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Call 0161 223 3211 or email Kate or Fran now.

We would love you to visit us at The Monastery! You’ll be sure of a warm welcome, and we know you’ll enjoy the time you spend with us.

For more information, click here.

Keep up to date with the amazing array of events we hold all year around.

**The Monastery is open to the public 10am-4pm, Sunday to Thursday each week. Free entry & parking. All welcome!**

Heritage and Well-being: Guest Post

A 6-minute read.

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by our postgraduate placement students, Emma Gossage and Jenny Jackman, who are studying Cultural Heritage Management at The University of York.

Heritage and Well-being: Guest Post

Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has made us all more aware of the importance of looking after our health and well-being. As we have been forced to stay at home, many of us have felt the effects of loneliness and isolation.

There has been a growing recognition of the value that in-person social activities (such as visiting friends and family and engaging in cultural activities) has on our mood and emotions.

Heritage can help to increase these positive emotions and benefit overall well-being. But how?

Heritage sites have the potential to be much more than places to go to learn about history and see old objects. Heritage venues, such as churches, historic houses, museums and galleries, have the power to give us a sense of rootedness, identity and community.

Connecting heritage and well-being has the potential to enhance wellness. The unique experiences the spaces offer, through their history and heritage, can be places of safety and support for well-being projects.

At Manchester Monastery the historic spiritual spaces provide opportunity for silent contemplation and mindfulness without the structures of a traditional religious space, which could be alienating to some individuals.

Can well-being be defined?

Understanding well-being can be difficult at first, especially as it goes far beyond just mental or physical health.

The World Health Organisation first defined well-being, in 1948, as:

 “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

 Well-being is much more than just our mental or physical state. It includes anything that makes up who you are as a person and those things that affect your ability to live your life well – at any stage – regardless of physical or psychological differences.

It can include socioeconomic health (like your access to employment) as well social connections and your sense of belonging.

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing defines well-being as:

“How we’re doing” as individuals, communities and as a nation, and how sustainable that is for the future”. 

Well-being is holistic, connecting individual aspects like the body, mind, and spirit with external aspects such as your connection to people, place and the planet.

The mental health charity, Mind, have illustrated this in their ‘Wheel of Well-being’.

Wheel of Wellbeing diagram

Well-being and the historic environment

It is estimated that 1 in 6 adults in the UK experience at least one diagnosable mental illness per year. It is likely that the effects of the pandemic have greatly increased this number over the past year.

Research shows that combining heritage and well-being can positively affect an individual’s mental and physical health by providing a sense of community, increasing confidence and reducing social anxiety.

There are many more benefits, both tangible (physical things you can see or touch) and intangible (things you can’t see but can feel and know are there like emotions and opinions).

Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Sense of identity and community
  • Boost in confidence and social skills
  • Feeling much more connected to your heritage and the place you live
  • Feeling safe and stable
  • Feeling increased empathy for other groups or points of view
  • Making new friends and building social and professional networks
  • Increasing exercise and physical health; generally being more active
  • Developing career opportunities and new skills
  • Finding a sense of purpose and usefulness
  • Lower numbers of people experiencing mental illnesses like anxiety and depression
  • Helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of heritage spaces
  • Heritage sites more accurately reflecting the needs of their communities
  • Helping communities to grow and develop
  • Creating intergenerational connections
  • Financial – the impact for both heritage sites and the NHS.

Government research from 2015, estimated that promoting regular visits to heritage sites and museums could save the NHS nearly £300 million a year because of a related reduction in GP and psychotherapy appointments.

Heritage and well-being at Manchester Monastery

The Monastery aims to become a hub for health and well-being projects in Manchester to become a ‘Modern-Day Monastery’. This can be achieved by bringing together heritage, spirituality, and well-being in their space to support their communities.

Originally, The Monastery was the home of Franciscan friars, and these traditional values can be brought to a modern audience to increase overall well-being.

The Monastery can embrace the traditionally religious tools that they have available in their spiritual space for secular purposes. The use of silent spaces – traditionally for prayer and religious worship – can be adapted as venues for mindfulness and meditation, which has been proven to increase overall well-being and decrease feelings of anxiety or stress that are common in modern society.

The future of heritage and well-being

Although there have already been significant developments in the study of heritage and well-being over the last few years, the field still has quite a way to go before it really reaches its full potential.

