Upper Brook Street Chapel
A site in Upper Brook Street, Chorlton on Medlock to the SE of the City’s core was soon identified and acquired as the site of a new chapel. A subscription was raised towards the new building which quickly attracted sufficient money for an architect to be appointed and a start to be made.
The Architect: Charles Barry
The architect appointed was a fashionable one, Charles Barry, later knighted for his work on the Palace of Westminster. Barry was the son of a Pimlico stationer born in 1795, who was articled the surveyors Middleton & Bailey of Lambeth. His architecture was largely self-taught, building on his ability as a surveyor. He undertook a grand tour in 1817-1820 thanks to a legacy and set up in practice in London on his return.
The Upper Brook Street commission came to Barry through his existing involvement with the grandees of Unitarian radicalism in the North West. Probably thanks to the connections with Sir John Soane of Sarah Roswell, his fiancée, Barry was recommended to the Church Commissioners, then poised to build churches to serve the burgeoning industrial cities using money voted by Parliament in 1818 and 1824. He was commissioned to build several of these and the very first he was contracted to design, in the Gothic style (as favoured by the Commissioners), included two in Manchester, St. Matthew, Castlefield (1821–22) and All Saints’, Stand, at Whitefield (1822–25) – followed by two in Brighton and three in Islington. Barry went on to win the competition to design the new Palace of Westminster, designed the Travellers’ and Reform Clubs in Pall Mall, the Treasury in Whitehall, Trentham for the Duke of Sutherland and Highclere (‘Downton Abbey’ to TV drama lovers) for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon. He enjoyed a long and distinguished career being knighted in 1851, elected FRS and RA and died in 1860.
Barry and Manchester
It was while building All Saints’ at Stand that Barry had the opportunity of entering a competition in 1824 to design the new Royal Manchester Institution for the Promotion of Literature, Science & Arts (now part of the Manchester Art Gallery), which he duly won. This brought him into the ambit of the Potters and their Unitarian allies, who were trustees of the Institution and judges of the competition. This led to a commission from Sir Thomas Potter to design Buile Hill House in Salford for him the following year. By 1837 he had not only been asked to return to Manchester to design the Athenaeum, but had also been commissioned to design the new Unitarian chapel. Again, the hand of Cross Street grandee (Sir) Thomas Potter may be seen in both commissions.
The involvement of Pugin
A report by the Victorian Society adds “It is…believed to have been an early collaboration between Sir Charles Barry and A W N Pugin before they worked together on the Palace of Westminster”; certainly, aspects of the finished building carry overtones of the latter’s work. This is supported by a recent biography of Pugin, which confirms his involvement, suggesting that Pugin designed the chapel’s west end for the busy Barry.
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) is generally regarded as the greatest and most important of the architects and decorators associated with the 19th century Gothic revival movement. He proved that revival would never have succeeded if the style could not have been made capable of meeting every modern requirement: entirely new structures such as railway stations and huge public buildings would test the style to its limits, and it was not found wanting.
Pugin met Barry in 1835, probably introduced by Sir Edward Cust, Bt., for whom Barry had designed a London house and with whom Pugin dined that year. Barry was then well in with the Whig intellectuals of the Holland House set – closely allied to the Manchester radicals, albeit inhabiting a more rarified social plane – and was a rising star. Not long after their meeting in the summer of 1835 Pugin dined with Barry and as a result was invited to collaborate with him finishing and furnishing Barry’s new Edward VI Grammar School at Birmingham. Barry was looking for ‘designs in the Gothic style that showed a scholarly grasp of detail and a practical sense of its application in a modern building.’ Barry’s natural architectural idiom was Classical, and he was never entirely at ease with Gothic; Pugin was able to help him, in a subordinate role, to work more fluently n the style. Rosemary Hill adds:
‘They developed a warm and friendly working relationship in which Pugin was unquestionably the junior partner.’
This association began at exactly the same time that Pugin had been accepted into the Catholic Church, a conjunction that would epitomise his all-too-short career, so his association with anything resembling a dissenting place of worship might seem all the more unlikely. Yet at this stage in his career, his association with Charles Barry represented the bread-and-butter of his work, for he was only 23 and needed to become established and guarantee an income. Their most celebrated collaboration was in the design of the Palace of Westminster from 1837, the commission that in some ways defined the careers of both men.
Whilst his new collaborator, Pugin, would not have been required to preside over the classical Athenaeum, his services were certainly in demand for the Chapel. The result was an important essay in archaeologically correct, scholarly Gothic revival.