St Augustine’s Church, Manchester

There have been three separate Roman Catholic church buildings dedicated to St Augustine in Manchester.

The first, the subject of this article, originated in 1820. After 88 years it closed its doors having been sold to the Manchester Corporation in 1908. It was then, with the money from this sale, that a new church dedicated to St Augustine was opened at York Street.

The York Street Church had an even shorter life span, 32 years – it was destroyed during the Christmas Blitz of 1940.

The third Church is one I am familiar with; opened on Grosvenor Square at All Saints in 1968 it stands on the modern-day campus of the Manchester Metropolitan University. It was built on the site of a former church dedicated to the Holy Family, built in 1845. When this Church was demolished it provided the ideal space for a new church. St Augustine’s is a thoroughly modern building and one I greatly enjoyed spending time in peace and quiet in when I was at University.

The chance finding and purchase of a fascinating postcard of the first St Augustine’s Church has prompted me to learn something of the history of the first building. There is much to be discovered – not least from newspaper sources and books written on the history of the Salford Diocese and of Manchester in general. What follows represents the gathering of some sources together to relate something of its history.

The interior of St Augustine’s Church, Granby Row, circa 1900


Although not the oldest Catholic Church in Manchester (that accolade went to St Chad’s on Rook Street, near the present Market Street, and the second oldest, St Mary’s (The Hidden Gem) on Mulberry Street which still exists and was opened in 1794.)

The origins of St Augustine’s (and earlier, that of St Mary’s) are rooted with one Father Broomhead who had become known as the ‘patriarch of Manchester Catholics’ during his 44 year priesthood. Fr. Broomhead arrived at St Chad’s in 1778 and soon set about ministering to Manchester Catholics spread throughout the district from Bolton to Oldham to Stockport. It was a large ‘parish’.

The increased population in Manchester during the early C19 caused by the successes of the Industrial Revolution saw an increased demand for churches of each denomination in Manchester. To meet the need for Roman Catholics Fr. Broomhead concentrated on erecting a new building – St Augustine’s.

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1850 Ordnance Survey Map showing Granby Row and St Augustine’s Church (sheet 34)

He lived to see the building of the beautiful Gothic church of St Augustine’s, Granby Row, designed by Mr John Palmer. When Pugin saw the inside of the church he said “This man built a hundred years before his time”. Was St Augustine’s therefore an inspiration to Pugin’s future churches?

St Augustine’s was opened for worship on 27 September 1820 (the total cost of building was £10,000).

Father Broomhead died at Rook Street on the 12 October 1820, soon after the opening of St Augustine’s. He was buried before the high altar at Granby Row, as this church was looked upon as his monument.

In his book, Salford Diocese and its Catholic past, (1950) Fr C. A. Bolton says:

One of the perils that priests were sometimes called upon to face in the nineteenth century was the risk of becoming a victim to the typhoid epidemics, when called to visit the sick and dying. Owing to the unhealthy conditions prevailing in some of the overcrowded slums and factories, there were several devastating outbreaks of typhus and cholera.

The Manchester Gazette for November 13, 1824, printed the following:

Yesterday of typhus fever at this house in Granby Row, the Rev. John Ashurst, Catholic Priest, in the 36th year of his age. He was the worthy successor of the Rev. Roland Broomhead, and particularly active in the erection of the noble edifice of St Augustine’s. He needs no eulogy in these pages: the poor will recount his virtues and everyone who knew him will lament his loss.

Sadly, Father Ashurst was not the only priest at St Augustine’s to be classed a “Martyr of Charity”. Other priests buried at St Augustine’s included Fr. Henry Gillow, the Rector of St Mary’s, Mulberry Street. He died on 25 February 1837, aged 41 of fever, then spreading throughout his parish. Bolton records that

The good priest’s funeral was one of the most remarkable sights that Manchester had so far witnessed. Thousands lined the streets to watch nine mourning coaches and twenty-eight carriages follow the hearse from St Mary’s to St Augustine’s, Granby Row; some five hundred gentlemen in mourning concluded the sad procession”.

Bolton continues:

Another of these victims in Manchester was Fr. John Parsons, who had laboured at St Augustine’s and at Rook Street. Fr. Parsons had been appointed assistant priest at St Augustine’s in 1826. He died of typhus fever, April 23, 1838 at the early age of 35. He was first interred at St Augustine’s and was later removed to Moston on August 2, 1909, along with the remains of several other priest-victims of typhus – Fr. Ashurst, Fr. Gillow, and Fr. Laytham*, together with the coffin of Fr. Broomhead and several other pioneers of the faith in Manchester. This was on account of the closure and subsequent demolition of the old St Augustine’s.

* Fr. John Laytham died of fever on 15 January 1838 at Mulberry Street, aged 28.

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Reburial of 11 Priests from St Augustine’s Church at Moston, 2 August 1909

Manchester Guidebooks are a useful source which reveal snippets of history regarding Manchester’s Churches and places of worship.

A picture of Manchester by Joseph Aston, 3rd ed. 1826:


In Granby-Row, is a Gothic building, with a stone front. Its interior is really beautiful, and does credit to the architect, Mr. J. Palmer. The groining of the roof is much admired by all who view it; and the whole effect of the coup d’oeil is highly imposing. The altar, which is much elevated, was brought from Italy. It is composed of the finest Greek and Italian marble. This chapel, which was consecrated Sept. 27, 1820, ought to be viewed by strangers. The present ministers are, the Reverend Joseph Crooke, James Rigby, and Joseph Sherwin.