It’s more important than ever to increase accessibility to those who have previously felt excluded because of their socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or even sexual identity.

Many heritage and well-being organisations are already working to increase inclusivity. We can expect many more events and projects that focus on the mental health of the wider community – no matter what their identity may be.

This will help us to better understand how different groups respond to different heritage well-being methods, helping us fine-tune how we create future projects, appraisal styles, and frameworks.

Heritage and well-being case studies

Strawberry Field Spiritual Exploration – The Salvation Army

Previously the site of a Salvation Army children’s home – where the young John Lennon played in the grounds – Strawberry Field in Liverpool has many experiences and activities for visitors to participate in.

The core value is to take part in spiritual exploration in heritage and educational settings. With religious and secular beliefs accommodated, the centre has prayer spaces, a gratitude tree, and a general cultivated garden space open for meditation and reflection.

The centre also offers a media guide through the gardens, leading visitors on a reflective walk accompanied by relevant Beatles and John Lennon songs to bring together history and well-being.

Throughout the year, the centre offers workshops and events to allow community groups to come together. Activities can include: socially distanced garden walks with staff members to help combat Covid-19 isolation and loneliness; one on one spiritual guidance; and Reflect, Connect and Chat mornings.

The spiritual visitor journey has increased engagement with spirituality within the local community and increased visitor numbers.

Strawberry Field, Liverpool
Strawberry Field, Liverpool. Take a look at their website.

Creative Connections – Gloucester Cathedral

Designed to support adults in recovery and managing mental health issues through artistic expression, Creative Connections (a 12-week art course) was created by Gloucester Cathedral in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council Adult Education Service.

The course (designed for 9 adults referred by the local NHS recovery centre) gave participants productive and positive senses of purpose, helping them cope during their recoveries from depression.

The project coincided with World Suicide Prevention Day and local suicide prevention events to help raise community awareness for mental health issues and the final exhibition was displayed in a free exhibition in the cathedral.

Our student placement at Manchester Monastery

 Emma Gossage

My placement experience at The Monastery has been incredibly insightful, invaluable, and so interesting.

We started the placement in April 2021, when the national restrictions meant that not only was The Monastery closed and all of our university teaching was being done online but also, we were all working from home. This meant that the placement would have to be ‘virtual’, relying completely on Zoom and Google Drive.

Despite the practical difficulties of not being able to physically come to The Monastery, the staff at The Monastery, particularly Caroline and Jeannine, supported us to undertake research over 10 weeks to build a database on current heritage and well-being projects that could help guide future project and funding priorities.

Having the opportunity and support to undertake this work was invaluable for me. Before starting the placement, I had a limited understanding of well-being and its application to heritage studies or how the two can come together to support communities.

I felt the work was especially important and relevant as we were starting to come out of lockdown and it would begin to address the impact that the pandemic has had on mental and physical well-being.

Being one small part of The Monastery’s approach to helping their communities has been such an amazing opportunity and I hope that I will be able to visit The Monastery in person once restrictions are lifted!

Jenny Jackman

The experience has been extremely rewarding on an academic and personal level. Creating the database has unveiled the future possibilities of how mental health can benefit from heritage and community culture, something I was unfamiliar with before the placement.

During the pandemic, we have been relying on different sources in our local areas to help maintain our well-being. The UK has such a wealth of heritage spaces across all regions, it makes sense to use them in new ways to increase community engagement and accessibility.

I am looking forward to many of the benefits I have seen from other projects being applied to the Monastery and the Manchester/Gorton area and hope that our work really helps make an impact. I have thoroughly enjoyed my placement with the team at The Monastery and can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about the links between heritage and well-being and are just as keen to see future projects from The Monastery that really showcase some of those benefits!

Authors | Emma Gossage & Jenny Jackman  Editor | Dr. Caroline Paige

Emma and Jenny took part in a student placement at Manchester Monastery. If you’re looking for a student placement in Manchester, ask your university to contact us.

It’s a great way to strengthen your CV and meet others who share your interests.

Find out more

If you’d like a career in heritage management, take a look at the postgraduate MA course in Cultural Heritage Management that Emma and Jenny are studying at The University of York.

Find out more

Using Manchester Heritage to Nurture Well-being | Dr. Caroline Paige

A 5-minute read.

