After my meeting in Media City, I had to get right across Greater Manchester to Rochdale. Normally I’d jump in the car and do the orbital M60 motorway to do a journey like that but on Monday I was using the tram.

Rochdale used to be its own little town. It’s been around a long time, a least a 1000 years that we know of. It really boomed in Victorian times when huge mills, spinning cotton, were built around the small town. It became very wealthy and this is reflected in the buildings that were put up at that time. The collapse of the cotton industry has damaged the town but its proximity to Manchester city centre and being surrounded by beautiful countryside has made it a desirable place to live. Houses prices are way below the prices you’d pay in popular suburbs like Didsbury, Chorlton, Hale, Bowden…. so bargains are to be had. The downside is that you don’t get the vibe of a place like Chorlton. Hipsters are thin on the ground in Rochdale. Rochdale is a proud town and is quick to assert its identity when people assume it’s part of its larger neighbour, Manchester. People from outside the city think it’s part of the city and, with us voting for a mayor for the Greater Manchester area in a few days, I suppose it really is a suburb of Manchester. And, as Manchester is a thriving, vibrant, world city it could do worse than ride on its flashy neighbour’s coat tails.

To be honest north Manchester is a bit of a mystery to me. Apart from using the M60, that runs through it, to get to Yorkshire, I’ve not really explored it. I rarely get further north than Victoria. The inner suburbs north of the station have a ‘colourful’ reputation. While south Manchester enjoys the levels of wealth of London and affluent places in the south east, north Manchester has roughly half the wealth of the south of the city and it shows. The tram journey beyond Victoria takes you through the ‘colourful’ suburbs where houses are cheap and for a good reason. Moston won’t be the next Chorlton any time soon and for good reasons. The line then runs through another of the old cotton towns, Oldham, where you could see fine old buildings put up in the Victorian times and I’ll have to check it out soon.

From there the tram took me to Shaw. It’s a small town in the eastern hills. It’s increasingly popular as a commuter town for Manchester and the Sunday Times had the villages in this area (Saddleworth Moor) as one of the top places to live in th UK. Lots of pretty, stone built cottages nestling in green valleys within walking distance of great restaurants and 30 minutes from Spinningfields. I had to change trams here. The station was by an old cotton mill. If this was in Ancoats, it would have been coverted into apartments going a £500,000 a pop. Shaw isn’t quite in that league yet. I like mills. They are simple buildings but have a pleasing elegance about them that modern factories don’t have. Given a bit of tlc, and with light flooding in through those huge windows, they make great places to live. This one, Briar, is relatively simple and nothing like the grand, almost palatial buildings they put up in places like Ancoats.

I jumped on tha tram into Rochdale town centre and jumped off one tram stop before the town centre at Rochdale Railway Station. I wanted to check out St. John the Baptist RC Church that is just by the stop. It was built in 1927 in the Byzantine Revival style. Henry Chipp, the Canon of the church at that time lobbied for the older church to be replaced by a building in this style. We thank him for it. The design is based on the architecture of the Hagia Sophia (Basilica of the Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul. That building was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I between 532 and 537 in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Over the centuries it was enlarged and decorated with wonderful mosaics. It was the largest Christian building in the world for nearly a 1000 years. By 1453, when the armies of Islam took Constainople, it had fallen into bad disrepair. The first Sultan of Istanbul (Mehmed the Conqueror) converted the church into a mosque. Over the centuries it was restored and the minarets were added giving it the appearance we see today. In 1935 it was turned into a museum with some of the Islamic decorations being removed to reveal the Byzantine mosaics that has been covered. I’ve never seen in person it but it’s on my list.

This is Rochdale’s little version. It’s Grade II listed. It’s a lovely little building. 

I photographed the exterior and then noticed an ‘open’ sign on the door. I looked in and found myself in a vestibule. There was a service going on inside so I didn’t think it appropriate to go further inside to take pictures. So here’s a rather poor one of the Byzantine influenced interior through a glass panel of a door.

I wondered about the future of this building. We aren’t a church going nation anymore and this building is in a part of Rochdale where a lot of Muslim people live. There weren’t many people at the service on a Monday lunchtime. Maybe on Sunday it’s packed though. I wonder if it might have the same fate as the Hagia Sophia? Having said that the Roman Catholic Church in this part of the city is very fond of this building and it won’t be getting any minarets added any time soon.


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