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Blackley Crematorium, Manchester

Description: Blackley Crematorium

Grade: II
Date Listed: 28 March 2014
Building ID: 1416171

OS Grid Reference: SD8437203651
OS Grid Coordinates: 384373, 403649
Latitude/Longitude: 53.5293, -2.2372

Locality: Manchester
County: Manchester
Postcode: M9 8JP

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Listing Text


Crematorium, 1959, by Leonard C Howitt, City Architect. Brown brick and concrete, aluminium windows, single-storey. The furnaces, machinery and service equipment located in the rear service areas are not of special architectural or historic interest.

Reason for Listing

Blackley Crematorium, constructed in 1959 to the designs of the Manchester City Architect Leonard C Howitt, with glass by William & Watson of Liverpool,
is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Pioneering modern design: it was one of the first crematoria in Britain to adopt a modern and European-influenced design, heralding a more adventurous and assertive modern approach to crematoria design;

* Architectural interest: it has a strong and confident design composed of crisp clean lines with a particularly striking front elevation dominated by the main chapel's massive bow window flanked by lower side chapels and entrances;

* Setting: the main symmetrical facade specifically relates to, and contrasts with, the meandering roads leading through the cemetery landscape, thereby heightening the building's impact and presence;

* Interior quality: using good-quality materials throughout the interior, the crematorium's most notable space is the main central chapel with its dramatic form enhanced by good quality stained glass and carefully considered materials and lighting;

* Artistic interest: the building contains an abundance of high-quality abstract-patterned coloured and stained-glass in windows and catafalque gates;

* Planning interest: the building's simple plan layout of three chapels set alongside each other allows funerals to take place concurrently, whilst a discreet and private atmosphere is maintained through the provision of separate exit halls and the design to minimise awareness of the rear service areas;

* Bespoke design: Howitt's design reflects Manchester's strong civic pride and commitment to municipal architecture;

* Degree of survival: it is little altered both externally and internally and retains a wealth of original features.


Blackley Crematorium was constructed in 1959 to the designs of the Manchester City Architect, Leonard C Howitt as part of Blackley Cemetery, which was completed in 1953. A Chapel of Remembrance building, which also included the registrar's offices and cemetery service yard, was also constructed at the same time. The crematorium was originally intended to have two large separate burial and cremation chapels, as well as two smaller cremation chapels, but it was later decided to have three dual-use chapels in order to achieve an improved architectural design, and also lower capital and running costs. The main contractors for the buildings were G & J Seddon Ltd of Bolton and the opening ceremony and chapel dedication took place on 15 September 1959, led by the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend W D L Greer. The crematorium was awarded the Manchester Society of Architects Bronze Medal Award in 1959.


PLAN: the crematorium is set within the southern section of Blackley Cemetery at the south-western end of a short north-east - south-west avenue that connects the crematorium to the cemetery's Chapel of Remembrance building and cemetery offices. The crematorium has a symmetrical layout with two small chapels flanking a larger central chapel, with the committal room, furnaces and offices located to the rear, along with a small enclosed service yard.

