History comes to life at Holy Name Church

Volunteer Adam gives a guided tour of the church to some post graduate students
Volunteer Adam gives a guided tour of the church to some post graduate students

The Jesuits at the Holy Name Church in Manchester have recently completed a research project to uncover memories and stories from the church’s parish past, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Lottery fund.

The Holy Name was built by the Jesuits in 1871, and operated as a very busy parish for a large community which included many Irish immigrants.  During the 1960s and 1970s much of the housing was cleared and communities moved to outlying districts.  Manchester University spread out along Oxford Road and the Holy Name became the church of the University chaplaincy, still served by the Jesuits.

“People expressed a real sense of loss” reflected  Amy Wisenfeld, the project manager, “for the homes they had lost but more important, the strong sense of community around the parish. It is not too strong to say people were in mourning.”

Amy was helped with the research by third year student volunteers Lauren Tunnicliffe and Grace Thornhill.  Altogether they interviewed 30 people about their memories of the church from the 1930s to the 1980s. 

Amy, Lauren and Grace“Finding interviewees was a mixture of advertising and word of mouth,” explained Amy.  “We found a couple of Facebook groups for people interested in local history, and we asked local parishes to put notices in their newsletters, which gave us a great response. Others saw a piece in the Tablet or were referred by friends.”  

Grace reflected, “People had such fond memories of their time at the Holy Name – evidently this project meant a great deal to those who had moved on and it has been a pleasure to show that these experiences are valuable and are worth remembering and recording.”

Tom, a parishioner from 1968-86, said. “it is really important for me that we pass on the history of the Holy Name Church so that family – children and grandchildren- can look back when we pass on.”

Ann Marie, a parishioner from 1956-72, commented, “it’s vital heritage isn’t forgotten as the past shapes who we are now.  This is aided by sharing stories of ordinary people and informs future generations of what it was like to grow up in a culture that reflected our values and beliefs so clearly and gave us our sense of identity.”

The stories which emerged focussed on the “rites of passage” of baptisms, weddings and funerals as well as the importance of the church as a social hub with its wide range of clubs and activities for all ages. “We found more than one couple who met at the Holy Name socials,” said Amy.

But another strong theme was the sense of loss when the surrounding housing was demolished during the 1960s and 70s.  Families were not consulted and were moved to outlying suburbs such as Withington and Wytheshawe sometimes with little notice. Chris remembered the impact on her family:

“The church was an integral part of the community. Well the slum clearance act came in, and they completely decimated all the houses. The houses used to be really nice, they were no longer family houses, … we lived in Ardwick, with my grandmother, and she was born in 1890 and the house that we lived in was the house that she moved to when she married my grandfather in 1915. And when we were moved in 1968, everybody was moved, but they were moved piece by piece, so all of a sudden, you’d find that some of your neighbours had gone, they all went to different places, some went to Hattersleigh, some went to Wythenshawe, we went to Burnage. And once we’d moved, bearing in mind my grandmother had lived there from 1890 to practically 1970. And she was in her 70s, once she moved, she never once saw any of her neighbours ever again. It broke her heart. You have to remember in those days, nobody had cars, none of us had telephones and once they’d gone, they’d gone! And she knew every single person in the street.”

Michael agreed, “ Everything’s gone. Thousands of houses taken from here. Well not taken, demolished. There was a lot of tears in them days. Lot of protest from the bishop. Sense they were disrupting the community.  Oh it was, tremendous loss – they were scattered about all over place”.

Map of Chorlton on Medlock from 1893 with Holy Name Church markedAs part of the project the team assembled a series of seven historic maps which show the changes in the area as the housing grew up in the 1870s and disappeared again by 1980.Map of Chorlton on Medlock from 1982 with Holy Name Church marked

These are all on display at the Holy Name Church during Heritage Open Days 13-22 September 2019, together with more excerpts from the interviews about life in the parish, and contributions from academics from the University of Manchester.

All are welcome. Details of opening times are available on the Holy Name website.