Gaskell House Blogs

William Gaskell and the Unitarian Chapel on Upper Brook Street

21st November 2018
in blog, Gaskell House Blogs

The recently restored Unitarian Chapel on Upper Brook Street is an important part of the Gaskell legacy in Manchester, as well as being an important part of Unitarian history as the first purpose built Unitarian chapel in England.

The impetus to build the Chapel came from William Gaskell himself – which gives me an opportunity to show  the wonderful portrait of William by Annie Swynnerton which, while usually on display in the House,  is currently starring  in the Annie Swynnerton ‘Painting Light and Hope‘ exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery.

The Chapel was built to replace one on Mosley Street in the centre of the City which had closed in 1835, and  is the work of the architectural duo of AWN Pugin and Charles Barry  who famously collaborated on the designs for the Palace of Westminster. Charles Barry was well known in Manchester and had already designed the building which is now  part of the  City Art Gallery and facing onto Mosley Street in Manchester.

By 1837, Charles Barry had been commissioned to provide a design for the new Chapel. AWN Pugin had by this time begun to work with Barry but he was  very much the junior partner. What is interesting about their collaboration on the Unitarian Chapel is that the design very much reflects the influence of Pugin’s architecturally correct and scholarly Gothic style in contrast to Barry’s characteristic use of a classical design language – very much in evidence in the City Art Gallery building.

When the Chapel was opened, William Gaskell must have often walked past it on his way to Cross Street Chapel from Plymouth Grove!

By the 1990’s, the Chapel was no longer in use and was not in good repair. It had been on Historic England‘s Heritage at Risk register since the inception of the list in 1998 and was one of the Victorian Society‘s buildings at risk. In 2005, the roof became unsafe and was removed, and the building deteriorated rapidly. Thankfully it was saved by the innovative development company Czero, and after a rather stunning re-purposing it now offers student accommodation while the facade of the building has been beautifully restored.

I think William Gaskell would have wholeheartedly approved. Do walk down Upper Brook Street and take a look – it’s well worth it!

Lesley – House volunteer

And we've got a house. Yes! we really have

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850