Hallé St Peter’s History
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that Ancoats became more than just a small collection of houses and fields; it was home to the factories that led to Manchester becoming one of the most important industrial districts in the world.
By the time St. Peter’s was built in 1859, Ancoats had been transformed from a small township into a bustling and overcrowded industrial suburb with a population of more than 50,000. The area’s landmark buildings had become the huge red-brick factories which stood between the Ashton and Rochdale Canals and, for the predominantly migrant, working-class population, daily life was a struggle: cramped, back-to-back houses with meagre wages to live from made conditions truly desperate for those living there.
Building St. Peter’s
Other than factories and workshops, Ancoats had few public buildings. Before 1840 there were no Anglican churches in the area at all and, in such a deprived part of the city, it became clear that Ancoats desperately needed more churches. In order to solve this problem, a committee of influential middle-class Anglicans set about in making plans to build St. Peter’s.
This was to be the first Anglican Church built in this predominantly Roman Catholic community and was one of the initial phases of Church-building undertaken by Bishop Prince Lee (Manchester’s first Anglican Bishop) following the creation of the Manchester Diocese.
Despite the fact that money had been raised by donations from wealthy Anglicans – the poor local community unable to pay for its construction – the Church had to be built on a budget of only £4,200. This meant that Isaac Holden, the architect and founder chairman of the Manchester Society of Architects, had to be imaginative and practical in his design. For example, brick was used instead of the more expensive stone.
Although the task of finding a site for the new Church in such a heavily built-up area was not an easy one, eventually the area at the junction of Blossom Street and Murray Street was chosen. The Church, able to seat up to 1,336 people, was consecrated at 3 o’clock on Saturday 14th January 1860 with its Sunday school opening three years later.
In the early 1900s, the first floor gallery, that had originally occupied three sides of the Church, was greatly altered: the side aisle sections were removed and the remaining west end portion extended to pass across the whole end of the church. The result of this change was that the Church’s seating capacity was reduced by around 300.
Decline and Restoration
By the mid-1950s a combination of economic, social and cultural issues led to the closure of an ever-growing number of inner-city churches. A decline of the industry in Ancoats, along with the slum clearance now taking place resulted in fewer and fewer people living in the parish of St. Peter’s. This meant that the congregation of St Peter’s diminished significantly and was subsequently joined with that of the nearby St James’ Church.
St. Peter’s was in desperate need of repairs but, with a declining congregation, struggled to raise enough money to complete them. The Church closed shortly after its centenary in 1960, as the congregation had reduced to a size that was simply not sustainable.
Twenty-five years of mixed use followed the Church’s closure, from a University theatre prop storage space to a knitting factory. The building was listed (Grade 2) in 1989 as part of the designation of the Ancoats Conservation Area but was abandoned in the early 1990s,purchased by a developer with long-term plans to convert it for residential use.
The building suffered vandalism and all its internal fittings and external railings were stolen. Slates were stripped from parts of the roof and squatters caused localised fires leading, in the end, to the total loss of the fluted roof at the top of the tower. St Peter’s was left to rot, a symbol of wider neglect and dereliction of Ancoats.
In 1995, the Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust (ABPT) was established with the intention of redeveloping some of the key buildings in the conservation area. Initial work began to restore St Peter’s in 1998 and by 2003 a major grant had been confirmed from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as others from English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
The project involved the re-roofing of the building and high level brickwork repairs, but left its interior as a stripped-out shell and the window openings boarded up. The level of vandalism and theft that St. Peter’s had seen mean that the restoration project was challenging. Wherever possible, St. Peter’s was restored to look as it would have done originally.Safeguarding the building was a significant catalyst for the regeneration of the Ancoats Conservation Area and the restored tower became known as the ‘beacon of hope’ for the area.
Hallé and St Peter’s
St Peter’s Church is now a permanent rehearsal centre for the Hallé ensembles and a resource for the whole community.
The construction of St Peter’s used mill technology with brick and narrow iron beams creating a light and spacious building, perfect for conversion into a space for the Hallé’s rehearsal and recording needs.
This restoration is Phase One of a longer term project to build an extension on the adjoining site to provide workshop, archive and other facilities.