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Saint John

The Victorian Church

In 1856, Samuel Brooks purchased a large area of ground alongside the recently opened Manchester to Altrincham railway. The railway company opened a new station for the area and named it Brooklands. ‘Old Stink o’ Brass’ as Samuel Brooks was jokingly called (for he was a tough but friendly Lancashire man with a liking for repartee) had made a fortune in banking in Manchester, whilst indulging at the same time his passion for land development. Having transformed large parts of Sale and created a garden suburb at Whalley Range, he entered upon his new project with equal vigour in his retirement. He successfully drained the marshy ground and built a road running southeast across it for one and a quarter miles as straight as an arrow. Stately mansions were built on each side by wealthy businessmen, and trees lined the road presenting a green avenue of pine, beech, lime and poplar. But Samuel Brooks was a churchman and he knew that to make a district into a community, it needed a church. He had already built a church at Whalley Range and now he looked around for a competent architect for his Brooklands church. He decided to employ a young Manchester architect called Alfred Waterhouse who had recently won renown with his plans for the Manchester Assize Courts. Brooks gave 8500 square yards of land and granted £10,000 for the building and endowment of the church, which was to be ‘the centrepiece of a respectable suburb’. This at a time when churches in Manchester were being built for £2,000.

Work began in 1864 but was delayed by the death of Samuel Brooks later that year. Waterhouse had not previously built an Anglican church, and despite his growing reputation for secular buildings such as the Assize Courts and Strangeways Goal, St John’s was not an easy commission. There existed a powerful society in the 1860s – the Cambridge Camden Society – which had over the years dictated how Anglican churches should (and indeed must) be built. Even architects of the stature of Gilbert Scott and Butterfield awaited its critical pronouncements anxiously. ‘Laws’ were laid down on the length and width of the Nave, the length of the Chancel, the number of steps leading up to it, and where to place the Fonts and Pulpits and Reading Desks. And there were many more strictures. Waterhouse as a young man cautiously obeyed many of these laws at St John’s. Towards the end of his career when famous and much in demand, he was able to ignore them as is noticeable at St Elizabeth’s, Reddish, where the difference between the two churches can be attributed partly to the development of his ideas over a period of 30 years. At St John’s, which was completed in 1868, he concentrated on the building itself and not its ornamentation. It is built of good Yorkshire stone with two fine facades to the east and west. The interior is lined with cream and brown brickwork in horizontal stripes and diaper work (‘Bristol Byzantine’ some called it). The plan is simple – small transepts, no aisles, no clerestory and roofed in one span. The four columns supporting the transept arches were kept plain and squat and there was no tower or spire other than a small bell fleche, which was destroyed in a fire in 1945. An interesting feature is the double gabled roofs to the transepts. In 1968 (the centenary) the church hall was built alongside the west end of the church. It is a fine building in its own right and has proved invaluable in the work of the church for this parish, yet one feels Waterhouse would have regretted the concealment of much of the west façade, which was considered the finest elevation of the church.

Finally, the stained glass should be mentioned. Waterhouse did not approve of strong, bright colours but the glass installed in the late 19th century is exciting and of a high standard. A wrought-iron chancel screen, designed by Henry Wilson of the Arts and Crafts movement, was an attractive addition in 1907.

Alfred Waterhouse 1830-1905
Samuel Brooks 1793-1864

Vicars of Brooklands
Thomas Brooke 1868 - 1875
Hugh Bethell Jones 1876 - 1912
Cyril Bethell Jones 1912 - 1938

J. E. Williams 1938 - 1947

Geoffrey Newton Barker 1947 - 1964
Ernest Buckley 1964 - 1979
Alan Wolstencroft 1980 - 1991
John Findon 1991 - 1998
Ian McVeety 1999 - 2012
Saint John the Divine, Brooklands Road, Sale M33 3PB