A Building Through Time: The History of The Chancel

  • A fine example of gothic revival from Alfred Waterhouse, the architect responsible for building the Natural History Museum
  • The only church in the UK to have the entire area of worship upstairs
  • A Grade II listed conversion project provided new places to live and worship in Prestwich

“Redevelopment of a beloved Manchester church will provide places both to live and worship,” wrote Jessie Hewitson in The Guardian in 2006, in an article titled “The New Home they’ve Prayed for.

Over its 140 year lifetime, this iconic Victorian church has gone from glory to disrepair a number of times. When the semi-derelict church was finally restored and converted in 2008, Manchester-based developers promised to build a modern and comfortable new place of worship for the remaining few church-goers.

Nearly thirteen years on, The Chancel is now a thriving community of 23 modern flats and apartments, a world away from the crumbling Victorian church it was then. Built in the height of Victorian Gothic style in 1881, Heaton Park Congregational church eventually fell into disrepair in the late 1990s.

“The building […] is a shadow of its once-august Victorian self,” Hewitson reported back then. The once-iconic church was built by Alfred Waterhouse, arguably the most successful architect of the Victorian era. It was the only church in the country to have the entire area of worship on the first floor, perhaps to keep the congregation warm at a time when churches were often cold and austere.

While Waterhouse’s motivations for the unusual design aren’t known for certain, he was a master in Gothic architecture, having also built The National History Museum, Manchester Town Hall and Liverpool’s Royal Infirmary. An artist as well as an architect, Waterhouse earned the role of treasurer at the Royal Academy, and also as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1888.

© Barry Price

Heaton Park Congregational Church had been a place of worship for over a century, and still had a tiny but passionate congregation of around 15 elderly people.

“It might sound a difficult or controversial decision for the church’s congregation, who care deeply about the building, to make – but it wasn’t,” wrote Hewitson for the Guardian.

“’Once we’d made the decision, we just felt relief,’ said church secretary Ken Garbett matter-of-factly, explaining that it is a nonconformist church and therefore not associated with the Church of England or its funds. ‘Without the development, we would have had to close. We were in a no-win situation.’”

© Barry Price

In June 2020, the Chancel joined the Urban Splash portfolio of award-winning homes, all of which have a focus on excellent and iconic design. The Urban Splash residential fund have worked with world-leading contemporary architects such as Norman Foster and Will Alsop on buildings across the UK, and The Chancel’s unique design make it a perfect fit for the portfolio.

Now, The Chancel’s residents are in the centre of the vibrant Prestwich community, while the church’s congregation moved to a modern and accessible place of worship. To hear more about whats going on in the Prestwich area, read here.

Do you live in The Chancel? We’d love to hear your stories about the building and what it means to you. If you’d like to get in touch and have your say, please email phoebe@projectark.co.uk

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