Cornish’s Guide to Manchester and Salford (1857) records that St Augustine’s Church:

“Situated in Granby Row, opposite St Simon and St Jude’s Church is a large brick building, with a stone front; a neat structure, in the early Gothic style of architecture, from the design of Mr. J. Palmer. The cost of its erection was £10,000. It was opened in October, 1820 [should be September, 1820]. The interior is very handsomely decorated; the ceiling coloured blue and white; the capitals of the pillars and the cornices of the galleries are richly gilded and coloured. Over the altar is a beautiful three light window, filled with stained glass, by Wailes of Newcastle. The central compartment contains full-length figures of the Virgin and Child; on the right stands the figure of St Augustine, the patron of the church, who was sent by Pope Gregory to covert the English nation. The figure in the left hand compartment is St Gregory. There are three galleries in the chapel, one of which contains a fine organ, by Renn, which cost £800. There are sittings in the chapel for 1500 persons.”

In 1906 it became known that the site of St Augustine’s Church was required by the Manchester Corporation for a different use. Negotiations between the Church and the Corporation resulted in the identification of a new church site – at York Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock.

The Tablet reported upon the arrangements on Saturday, 16 June 1906:


The old church was closed in 1908. Demolition of the church and clearing of the churchyard began in 1909. The site was later used to construct the Manchester Technical College.

Relating to the old church – Bolton published the following superb and illuminating memories of one who knew the church:


I will try to set down some memories of St Augustine’s, Granby Row as told to me by an old lady who was a parishioner for very many years. She was there in the time of Canon Wilding and Fr. William Burke. She spoke of the wonderful Missions. The first Mass was at five o’clock, as the people had to be at work at six. At one of these Missions, she remembers hearing the great Father Anthony preach. She also described the Church as it was decorated for Quarant’ Ore and Feasts of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Church had pillars leading to the Gallery which went all round the Church. These pillars were adorned with flowers and garlands, and at the level of the gallery with a lighted candle. The gallery was festooned with red and white and there were also bunches of grapes and wheat. When the candles on the altar were alight, this being very high, with a lot of steps leading to it, the sight was very beautiful. Of the two side altars, the Lady Altar was erected by the Children of Mary in 1883 to the memory of Canon Wilding. The picture in the Sacred Heart Altar was brought from Paray-le-Monial by Canon Wilding. These were the Altars which were in York Street, until replaced by the marble ones erected by the late Dean Dunleavy.

Some of the things that I remember most about the old Church are the High Mass on Sundays, the Blessed Sacrament Processions, with the men and boys walking, and the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament, watching, looking like Nuns in habits and veils; the Missions, the Holy Year celebrations at the beginning of the century, going in procession from Granby Row to Belle Vue to join in the great demonstration against the Education Bill – The Canon’s great fighting spirit when anything threatened the schools – The procession from Granby Row to York Street for the laying of the foundation stone for the new church-and finally the last Sunday Service before the closing.

Two recent Rectors of the parish have been outstanding characters in the Diocese – Canon George Richardson and Monsignor Poock. Canon Richardson came of a family of distinguished converts from Derby. His father was known as the first Catholic lawyer in Manchester. Father Richardson’s chief interest as a priest was in Catholic education. From 1887 he was head of the Diocesan Inspectors and took active part in the work. He was an able member of the Catholic Education Council of Great Britain. He was largely responsible for the establishment of the Catholic Training College at Sedgley Park under the Faithful Companions of Jesus.

In spite of many calls upon him from outside his parish, he was always devoted to the pastoral charge of souls and was a true friend of the poor. When he died on June 10, 1909, many suffered a great loss, and the Diocese was deprived of one of its most distinguished and capable servants. Besides being a great priest he was a fine English gentleman.

Canon Anselm Poock was generally known as Monsignor Poock. He is still a legend in the Diocese, partly because of his physical eminence, and more so because of his deeply spiritual character and unselfish devotedness to whatever task he had in hand. He was born at Ipswich in 1864, and was first a Baptist and then an Anglican. He was received as a convert by Bishop Herbert Vaughan when he was 21. He underwent the severe training of Salford Catholic Grammar School, and then from 1887 was seven years at Ushaw. In 1894 he studied for a time at Bonn and then went to Saint Sulpice in Paris, where the training left a permanent impression on his outlook. He was ordained at Salford in 1896 and appointed as curate at the Cathedral. In 1900 he became Procurator at St Bede’s College and after three years succeeded Dr Casartelli as Rector. He was entirely devoted to the spiritual and temporal welfare of the College, and kept it in close touch with the clergy of the Diocese. He travelled far and wide as a preacher.

As Rector of St Augustine’s from 1912, he became a prominent citizen of Manchester and often sat on Town Hall Committees, more especially those concerned with the poor. His one recreation was music and playing the organ.

Shortly before his death he helped to form the first Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes (1924). He died suddenly in 1926, having refused to rest, saying with his characteristic solemnity: “Unfortunately I have a conscience.”

St Augustine’s was destroyed during the Christmas bombardment of Manchester in 1940. An assistant priest, Father George Street, was killed and Dean Dunleavy was injured. Father George Street, a devoted priest, had formerly been associated with the Catholic Land Movement.

Since the destruction of the fine old church, the congregation has taken refuge in the small Holy Family church. Thus St Augustine’s has twice lost its church. The fine building built by Palmer in Granby Row was sold to Manchester Corporation and a larger church opened in York Street, 1908.

There is plenty else to find on the history of this Church and I’ll update and add more information as it becomes available. In the meantime I cannot but think on how I would have loved a chance to visit this wonderful church!

© Graham Naylor