THIS WAS an unintended view.
The lightness of touch with the refurbishment and the lightness of touch of the orginal building and the uplifting music made for wonderfully happy occasion
I was in St Peter's Church, Ancoats, to give the place the once over. The lovely space is not only the Hallé Orchestra's new rehearsal room but can be hired out for events.
By chance my visit coincided with Sophie, Countess of Wessex, calling. She was there to officially declare the ex-church open for music.
This meant instead of scurrying around looking at this and that detail I sat down as the full Hallé Orchestra belted out some stirring Elgar. Then the Hallé Childrens Choir sang a song called Blackpool. It was lovely.
While this went on I ogled the church, expertly renovated and converted by Manchester architects MBLC in sadly one of their last jobs before they went bump.
St Peter’s Church was originally built in 1859, designed by Isaac Holden who was the founder chairman of the Manchester Society of Architects. It was built to serve a new parish in the rapidly growing area. The design was Italian Romanesque - in otherwords with lots of round arches just as the Romans used. The church was relatively large and could pack in up to 1,350.
View from Cutting Room Square
This was strangely prescient because shortly after a large Italian community moved in around St Peter's. Not that they attended St Peter's very much, this being an Anglican church and they being Roman Catholic.
Red brick was used on the outside, now handsomely cleaned up. On the inside Holden wisely chose a pale yellow brick to line the walls. This helped with the light quality in an area dominated by huge textile factories and their perpetual soot.
By the 1960s the resident population had thinned as people moved away from area, and the Grade II listed church closed. It was abandoned and left empty in the 1990s.
Since then, through the work of the Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Architectural Heritage Fund, the building has been restored.
In 2013 the Hallé raised significant funding to complete the restoration and convert the church for use by the orchestra and associated ensembles.
Phase One saw the completion of the restoration and conversion of the church itself. Phase Two, to follow, will provide additional facilities in a new building adjacent to the tower of the church.
In amongst all this Dan Dubowitz has placed one of his enigmatic Ancoats artworks called Peeps. The video explains these below.
Details to look out for in the church are the beautifully elegant and slendour octagonal piers made out of cast iron crowned with equally elegant and eloquent leafy capitals.
There are some impressive gasoliers on the ceiling that lit the space in former times. One stained glass window features the cross key symbol of St Peter - the sanctified chap with access to the pearly gates of course.
Keys to heaven
MBLC have done a lovely job inserting acoustic panels in the aisles and have beautified the nave with acoustic sails - made by a proper boat builder by the way.
The word nave comes from the Latin for ship, perhaps because the central part of a church reminded people of an upturned boat or maybe because when full it became a ship of souls on their voyage to the Almighty. Either way the sails are a fitting acoustic control in this setting.
The corner staircase and the heating round the building are equally well-done by MBLC.
Indeed the lightness of touch with the refurbishment and the lightness of touch of the orginal building and the uplifting music made for wonderfully happy occasion on the Countess's visit.
After the performance she was introduced to the orchestra.
"Might you play something else?" she said foxily.
The conductor was a little taken aback, but he rallied valiantly, "Yes, of course, something gentle or rousing?"
"Oh rousing, please," said Sophie almost fluttering her eyelids.
The Countess is saying to Sir Mark Elder of the Halle, 'More please'. Photo from Karen Wright Photography.
So I sat for longer and that was no problem at all.
St Peter's will be a magnificent venue for Branagh's Macbeth during Manchester International Festival in July. It's a magnificent venue for anything and has that indefinable quality of 'feel'. It feels good to get inside this welcoming space.
St Peter's is at 40 Blossom Street, Ancoats, City, M4 6BF. To hire call Martyn Glynn, Projects and Events Manager, on 0161 237 7011.
Here's a jolly timelapse video of the space being renovated.
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