The Hoare family of Clayton Hall were responsible for the foundation of St. Cross Parish. The family’s generosity made possible the building of its Parish Church and they were its Patrons until 1967. One of P.R. Hoare’s sons, Richard Peter, was responsible for building the church here; a second son, Charles Arthur Richard continued to take an active interest in St Cross Church, as did his son, Wilfred Arthur Richard, born 1876. It was he who in 1967 had the Patronage of the living transferred to the Bishop of the Diocese.
What is now the parish of St. Cross, Clayton, was originally part of the parish of St Mary, Droylsden and was served by its parish priest. In 1860, the Rev’d Charles Henry Lomax became Curate in Charge of Clayton and he remained here until 1872. It was during the time of Mr Lomax that Peter Richard Hoare gave the land upon which Clayton’s new church was to be built and also promised to pay for its erection. The eminent Gothic Revival architect, William Butterfield of London, was invited to draw up the plans, and building began in 1862.
The Architect and his Commission at Clayton
William Butterfield (1814-1900) is acknowledged to be one of the leading architects of the Gothic Revival in English architecture, which developed during the second half of the 19th century. A major aim of the revival was to restore churches and to build and furnish new ones in the medieval styles which were in use before the Reformation and in which our ancient churches were built. The Gothic Revival was one of the products of the Oxford Movement, which attempted to awaken the Church to its true identity as the Body of Christ and to emphasise the importance of its authority, its priesthood and its sacraments. It also sought to encourage beauty, dignity and order in worship, drawing people back to pre-Reformation times for their inspiration in building and furnishing churches. Lofty interiors, stained glass, screens, chancels furnished with choir stalls and beautifully adorned altars were “in”!
St. Cross church is indeed massive, long and lofty. It dominates its surroundings and its mighty roof would have been visible above the tops of the houses. The external walls are faced with ordinary red brick and what decoration they have is simply contrived, using bands of stone and of darker glazed bricks. The windows are mostly uncomplicated in design, especially the tall clerestory windows. Only the east window and the set of three west windows resemble anything approaching grandeur. Many people believe that the great anti-climax of the exterior is the tower – a tall, thin, campanile-like structure which, although holds its own in terms of height, does look rather cheap and out of character with the rest of the church.
There were certainly points about the new church which offended the Bishop of Manchester at the time. His first Charge to his diocese in 1851 urged that great care should be taken to avoid undue decoration and ceremonial. It is no surprise that Butterfield’s stately new church was not Bishop Prince Lee’s idea of what the Established Church required. He would not have liked its internal decoration, and he would most certainly have fumed at the proposed dedication – in honour of the Holy Cross. It is this last point which is thought to have been the main obstacle preventing its consecration when it was finished in 1866.
The Opening Services took place in April 1866. The church was opened for use, but not officially consecrated. It seems that the Bishop was not prepared to consecrate the Church of the Holy Cross (or, in Latin “Sanctae Crucis”, which could be conveniently abbreviated to St. Cross). Maybe the fact that Butterfield had been engaged in the restoration of the ancient and famous church of St Cross in Winchester softened the Bishop’s dislike of the dedication. He finally consecrated it in 1874 and it became a parish church.
What to see outside the Church
Like many of our grand High-Victorian Gothic Revival churches, St. Cross was deliberately designed to dominate its surroundings and to be seen. At one time its majestic walls rose above rows of terraced houses. Now many of these are gone. It is well worth while standing back to view the church in its Setting. The eastern view, from the grounds of the Hall, or from the main road, is perhaps the most glorious of all, for here we see the tall chancel and east windows to their best advantage, and passing along its southern side, the entire building may be enjoyed to the full.
It is only when we stand back and admire its height, also its sturdy yet graceful proportions that we can appreciate Butterfield’s genius here. Bold and massive it may be, yet its architect created in it a majesty and magnificence in brick and stone which have indicated to those who have used and maintained it over the years that here is “none other than the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven”.