Heritage and well-being at Manchester Monastery

A story of community action to rescue and restore an endangered heritage site. The legacy of the community that built it is now conserved for future generations. The continuing legacy of The Monastery is to nurture well-being. They do this by providing a sanctuary for the people of Manchester and beyond.
 
Heritage projects can make a big contribution to the way people feel about their lives. Combined with a strategic mission to improve well-being, they can be a powerful force for good.
 
First, we’ll consider what we mean by ‘heritage’.

What is heritage?

Our heritage is what the past has given us. It’s our inheritance. It’s what we value and choose to preserve for the future.
 
This heritage is many different things. It can be historic sites, buildings, or objects. It can also mean the less tangible (like crafts, sports, music, folklore and knowledge). Heritage also encompasses the natural world. Think of everything that forms the natural world. It can be great landscapes and coastlines or city parks (and the creatures that live in them).
“Our tangible, intangible and natural heritage and all the associated myths, legends, traditions, and memories provide us with a common language and insight that enables us to communicate on a deep level with each other and to express ourselves in a unique way to the outside world.” The Heritage Council for Ireland

How does heritage affect our lives?

Heritage helps us understand our past and how we got to where we are today. It helps us to look at our history and traditions, so we can develop our awareness of ourselves.
 
This reflection on our past enables us to shape our identity and values. Looking at our past helps us understand our present. This can inform what we value and wish to preserve – a sense of identity.

Cloister Garden at Manchester Monastery

What is community heritage?

Community heritage describes groups of people who work to preserve their local heritage. This heritage can be both tangible and intangible. Tangible heritage is something that you can see and visit, like a building or a park. Intangible heritage is something that you can’t see and keep in the same way but can experience – like language.
 
Volunteers spend many hours working to keep their cultural heritage sustainable and accessible. This work can promote feelings of connectedness and belonging. A fact recognised by the National Lottery, which funds community heritage projects.
 
Next, we’ll look at The Monastery as a heritage site.

Legacy and heritage at Manchester Monastery

The Monastery is a friary. Monks live in a monastery and friars live in a friary. Locals called it a monastery and the name stuck.
 
Built in Victorian Manchester, the Church of Friary of St Francis is a great example of High Victorian Gothic architecture. Designed by Edward Welby Pugin it’s an architectural masterpiece. It also embodies the civic pride of the community that built it. The people of Gorton laboured to build the church and its associated buildings. They worked at weekends and after long shifts in their paid employment. Even children helped by making bricks.
It was the centre of the catholic community. The site housed several schools that educated generations of children. Gorton Lane bustled with people visiting the church and its schools for almost a century.
 
Declining church attendance from the 1970s meant less money given to church collections. Financial problems worsened when local engineering works closed. All this happened during years of high national unemployment. Finally, the wholescale demolition of streets of terraced housing removed the community. Streets upon streets of houses, that once surrounded the church, gone. Their inhabitants rehoused throughout Greater Manchester. The loss of community meant the church was not sustainable and its doors closed.
 
Years of neglect followed. Stripped of assets, vandalised, and left to decay. The derelict buildings were a sad reminder of a past heyday. They now represented a community fragmented and overlooked.
 
Community action overcame this. A strong community was still present, both in Gorton and further afield. Their resilience proved in the rescue and restoration of their cultural heritage.

Community heritage at Manchester Monastery

In 1996, former altar boy Paul Griffiths and his wife Elaine led a team of local volunteers. Their campaign was to try to save this Manchester landmark. They formed a charitable trust and began fundraising.
 
“It became a labour of love for all concerned and they held a strong vision that the Monastery could once again become a sanctuary, but this time it would bring people together and be for everyone from all faiths, backgrounds, beliefs and traditions. We believed that the Monastery could have an important spiritual role to play in our secular and fast changing world, serving the multi-cultural City of Manchester and beyond.” Elaine Griffiths, CEO, Manchester Monastery
It took over a decade of dedicated campaigning and fundraising to raise the funds to restore the monastery. This important part of Manchester history reopened to the public as a community, cultural and commercial venue in 2007. It wasn’t easy and they succeeded against all odds.
 
The Monastery has over 30 awards. Some are for its heritage and conservation achievements. Some for its charitable work. And some for its success as a unique venue for hire.

