St George's Church, Manchester
St George’s Church on Chester Road, Manchester was a ‘Commissioner’s Church’ and home to the Manchester Regiment, based a short distance away. They frequently provided congregations of 1200 soldiers but their departure, plus a declining local population arising from slum clearance, together with physical isolation due to nearby road layouts, led to the closure of St Georges Church in 1984.
There were several failed attempts to find re-use of the building, meanwhile the building fell into the hands or thieves and plunderers leading to water penetration, causing outbreaks of rot and partial collapse of the galleries. All the stone and timber floors were also stripped out.
Residential use was not favoured by English Heritage because developers simply floored across church buildings in an attempt to create ‘modern’ apartments. It created a lot of space but with few windows and no quality, so low value, and destroyed the fact that it had been a church.
This is an early and prime example of how we are able to regenerate important listed buildings by rigorous research and inventive design.
Although there was no crypt, there was a deep void under the ground floor and a simple excavation of the fill revealed that the building stood on sandstone over 4 metres below. As the graveyard, one so significant that we had to identify every grave so that the Church Commissioners could keep a record – (not that we expected to find a huge, unmarked, cholera grave that had to be relocated), did not come very close to the church, it was a simple deduction that we could excavate internally and externally to create a valuable, additional level of accommodation with small external courtyard spaces for light and ventilation.
The rest of the accommodation was then situated into the side aisles with just the circulation towers projecting into the nave creating a mix of 3-storey town-houses and single level apartments whilst retaining the sense of volume and the views up to the restored vaulting. Entering the building there can be no doubt that this was once a church full of character. Using every bit of space available we were able to create a unique 7 storey apartment filling the West tower. Without doubt the tallest apartment we have ever seen.
This development was a model that we have been able to recreate several times (though all of these churches are different in many ways, the principle remains sound) including St Mary’s church which is also on our website.