The Architecture is mainly an adaption of the early Decorated Style, seen in medieval churches of c. 1270-1320. St. Cross is mediaeval in style, shape and plan, but its Building Materials are very much 19th century. The walls are faced with red bricks punctuated by horizontal bands of stone and of darker-coloured bricks, often referred to as “blue” brick or even “engineering” bricks. Here we see “Structural polychromy” – colours blending in the masonry itself, further embellished with the diaper pattern (diamond shapes, using darker coloured bricks). The roofs are of grey slate.
The slender and pencil-like Tower rises above the western bay of the south aisle. It is strengthened by slender buttresses at the angles and has similarities to a continental campanile. The tower is capped by a steep pyramid roof of slate and crowned by a weather-cock.
The South Porch has a wide stone entrance arch, resting upon semi-circular responds; above the arch is a quatrefoil opening. Inside the porch has a simple arch-braced roof.
The Windows of the church are lined with sandstone. The aisles are lit by two-light decorated windows with “geometrical” tracery; these are set alternatively single and in pairs and the walls are punctuated by small brick buttresses. In the chancel these windows become a little more elaborate, with cinquefoil heads above; these are set beneath stone hood-moulds.
What to see inside the church
It is worth taking time to sit and to drink in the atmosphere and the grandeur of this vast Butterfield interior. It is tall, majestic, well-proportioned and devotional, and the architect has created in brick and stone a building of remarkable dignity, yet with so very few refinements. An added bonus (which is now a rarity in a Butterfield church) is that it is flooded with light, due to the absence of stained glass in many of the windows. It is indeed a building which was designed to inspire people and to bring them to their knees. The church also reflects the architect’s idea of what a church building should be – one vast area of worship, rather than a place full of hidden corners and chapels. Here the nave, the chancel arch and the chancel, are wide and specious, with the High Altar visible from almost everywhere in the church.
The internal Walls are faced with red brick and are again banded with stone and darker-coloured bricks and embellished with diaper-work in several places.
The aisles are divided from the nave by graceful Arcades of four bays. The main arches rest upon alternating circular and quatrefoil piers, all with moulded capitals and bases. These slender columns are particularly graceful and elegant and the arches combine lighter and darker coloured sandstone. To the south of the open area is the church’s Book of Remembrance in its glass case. This was given in 1967, when the Garden of Remembrance was made in the churchyard. The nave is equipped with low Benches, which have quatrefoils and tiny trefoil-headed openings in their ends. These are the originals, by Butterfield, of 1866.
The nave has a simple open timbered Roof. Slender tiebeams straddle the nave horizontally and the collar-beams (which are strengthened by arch-braces) support king-posts which rise to the summit of the steeply-pitched roof.
A modern Church Centre with kitchen and lavatories has been installed (late 1990’s) at the west end of the nave in a highly sympathetic manner, above which an Organ was constructed by Wood of Huddersfield. The etched windows of the church centre and the organ design and external pipework compliment Butterfield’s original interior.
The Chancel Arch is remarkably wide – almost the full width of the nave. The arch itself handsomely moulded and rests upon clustered responds (half-piers) with moulded capita and bases. Above the arch are imitation voussoirs (wedge-shaped stones) forming the arch in red and dark bricks, framed by a stone-hood mould.
The Font is also by Butterfield and its eight-sided bowl is supported upon eight circular columns painted black. The inside of the bowl is not circular but quatrefoil (four-lobed) in shape and its outer panels have trefoils, alternating with vesical-shapes, containing quatrefoils. ~The font has been enhanced by the tasteful application of colour.
Butterfield’s wooden Lectern survives, also his commodious Pulpit. With its bold wooden openwork traceried upper part, resting upon a moulded stone base.
The Chancel is lofty and stately and is flooded with light. Here the architecture itself becomes a little more refined and ambitious. The chancel aisles are divided from the chancel by a graceful pair of Double Arches, set beneath single embracing arches, the brick infilling between the former and the latter having a circle containing a cross formed in darker bricks. A Crown of Thorns (1999) is suspended above the chancel altar.