Heritage, health, and well-being at The Monastery

An exemplar of community heritage it makes its own income to preserve the site by operating as a venue. Surplus profits support the Trust’s charitable work. Now in its 25th year, the Trust has its original founders and many of the original team of volunteers.
 
Covid-19 meant the Monastery closed for over a year. Thanks to Heritage Emergency and Cultural Recovery Grants it has survived and adapted.
 
Revenue from special events allowed the careful restoration and conservation of the building. They saved it for future generations. The Monastery can now refocus on its heritage and charitable role. Helping the Manchester community whilst rebuilding its essential income from weddings and events.

Making heritage relevant

Local heritage can play an important role in community development. But using it to create a sense of identity means more than just conserving.
“Its relevance needs to be communicated in the present so that it may continue into the future.” UNESCO World Heritage Convention, 2013
Relevance here is the role of community heritage in promoting health and well-being.

Setting up a centre for well-being

The Charitable Trust wanted to improve health and well-being within Greater Manchester. The Sanctuary of Peace and Healing is run by Dr Jeannine Goh and Charmain Berry. It seeks to provide the people of Manchester with a safe, warm and inviting space to share and be heard.
“We understand that being heard is fundamental to our well-being. It allows us to process our pain and remember who we truly are.” Dr Jeannine Goh

How it will help health and well-being in Manchester

The Sanctuary of Peace and Healing’s key initiatives are:
  • To destigmatise mental distress with a focus on compassionate health
  • A listening service and educational courses which centre on self-knowledge and self-empowerment
  • Pioneering and creative approaches to positive health choices and social and creative events.
We want visitors to feel confident and enjoy taking personal responsibility for their health.
 
The Listening Service offers free counselling. They train volunteer listeners in effective listening. This training can count towards an accredited certificate in counselling.
 
Manchester Monastery also provides a quiet place for you to escape from the hustle, bustle and strain of daily life. Entry is free Sunday to Thursday and there’s a one-hour silence every day at noon. A wonderful tonic for the brain, soul, and self.
 

The History of Manchester Monastery: It’s Quite a Story

A piece of Manchester History

A 10-minute read.

It’s a story of new communities working together to overcome adversity. It’s a story of the people.

Read on to explore the extraordinary story of Manchester Monastery and its part in Manchester history.

A monastery in Victorian Manchester

Manchester Monastery Whit walk around 1960. The friars walk behind the banner with the girls holding the banner strings.

The Monastery started life with a different name, it was The Church and Friary of St Francis, West Gorton. Locals called it the monastery. The Franciscan friars, dressed in their habits, would have looked like monks to the people of Victorian Manchester.

To understand why Roman Catholic Franciscan Friars built here we need to look at attitudes to religion in Victorian Britain.

Changing attitudes in Victorian Britain

Catholicism had been illegal in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland since the 16th century. In 1534, Henry VIII broke away from the all-powerful Catholic Church and declared himself Supreme Head of the Church in England.

Before this, the Pope, as head of the Church, claimed spiritual and political power over its followers. Anti-Catholicism in 16th-century England centred on fear the Pope wanted to take control of England in allegiance with England’s enemies – Spain or France.

Henry VIII’s radical Reformation of English religion began because the Pope refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon, daughter of the Spanish rulers Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. You may have heard of Henry’s Dissolution (or Suppression) of the Monasteries. British school curriculums mean that it’s well-known legislation from this period.

Manchester Monastery History Henry VIII
Stained glass window of Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace. Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash

By the end of the 18th century, there was greater tolerance and changes to anti-Catholic laws in 1829 decriminalised Catholicism.

In 1850, the Vatican (the home of the Pope and Roman Catholic rule making) responded by creating Catholic dioceses in England. This created a surge in Catholic church building in the newly United Kingdom on a scale not seen since the reign of Henry VIII.

The Catholic Diocese for Manchester was named the Diocese of Salford, to avoid the same name as the Church of England Diocese of Manchester.

A Franciscan College in Douai

Franciscan college in Douai
Postcard c.1910 of the building that housed the English College at the time of its dissolution in 1793. C. Baron, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The anti-Catholic laws of the 16th century meant that Englishmen who wanted to train as Franciscan friars attended the Franciscan College in Douai (now Northern France). From the 17th century, Douai was the centre of English Catholicism.

That ended at the close of the 18th century when the French Revolution suppressed (not allowed to practice) religious orders and abolished feudal laws that gave the Catholic Church political and economic power.

