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Wednesday 4 November 2009

Right-wingers stoke Islamophobia in Longsight churchyard planning mystery

Latest (25 March 2010): a video of my visit to the site today. This shows the current situation and casts further doubt on the claims of ‘desecration’.

As church attendance figures have plummeted over the decades many buildings have been saved by being converted to a different use.

One old church on Dickenson Road in Rusholme became the Mancunian Film Studios from 1947-1953. After that it was sold to the BBC which used it for Grandstand and the first editions of Top of the Pops.

Another church at the junction of Plymouth Grove, Stockport Road and Birch Lane housed the BBC’s outside broadcast vans which were used for It’s a Knockout, the Good Old Days and sports coverage. But once TV moved on, both of those buildings were demolished.

Other churches would have gone the same way if they hadn’t been saved by becoming carpet warehouses, garages, mosques and Islamic academies. In some cases a considerable amount of money has been spent on buildings by these religious groups. Though, on occasions, even they have met obstacles.

The Grade II listed former Welsh Baptist Chapel on Upper Brook Street was designed by Sir Charles Barry — the architect of the Palace of Westminster in London.

Former Welsh Baptist Chapel on Upper Brook Street

However, in 2005, it became a ruin and despite the best attempts of the Islamic Academy that had been based there since 1974. After decades of neglecting the building, the owners — none other than our own beloved Manchester City Council — declared it unsafe, removed the roof and it has been like that ever since.

Former Welsh Baptist Chapel on Upper Brook Street

The Islamic Academy had spent £16,000 of its own money on employing a structural engineer and an architect to draw up plans for repair and improvement to the building. But, in the end, was unable to get grants from English Heritage and the Lottery Fund to carry out any work.

St. John’s Church in Longsight is another that is used by the Asian community. It’s currently at the centre of a row over development of part of the churchyard, which lies to the west of the building along Holmfirth Street.

The BNP and its supporters claim that graves have been ‘desecrated’ and headstones smashed to make way for a new car-park. In videos posted on YouTube, there are location shots of a presenter and a digger at work, intercut with misleading still images of headstones. Misleading because these headstones are actually on the other side of the church and still standing.

It’s all served up with an unpleasant helping of Islamophobia. The article and videos point to the lack of coverage of this issue in the mainstream media and contrast it with stories that have appeared about Muslim and Jewish cemeteries that have been vandalised.

The videos show photographs of broken headstones on the ground. But were these close-ups at St.John’s Church and I wondered if the lack of mainstream coverage was because the story wasn’t true? I decided to investigate…

First stop was the Local Image Collection at the Manchester Libraries website where I found several images. Unfortunately most show the church from a distance or from the east side.

However this shot dating from 1968 and taken from Holmfirth Street shows the west side and a couple of headstones are visible on the west side at the foot of the tower.


View Larger Map

Note (on 23 Feb 2010): the Google satellite image has been updated with a more recent photo since I first wrote this article.

An old-looking satellite image on Google Maps seems to show what could be a row of headstones lying flat like a path, again along the west side of the church. Switching to more recent scenes on Street View, the same thing can be seen.


View Larger Map

Are these headstones? At some point after 1969 were they laid flat on their respective graves to form a kind of path?

Whatever they were, they seem to have disappeared in the shots in the YouTube videos. I plan to go and take a look for myself.

While many people will find the presentation offensive, nevertheless this video seems to show on-the-spot footage of a least one broken up headstone. Another of the videos can be found here.

St.John’s Church is a grade II listed building. So it would be interesting to find out what has happened. Was that ‘path’ made from headstones lying flat? Have some been removed temporarily for safekeeping during the building work? Or have they indeed been smashed up by a mechanical digger? If so, did planners at Manchester City Council give permission for that? I don’t have answers at the moment. Going on the City Council’s past record on listed buildings, nothing would surprise me.

