Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gorton Monastery restored to former glory

A fresh fundraising appeal has been launched to complete the restoration of a gem of Gothic Revival architecture which had been abandoned to vandals.Gorton Monastery was abandoned by developers 14 years ago and completely vandalised. It has now been restored

Gorton Monastery, a redbrick church and priory, stood for 120 years as a proud symbol of Manchester's Roman Catholic community.

But when its resident Franciscan monks left, looters and developers moved in to claim the treasures of the building designed in 1863 by E W Pugin, whose father Augustus was the architect for the Houses of Parliament.

It was stripped bare by vandals a decade ago and declared one of the world's 100 most endangered monuments.

Virtually every one of its stained glass windows was shattered and the roof was exposed to the elements, while the interior was damaged by fire.

A giant crucifix depicting a life-size statue of Jesus was sold off to an art dealer ready for export to America.

After a successful campaign to save the monastery, however, almost £7 million has been spent on breathing new life into it, and it is now completing its first year as a burgeoning conference centre, banquet hall and arts centre.

A new appeal is being started to find the "missing" £1 million to complete its rebirth.

The cash will go towards finishing Victorian stone carvings and restoring the altars and the once-glorious cloistered garden.

The prime mover behind the restoration was Elaine Griffiths, 52, whose husband, Paul, had been an altar boy in the church.

Mrs Griffiths first saw the building in 1996.

"I remember walking in and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up," she said.

"It was so perfect. I couldn't believe that nothing was being done to save it."

Mrs Griffiths expected someone in authority to start a campaign to save what was deemed by some to be the most beautiful parish in the north of England.

When no one did, she stepped forward.

A turning point came when the monastery was recognised as an endangered monument.

"The heritage world had to sit up and take notice," she said.

The receivers duly sold the Grade II-listed complex to Mrs Griffiths's restoration trust for £1 and her project got under way.

"It's amazing to see it finished at last," said Mrs Griffiths, who was recently awarded an MBE.

"Back in 1996 it was difficult to imagine we would ever see this day."
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