Franciscan friars in Victorian Manchester

In the early 1800s, there were still a few elderly Franciscans alive in England who had trained at the college in Douai. These retired friars lived at the Franciscan Convent in Taunton. They hoped increased tolerance of Catholicism would allow a Franciscan Order to be established again in the British Isles.

They asked friars from the Belgian Province that neighboured Douai to help to bolster the expanding English provinces[1] – an English Mission which the Belgian Recollect Friars began in London in the 1850s.[2]

In November 1861, three Belgian friars arrived by train in Victorian Manchester.[3] Invited by the Bishop of Salford, they came to look after the Catholic parish of Fairfield and to create the new Catholic parish of Gorton.[4]

New communities in Victorian Manchester

Gorton Mills 1840
Gorton Mills, 1840

Victorian Manchester saw new Catholic Irish communities arrive and a growing demand for Catholic churches.

Failed harvests brought famine to Ireland. Many families fled resulting in large-scale migration to England and Scotland. The cities of Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, and London saw the largest migration of Irish communities.[5]

Manchester transformed from an 18th century market town to a commercial and manufacturing centre of the north. Its population rocketed from 10,000 in 1717 to over 300,000 by 1851.[6]

The city spilled outwards consuming satellite districts and villages and repurposing them for new urban development. Vast brick factories and mill buildings dominated the landscape of the city – broken only by areas with street after street of uniform rows of houses surrounding the soot blackened spires of parish churches.

In the ten years leading to 1861, the population of Gorton doubled to 10,000.[7] Gorton now housed large Irish Catholic communities in its new urban housing.[8] These men and women provided much needed labour for the rapidly industrialising city.

Why the friars chose Victorian Manchester

At first, the friars stayed with Father Peter Cardinal in Fairfield, just down the road from Gorton. They started their work there as the Catholic Mission in Gorton on 1 December 1861. It was an important day in the Christian calendar, the first Sunday of Advent.[9]

Father Peter invited the friars to the parish because there were 400 Catholic parishioners and no priest to serve them.[10]

He had recently built a chapel that was also used as a school on Gorton Lane (then called Gorton Old Road). Built in a cruciform (cross) shape, it stood at the far end of what is now the car park.

On Christmas Day 1861, the friars held their first Mass for the Catholic people of Gorton at the chapel school.

Original church and boys' school

Financing the church and friary

Franciscan values, dedicated to working for the poor, meant that Gorton was exactly the right place to build their church and friary. But how could they afford it?

The retired English friars – who trained at Douai and invited the Belgian friars to England – gave the first friars at Gorton £2,000 towards their Mission here. Our friars also received £500 from a benefactor called Thomas Luck.[11]

Next to the school chapel there was a plot of four acres that contained a large house called Bankfield Cottage. The friars bought the site for £2,200 and on 25 April 1862 they moved into Bankfield Cottage, their new home in Gorton.[12]

Fundraising continued with regular collections from the local population and bazaars held in the city to promote the cause to wealthy donors.[13]

Building work was slow and often non-existent until Father Willibrord van den Neucker became Guardian in 1871. He was the driving force behind the successful completion of the church. His large-scale fundraising in the city was very profitable and he also secured £4,000 of the old Franciscan funds.[14]

Map showing Bankfield Cottage with the chapel school to the right in 1863.
Map showing Bankfield Cottage with the chapel school to the right in 1863.

Victorian architecture and the Catholic Church

Victorian architecture was influenced by popular architects like Augustus Welby Pugin, who designed many Catholic churches and wrote about the principles of architecture. A devout Roman Catholic and a fanatic for Gothic he was an authority on medieval Christian architecture (medieval churches predate the Reformation, so were Catholic before relabelling as Church of England).

Pugin became Roman Catholic in 1835, after the removal of anti-Catholic laws. He was writing and designing during the Catholic revival in the UK.

His writing famously claimed the Reformation had caused a decline in arts in the UK. Many contemporary architects and artists criticised these claims, but they made him popular with Catholics. He was also a brilliant architect and designer and a key influence in the architecture of Victorian Britain.

Augustus Welby Pugin

Pugin is most well-known for the elaborate Gothic detail he designed for the new Houses of Parliament, while he worked for the architect Charles Barry. His skill for design and knowledge of medieval Christian architecture made him the leading architect of the Victorian Gothic Revival.

