Yesterday (15th November), Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust hosted the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) NW annual general meeting at Long Street Methodist, the Arts & Crafts Church of Middleton, Manchester. This has recently been restored via a generous Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Project architect, Lisa Mcfarlane of Seven Architecture, and myself led the afternoon event and there was a large turnout of around 40 members. We began with a talk about, Edgar Wood, the Arts & Crafts modernist who built the church in 1899, followed by a tour of the famous Middleton Golden Cluster of heritage buildings.
The weather was warm and the sun illuminated the gorgeous mottled tones of Middleton Parish Church of St. Leonard, the highlight of the tour. We admired the time worn patina of its unrestored medieval walls and especially the elaborate ‘Cardinal Langley Porch‘ of 1412 which is completely unique in the north-west. However, everyone was taken aback when Stephen Welsh of Buttress Architects announced that this beautiful medieval façade was effectively to be destroyed and replaced with a modern carved replica! What!?
St. Leonard’s Church is grade I listed and its beautiful medieval masonry is hugely admired and celebrated. It features in several books on ancient churches and its time worn quality has inspired artists for generations, including Middleton born Staithes Group painter Frederick Jackson. I wonder if Heritage Lottery Fund is aware that its publicly funded grant is to be used in such a way on probably the finest medieval building in Greater Manchester.
However, there was no time for questions as the tour had to quickly return for the formal annual general meeting where members were addressed by James Caird, the national chair of the IHBC, about proposed changes to the institute, which were needed partly in response to declining standards of conservation.
The NW Branch also presented its 2018 Conservation Award to Canon Hindley of Blackburn Cathedral and architect John Sanderson for the outstanding Cathedral Cloister development. As a resident of Blackburn, I felt rather proud!
After a superb evening meal, we closed the event with a showing of A Painted Veil, the recent film about Edgar Wood, his architecture and art. Overall, we had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening, though with a feeling of deep concern for the future of the poor medieval church.