The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

The Easter Morning windows by Francis Spear

south window

Francis Howard Spear ARCA, FRSA (1902-1979) is now recognised as a designer of stained glass which is notable for its beauty and innovative qualities.

His place of work was mainly Edgware in London and Reigate in Surrey, with his early glass being created at the Glass House, a purpose-built studio in Fulham run by Mary Lowndes and Alfred John Drury. He taught lithography and stained glass at the Royal College of Art, where he had also been a pupil under Martin Travers, and was recognised as a leading lithographer during the inter-war years, with several of his lithographs being held by the Devenish Collection.

He was responsible for stained glass in a number of locations in the Greater Manchester and surrounding area, including:

  • St Paul, Astley Bridge, Bolton
  • St Stephen, Bury
  • St Mary the Virgin, Eccles, Salford
  • St Andrew (Presbyterian), Heaton Chapel, Stockport
  • Holy Angels, Manchester
  • Birch-in-Rusholme Parish Church, Manchester
  • St Mark (Presbyterian), Wythenshawe, Manchester
  • St Cross, Clayton, Manchester
  • St Mark (Presbyterian), Clayton, Manchester
  • St Andrew, Radcliffe
  • Manchester Grammar School
  • St Clement, Hr Openshaw, Manchester
  • Church of Christ, Burnage, Manchester
  • Hope Chapel, Oldham
  • Hospital Chapel, Wigan
  • St Christopher's Nursing Home, Wigan
  • Wilmslow Parish Church
  • And, of course, the three panels in the Easter Morning window which was installed in the then St Ninian's Presbyterian Church (now Wilbraham St Ninian's United Reformed Church) during its construction between 1949 and 1951.

Note: Spear's life and work is celebrated in The Stained Glass of Francis Spear by Alan Brooks, 
(ISBN: 978-0957222007) published in June 2012.

Wilbraham St Ninians logoWilbraham Saint Ninian's United Reformed Church

- a short history of the church and its buildings

Our congregation

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.


wsnoutsideWilbraham 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.

Wilbraham St Ninians interiorOver 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.

Wilbraham St Ninians interiorIn 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)


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