations for the Napoleonic Wars and designed to accommodate the growing number of worshippers to be found in the rapidly expanding industrial towns of the north. It was built of ashlar (finely worked masonry) in the Gothic Perpendicular style that Atkinson helped to popularise and originally it could accommodate a congregation of more than 1500.

One of Atkinson’s original drawings for the church (courtesy of Manchester City archives)

Bellhouse, who is known to have designed parts of the Manchester New Workhouse and who was a member of the Ecclesiological Society, is fulsome in his praise of Atkinson’s building. “I consider the design and execution of the edifice alluded to be of such high excellence, that it is only doing a bare act of justice to the architect to whose genius we are indebted for this beautiful work of art, and also to the admirers of modern ecclesiastical architecture, to give a greater publicity to it than it has yet received”, he writes, adding, “Not having observed anything more than a casual notice of this edifice in your publication, I think a few descriptive remarks, even from an incompetent person, if given in sincerity, and with an eye to the advantage and improvement of the profession, would not be misapplied.”

Bellhouse goes on to give a detailed description of the new church, pointing out that it cost around £14,000 to build and also noting that it contained an organ designed by the well-known company of William Hill and Sons of London – on which the composer Mendelsohn is known to have performed during a visit to the city in April 1847. You can read a review of that concert here.

Most of the church was demolished in the late 1980s after it ‘fell into disuse’. Today only the church tower – minus its spire – remains, although it is Grade II listed. We can only imagine the interior, as described by Bellhouse:

I am happy in being able to state that the finishing and painting of this beautiful church was intrusted to the care of Mr. Atkinson, who seems to have spared no pains or trouble in fulfilling the arduous task imposed on him. The whole of the walls are tinted of a warm stone colour, the mouldings left white, and the most prominent members of  them gilt, which gives it a most rich and mellow appearance. The ceiling over the nave is divided by the roof principals, and moulded ribs into square compartments, and these again painted in imitation of oak tracery and panels. The pews are painted to imitate grained oak, and lined with crimson moreen.”

The church as it looks today

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