Building Name

St Paul’s Wesleyan Church and Schools Enville Road Bowden

1874 - 1880
Enville Street
GMCA, England
New build

William Hayward Brakspear designed an unusually large and ambitious chapel for the prosperous dissenting connexion of Bowdon in 1874. It was possibly intended to rival the nearby Church of St. Mary which Brakspear had rebuilt for the established church in 1856‑60. The chapel, in a freely interpreted Gothic of the Decorated period, featured an arcaded octagon over the crossing above which another storey, combining castellations and half‑timbering, culminated in a dome topped with a small fleche. This curious Gothic dome found no inward expression within the church and served merely as a covering for an extensive viewing platform behind the arcading. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid in 1874 but the building was only consecrated in 1880 due to delays caused by structural problems which required the rebuilding of the dome and lantern. A settlement on the fees was not reached until 1884.

Methodism had started in Bowdon in the mid-eighteenth century when meetings were held in cottages. The first chapel was opened in 1857 and seated 300 people. However, this soon became inadequate for the growing congregation. Plans were approved of a new chapel to seat 700 on the ground floor early in 1874. The foundation stone was laid on Thursday 14 May 1874 and the chapel opened on 7 July 1880. it is cruciform in plan with a tower carried on massive piers and arches over the crossing of the transepts and nave. the tower is carried but a short distance above the ridge when it breaks off into an octagonal lantern surmounted by a dome. the nave measures 85 ft 6in to the chancel arch ad 51 feet in clear height to the ridge of the roof. the clear width of the nave and aisles is 45 ft 10 in. Provision was made for transept galleries capable of accommodating a further 200 people. The entire cost of the Chapel, Sunday Schools and Manse was £19,264 3s 9d of which approximately £14,000 was raised by donations and collections.

BOWDON, NEAR MANCHESTER - New Wesleyan chapel and schools are about to be erected in this rapidly increasing and improving neighbourhood. A very eligible and commanding site has been secured; and the buildings (which will be Gothic) are being designed by Mr. Brakspear, who was the architect for the parish church erected here. The chapel is intended to accommodate about 700 people, and the total cost of the whole of the buildings is estimated at about £9,500. [Building News 23 January 1874 page 90]

BOWDON - Yesterday afternoon the foundation stones of a large Wesleyan church were laid a Bowdon. The new building, which is designed to supersede the present church, now too small for its congregation is being erected on an elevated site on the Downs; and by virtue of its position and the boldness of its style, it will, when completed, form one of the most prominent and at the same time one of the handsomest objects in the neighbourhood. It is to be in the pure English Gothic style of architecture of the 13th century, and will be lofty and massive in its proportions. Being cruciform in shape, it will consist of nave, chancel and transepts; and in its external decoration will firm a marked contrast to Wesleyan chapels in general. The nave is to measure 88 feet 6 inches in length and have a clear height of 51 feet to the ridge of the roof. On each side it will be divided from the aisles by an arcade carried sufficiently high for the insertion of a handsome clerestory above, from the windows of which the nave will mainly be lighted. Additional light will be thrown into the church by coupled windows in the aisles, a large circular window in the west gable, and larger windows in the transepts and chancel. The width of the nave and aisles, being the width of the body of the church, will be 45 feet 10 inches, while the width of the transepts will be72 feet 9 inches. The chancel and transepts are each to be 29 feet 6 inches in width and 48 feet 6 inches high, the chancel being 27 feet and the transepts 15 feet 6 inches in length. The minister’s vestry will be placed on the north side of the chancel and the organ chamber on the south, the entrances on each side being intended to afford extra means of exit from the church. The natural fall of the ground to the east has suggested the arrangement of a large meeting-room underneath the chancel with a stewards’ vestry underneath the minister’s vestry and a heating chamber under the organ room, and these will be carried out. The principal entrance to the church will be found in the gable of the nave and will consist of a central porch with right and left lobbies, from which doorways lead into the interior. The exterior decoration or finishing of the building which give a special character to the design, remains to be described. It is throughout novel and beautiful, it principal feature being a magnificent dome, which will rise to a height of 123 feet from the floor line. The tower forming the base of this graceful structure will spring from between the transepts, and is to be carried up on massive piers and arches a short distance above the ridges of the roof. It will then break off into an octagonal lantern, 37 feet 6 inches in diameter, and will be surmounted by the dome, 30 feet in diameter, which in its turn will be surmounted with a spiral terminal. In each face of the lantern will be inserted two lancet windows, and the ornamental tracery work which it is proposed to introduce about the base of the lantern and the dome will add to the rich and noble appearance of the whole. The church is designed to accommodate about 700 persons, but provision will be made for the future erection of galleries in the transepts so as to seat 200 other persons. The scheme includes the erection of a suitable school on land adjoining the church, and to complete the undertaking the sum of £10,500 is required. Mr W H Brakspear, of Manchester, is he architect; and Mr Buck, of Bowdon, the builder. [Manchester Guardian 15 May 1874 page 7]

