This week saw a ceremony to mark the restoration of one of Britain's finest Victorian Catholic churches. Joanna Moorhead reports.
AS a young woman, my greatgrandmother — who was a de Trafford by birth — used to go to parties and balls at the ancient family seat, Trafford Hall near Manchester. They must have been exciting events, with dancing on the veranda and firework finales in the garden. People would come up front London and down from Scotland for them, often staying a few days to enjoy the delights of the deer park and gardens.
A century on, the splendour of the hall and the lush greenery of its surroundings have gone. Say Trafford Park to someone these days and they will think of the huge industrial estate which now sprawls across the acres where once stood the hall. fields and tenants' homes. Or they will think of Old Trafford, the football ground which is home to Manchester United. But gardens, farms and deer parks? [hey seem a million miles away from the scene below as you speed through the borough across Barton Bridge, the sweeping concrete construction which carries the M63 away from urban Manchester and into leafy Cheshire.
But look left as you cross the bridge travelling south and you will clearly see, visible above the trees to the south of the Manchester Ship Canal, the spire of a church. It belongs to the Victorian church of All Saints at Bartonupon-Irwell, the last legacy of those lost times. Designed by Edward Welby Pugin and widely considered to be his best work, the entire cost of the building — E25,000 — was met by the then landlord at the hall, Sir Humphrey de Trafford. Cardinal Henry Manning preached at its opening. But, though the church itself dates back only as far as the middle of the last century, the parish of All Saints has a history which, through the de Trafford family, links it to even earlier times. As long ago as the reign of King Canute, in fact, there were de Traffords in Barton upon-Irwell, and at least two were abbots executed during the dissolution of the monasteries. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, however, one Edmund Trafford was responsible for what historian James Slater in 1897 described as an almost freakish interruption in the splendid Catholic traditions of the Trafford family" when he joined "the other side". He was unable, however, to change his own family's affiliation with Catholicism in the long term. By the times of Charles I a secret chapel had been established at Trafford Hall.
The little chapel at the hall, and the dogged band who attended mass there, kept Roman Catholicism alive in the area for the best part of 100 years, just as similar groups of people in similar situations throughout the country through those difficult years. It was not until 1818 that the first church was built.
In 1852, two years after the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, Sir Humphrey de Trafford succeeded his father as 25th Lord of Trafford and, a short while afterwards, married Annette Talbot at the Catholic church in Rugby in what was said to have been the first fully
ceremonial Catholic wedding since the Reformation. But it
was to a rather different
Trafford Park that the newlyweds returned: the fields and
deer park were still there, but not many miles away in Manchester industrialisation was transforming the lives of ordinary people. But it was All Saints, the church he spent years planning as a grand monument to the glory of God, that was to be the lasting memorial for Sir I lumphrey. The building was completed in 1868, giving its benefactor two decades in which to appreciate its beauty before his death in 1886. Sir Humphrey was buried, fittingly, in a crypt beneath the altar of All Saints.
The next century was not, however, kind to the church Sir Humphrey had bequested to Trafford Park. By the 1950s and 1960s it had begun to crumble, and funds could not be found to do essential repairs. Dry rot set in and in 1979, the bell tower, which had always been one of the building's most notable features, was deemed unsafe and had to be removed.
All Saints might easily, as did Trafford Hall, have crumbled away altogether, had not the Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual, who had taken over the running of the church in the early 1960s, decided to Lake the matter in hand and try to renovate it completely. The task was not an easy one: the friars knew they would need to raise huge amounts of money against enormous odds. Fr Brendan Blundell, who was for three years guardian of the church and is now provincial of the order, realised early on that the money needed would have to come from outside as well as inside the Catholic church, and began to investigate the possibility of grants from charitable and environmental bodies.
Much paperwork, hundreds of meetings and hours of phone calls later, his hard work paid off: the US-based Getty Grant Program, English Heritage, Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, Trafford Park Development Corporation, Laing charities and others agreed to back the project to the tune of E750,000.
Encouraging funding organisations to back the renovation of the church was made easier because of its grade 1 listed status. Co-ordinating the efforts of so varied a group of bodies was, however, no mean feat, and the Franciscans were surely justified if they felt just a bit pleased with themselves this week as chains of office mixed