After Augustus died in 1852, Edward Welby Pugin continued his father’s legacy and the Pugin family firm remained a popular choice for Catholic church builders. Despite a limited budget, the Franciscan’s chose this leading firm of Catholic church builders to design their church and friary in Gorton.

Edward Welby Pugin architect of Manchester Monastery

Edward Pugin designed for the friars before his work at Gorton. Father Emmanuel Kenners – one of the three Belgian friars who first came to Gorton in 1861 – appointed Edward in 1858 to alter the Sclerder chapel in Cornwall.[15] This relationship continued with the Edward’s designs for the Franciscan Recollects both at Gorton and at Killarney in Ireland.[16]

Brother Patrick ‘the joint architect’

Brother Patrick Dalton

The three Belgian friars, who arrived in Victorian Manchester, were with one Irishman, Brother Patrick Dalton.

Brother Patrick described by a friar in 1867:

“That” said our guide, pointing to one of the labourers who was pushing a stone into place, “is one of the [friars] …he has saved us more than a thousand pounds. He is a good brick setter, a capital stone cutter, and he takes the place of a Clerk of the Works. You see, he cannot work in his habit so he puts on a workman’s clothes.” And there he was working like the rest of them, with his moleskin trousers, white blouse, and a flat cap over his tonsure…”But this is unusual, is it not?” we observed. “Oh no, not in history. It was thus that all our great abbeys were built, and we have found it a great advantage to revive the custom on a small scale.[17]

Brother Patrick was a lay member of the Franciscan Order, who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but was not an ordained priest. Edward Pugin kept in touch with Brother Patrick by letter and occasional site visits. Edward found that he could trust Brother Patrick’s judgement and later described him as the ‘joint architect’.

He oversaw construction of the church and friary in Gorton and travelled to oversee building of other Franciscan churches built in the 1870s and 80s in London[18], Ireland[19] and Glasgow.[20]

The Gorton church and friary are impressive because local people created them. They demolished the house on the site, dug trenches for foundations, and laid many thousands of bricks.

They also helped by making the bricks, filling timber moulds with local clay and baking them in kilns. Some eagle-eyed visitors have spotted bricks with the maker’s fingerprints on!

Miss Jackson, who was a pupil at the St Francis infant school in 1892 and later became the headteacher, remembered Brother Patrick and the stories of his work to build the church:

“He did his stint of begging too and was a well-known figure in the local pubs with his collection box and his cry of “Let’s buy another brick for St Francis.” He had his own way of recruiting volunteer labour: he met the men as they left work at midday on Saturday and asked for their help in the afternoon.”[21]

We imagine that Brother Patrick, a lay friar who laboured alongside fellow Irishmen, was quite a character in Gorton.

The local population gave their time and labour generously, but money and materials were often scarce. Brother Patrick scoured Manchester for reclaimed materials to help their cash-strapped project.

Building Manchester landmarks

Friars looking at the construction of the church

Construction started with the friary buildings around the cloisters. But the friars couldn’t move into the first buildings completed in 1863. The number of people wanting to attend a Catholic church in Gorton was too big for the original chapel school, so the friars had to use the friary as another chapel.[22]

They completed the second wing (next to Gorton Lane) in 1865 and finally moved into their new friary. The friars had pushed on with their Mission and during this construction work (1862-1865) Father Willibrord and Father Germain converted over 450 people to the Catholic faith.[23]

Next, they demolished Bankfield Cottage to make way for the church. Evidence of the pond at Bankfield Cottage exists in the church basement and it would have provided spring water for the friary kitchens. The Bishop of Salford laid the first stone for the Church of St Francis on 9 June 1866.

Laying out the site

Medieval churches were traditionally laid-out with a rough east-west orientation. This meant the congregation faced the east to pray. This became less common after the medieval period.

Unlike their medieval counterparts, nineteenth-century church and cathedral builders had to work around established road networks. Large urban churches were increasingly built with a grand entrance fronting on to the main road and the High Altar located at the opposite end of the building. The Church of St Francis, built in line with Gorton Lane, has a south entrance.

This is also found at other large contemporary Catholic churches in Manchester. The grand entrance of the Church of the Holy Name is on Oxford Road and the Catholic Cathedral in Salford has a similar arrangement resulting in a south entrance.

