Christ Church Fullwood, The Journey of Renewal
It was as long ago as 2013 that Mrs Fiona Lockwood, of Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield, asked to visit us at JBKS Architects. She had seen photos of our work and wanted to discuss what they wanted to do at Christ Church Fulwood, a thriving Anglican church with near to 1000 people through their doors on a Sunday.
I had heard of this church years before, and it was an exciting prospect to talk to Fiona about their plans. It was the beginning of a long journey with the church. They wanted to restore the church, build a link to the hall, about 50m away, create disabled access and better facilities in the hall, and to flatten all densely packed graves between the church and hall to make a lovely open space for people to gather in. My first visit to the church was an eye opener. I parked just where there was a gap in the wall went through, thinking there would be a handy footpath from there. No, I had to fight my way between the huge sandstone graves covered in brambles. The whole entrance sequence was very confusing, and it would not have been much better had I gone in the proper way.
But this was where the journey with the warm-hearted client team started off. Little did I know that the work to this quirky Grade 2 listed church would prove so controversial. Originally built in 1839 by R Potter, it remained unaltered for over a century until GG Pace became its architect from 1953 to 1956. He added a large and block-like east end, and the south aisle. Later Ronald Sims (Pace’s one time assistant) added the north aisle and gallery, west end stairs and turrets, and he replaced the aisle columns with steel four-poster frames, which were designed to be open-looking.
Why controversial? Thae fact is that architecturally it was a disjointed agglomeration of different parts at different times, by two different people at, without an overall coordinated stylistic unity. The original nave and roof, still in place, had been surrounded by these odd dissimilar extensions, which had no unity of character, or meaning. The East End, at the Chancel Arch location, had large, pointed arches rising out of the floor. These unfamiliar shapes, more at home on a street front of a curry house, screened off the chancel, which was designed to be a High-Church liturgical space with ambulatories up each side, and a large high-altar location, surrounded by altar-rails. Usually, High-Church spaces are ornate and embellished. In contrast the rest of the church was plain. What was controversial was that the 20th Century Society fought tooth and nail, and through a consistory court to preserve the building just as it was, simply because it was the work of GG Pace. As an architect he was not as universally applauded for his architecture as the C20th Society believed and fought for.
Also, regarding meaning, Christ Church, as an Evangelical Church did not practice, nor believe in the whole ambulatory and High-Church thing. That exalted the Priests and rendered the congregation as spectators to a religious event. It is not New Testament. Christianity is about Christ being with us, God being in us, and a relationship with Jesus Christ individually, forgiveness and salvation directly, not through the offices of the church and its hierarchy. It is an obvious fact that the traditional High Churches are declining precipitously, and the Evangelical churches are the ones where there is the most growth. Like a beacon of light in a sea of compromise Christ Church Fulwood shines out to proclaim the truth of the word of God in the Bible to a very needy Sheffield.
After the consistory court battle, we were permitted limited change, and now the church looks more unified and tranquil. The East End is a raised dais that the band plays on. The pulpit has gone, and the word is preached by a normally dressed speaker able to walk about on the stage. The floor was dug up and under-floor heating installed. The new lighting is lovely. All the paintwork is a warm creamy-white. There is a kitchen and there are toilets. The church is for today, and can be used all week for meetings, conferences, activities and just about anything to support the work of the church all week.
Sadly the large, glazed link did not make it through this time, but flattening of the graves, which was ever-so difficult, creates a spacious courtyard which is very welcoming. The Hall has its disabled lift and the new kitchen servers generous hospitality to many who attend the various functions.
Thanks to the wonderful team of Alan Butler, Fiona Lockwood, and Paul Dodd, who so steadfastly steered the project through all the plannings issues, DAC permissions, and the complexities of the present-day Anglican Church politics, the 10-year journey has almost reached its destination, bar few snags. We thank the Lord too, most of all, for finances, for favour, for getting us through the obstacles, and for blessing the people of Sheffield who will be blessed by this church, well into the future.
Jeremy Bell, B.arch. M.ed. RIBA
Director JBKS Architects.