WESLEYAN CHAPEL, BOWDEN. - The foundation-stones of this new building have lately been laid. The style generally is English Gothic of the thirteenth century. The building will be cruciform. The nave will be 86 feet 6 inches in length to the chancel arch, 51 feet in height to the ridge, and will have narrow passage aisles only, formed by piers and arches, with a clerestory, and coupled windows in the aisles and circular window in the west gable. The width of the nave and aisles will be 45 feet 10 inches. A tower, carried on massive piers and arches, is at the intersection of the transepts with the nave, and will at this point measure 72 feet 9 inches in the clear width. The tower will be carried but a short distance above the roof ridges, when it will break off into an octagon lantern 37 feet 6 inches in diameter, having in each face two lancet openings, and will be surmounted by a dome, 30 feet in diameter. The chancel and transepts are each 29 feet 6 inches in width, and 48 feet 6 inches to the apex, the chancel being 27 feet, and the transept 15 feet 6 inches in length. On the north of the chancel, and communicating with it, will be the minister's vestry, and between that and the transept an entrance lobby and stairs, for the future gallery. On the south side will be the organ-chamber, entrance lobby and gallery stairs; these entrances, north and south, will be used also for exit from the church. Accommodation is to be provided for 700. Mr. W. H. Brakspear, of Manchester, is the architect. [The Architect 23 May 1874 page 298]

WESLEYAN NEW CHURCH, BOWDON, CHESHIRE - The present buildings, erected some twelve or fourteen years since, now fail to meet the wants of a rapidly-increasing congregation, and it has been resolved to erect on a new and commanding site a more spacious church, with schools, to meet the requirements of the future as well as of the present time. We have an especial pleasure in giving publicity to the design for the church, which has been prepared by the Architect entrusted with this important undertaking, because we conceive that the great and interesting problem—the use of the Gothic dome as a crowning feature—is now likely to be most satisfactorily- solved. There has been much discussion and a great deal of talk in professional circles of late years as to the consistency of introducing the dome into a Gothic composition, but we must confess to a preference for action in such a case rather than talk—an action that will grapple with the real difficulties, that will study, weigh, and balance the several parts composing the whole, until the feature itself is an embodiment in complete harmony with the true spirit of the style adopted. We can but congratulate Mr Brakspear most heartily on his evident success, and we may congratulate the profession also, for if we mistake not the spirit of the age and of the profession to which we belong, we now inaugurate a revolution in the treatment of our ecclesiastical buildings. There can be no doubt or question that a central feature of importance such as a lantern, tower and spire, or dome, is of all compositions the most true, beautiful, and complete in church architecture; indeed, so undeniable is this, that we can only account for the general absence of such features by the difficulties that attend the internal arrangements, where an uninterrupted view of the minister is considered all important. Again, in the building under review, this difficulty has been in a great measure, if not wholly, overcome, as may be gathered by reference to the plan. The arrangement of the plan and the adoption of a design so bold and novel in character for a Wesleyan congregation indicates, we are pleased to say, that the promoters are certainly men of both enlightened and advanced views.  [British Architect 3 April 1874 page 217]

BOWDEN - The foundation of a new Wesleyan Chapel was laid at Bowdon on Thursday week. The architect is Mr. W. H. Brakspear, of Manchester. The style is English Gothic of the thirteenth century. The church accommodates 700 persons on the ground-floor, having facilities for hereafter adding 200 more by the erection of the galleries in the transepts. The nave will measure 88ft 6in. in length to the chancel arch, and 51 ft. in clear height to the ridge of the roof. The aisles are passages only, formed by piers and arches. The clear width of the naves and aisles will be 45ft. 10in. The church is to be cruciform. The chancel and transepts are each 29ft. 6in. in width, and 48ft 6in. to the apex thereof, the chancel being 27 ft., and the transept 15ft 6in. in length. [Building News 29 May 1874 Page 571]

The chapel at Bowdon was demolished in 1968.  Sir Nicholas Pevsner in The Buildings of England, Cheshire arrived just in time, noting: “This Gothic monstrosity with a crossing dome is being demolished. One regrets its disappearance. It was the most ambitious ecclesiastical building in Bowdon.”

NOTES - The British Architectural Library acquired a meticulously detailed architectural model of the church in 1992. The model had remained in the possession of a descendant of the architect until its acquisition by the Drawings Collection. By family tradition, the architect’s son, S W. Brakspear made the model. It is made of wood, cardboard, composition and glass on a wooden base with its original glass cover, in itself a rare survival and doubtless responsible for the model's fine state of preservation. A comprehensive and finely executed set of drawings for the building also survives and it is conceivable that this model was made to help in fund‑raising efforts for the construction of the church.

Reference    RIBA Journal August 1992 Page 30
Reference    C Nickson: Bygone Altrincham Page 215
Reference    Building News 23 January 1874 page 90
Reference    Manchester Guardian 15 May 1874 page 7 - foundation stone
Reference    The Architect 23 May 1874 page 298
Reference    Building News 23 January 1874 page 90
Reference    British Architect 3 April 1874 page 217 and illustration
Reference    Building News  29 May 1874 Page 571 - foundation