This orientation provided large churches with a much bigger entrance, allowing their congregations to enter and leave quickly. It also provided those entering the church with a clear, undisturbed view of the High Altar. An increasingly popular design for Catholic liturgy in the 1860s and one favoured by Edward Pugin.[24]

A Victorian masterpiece

 

Historic photo of the front of the monastery

Originally, visitors to the church walked in from Gorton Lane – straight up the porch steps, into the shade of the brick-vaulted portico and past the enormous oak doors into the Great Nave.

Once in the nave, they had an uninterrupted view of the whole church. The arcade arches lead the visitor’s eye along the Franciscan saints, who watch over the nave, towards the stained-glass windows that pour light on the High Altar – the focal point of the building.

The church builders aspired to cathedral-like proportions and created a nave 98 feet high (30 metres). The building’s huge scale inspired awe in those who saw it. And still does.

Edward Pugin’s striking façade, with its heavy buttresses and central crucifix, meant the building held its own in a city known for its temples to manufacturing – its vast factories and towering mill chimneys.

Sacred light

Locating the church in a rough north-south orientation created some remarkable architectural qualities at Manchester Monastery.

Sunlight comes through windows positioned high in the nave creating a beautiful ladder-like pattern along the floor and towards the High Altar. These windows also light up the twelve statues of Franciscan saints placed above the stone columns – giving them a halo of light.

Old photographs show a statue of St Francis in the right-hand aisle of the church. We think that location might have been chosen for the statue because of the sunlight that streams into the church lighting up that part of the wall on 4 October – St Francis’s feast day.

The play of light at Christmas must have been spectacular. The tall, lancet shaped windows above the entrance portico lit the figure of Jesus on the Crucifix (that used to hang from the chancel arch in front of the High Altar).

A ladder of light leading to the high altar at Manchester Monastery

Community heritage

Manchester Monastery is still fondly remembered for the many stages of life celebrated here and its role in community heritage.

The site became a busy hub for the local Catholic community. It housed several schools, a training college for friars, a parish library, extensive gardens, a parochial hall for community events, a youth club, a choir, and even a famous amateur dramatic society.

For almost a century, the church and friary flourished. But, by the 1960s, fewer people were going to church which meant less money in church collections. The situation worsened when engineering works closed in Gorton causing mass unemployment and the ‘slum’ clearances of regeneration schemes relocated many people out of Gorton. The last Mass was on the 26 November 1989 and the last friars moved out the following year.

The buildings were sold to a developer to convert into luxury apartments and the surrounding land sold for housing. The apartment development never happened and vandals attacked the unprotected site. After years of neglect, roofs fell in and walls began to fail.

Couple outside the monastery

Saving a piece of Manchester history

Paul and Elaine Griffiths (Paul was an altar boy here in the sixties) led a team of volunteers from the local community to save the Monastery. They set up a charitable trust in September 1996 to raise money and awareness to restore the site.

The next year, the plight of the Monastery came to the attention of the World Monuments Fund who placed it on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. It was a global call to action for heritage sites in need of immediate intervention.

This brought Manchester Monastery back into the limelight. Tireless campaigning resulted in Heritage Lottery Funding and European Regional Development Funding to restore the building in 2005 – one of the biggest community-led restoration projects in the UK.

Fallen rubble in the church before its restoration

Manchester heritage that is relevant today

Sharing the remarkable story of how the Franciscan friars and the local community in Gorton succeeded in building Manchester Monastery despite widespread poverty can help us to better understand how our societies and communities developed.

Understanding how they achieved what seems impossible, can inspire us to both find strength in community and to seek answers to the problems that our society faces.

In the words of the Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga (1872-1945), “History gives answers only to those who know how to ask questions”.

Manchester history is not over

Manchester history is still being made.

The Monastery represents the lives and experiences of people. People who built, contributed to, and visited it. For generations it educated, fed, cared for, celebrated, and even entertained communities.

Many people feel a shared ownership of the Monastery and the different and changing heritages the building represents. The deconsecrated (no religion) site still celebrates people. We welcome everyone to find community and shared heritage here.

When you visit, you’re part of our history and community. Share your piece of the history of Manchester Monastery by tagging us on Instagram @themonasterymanchester.

Gospel singers performing in the nave

Join our community

Today, the Monastery shines bright again – saved for future generations.

