Salford – A City of Many Religions

While researching for the book Salford in 50 Buildings, I was very struck by the enormous range of different religious buildings within the city. I had not anticipated that a single urban space could manage to cater for so many differing forms of belief.

When most people think of Salford, they most likely associate it with Salford Cathedral or, possibly, Sacred Trinity Church, both on Chapel Street. Clearly both are very significant structures in the Salford landscape and they have been well-documented and photographed by many. They are interesting buildings in their own right – Sacred Trinity being funded by one of Salford’s most famous philanthropists, Humphrey Booth in 1635. John Wesley preached at the church and William Webb Ellis, the founder of the sport of rugby was christened there.

Salford Cathedral was the first Catholic church in England to be built in the shape of the cross since the Reformation. Close by is St Philip’s Church, dating from the 1820s and its distinctive bell tower sits on top of a semi-circular portico, while St Thomas’s Church in Pendleton is another well-known landmark.

Salford Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Salford. (© Jamie Barras, Salford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

Although the neighbouring city of Manchester has long had a reputation as a liberal and inclusive city, Salford also has some pedigree as a place of tolerance. In 1851, there were almost equal numbers of Church of England and Nonconformist worshippers in the city.

Looking beneath the surface, we can identify many different types of religious practice and their associated buildings. The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation on Bury New Road has been a focal point for the city’s Greek community since the 1860s, while the Jewish community met at the Higher Crumpsall and Higher Broughton Synagogue from 1929.

Salford also boasts a number of buildings related to religious communities, such as Kersal Cell which accommodated Benedictine monks since 1563. Temperance halls and mission halls also flourished within the city.

Temperance societies are best known for their attempts to encourage abstinence from alcohol but they also included a friendly society to offer assistance in times of sickness or bereavement. Salford’s Independent Order of Rechabites was founded in 1835 and was the first in England. This Order expanded globally and is still active in Australia, the USA and Canada. Temperance Halls such as the Blue Ribbon Hall opened in Swinton in 1883 to provide a central meeting place for lectures and other educational purposes (thanks to John Davies from the We Grew Up in Salford Facebook group for alerting me to this one).

Other faiths represented in the city were the Wesleyan Methodists, Welsh Calvinists, Congregationalists (of whom James Joule, the physicist, was a member) and the Swedenborgians. The Bible Christian Society were made welcome in Salford – they were committed vegetarians (which was also linked to abstinence from alcohol) and were founded in King Street in the city. They were responsible for the first vegetarian cookbook to be published in Britain. Salford MP Joseph Brotherton was a member of this church, being its leader for some 40 years.

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation on Bury Road – the oldest of this kind in the country. (© Carole O’Reilly, Salford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

One challenge for these fascinating buildings in the twenty-first century is to find new ways to survive in the face of dwindling numbers of worshippers. This is not a problem unique to Salford by any means. Many are now open to the community for use as meeting places such as Chapel Street and Hope United Reform Church, while St Philip’s Church has become a fashionable concert venue for both classical and popular music. Its interior makes it an especially versatile performance space as audience members can get close to the bands or go upstairs for a panoramic view. Notable bands who have performed there include the Sugababes and Florence and the Machine.

The former Salford (Rex) Cinema has been operated as a multi-cultural church of the New Harvest Christian Fellowship for more than 20 years. Indeed, evangelical churches appear to be flourishing in Salford – Mount Chapel in Eccles features briefly in our book, Salford Elim Church has existed since 1950 and is part of the Elim Pentecostal Churches, while Elmwood Church was originally founded in 1889 in Eccles to provide support for railway workers and has occupied a site on Eccles Old Road since 1987. The Audacious Church has its city centre location on Trinity Way in Salford and claims an active congregation of 4,000 people. The Salford Religious Centre for Spiritualism operates on Cross Lane and was founded in 1975. Clearly, Salford continues to be an open and inclusive city that welcomes those of all religious beliefs and none, just as it has always done.

Salford’s Generous Donors:

One thing that is immediately noticeable when you start researching Salford’s historic buildings is that many would not exist at all if not for funding provided by some of Salford’s wealthiest people. Some of these names are perhaps familiar to those with some knowledge of Salford’s history but other remain somewhat mysterious. I set out to discover more about some of these people and their families – who they were, where their money came from and why they decided to donate money to contribute to the urban fabric of the city of Salford.