The Sanctuary itself provides the climax of Butterfield’s architectural decoration of the church. A single-course divides off horizontally the lower section of the walls, which are punctuated vertically by gabled buttresses. At the centre, above the altar, rises the reredos (which is part of the structure of the church and not an addition) in figured marble comprising three arches with trefoil tracery, framing a massive central Marble Cross with foliage decoration at its centre, against a background of tiles, some of which are patterned. The two flanking arches frame patterns in marble and red and black tiles. All this incorporates the simplest of motifs, but produces an effect of great dignity. Each side of the reredos we see patterns in black, red and white tiles, divided into four vertical sections, with a trellis pattern above, upon which have been painted a host of four-petalled flowers, fleur-de-lys and crosses, all in gold. The north and south sanctuary walls are divided into horizontal compartments by red and black tiles and have trellis patterns and fold flowers and crosses, all on green backgrounds. In the south wall is the Credence Recess (the position occupied by the piscine in mediaeval times), which now contains the Aumbrey where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. Some beautifully embroidered veils (showing the Lamb of God, also the Blessed Sacrament, on a white background) were made for it by Eleanor Brown.
The top of the lower section of wall has a frieze of stone quatrefoils containing gold-painted crosses on red and black backgrounds, above which is a wide and richly-carved cornice of stone foliage in which we see, above the four east wall buttresses, the emblems of the Four Evangelists, which are (from left to right) – the Lion of St. Mark, the Angel of St. Matthew, the Eagle of St. John and the Ox of St. Luke.
The original long wooden High Altar is still in place, it has traceried openings in its front and is nicely in proportion to the reredos behind it. The Dossal Curtains flanking the High Altar were designed by D.R. Buttress. Each side of the altar stand the bulky Standard Candlesticks, of brass and painted wood. On the gradine are two large brass Candlesticks, which presumably remain from the four with which the church was equipped at its consecration.
The Lady Chapel is a quiet and intimate space for prayer and for small services. The Statute of Our Lady was given in 1985 in memory of Harry Meek. The chapel contains a handsome 17th Century Chair, which is thought to have come from Clayton Hall and could well have been the property of Sir Humphrey Chetham himself. It is the oldest piece of furniture in the church and shows fine craftsmanship of the period.
In some ways it is fortunate that, unlike many 19th century churches, St Cross has not had all its windows filled with stained glass, because this means that the interior is refreshingly filled with light and we do not find here the “holy gloom” and “devotional dusk” which are features of so many church interiors. The great east and west windows, also the clerestory windows, were completely re-glazed in June 1965 at a cost of £2,100. The new glass has a mild yellow tint, with blue borders and the only distinctive piece of design is the brown cross in the centre light of the east window.
It was also in 1965 that the church of St. Peter, Oldham, was closed and sixteen stained glass panels from its west window were given to St. Cross, to be fitted into the aisle windows here. It is these panels, together with a few memorial windows – all in the aisles – which make up the stained glass that we see here today. The windows are as follows – working from west to east:
North Aisle Two angels, bearing scrolls, inscribed “War” and “Battle” (from Oldham), against a blue background of modern glass.
Two angels, bearing scrolls, inscribed “Victory” and “Peace” (from Oldham)
St. Michael, with his sword and scales for weighing souls
St. George, with his distinctive cross on his tunic
St. Cecilia (with organ)
St. Nicholas. The glass in this window was designed by T.H. Spear.
St. George (with his cross on his breastplate) and St. David (from Oldham)
Jesus the Good Shepherd
Jesus the Light of the World
In the north chancel aisle. St Patrick (with shamrock) and St Andrew (with his cross saltire) on backgrounds of modern glass (from Oldham)
1, 2, 4 and 5 are Old Testament scenes, mainly showing episodes from the Cross of the Red Sea.
We see Moses stretching out his hand for the waters to return and cover the Egyptians, and the Israelites rejoicing with tambourines and dancing because they had crossed safely (from St Peters, Oldham)
3 - Our Lord with the children
6 – Four angels with scrolls, inscribed with the opening verse of Psalm 100. Above are more angels, with harps and an organ.
Text taken from the booklet "A Brief History of St. Cross", 'a ruthlessly edited version of a “History and Guide” originally compiled by Roy Tricker in 1988'. The booklet is available in the church and the complete guide can be purchased for £1.00.