We continue to seek sustainable business plans to ensure the lasting preservation of this part of Manchester heritage.

We have a variety of volunteering opportunities. Whether it’s heritage volunteer work, volunteer counselling, or working on a special project, you will help a great cause.

We are a charity and rely entirely on donations.

No matter what the size, every donation helps us to preserve this important part of Manchester history for future generations to enjoy.

School children in monastery garden

 

 

References

[1] Father Justin McLoughlin, (1961) Gorton Monastery, 1861 – 1961: Story of 100 Years of the Friary Gorton, Manchester, pp. 7-10.

[2] The website of the Order of Friars Minor in Great Britain, 02.06.2021, http://www.friar.org/our-heritage.

[3] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 10.

[4] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 7.

[5] Michael D. Higgins (2012) quoted in John McAulifee, ‘President Higgins on Manchester’s Irish Connection’, The Manchester Review, 03.06.2021, http://www.themanchesterreview.co.uk/?p=2976.

[6] Britannica: Manchester, 03.06.2021, https://www.britannica.com/place/Manchester-England.

[7] https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Manchester/Gorton/home.html

[8] Hirst Conservation, 03.06.2021, https://www.hirst-conservation.com/2017/05/26/gorton-monastery-manchester/.

[9] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 4.

[10] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 4.

[11] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 3.

[12] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 10.

[13] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 12.

[14] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, pp. 13-14.

[15] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery, p. 12.

[16] The Pugin Society, 08.07.2021, http://www.thepuginsociety.co.uk/convents-and-monasteries.html.

[17] Anon. (6 April 1867) ‘Among the Monks at Gorton’ in The Free Lance quoted in Tony Hurley, (2013) Beggars & Builders: My Story of Gorton Monastery, p. 80.

[18] Taking Stock: Catholic Churches of England & Wales website, 02.06.2021, https://taking-stock.org.uk/building/forest-gate-st-anthony-of-padua/.

[19] The Pugin Society, 03.06.2021, http://www.thepuginsociety.co.uk/monastery-parish-churches.html.

[20] Tony Hurley (2013) Beggars & Builders: My Story of Gorton Monastery, p. 95.

[21] Quoted in Hurley, Beggars & Builders, p. 81. Source not given.

[22] Fr. McLoughlin, Gorton Monastery,p. 12.

[23] Father Angellus quoted in Hurley, Beggars & Builders, p. 94.

[24] The Pugin Society, 02.06.2021, http://www.thepuginsociety.co.uk/edward-welby.html

My Placement at The Monastery, by MMU Student Intern Caitlin.

Hello everyone, welcome to this wonderful guest post from our recent intern student Caitlin. We welcome your enquiries and hope it inspires something in you too!

Hi, my name is Caitlin and I am currently a second year, history student at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have been on placement at Gorton Monastery since November 2019, as part of my ‘History in Practice’ topic. ‘History in Practice’ essentially refers to history that is widely accessible to the public and potentially interactive – for example a museum, or in this case Gorton Monastery. Anyway, I thought I would briefly explain for you, what I have been doing at the monastery all this time…

On my first, proper visit to the monastery I was treated to a lovely, in-depth tour of by one of the amazing volunteers here, called Grahame. Honestly, if you have the opportunity to take a tour here, I highly suggest that you jump at the chance! It was a great way to learn about the history of the building in a relaxed, yet immersive way. For the rest of my time at the monastery, I have been working closely with quantitative data regarding you, the visitors; recording definitively how many visitors had joined us here, on what day, as well as for what reason. I have also studied research methods in order to find out what would be the best way to collect the opinions of those who visit – so we know what was positive and maybe even a negative about their visit. Granted, I know this doesn’t sound the most thrilling of activities, however it is rather important for us at the monastery to know.

So, now I have come into my last few weeks her at Gorton Monastery, I have begun to focus on my final project for this topic at university; and for this I have decided to produce a presentation. This presentation will consist of everything I have done, as well as learnt here at the Monastery, plus what I believe could potentially be improved. This will be presented to Emma, the Heritage and Community Impact Manager at Gorton Monastery, who has been my guide through this process, and this means anything that I suggest and Emma likes could possibly be implemented permanently.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about what I have been doing here at Gorton Monastery for all this time; and once again, if you are thinking of visiting, please do! It’s a wonderful and educational day out for anyone, at any age!

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