Church of St Mary-in-the-Baum, St Mary's Gate, Rochdale


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Church of St Mary-in-the-Baum, St Mary's Gate, Rochdale


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Statutory Address:
Church of St Mary-in-the-Baum, St Mary's Gate, Rochdale

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Rochdale (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SD 89607 13606


Parish church. 1909-11 by Ninian Comper. Brick with Alderley sandstone dressings and tile roofs. Interior faced in Alderley ashlar stone.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of St Mary-in-the-Baum, Rochdale, of 1909-11 by Ninian Comper, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Architect: Ninian Comper was a leading Anglo-Catholic designer and architect in the late C19 and early C20 who was renowned for the virtuosity and intellectual rigour of his designs for church furnishings and stained glass and highly accomplished as a church architect; * Plan: St Mary-in-the-Baum has an ingenious and highly individual plan due to the awkward, built-up urban site which places the nave and chancel on the south side to take advantage of the primary source of light, with two contiguous aisles on the north side; * Architectural interest: Comper became increasingly inspired by the continuity of Christian worship and St Mary-in-the-Baum is the first church which clearly shows his synthesis of classical and Gothic styles, combining Perpendicular Gothic with classical details measured directly from Greek architecture, while the outer aisle is designed in the character of the previous C18 chapel of which the congregation were very fond; * Decorative quality: the church is a tour-de-force of Comper's design skills in church fixtures and fittings and stained glass, which are exquisitively executed and demonstrate a high degree of craftsmanship, notably in the intricate, timber screens, and enormous East window; * Iconography: influenced by early Christian iconography, this is the first significant representation by Comper of a young, beardless Good Shepherd in Majestas (Christ Pantokrator) set in a mandorla on the chancel tie beam and incorporated into the East window and subsequently used at his St Mary the Virgin, Wellingborough (Grade I), and elsewhere.


The Church of St Mary's-in'the-Baum, Rochdale, originated in 1738 when a subscription deed outlined the need for a 'chapel of relief' in Rochdale due to the growing number of parishioners. The resulting chapel and associated churchyard was largely gifted by Samuel Chetham of Castleton Hall, who supplied the land and £500. The chapel opened for worship in 1742. It was a modest, brick-built, rectangular building of six bays with round-headed windows. In 1865 a chancel was added and the following year it became a parish church. In 1867 the windows were filled with paired stained glass roundels of Christ's Life by Wailes to designs by the Revd Robert Napier Sharpe.

By 1905 the church was suffering from cracks and a sinking apse. The decision was made to build a new church, though the C18 building was well-loved by the parishioners and there was a clear desire to retain some of its character in the new design. A challenging design brief was drawn up including improved ventilation and light within the mill-ridden neighbourhood, greater interior decoration, greater capacity (682 persons was specified in one document), and also the retention of the character of the original chapel. The architect was Ninian Comper whose design for the new church sensitively addressed the brief. The church had an unusual floor plan. The south side of the built-up site provided the best light due to a fall in the land. A continuous nave and chancel were located here where they could be well lit by large, clear glass windows. It also enabled the large east window to be located in the only open space between the high cotton mills on its eastern side. A broad central aisle acted as the principal circulation space of the church, and beyond was a low, north aisle built in the character of the original chapel. Decorative treatment was concentrated upon the interior, with a simple exterior of handmade brick, a pragmatic choice by Comper as he considered it would resist the effects of pollution from the industrial location better than the local sandstone.

The foundation stone was laid on 12 June 1909 and the new church was consecrated on 2 February 1911. The original altar was retained and Comper designed the four riddel posts topped by gilded angels that flanked the altar supporting altar curtains. The 1866 font was also retained and the 1867 stained glass roundels were re-set in groups of three in the deeper round-headed windows of the northern aisle. Timber panelling on the south and west walls of the nave was in the manner of the gallery fronts of the original church with a suggestion that some panels were re-used. Likewise there is a suggestion that capitals and bases from the columns of the upper galleries were used for the north aisle arcade of the new church. The arch soffits have lozenge coffering taken from measurements Comper took in the temple of Bassae, Greece, when he visited in 1906, as was the external balustrade to the north aisle. The large east window was designed by Comper, who also designed a relief carving in the spandrel of the tie beam marking the division between the nave and chancel. It depicted the Pantokrator (Ruler of All) as a beardless Christ inspired by early Christian images of the Good Shepherd set in a mandorla. This was the first significant representation of the beardless Pantokrator by Comper, who used it in a number of his subsequent ecclesiastical designs. He also designed the timber parclose screen around the Jesus Chapel in the north aisle, which was carved by Mr Gough.

