Grade one listing for Rochdale church

Date published: 28 September 2010

St Edmund’s Church in Rochdale, has been upgraded from Grade II* to Grade I, reflecting its important architectural style, the craftsmanship of its design and its prevalent Masonic theme.

Grade I listed buildings are of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important. Just 2.5% of all listed buildings are Grade I. Originally listed as Grade II* in 1985, St Edmund’s is the only known example of a church building so overtly dedicated to Masonic symbolism and is unique throughout the whole of England.

Built at the highest point of the town and the focus of four streets, St Edmund’s is a church central to the history of Rochdale and its inhabitants. Built in 1870–73 it was commissioned by Albert Hudson Royds, a well known industrialist, banker and Freemason. The Royds were a prominent local family of wool merchants who helped to finance the Rochdale canal. St Edmund’s is said to have cost £22,000 at a time when a suitable church could have been built for £4,000.

The Manchester architects’ practice of James Medland and Henry Taylor built the church and is responsible for a number of other listed churches in the North West including five in Rochdale itself, although St Edmund’s is arguably the architects’ best work.

The building has been upgraded to Grade I largely due it being a rare example of Masonic architecture on a church, as opposed to a Freemason Lodge. St Edmund’s was built at a time when Freemasonry in Rochdale was a strong force and its members were stalwarts of the local community. Many of the churches in Rochdale display some reference to Freemasonry but none so prominently as St Edmund’s.

The interior of the church is designed around the geometric form of a cube. Hammerbeams on the chancel roof spring from the walls and are decorated with the Masonic symbols of pomegranates, lilies and water lilies. The church has an elaborate set of stained glass windows with the Masonic theme on the south side of the building dedicated to building and Freemasonry. The climax of the theme is the Royds Chapel, where the window depicts Nehemiah, Ezra and the Masonic Tyler, the guard of a Masonic lodge, wielding a sword. The Building of the Temple of Jerusalem is also shown with a likeness of Albert Hudson Royds as one of the master masons. In the main body of the church, the lectern features three brass columns all with the symbolic tools of masoncraft engraved on the base.

Nick Bridgland, Heritage Protection Team Leader for English Heritage in the North said: “St Edmunds is unique as it merges the architectural style of Gothic revival with Masonic symbolism to create a building which is not only a successful parish church but also a temple to Freemasonry. The completeness of the Masonic scheme is unparalleled in England and the importance of this building is reflected in its Grade I listing.”

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