Humphrey Booth, fustian merchant, (Sacred Trinity Church and the Booth Charities)

The Booth family have an especially long association with the city of Salford. Humphrey Booth the Elder was born in Salford in 1580 and established a charity to aid the poor and needy in 1630. His grandson, also called Humphrey left some land in Salford to the city’s poor population which formed the basis for the Booth Charities. Some of this land was built on and money from rents used to aid the poor. Humphrey Booth the Elder also founded Sacred Trinity church in Salford and the lands left by the younger Humphrey Booth provided funds to manage and maintain the church for the future. In the twentieth century, the Booth Charities turned their attention to the plight of the homeless in Salford by building almshouses, as well as those who had no access to medical care before the NHS. The Booth Charities continue to be very active in the city with a particular focus on the homeless.

Sacred Trinity Church, with Gothic tower. (© Ben Abel, Salford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

Joseph Brotherton, cotton and silk mill owner

Brotherton was actually born in Derbyshire, but his family moved to Salford when he was six years old. There his father John established a cotton and silk mill, where Joseph went to work. He joined the city’s Swedenborgian Church and was a lifelong vegetarian. His wife, Martha (the sister of his business partner, William Harvey) published the first vegetarian cookbook in England. Brotherton was very active in the church and retired from business aged 36 to devote himself to his ministry. He established and funded many schools in Salford as well as the lending library, the first one to open in the country. He backed the founding of the Manchester Guardian newspaper by John Edward Taylor after the Peterloo massacre. He was Salford’s first MP from 1832 and served five terms. He was a firm supporter of Peel Park and Weaste Cemetery. A statue was erected to his memory in Peel Park in 1858.

Clowes family, merchants, (Broughton Park)

The Clowes family originated near Leek in Staffordshire but were strongly associated with Salford since the eighteenth century. Samuel Clowes bought the Broughton Park estate in Salford and established the family seat at Broughton Old Hall. The area around Broughton Park was developed in the early to mid-nineteenth century by the Reverend John Clowes, who insisted on the building of large houses or villas with gardens to the front and rear. One of these areas – the ‘Cliff’ – was one of the first residential suburbs in Salford with easy commuting distance into Manchester. The Cliff remains an important conservation area to this day. The Reverend Clowes was an avid collector of orchids, and his collection was given to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew after this death. The family name is still very visible in the area today – Great Clowes street and Clowes Park, for instance.

Daniel Lee and John Leeming, textiles, (Salford Cathedral)

Both families were Catholic and had made their fortune in the textile trade and both contributed £1000 each to the building of Salford Cathedral. Daniel Lee was born to an Irish veterinary surgeon father in Pendleton in 1798. His firm Daniel Lee and Co. were calico printers, and the firm was renowned for the high quality of its products such as carpets and furniture. Lee was an active Liberal politician, serving as both a councillor and as a magistrate. As well as his crucial donation towards the funding of Salford Cathedral, Lee also established the Lee Chantry chapel in the church which contains a memorial to him. The reredos of the carved stone altar contains 2 statues of Lee’s daughters and one of himself along with St Patrick, no doubt a nod to his Irish heritage.

John Leeming was the leaseholder of nearby Adelphi House before it became a school. Leeming was active other philanthropic circles as well, being the honorary secretary of a committee to raise funds for a statue of Robert Peel in Salford. The statue was erected in Peel Park in 1852.

Irlam railway station, restored in 2015 and once again a very busy station. (© Steven Robertson, Salford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

Neil McArthur, telecoms engineer (Irlam)

He was born in Irlam, Salford in 1955, the son of an Irlam Steel worker. At that time, Irlam was the site of many steel works and many of its residents depended on the highly skilled jobs to be found there. MacArthur failed his 11-plus and took an engineering apprenticeship at British Nuclear Fuels. He went on to found a telecoms company that eventually became TalkTalk and has so far invested more than £20 million into reinvigorating Irlam, which had lost most of its heavy industry. McArthur renovated the train station and turned it into a thriving heritage café and wine bar. He bought 100 empty and dilapidated shops on Irlam and Cadishead high streets to encourage more people to invest in the local area. These types of local philanthropy are more often associated with the Victorian period, but McArthur has proved that someone who used to sell potatoes door to door cannot just make a fortune, but he can invest a lot of that money back into his community.

J.G. & W.G. Groves, brewers (Salford Lad’s Club)

James Grimble Groves was born at Springbank, Pendleton in 1854. He became chairman and managing director of Groves and Withnall brewery, along with his brother William Grimble Groves and Arthur Withnall. The company ran the Regent Road brewery in Salford from 1888. James was also a Conservative MP who served one term of office for Salford South from 1900. He and his brother donated land for the building of Salford Lad’s Club in 1903. These clubs were designed to offer sporting and educational initiatives to deter young men from gang and criminal activities. The Groves family maintain a close association with the Lad’s Club to this day.

All of these buildings, people (and more) have made their mark on the history of Salford generally and the buildings they provided are still a tangible link to them and their generosity.

Carole O'Reilly and Paul Rabbitts's book Salford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.