In 1923 Comper designed the west War Memorial window in the central aisle, and the east memorial window depicting saints in 1924. His timber chancel screen and east screen in front of the organ loft in the central aisle were also added in 1924. They contained figures of the apostles and the chancel screen carried his rood group. In the early 1930s an organ built by Fitton and Haley of Stanningley, Leeds, was added to the pre-existing organ loft. The organ case was designed by Comper, as were the choir stalls of c1936.

The architect Ninian Comper (1864-1960) was initially an assistant to C E Kempe, the glass painter and church craftsman before being articled to the architect G F Bodley in 1883. In 1888 he entered into partnership with William Bucknall until 1905 after which time he employed assistants. Comper was Anglo-Catholic in his emphasis on interpreting English church art and liturgical worship based on scientific principles. He was renowned for the virtuosity of his designs for church fixtures, fittings, furnishings and stained glass. He designed fifteen churches initially using the Decorated Gothic style of C14, before becoming inspired by the English Perpendicular architecture of C15. In the early C20 he visited Rome, Sicily and the Mediterranean, and Greece. This encouraged an inclusive approach to architecture which synthesized many decorative and architectural styles. He also published three influential liturgical papers. Comper was knighted in 1950.


Parish church. 1909-1911 by Ninian Comper. Brick with Alderley sandstone dressings and tile roofs. Interior faced in Alderley ashlar stone.

PLAN: Continuous nave and chancel separated by rood screen on the south side, central aisle with entrance doorway at west end, organ loft and screen at east end, north outer aisle with north entrance porch, screened Jesus Chapel at east end and vestry beyond. The double aisle arrangement enabled the nave and chancel to utilise the best light which was on the south side where a fall in the ground level prevented it having been built up.

EXTERIOR: the church is built of narrow, hand-made red bricks in English garden wall bond (4:1) with Alderley sandstone ashlar dressings and small, red tiles to the roofs. The north (entrance) elevation has a flat-roofed outer aisle with a balustraded parapet with moulded stone cornice, coping and turned balusters. The aisle is divided into four bays by stepped, brick pilasters with cyma mouldings. There are two windows in the first, second and fourth bays, and a projecting porch to the third bay. The windows are round-headed with ashlar surrounds incorporating pilasters and keystones. Each window contains glass incorporating three large stained-glass roundels (1867) set in small, leaded roundels of clear glass. The pedimented porch has a doorway with ashlar pilasters and a moulded round-headed arch with a keystone. The door is of twelve fielded panels with an overlight with small, leaded roundels of clear glass. The single-storey vestry to the left has a steeply pitched roof with a stone-coped gable and kneelers at the left-hand end. It has a three-light and a five-light mullioned window with hood moulds separated by a Tudor-arched doorway. The stepped-back clerestorey to the higher central aisle has 'Y' tracery to flattened pointed arches. The chancel to the rear of the vestry and central aisle has a single large pointed-arch window with Perpendicular style tracery. The west elevation is of three bays. The left-hand bay is the return bay of the north, outer aisle. It has a similarly detailed round-headed window and balustraded parapet. Separated by a stepped buttress are the gable walls of the central aisle and higher nave, both with stone coping and kneelers. On the ridge of the nave is an ornate, classical timber and lead bell-cote which has been re-used from the original church. Both gable walls have large Perpendicular style windows. On the right-hand side of the central aisle is a porch with an embattled parapet which is flush with the slightly-projecting nave wall. The porch has a pointed-arch doorway with panelled double doors. The south elevation is of seven window bays separated by gableted, stepped buttresses. The buttress between the fifth and sixth bays is taller and heavier and divides the nave from the chancel. Abutting it is an embattled porch with a doorway in the west elevation and a two-light window in the south elevation. The very large pointed-arch windows (24ft x 12 ft / 7.3m x 3.6m) have four-light, Perpendicular style tracery and small panes of leaded, clear glass. The east gable wall of the chancel has a very large pointed-arch window (30ft x 18ft / 9.1m x 5.5m) with Perpendicular style tracery, stone coping, kneelers, and a cross finial. The east gable wall of the central aisle is stepped back with a six-light window divided in two by a central mullion with a hood mould at ground-floor level. The right-hand gable wall of the vestry has a five-light window with a hood mould.

INTERIOR: the interior is faced in ashlar stone with embattled oak panelling almost to sill level on the south and west walls of the five-bay nave. The south wall of the two-bay chancel has a timber sedilia beneath the first window and panelling up to the embattled sill of the second window. The stone window sills above are also embattled. The floors are wooden parquet with stone flags in the chancel. The chancel has a stone piscina in the south wall, and an aumbry in the north wall. There is also a squint through from the area beneath the organ loft at the east end of the central aisle. The nave and chancel are of considerable height (120ft / 36.6m). The roof has elaborately painted king-post trusses, shaped braces, and roof surface, now faded. A moulded stone arch head separates the nave and chancel with a decorated, timber tie-beam which supports a relief-carved beardless Christ seated in a mandorla and flanked by kneeling angels. The huge, twelve-light east window has Perpendicular style tracery and stained glass designed by Comper depicting 'Life and Love of God, so lovingly bestowed upon man' and includes two images of an unbearded Christ in a mandorla. The nave is separated from the central aisle by a very tall arcade of alternately round and concave-sided octagonal piers. The central aisle has a shallow arched and panelled roof. The west window is a War Memorial window with a roundel of St George slaying the Dragon around which shields bearing the arms of the five principal allied nations are arrayed. It commemorates the 73 men of the congregation who died in the First World War; a panel was later added to commemorate the seven men lost in the Second World War. The six-light east memorial window, beneath the organ loft, depicts three female saints on the left-hand side and three male saints in the right-hand side. The central aisle is separated from the outer north aisle by an arcade with Tuscan columns and semi-circular arches with lozenge coffering to the soffits. The north aisle has a flat, panelled ceiling with moulded, timber spine and cross beams. In the east wall is a depressed-arch doorway opening into the vestry and there is a round-headed doorway opening into the north porch. The stained glass roundels of the Life of Christ from the original church are set in the windows, flanked by an Annunciation in the easternmost window and the Crucifixion in the west window. A heavily enriched and intricately carved timber screen designed by Comper separates the nave and chancel. It incorporates tracery and tabernacles with saints bearing either the symbol of their martyrdom or ministry. Set on top of the screen are a rood group with a crucified Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St John and two angels (above Christ is the tie beam supporting the Pantokrator). The screen is continued in the same manner in line with the chancel screen across the east end of the central aisle, in front of the organ loft. The organ case in the organ loft has a case by Comper with angled groups of pipes and painted images of cherubs. The four eastern bays of the north aisle are enclosed by an intricate timber parclose screen with brattishing. At the west end of the nave is the 1866 stone font from the original church. On the south side of the nave is a hexagonal, panelled pulpit on a pedestal with an octagonal sounding board supported by an intricately carved post and a back panel carved with linenfold.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 16 August 2017.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Symondson, Anthony, Bucknall, Stephen, Sir Ninian Comper, (2006), 127-131
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Comper, Sir (John) Ninian (1864-1960), architect, accessed 05 November 2014 from
War Memorials Online, accessed 16 August 2017 from
War Memorials Online, accessed 16 August 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 16 August 2017 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 27 Aug 1999
Reference: IOE01/00549/18
Rights: Copyright IoE Ms Pamela Jackson. Source Historic England Archive
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