The Greater Manchester grade-1 listed church that was placed 'at risk' due to motorway traffic

A church shaken to its foundations by motorway traffic is no longer on the road to ruin. Two years ago the Grade I listed Parish Church of St Anne in Denton was placed on an at-risk register.

Built in 1880 and a Victorian gothic architectural gem with a stunning interior the building's future was put in jeopardy by the endless thunder of traffic from the nearby M67. Vibrations from the motorway caused settlement around the font and central nave walkway.

But thanks to a £220,000 grant from National Highways it is now on a sound footing. Important improvements to safety and public access, as well conservation work have been done in partnership with Historic England.

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National Highways Project Manager, Betty Wilson, explained: “We’re delighted to be working with St Anne’s Church and Historic England to improve safety and support and preserve Manchester’s heritage.

“In 2021, there were concerns raised by the Diocese of Manchester about the interior brickwork cracking and settlement cracks around the base of the font. Unfortunately, the church was becoming unsafe for the large community who use it, including St Anne’s Primary School across the road. We’re pleased we could provide funding to support the restoration of this important building, a piece of the area’s fascinating history.”

Historic England is the Government’s adviser on the historic environment. The organisation, which champions the nation’s heritage, added St Anne’s Church to the Heritage at Risk Register in April 2022. At the time it said the interior of the church "projects creativity, individuality, and opulence" and is rich in fine craftmanship in glass, iron, stone, and ceramics.

To protect the structure and develop a scheme to make it safe and accessible, National Highways awarded three grants totalling £223,301 for feasibility, design and construction. The money was granted through the Designated Funds Environment and Wellbeing Fund Plan, which includes a Cultural Heritage Fund. This fund aims to ensure the historic environment surrounding National Highways’ network is considered and protected at every stage.

Historic England has worked alongside National Highways since November 2020 to survey the church, advise on design works and monitor the delivery of the project to restore the church building.

Between May and September 2023, contractors set to work on the project. The scheme included stabilising the foundations of the ground conditions by injecting a levelling screed, a technique also used to level airport runways. Engineers re-levelled the west end church font and supporting steps and provided joint re-enforcement across various settlement cracks to the masonry walls. Repairs were also made to the wooden lychgate at the entrance of the churchyard.

Architect Adrian Pearson led the work, with Restoration Projects as the principal contractor. The project has engaged and provided employment to specialist contractors in the region.

Parish priest, Father Jules Mambu said: “National Highways’ grant will have a huge impact for both the Church and the local community. We really appreciate the generosity and the commitment for helping us to achieve our goals.”

Peter Barlow, Architect with Historic England, said: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Father Jules and National Highways to restore this magnificent building. St Anne’s is such a landmark both for the local community and for passing travellers. The specialist heritage skills that have been employed here, including the repair of the intricate terracotta tiles and the gilded wall mosaics have produced first class results.”

St Anne's is a thriving centre for the local community with an active bell ringing team, close links to the neighbouring St Anne’s Primary School and Scouts, Brownies, Cubs and Beavers groups having regular use of the church’s facilities. Under Father Mambu’s leadership, St Anne’s hosts Heritage Open Days with self-guided walks.

The foundation stone of the church was laid on September 1st 1880 and the church consecrated on July 29 1882.

Designed by one of the era’s leading architectural practices, James Medland and Henry Taylor, they defied Victorian architectural ideas by creating a meld of styles harking back to the medieval church and adding Elizabethan chimneys and a Scandinavian-style roof design. The church also has an outdoor pulpit, plus inside church side squints and sedilia.

The Church patron, Joseph Sidebotham, a rich local mill owner and philanthropist, added his own ideas and designs and creations: His mother and wife were both called Anne and so the church was named after them. Joseph was a botanist and stained glass and other forms of decoration are filled with beautiful plants, often referring to the Bible.

Joseph lavished money on this church and rectory, employing the finest craftsmen and using the best materials. The mosaic tiles and panels are by both Salviati & Co of Venice and also Ludwig Oppenheimer. The stained glass is by Heaton, Butler & Baines of London.