St Benedict’s – Bennett St – Ardwick – Manchester – M12 5ND

29 Aug

Saint Benedict’s Church as it stands reborn as the Manchester Climbing Centre – 2011. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

St Benedict’s Church stands today has it has done since 1878; a real architectual gem and shining brightly in Ardwick.

However, in December 2002, its future looked far from bright when after a long and hard fight by its remaining parishioners it was declared “redundant” by the local diocese and forced to close. One online campaign hoped the that the church could be saved by a “miracle to take us into the 21st century”. Sadly at the time the miracle did not come in time and the church subsequently became one of Manchester’s most famous “at risk” buildings as the church lay closed for the next 3 years.

Climbing the wall at Manchester Climbing Centre in 2011. © 2012 Manchester Climbing Centre.

Yet miracles do sometimes happen and one did in the form of internationally renowned Yorkshire climber, John Dunne, who after much hard work and a £70,000 grant from English Heritage, on Saturday 26th February 2005 opened the Manchester Climbing Centre replacing pews with synthetic rock faces and placing a cave where once an alter stood and proving that our architectural heritage can be retained and reinvented for the 21st century and importantly work economically to benefit the community it serves.What has been achieved at the Manchester Climbing Centre is a credit to John and his team and to their vision and imagination, sensitively restoring and retaining the integrity of the Grade 2* listed Italianate St Benedict’s Church, notably the striking stained glass windows and ornate tiles, whilst fixing parts of the roof, rewiring electrics and curing the dry rot that had set in. It truly needs to be seen to be believed and stands as a testament to the fact that regeneration doesn’t always equal apartments.

St Benedicts Church was built like similar grandiose ecclesiastical buildings, like the restored Gorton Monastery and the ever popular Holy Name RC Church on Oxford Road, in and for some of the poorest parishes in Manchester and served those who were often in desperate poverty.

The church was born out of necessity and needed to serve the community of Ardwick. The point of which was first raised by Canon Tongue. Canon Tongue was the secretary to the Manchester Diocesan Church Building Society and in 1876 he called upon Alderman John Marsland Bennett and asked for a piece of land to be given for the building of a church. Mr Bennett was to surpass Canon Tongue’s and everyones expectations when he did indeed grant the required land, but also took it upon himself to act as project manager and erect and equip the project.

John Marsland Bennett, for whom the street is named after which the church was built on, was from the very wealthy Bennett family. Married to Mary and father to five children, John with his wife were both staunch church goers and went onto play a very active role in the life of St Benedict’s.

St George’s Church, Chester Road, Hulme in 2011. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

Saint Benedict’s Church was designed by celebrated architect, Mr J S Crowther, who built many churches in Manchester between 1850-1884, and notably restored the Grade II* Church of St George, Chester Road in Hulme in 1884, which around 2000 was converted to apartments. Mr Crowther also restored the Grade I listed Manchester Cathedral between 1850–1870. His vision for St Benedict’s was simple, “the building should be plain, but massive” and that the High Anglican faith rather than Roman Catholic should be preached there. It is a truly rare architectural gem in Ardwick and very reminiscent of Italianate churches to found in Bologna.

The story of the church very much mirrors the rise and fall of the community of Ardwick as whole. From a once bustling community of terraced housing and busy shops along Hyde Road, then subsequent decline in industry, jobs and in turn population and mass ruthless demolition which essentially left the community and church with little more than 800 people left living in the area. The legacy of which is still very much in evidence in the area today. What is for sure is that what ever happens in Ardwick in the future, St Benedict’s will stand proudly as a beacon for the area for everyone alike.

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