Wilbraham Saint Ninian's United Reformed Church
After coming here in August 2009 as a congregation of the Metropolitan Community Churches, then subsequently becoming an independent congregation and a Mission Project of the URC, and finally being admitted as members of Wilbraham St Ninian's URC in October 2015, our congregation is privileged to worship in a building of such restrained beauty, simplicity and nobility. In many respects, our church is one of the hidden gems of the building programme of Presbyterian churches in Manchester in the post-war years.
Wilbraham St Ninian's started life as a congregation within the Presbyterian Church of England when, after initially meeting in the Masonic Hall in Chorlton from 1903 onwards, the foundation stone on the old church building at the present site (now the Old Hall) was laid in September 1907 and the congregation of the Chorlton-cum-Hardy Presbyterian Church moved to its new home in March 1908.
The church continued to grow in the early decades of the 20th century and to create a strong and vibrant identity for itself within the Presbyterian tradition and among the many Manchester residents who had been brought up as Presbyterian by virtue of Scottish family connections.
During the Second World War, the nearby Whalley Range Presbyterian Church was severely damaged by bombing in December 1940, and by July 1941 it had been agreed that the Whalley Range and Chorlton churches would amalgamate on the Chorlton site under the name of St Ninian's Presbyterian Church.
Over time, the need for more accommodation became apparent and this, coupled with a significant amount of War Damage compensation received from the government for the damage to the Whalley Range church, led to a decision in 1949 to build a new church, adjacent and connected to the existing building.
The new church opened for worship in November 1951 having been constructed at a cost of £14,198 by William Thorpe to the plans drawn up by architect Thomas Reive. (See panel below.)
The crowning glory of the beautiful new building were the three panels comprising the stained glass window which was installed in the south wall of the sanctuary by the highly reputed artist-craftsman Francis Spear (see sidebar).
It seems there was a debate whether the theme of the windows should be Easter Morning or Moses and the Burning Bush, but the Easter Morning theme was finally chosen.
In 1955, pressure on space for the various church organisations became evident once again, and the intention to build a manse on the site was abandoned in favour of constructing a new hall (still known as the New Hall) with a substantial kitchen area, at a cost of £5000.
In 1972 the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales came together to form a single denomination, the United Reformed Church.
As a result St Ninian's Presbyterian Church became St Ninian's United Reformed Church.
By 1978 the Elders of the Wilbraham Road (formerly Congregational) United Reformed Church and St Ninian's (formerly Presbyterian) United Reformed Church reached the conclusion that amalgamation of the two churches was the best survival plan for the two congregations which were geographically quite close to each other.
The decision to amalgamate was finally taken in 1985 when extensive dry rot was found at the Wilbraham Road church, and so St Ninians United Reformed Church became Wilbraham Saint Ninian's United Reformed Church - the name by which it is known today.
The present complex of buildings -
- the church,
- the Old Hall,
- the New Hall with its extensive kitchen facilities,
- and a range of smaller offices and meeting rooms,
- serves the community of Chorlton as a busy and popular venue for all kinds of activities virtually every day of the week, every week of the year.
But at its heart is a worshipping Christian community with a proud heritage, a distinguished history, and a vision of the Good News of Jesus, which have all resulted in the love and respect in which Wilbraham St Ninian's is held by all who are associated with it.
Chorlton-cum-Hardy Presbyterian Church 1904 - 1941
St Ninian's Presbyterian Church 1941 - 1972
St Ninian's United Reformed Church 1972 - 1985
Wilbraham St Ninian's United Reformed Church 1985 - present
With acknowledgment to "A distinct place in the community: the story of a Presbyterian church" by Roger Tomes (2004)
The Architect - Thomas Reive ARIBA, MIStructE
Described in business listings as "Thomas Reive (Chartered Architect), Stockport", Reive was born in Droylsden in 1887/8, the son of James and Catherine Reive, Scottish Presbyterians who had moved to Manchester in the early 1880's.
He seems to have started his professional career as assistant to the Bolton architects Bradshaw and Gass, and was working for them when he was elected an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in November 1915. He practised for some time in Rangoon, Burma during the inter-war years and returned to Britain, some time after his mother's death in Rangoon General Hospital in 1933, to a business address in Manchester. From 1949 his business address was in Stockport.
On 29 August 1938 he married Barbara Wilhelmina (Lena), the youngest daughter of the Rev John Spark, at Inverness. After a long life together, Thomas died at his home in Gatley on March 18 1970. He had been a member of the congregation for many years, and a choir member, at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Heaton Moor, Stockport where the funeral service was held on March 20th 1970 prior to interment alongside his father at Prestbury Church.
During his professional life, Reive drew on his Presbyterian heritage and credentials to undertake some significant projects for the Presbyterian Trustees. He also demonstrated a strong preference for the stained glass of Francis Spear (see left-hand panel) as a major feature in his buildings. Indeed, there is perhaps an argument to be made that the parallel development of the needs of the Presbyterian Church of England, the architectural career of Reive, and the artistic career of Spear, all spanning the period of the 1930s to the 1960s, came together to create something quite distinctive. The result, in the Manchester area, seems to be his legacy of his 'three graces': St Andrew's, Heaton Moor; St Ninian's, Chorlton; and St Mark's Wythenshawe - all showing Reive's unmistakable design, and all containing major glass work by Francis Spear.
Records of Reive's projects are rather patchy, but his significant church works appear to be (original names):
- 1936 - St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Heaton Moor, Stockport.
- 1936 - Trinity Presbyterian Church, Torr Lane, Plymouth. (National Archives database lists 6 documents [2782/24 - 2782/29] held by Plymouth and West Devon Record Office as being 'Architects plans by Thomas Reive, Architect of Manchester' for Trinity Presbyterian Church.)
- 1938 - (Proposed) Presbyterian Church and Sunday School, Pendleton, Salford. (Thought never to have been built.)
- 1949 - St Ninian's Presbyterian Church, Chorlton, Manchester.
- 1952 - (Suggested modifications to) John Knox Church, Stepney, London. (Reive prepared sketches but was not appointed architect.)
- 1958 - (Proposed improvements to) Presbyterian Church, Wolverhampton.
- 1958 - St Mark's Presbyterian Church, Wythenshawe, Manchester. (Building control documents, plan number 36303, submitted to Manchester Corporation between 1955 and 1957, are now stored in the Archives section of Manchester Central Library).
- 1962 - Church of Christ, Burnage Lane, Manchester. (Demolished 2006)
Information provided by, and reproduced by permission of, Greater Manchester Churches Preservation Society, with supporting evidence identified by Angela Connelly, Research Associate at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre.