Church of St Mary the Immaculate Conception, Failsworth


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Clive Road, Failsworth, Manchester, M35 0NN


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Statutory Address:
Clive Road, Failsworth, Manchester, M35 0NN

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

Oldham (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Roman Catholic church. 1963-1967 to designs by Tadeusz Lesisz of Bolton architects’ practice Greenhalgh & Williams. Light brown brick, Westmorland green slate roof, reinforced concrete and cast stone.

Reasons for Designation

The Roman Catholic Church of St Mary the Immaculate Conception, Failsworth, of 1963-1967 by Tadeusz Lesisz of Greenhalgh & Williams is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* The church is boldly modelled to update a traditional basilican plan and imbue the clean-cut, geometric forms of the building with a strong, individual, architectural style;

* The church is embellished with good-quality, bespoke, cast stone relief friezes and a dramatic suspended aluminium statue of the Virgin Mary to the exterior, whilst the interior is enriched by contemporary artwork such as the large-scale sanctuary mosaic of Our Lady, and, notably in the circular baptistery by atmospheric stained glass and an unusual font cover, both designed by Lesisz; * Original fixtures and fittings such as chandelier and wall light fittings, decorative ironwork gates and pipe organ complement the church interior, whose clean, simple lines are also enhanced by decorative plasterwork ceilings.

Historic interest:

* The architect Tadeusz Lesisz was born in Poland and had a distinguished career as an officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War before training as an architect and became a leading figure in the Polish community in Manchester.


Failsworth was an isolated rural settlement until the arrival of the Rochdale Canal in 1804, followed by the first large cotton mill in 1834, with the textile industry driving a substantial growth in population during the late C19. The mission originated as a foundation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who arrived in 1846. In 1849 some cottages were converted to a school and chapel, and in 1855 a church began to be built. Progress was slow due to a lack of funds and the church remained unfinished even after it opened in 1865. In 1868 the church was damaged in riots stirred up by the anti-Catholic agitator William Murphy. In 1892 a sanctuary was added to the church. The church subsequently suffered from subsidence and in 1959 it was closed. The decision was taken to build a new church and the original building was demolished in 1964, with the congregation moving to a converted cinema while the new church was built.

The new church was built in the early 1960s on a different site to designs by Tadeusz Lesisz of the Bolton architects’ practice of Greenhalgh & Williams. The main contractors were W Fearnley & Sons of Salford. The foundation stone was laid by the Bishop on the 3rd August 1963. It is not known exactly when building was completed, but it is likely to have been around 1967. While the church and attached presbytery are shown on the 1:1,250 Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1964 to 1967, the circular baptistery is not. However it is shown on the 1:2,500 OS map surveyed in 1967 to 1969. Tadeusz Lesisz was a leading figure in the Polish community in Manchester. He had studied architecture at Oxford after a distinguished naval career during the Second World War, before joining Greenhalgh & Williams in 1954. He became a partner in 1963 and remained with the practice until he retired in 1988.


Roman Catholic church. 1963-1967 to designs by Tadeusz Lesisz of Bolton architects’ practice Greenhalgh & Williams. Light brown brick, Westmorland green slate roof, reinforced concrete and cast stone.

PLAN: the church is built with the sanctuary facing west, but liturgical compass points are used for the description.

The church has a basilican plan with narrow side aisles to the nave, transepts containing a Lady Chapel in the north transept and a Sacred Heart Chapel in the south transept, a west narthex and a west spire, and a north-west circular baptistery.

EXTERIOR: the church is set back from Clive Road which curves round the south side of the plot. It is built of light brown brick in stretcher bond with concrete dressings and decorative friezes of cast stone, and Westmorland green slate roofs.

The principal entrance is in the gabled west end, defined by a port-cochere which rises almost the full height of the nave with a large round-headed arch with a concrete frame enclosing a suspended aluminium statue of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception by E F & L J Blackwell, architectural sculptors and designers of Ardwick, Manchester. The double-pitched roof is surmounted by a cylindrical, concrete spire with projecting fins narrowing to a point like a furled umbrella. It is topped by a gilded orb and crown and a circle-headed cross by Faulkner & Sons of Manchester. The recessed main entrance has a cast stone relief lintel reading ‘HIC EST DOMUS DEI’ (This is the House of God) interspersed with the symbols of the Four Evangelists. The timber double doors are panelled and studded and are flanked by timber-framed windows. The recessed aisle returns both have panelled and studded double doors with cast stone tympanums depicting the Papal Arms.

The north elevation has a sanctuary window at its left-hand end of four, full-height, round-headed lancets set in a concrete frame with relief quatrefoils over the window heads. The windows have metal frames with leaded small-pane glazing of subtly-coloured glass interspaced by horizontal bands of coloured glass fragments. The nave clerestorey has circular windows with concrete frames. Beneath is a flat-roofed aisle with a cast stone, relief frieze depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary. The five central bays have tall, round-headed lancet windows with metal frames and leaded, small-pane glazing of subtly-coloured glass. At the left-hand end is the slightly-lower, flat-roofed Lady Chapel. It has a cast stone relief frieze of vine scrolls. The outer, north elevation is blind, with a row of seven tall, round-headed lancets to each side elevation. At the right-hand end is a circular baptistery with a short link to the narthex at the west end of the aisle. It is constructed of reinforced concrete with an arcade of full-height, round-headed windows, and a low, conical copper roof surmounted by a gilded crown.

The south elevation has a similar sanctuary window at its right-hand end, circular clerestorey windows, and flat-roofed aisle with a cast stone relief frieze of the Mysteries of the Rosary. The five central bays have similar tall, round-headed lancet windows. At the left-hand end is a lower row of five lancets lighting the narthex. At the right-hand end is the slightly lower, flat-roofed Sacred Heart Chapel, which has a plain, cast stone frieze. The outer, south elevation has a two-light window in a concrete frame to the left of a row of six, full-height, round-headed lancets. The west side elevation has a three-light window with a concrete frame. To the right is a single-storey, flat-roofed corridor linking the church to the presbytery.

The gabled east end is blind.

INTERIOR: the interior is plastered and floored with rectangular, beige tiles. The decorative stained glass is by Charles Lightfoot, much of it to designs by Tadeusz Lesisz, some incorporating glass from the previous church. Throughout the church the original light fittings of circular, brass chandeliers with suspended circular shades of opaque glass and brass wall fittings with similar circular shades of opaque glass remain.

The nave has a coffered ceiling with decorative plasterwork panels by the Art Plaster Co Ltd of Salford. There is a plain, round-headed sanctuary arch. In front of the sanctuary arch are marble communion rails encompassing a raised marble pulpit with a metal coronet tester. The stepped sanctuary has marble flooring and a, now, forward-standing marble high altar. A full-height mosaic on the east wall depicts Our Lady Mediatrix of Graces, surmounted by two angels supporting a crown as at the Assumption, by Alberti, Lupton & Co of Moston (who also supplied the marble work in the church). The mosaic is flanked by vertically-grooved cast stone. The sanctuary has a curved, suspended baldacchino decorated with an image of the Holy Spirit. The nave arcades have plain, round-headed arches. At the east end of the north aisle is a round-headed, marble-lined niche containing a statue of St Joseph. At the head of the aisle are two panelled confessional doors (now stores). At the east end of the south aisle is a mosaic-lined, round-headed niche containing a statue of St Anthony, flanked by two panelled confessional doors. At the west end of the nave is a choir gallery and organ loft lit by a stained glass roundel. The organ was built by Jardine and Co Ltd of Old Trafford. Beneath the gallery is a narthex separated from the nave by a timber and glazed screen, with panelled timber doors lining up with the external entrance doors. The five-light south window depicts the Assumption. On the west side of the narthex is a decorative iron gate to the gallery steps. On the north side of the narthex is the entrance to the baptistery with decorative ironwork gates. The baptistery has a marble floor and a scalloped plaster ceiling. The stained glass windows show the Baptism of Christ. There is a circular, red marble font with an openwork aluminium font cover probably designed by Lesisz.

The north Lady Chapel has ribbed ceiling panels with bosses. There is a statue of Our Lady of the Globe over the marble altar. The two seven-light side windows contain decorative stained glass. The south Sacred Heart Chapel is separated by an arcade of three round-headed arches carried on two slender, marble columns and corbels. Against the east wall is a Gothic marble reredos with carved figures and altar with a bas-relief altar from the previous church. The five-light side window contains decorative stained glass.

SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: the three main vehicular entrances from Clive Road are bounded by circular concrete piers with narrow inscribed bands, topped by metalwork finials in the form of a tall, abstract crown. Each entrance has double metalwork gates incorporating Latin crosses. An early historic photograph of the church suggests that these may be later in date than the gate piers.


Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford, An Architectural and Historical Review, Architectural History Practice, 2013.


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

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