Friday, 21 February 2014

Gorton Monastery

Malc, Ivan, Pete, and me went to see this architectural gem in east Manchester today. The Monastery was  built between 1863 and 1872 by Franciscan monks who had come to Manchester in 1861 to serve the local Catholic community. It was designed by Edward Pugin, whose father helped design the houses of Parliament. Pugin also played a significant part in the design of Abney Hall, Cheadle, where I had an office for many years.

Gorton Monastery from the south east

When the Monastery was built Gorton was a mainly rural society, but as industry grew in the area (such as Beyer Peacock locomotive engineers, and 'Gorton Tank' locomotive works of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway) the monastery became the hub of religious, social and cultural activity. The Franciscans ran three schools, a theatre group, brass band, choir, youth club, successful football teams and numerous other activities for the community.

The Nave and altar

As the heavy industries of the area ran down in the latter half of the 20th century and the population declined, the Monastery was vacated by the Franciscans in 1989 and sold to a development company who had plans to convert it into flats. This company took deposits on some flats, stripped the Monastery of its statues and other works of art which were sold off, then failed, leaving the building prey to significant vandalism and theft. Thankfully the nave roof had been restored not long before the Monastery closed, so remained intact and helped protect the fabric of the building from the worst ravages of the weather during the years it was left derelict. 

The exterior and interior before restoration

A charitable trust was established in 1996, which still owns the building. Following a 12 year fundraising campaign it gathered a total of £6.5m towards restoration of the building. This included major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund, North West Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund. This money enabled the building to be saved, and restoration was begun just in time; it was by then in poor condition, with rotted and collapsed upper floors and  friary roof, and was extensively vandalised. One more winter would almost certainly have finished it off, leaving demolition as the only viable option.

 Weathered decoration from when the building was derelict

It's an imposing building on the east Manchester skyline

The Monastery is open to the public most Sundays. Today it is de-consecrated and used extensively as an events venue. The Gorton Monastery website can be found here.


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