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The Restoration and Regeneration of St Peter's

History & design

View slideshow of Restoration of St Peter's

St Peter's stands in the centre of the Ancoats Conservation Area, at the core of what is now known as the Ancoats Urban Village and is an important architectural and social landmark in East Manchester. It has a distinctive Romanesque style, with a basilica plan (a plain rectangle with side aisles marked out by columns and the transepts defined simply by a break in the roofline), an apsidal (semi-circular) chancel and a 'campanile' bell tower with fluted, pyramidal roof.

The Church was built in 1859 to designs by Isaac Holden, the founder chairman of the Manchester Society of Architects, who was able to design in a number of continental styles, and the building was consecrated in 1860. It was the first Anglican Church to be built in this predominantly Roman Catholic community and was one of the initial phases of church building undertaken by Bishop Prince Lee, Manchester's first Anglican Bishop, following the creation of the Manchester Diocese. Lee noticed the growing population of Ancoats (14,000 in the St Peter's parish in 1860) and identified the need to have an established Church presence here, even though there would be no 'pew rent' from the very poor local community to pay for the construction. A budget of £4,200 was set - hence the use of brick rather than the traditional but more expensive stone for the construction and the innovative use of cast iron columns to support the clerestory arches between the nave and aisles.

St Peter's was originally designed to seat 1,350 people, but in the early 1900s the first floor gallery that had originally occupied three sides of the church, was greatly altered, the side aisle sections being removed and the remaining west end portion being extended to pass across the whole end of the church. This must have reduced the seating capacity by about 300.

From the 1950s onwards the population of Ancoats greatly declined and the proportion of regular churchgoers in the community decreased significantly. In the late 1950s, the congregation was joined by that of the nearby St James' Church and briefly became known colloquially as 'St Peter's and Little Jimmies'. The size of the congregation soon became unsustainable again, however, and the church closed shortly after its centenary in 1960.

St Peter's Church
St Peter's 1996

Derelict interior of St Peter's 1996
St Peter's 1996: interior

Twenty-five years of mixed use followed, from University theatre prop storage to a knitting factory. The building was listed (grade 2) in 1989 as part of the designation of the Ancoats Conservation Area but in the early 1990s it was abandoned, purchased by a developer with long-term plans to convert it to residential use but with no interest in keeping the building in good condition in the meanwhile. The building suffered vandalism and all its internal fittings (including pews with cast iron ends) and its external railings were stolen. Slates were stripped from parts of the roofs and squatters caused localised fires, leading in the end to the total loss of the fluted roof at the top of the tower. St Peter's was left to rot, a symbol of wider neglect and dereliction of Ancoats.

Acquisition and enveloping project

St Peter's after envelopingSt Peter's Church was acquired by ABPT in 1997 on a long lease from Manchester City Council, following a series of back-to-back transactions involving English Partnerships (the Government's regeneration agency, then spearheading the regeneration of Ancoats through strategic acquisitions), Manchester City Council and English Heritage (the Government's agency for the protection of historic buildings, which is able to underwrite the costs of some statutory purchases by other public bodies). At this time the building was a derelict shell and ABPT immediately implemented an 'enveloping' (mothballing) programme with funding from English Heritage and other partners.

interiorThe project safeguarded the building and was a significant catalyst for the regeneration of the Ancoats Conservation Area. The restored tower became known as the 'beacon of hope' for the area and, thankfully, the building suffered very little vandalism or deterioration in the period thereafter. The enveloping project involved the re-roofing of the building (using corrugated metal sheets in the aisle and apse areas as a temporary measure, for reasons of economy) and high level brickwork repairs, but left the interior as a stripped-out shell and all the window openings boarded up. Dry rot was eradicated and the building allowed to dry out gradually to a moisture level at which rot would not reoccur. Through this process ABPT was able to 'buy some time' for the building whilst design proposals and business plans for its reuse were developed.

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Heritage Lottery Fund project to complete the restoration of St Peter's

The cost of repairing St Peter's and reinstating its internal finishes (ceilings, wall plaster etc) was far greater than the value of the building upon completion, because of the quantity and cost of the specialist materials required in relation to the rental values that might be attracted in the building, upon which a commercial valuation is based. This meant that the refurbishment and conversion of the building was uneconomic to the private sector and grant funding was needed to bridge the 'conservation deficit'.

ABPT had campaigned for the rescue of St Peter's since 1996 and following the enveloping project of 1997-98, submitted a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) stage one bid in 1999. Three years later, after undertaking significant design development and business-planning work, a stage two award of £905,000 was made. This was quickly followed by the offer of matching funding of up to £704,000 from the Northwest Development Agency. These two funding streams demonstrate the importance of the project in both heritage and regeneration terms. Further financial support has been made available by the Architectural Heritage Fund, in the form of a repayable development grant and a working capital loan.

Objectives of the St Peter's HLF project

  • To complete the permanent repair of St Peter's as a catalyst for the wider urban regeneration of the Ancoats area
  • To enable full appreciation of the architecture of the original building
  • To create a flexible internal volume that may be further converted by others for a wide range of possible uses
  • To encourage cultural and publicly available uses of the building that provide good access for all

What the restoration project involved

Following a competitive tender process in Spring 2004, Linford Group were appointed as main contractor for the permanent repair project. Construction commenced in late July 2004 and included:

  • Completion of the restoration of the vestry, including new roof and porch.
  • External and internal brickwork repairs, re-pointing where necessary.
  • New roofs to the aisles, including new timber trusses and rafters and lath and plaster ceilings.
  • New lead roof to the semi-circular apsidal end.
  • New structural concrete ground floor suitable for a range of floor finishes, with services void under.
  • Provision of services infrastructure so that welfare facilities could be accommodated in the former vestry area at some future date.
  • Discreet amendments to the tower entrance to permit full disabled access through the front door.
  • Public art installation inside the tower and external feature lighting to indicate the new life within and reinforce the 'beacon' character
  • Reinstatement of the ornate curved and coffered nave ceiling, using horsehair reinforced plaster on oak laths.
  • Reinstatement of other lost architectural features, including the ceiling gasoliers and external railings. New windows and doors, including stained glass to the apse.
  • Heritage interpretation and public information provision during the restoration phase and on completion.
Ceiling Restoration


Practical completion was granted in January 2006.

"The Cotton Church: A brief history of St Peter's, Ancoats" has been prepared by Carys Edge, a final year history student and Terry Wyke of MMU. Carys has thoroughly researched the background to the church, and provides a lively history of a unique city centre parish. Contact Heritage Works on 0161 278 1755 or email info@heritageworks.co.uk, to order a copy.

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St Peter's with restoration complete

Restored St Peter's

Interior of completed St Peter's church   Stained glass window in completed St Peter's church

The future

For several years, Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust worked with the Embroiderers' Guild, who were looking into the possibility of converting the church into an international centre for embrodiery. In May 2007, the Embroiderers' Guild decided not to proceed with these plans.

A development brief has been prepared by Heritage Works BPT and New East Manchester on behalf of the NWDA. The building is to be marketed in summer/autumn 2007. The brief will include the following criteria:

  • viable uses that do not subdivide the internal space;
  • an extension to the 'west' end to adjoin a new public square;
  • a good level of public access and interpretation;

For more information about the Development Brief, contact New East Manchester or Ancoats Urban Village Company.

Projected design for interior of  National  Embroidery and Textile Centre

The Embroiderers' Guild's proposals for the development of St Peter's, subsequently abandoned.

Projected design for additional admin block for National  Embroidery and Textile Centre

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© Ancoats BPT 2004