In Haunt

The twenty-third instalment as part of an ongoing series for Haunt Manchester by Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA, exploring Greater Manchester’s Gothic architecture and hidden heritage. Peter’s previous Haunt Manchester articles include features on Ordsall HallAlbert’s Schloss and Albert Hall, the Mancunian Gothic Sunday School of St Matthew’sArlington House in Salford, Minshull Street City Police and Session Courts and their furnitureMoving Manchester's ShamblesManchester’s Modern Gothic in St Peter’s Square, what was St John’s ChurchManchester CathedralThe Great Hall at The University of ManchesterSt Chad’s in Rochdale and more. From the city’s striking Gothic features to the more unusual aspects of buildings usually taken for granted and history hidden in plain sight, a variety of locations will be explored and visited over the course of 2020. His video series on Gothic Manchester can be viewed here.

In this article he explores the history of some remarkable surviving Georgian Gothic doorcases on Manchester’s Byrom Street, close to St John’s Gardens, and considers other architecture in the area.

Below: View of Nos 25–31 Byrom Street, Manchester, showing the contrast between the Georgian Gothic Door Casements and the Classical, brick-built structure of the terraced houses. © Peter N. Lindfield

View of Nos 25–31 Byrom Street, Manchester © Peter N. Lindfield

Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA is a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of English and History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published widely on Georgian Gothic architecture and design broadly conceived, as well as heraldry and the relevance of heraldic arts to post-medieval English intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic culture. Last year, as part of Gothic Manchester Festival 2019, he co-organised an event at Chetham’s Library Baronial Hall with Professor Dale Townshend titled ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’ (it also features, along with The John Rylands Library, in a previous article by Peter, here). This involved discussing the mysterious George Shaw (1810-76), a local Upper Mill lad who developed an early interest in medieval architecture and heraldry, going on to create forgeries of Tudor and Elizabethan furniture for a number of high-profile individuals and places at the time, including Chetham’s!

Manchester’s Surviving Georgian Gothic on Byrom Street

As I explored in my earlier post on St John’s Church, here (Fig.1), of which the only notable surviving fragment is the painted window now found in St Ann’s Church in St Ann’s Square in the city centre, and what are now the gateposts to the gardens, there remains a number of other pieces of Georgian Gothic from around the middle-to last third of the eighteenth century in this area. I have written about the Gothic architecture that I’m discussing this this post in an essay published in the 2020 volume of The Georgian Group Journal, which provides references and is written as a research paper. Consult it here if you want to find out more about the Byrom Street Gothic architecture, particularly within the context of other late-Georgian examples of ‘bastard Gothic’—to use Horace Walpole’s term for this particular style of Gothic—because it is based upon designs by Batty Langley included in his 1741–42 pattern-book, Ancient Architecture: Restored, and Improved by a Great Variety of Grand and Useful Designs, Entirely New in the Gothick Mode for the Ornamenting of Buildings and Gardens Exceeding Every Thing Thats Extant.

Below - Fig.1: Henry Edward Tidmarsh, Interior of St John’s Church, Manchester, c.1894. Image in Public Domain.

Henry Edward Tidmarsh, Interior of St John’s Church, Manchester, c.1894. Image in Public Domain

The buildings of concern here (Fig.2) are rather unimposing examples of Georgian, brick-built terraced housing facing onto what was St John’s Church and churchyard, but now St John’s Gardens. Facing the church that Horace Walpole would have absolutely despised because of its imitation of Langley’s bad, ‘bastard’ Gothic from almost the beginning of the Georgian period’s interest in designing new architecture in the Gothic style, Nos 25–31 Byrom Street feature Gothic door casements made in imitation of Langley’s ‘medievalist’ style, and they consequently imitate the now lost church of St John’s.

Below - Fig.2: View of Nos 25–31 Byrom Street, Manchester, showing the contrast between the Georgian Gothic Door Casements and the Classical, brick-built structure of the terraced houses. © Peter N. Lindfield.

View of Nos 25–31 Byrom Street, Manchester © Peter N. Lindfield

The casements, as well as the rest of the buildings, are Grade II listed by Historic England, see here, and they really show the ornamental licentiousness and Classical foundation to Langley’s style of Gothic, namely in that the clustered columns to either side of the door are of a Classical form. These door casements (Fig.3) not only are an incredibly precious survival of Gothic design from Georgian Manchester, but the way in which they contrast directly with the form, character, and surface of the remainder of the brick-built structures, typical of Classical Georgian architecture, reveals also how the Gothic style was adopted and applied at the time.

Below - Fig.3: Detail of the Gothic Door Casement on 31 Byrom Street, Manchester. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Detail of the Gothic Door Casement on 31 Byrom Street, Manchester © Peter N. Lindfield

Below - Fig.4: The nineteenth-century brick-built chapel attached to the rear of 31 Byrom Street. © Peter N. Lindfield.

The nineteenth-century brick-built chapel attached to the rear of 31 Byrom Street © Peter N. Lindfield

To the rear of 31 Byrom Street there is an attached chapel from the nineteenth century (Fig.4). Like Nos 29 and 31 Byrom street, this structure is in a bad shape and in desperate need of stabilisation and restoration; the brick is crumbling away, the walls are visibly canted out, and the whole structure, which is listed (hence demonstrating its architectural importance), is teetering towards collapse. Despite its precarious state, and that of some of the Byrom Street houses, these do not appear on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register (HaR), see here, and an interactive map of the 2019 register, here. This is quite startling, and it demonstrates the problems facing England’s historic architecture, and also the number of buildings that are clearly at risk, but currently not identified officially as such. Interestingly, this chapel also responds to the St John’s church architecture, namely because it features similar intersecting ‘gablet’ finials that appear atop the churchyard/garden stone-cut boundary posts (Fig.5). A further indication of the spread of the Gothic aesthetic in Georgian Manchester is the Gothic window and glazing bars seen on the curved staircase hall to the rear of one of the adjacent St John Street houses (Fig.6).

Below - Fig.5: Detail of the surviving St John’s Church Yard (now Gardens) posts. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Detail of the surviving St John’s Church Yard posts © Peter N. Lindfield

Below - Fig.6: Detail of the Gothic glazing on the staircase hall of one of the adjacent St John Street houses, also from the Georgian period. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Detail of the St John Street houses © Peter N. Lindfield

Whilst the vast majority of Manchester’s Gothic built heritage dates to the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the number of Georgian Gothic survivals in the Byrom Street/St John’s Church area of town indicate how Gothic was adopted in line with other areas of Britain. These examples are largely ignored by published history on what is referred to as ‘The Gothic Revival’, but they are consistent with the ‘revival’s early manifestations.

Image credits in the captions

By Dr Peter N. Lindfield 

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