EXTERIOR: the crematorium has a long symmetrical, north-east facing front elevation with a massive bow to the centre, which is fully glazed with abstract coloured and stained glass and lights the main central chapel. The glazed bow, which is believed to have been designed, in part, to echo the bow of Heaton Hall and the rotunda of its temple on the opposite hilltop, incorporates 22ft 6in high, closely-set cast Portland-stone mullions that rise from a sill above a faceted black-granite plinth and connect with two transoms set high up the bow. Adorning the centre of the bow is a 17ft high and 6ft wide concrete cross with bright-blue terrazzo cladding that is fixed in place by metal fins laid end on so that they are barely visible and the cross appears suspended. Flanking the central chapel are two lower, two-tiered, flat-roofed, buff-brick ranges that contain the entrance halls and side chapels, as well as exit halls on their side elevations. The front elevation of each entrance hall has a single window and teak double-doors with teak and silver bronze door furniture. A long, thin cantilevered concrete canopy projects outwards above each entrance. Rising above and behind the entrance halls are the side chapels, which are set just slightly lower than the larger central chapel, but also have a full-width window at this end, although here the windows are deeply recessed. Both windows contain coloured and stained glass and have short Portland-stone mullions in the style of those to the central bow, and a single transom. The two exit halls on the side elevations are similarly styled with glazed walls to the centre and replaced doors. The north-west exit has a long two-stage concrete canopy projecting above, with the lower stage supported by two columns. The south-east exit hall has two exit doorways, above which are canopies in the same style as those to the north-west side, but linking to a single larger, lower-stage canopy supported by four columns; later steps and ramps have replaced the original sloping access to both exits. The rear (south-west) return walls of the side chapels incorporate a series of vertical brick fins. The rear of the crematorium, which incorporates only a few windows, is largely hidden from view by a high brick wall and gates that lead into an enclosed rear yard. A relatively short rectangular chimney rises from the southern corner.

INTERIOR: the crematorium contains three chapels, which enable funerals to take place concurrently. The two main entrances off the north-east front lead into entrance halls in front of each side chapel, which are lit by large domed skylights containing circular lens lights. The rear walls of the entrance halls incorporate blue mosaic panels illuminated by wall lights that flank teak and sycamore double entrance doors leading into the side chapels; identical doors also lead off into the main central chapel at the side. Adjacent waiting rooms, toilets and vestries also occupy the entrance halls, and exit halls lie alongside each side chapel; that to the south-east side flows around the corner into the entrance hall and contains a polished granite tablet recording the dedication of the crematorium in 1959.

Both side chapels have rectangular plans with teak and sycamore catafalques set upon large, slightly-raised platforms behind sliding catafalque gates (covered by curtains upon inspection) by Birmingham Guild Limited with an iron frame and grey-leather panels incorporating roundels of coloured glass; speakers are housed in the back of the gates. The walls, which were originally of exposed brick, have since been painted and plastered. Original pendant lights hang from the centre of circular ceiling recesses down each side of the chapel, and above the catafalques are smaller versions of the skylights in the entrance halls. Inside each chapel, above the entrance doors, is a large full-width mullioned and transomed window containing coloured and stained glass by William & Watson of Liverpool.

The main chapel has a reinforced concrete frame and a fan-shaped plan with splayed side walls of Uxbridge flint bricks that converge on the catafalque area. A series of concrete piers, arranged around the chapel's fan-shape and forming an aisle on the north-east side (lit by original pendant lights), rise to meet a series of concrete beams radiating from the top-lit catafalque area like ribs. A huge coloured and stained-glass window of abstract design by William & Watson of Liverpool forms the north-east wall and follows the gradual curve/bow of the front elevation. The catafalque is of black Belgian marble and cast stone and is set upon a raised platform reached by curving marble steps, above which black rods of differing length follow the chapel's fan shape and descend from the ceiling at an angle. A domed skylight with circular lens lights (in the same style of those in the side chapels) is located above the catafalque. The sliding catafalque gates are of black metal with illuminated abstract stained-glass infill of varying density by Birmingham Guild Limited. The chapel contains original curved, beech bench seating by Hille of London Limited. An electric organ by the John Compton Organ Co Ltd is located in a small room behind the splayed western side wall, which is lit by a small circular skylight; a louvred window allows the organist to watch and follow the service without being observed by the mourners.

The committal room is situated behind the main chapel and also has side access from the side chapels. It is lit by a series of small circular skylights (along with two flanking stores), and the walls are lined with acoustic tiles, the ceiling is plastered and the floor is of cork floors; all designed to minimise noise.

The furnace room contains three furnaces* and provides access to rear staff and service rooms*, as well as an urn store. These rear ancillary rooms, as well as a short corridor leading to the enclosed rear yard, are lit by circular skylights in the style of those to the committal room.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the furnaces, machinery and service equipment located in the rear service areas are not of special architectural or historic interest.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.