Building of the Month March 2020: Agecroft Chapel, Northern Cemetery, Salford
Built in around 1903 as a centrepiece for the Northern Cemetery in Salford, Agecroft Chapel exhibits a highly individual combination of architectural styles. The design was by Manchester-based architects, Sharpe and Foster, and displays elements of Gothic style, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. The most notable feature of the building is the unusual tower which is surmounted by an eclectic wooden final stage set back behind a parapet. This distinctive feature can be seen framed by the entrance gate as people pass outside the cemetery and have therefore made it a landmark in the area.
The chapel has been empty for more than 40 years and, inevitably, it has suffered during that time. The tower requires work to stabilise it and the building is now fenced off as it is unsafe to enter.
Agecroft Chapel was added to our Buildings at Risk register in 1999 and was spotted by a local resident who recognised it having grown up nearby and who loved the building. A local working group was formed with the aim of bringing it back into use. They worked with the respected Heritage Trust for the North West to find a way forward. The group also spoke to the Council's Conservation Officer at the time and their Bereavement Officer who came up with the excellent suggestion of using the chapel as a centralized point where the bereaved could find florists, monumental masons, funeral directors etc, all in the same building.
By 2004, the group had raised around £25,000 which was spent on a structural report and a feasibility report.
In 2006, with the involvement of the Council, a Building Preservation Trust was set up to take proposals forward. Discussions continued but with finance a key consideration, not much could be done. The project got new momentum in 2015 with some funding being provided by the Architectural Heritage Fund, National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Community Committee, Virador Waste and small donations from the public. The Architectural Heritage Fund and National Lottery Heritage Fund money was provided in 2017 to carry out a feasibility study.
In 2016, the Council cleared the building of extensive vegetation growth which was essential work and allowed updated assessments to be made of the building's condition.
However, alongside these encouraging steps forward, it was clear that the tower required stabilisation and for this, considerably more funding was required. Stabilising the tower would avoid any more serious collapse and allow the public to enter the building, generating interest and also opening up other avenues of potential fundraising activities.
In 2019, the chapel was one of the buildings which was chosen to be painted by artist, Gerard Stamp, for his exhibition in support of SAVE and its buildings at risk work. Gerard chose a number of distinctive buildings from all round the country for which SAVE have campaigned and Agecroft Chapel was one of only 13 selected.
Sadly, the latest news is that the local group has lost some key members and the trustees have taken the decision to disband it. At present all that is in the diary is a meeting to discuss implementing the decision to disband it. But perhaps if some new and enthusiastic participants could be found, the work already done could finally be made to bear fruit. As funding is the key stumbling block, anyone with experience of doing funding applications or anyone willing to apply themselves to the task is particularly sought, but anyone with an interest in working with others to bring this wonderful building back into use should get in touch with the Agecroft Chapel Restoration Group. Their website can be found by clicking here.