The apparent lack of coverage by the media is interesting. Is this because of political correctness or because of their fear of the BNP? If they don’t cover the issue, doesn’t that just let the BNP make a meal of this on its own website and on online spaces such as YouTube? And where does the lack of coverage leave the protection of our heritage and listed buildings?

To read more about some of the issues surrounding this, check out Timothy Bowes’ post: More than bricks and mortar.

I’m sure some people won’t like me writing about this and linking to these videos and I’ll be accused of ‘legitimising the BNP’. I disagree. Hushing up things and turning a blind eye isn’t a viable way forward. When these stories pop up, the only way is to investigate and publish the truth.

Exaggeration or lies that are designed to stoke up religious hatred must be exposed. But so must any other wrong-doing by whoever, including the City Council.

Twenty-five years ago I lived in Longsight. Here’s a photograph I took in front of St.John’s Church, probably in 1985. It shows the school crossing attendant taking a break.

School crossing attendant takes a break in front of St.John's church, Longsight, probably 1985

You’ll notice there’s a strange house in the background that looks as if half of it is missing. No, not a photographic error, it really exists.

Curiously, as I prepared this image to go with the post I noticed there’s a gap in the wall and large mounds of earth in exactly the same controversial spot and this almost quarter of a century ago. I wonder what was happening in the churchyard back in 1985? Could there be a connection? Perhaps that’s when the headstones were laid flat?

Old pictures have a tendency to throw up mysteries like this and it’s one of the many reasons why I love photography.

Curious house and large mounds of earth.

Update: 4 November 2009

I’ve had a response from the planning department at Manchester City Council.

Planning permission for a small car-park for 16 cars was granted on 26th March 2007 (ref. 082132/FO/2007/N2). This ‘specifically related to a grassed area, which included a small raised planting area’. You can see this raised planting area on Google Street View.

The planning permission does not permit the demolition of headstones. The planning department claims that ‘at the time of the submission of the planning application, there was no visual indication or information to suggest grave stones lay on or under the part of the site which it was proposed to develop.’ So, the mystery deepens over the ‘path’ which looks like a row of headstones lying flat.

They write that there is no evidence that actual graves have been disturbed and that ‘works on site have been limited, with no significant excavation’. However the City Council has contacted the Ministry of Justice which would deal with such matters.

A temporary Stop Notice has been issued to ‘allow consideration of a possible breach of planning control relating to conditions on the planning permission’. And they write that the ‘allegation concerning the possible disruption of headstones is the subject of on going investigation which has yet to be concluded’.

Broken headstone

As well as including video footage of what seems to be a broken headstone lying on the ground, one of the YouTube videos includes a photograph of a broken headstone with the inscription ‘David Hardy’. Some people may claim this photo could be from anywhere. True, but it must be a fairly simple thing to check the burial records for St. John’s Church to see if a David Hardy was buried there in 1860 and that will validate this photograph.

By intercutting shots of headstones that are still standing at the front of the church, with the building site, the videos on YouTube give the impression that a whole graveyard was bulldozed.

Whereas what I’ve discovered so far only shows that there may have been a row of graves running along the west wall of the church. Of course it’s possible that at some point headstones that were dotted across the churchyard on the west side were lifted and put in line to form that ‘path’. But so far I’ve been unable to find any photographic evidence which would support that.

Was the ‘path’ made up of headstones and, if so, the surveyor must have noticed it? The planners claim there was no visual evidence of headstones in the ‘proposed’ building area. But did the proposed area include the path?

This wouldn’t be the first car-park on a graveyard. In fact I believe there is one on the site of the former Grosvenor Street Chapel at Chorlton on Medlock. I wouldn’t say this was ‘desecration’. However smashing up headstones, especially if they are still on top of the original graves is another matter.

It may seem that the media is keen to report the vandalism of some headstones and describe it as ‘desecration’ whereas smashing up others with a digger isn’t even reported. But it comes down to intent too. In one case the damage is motivated by religious hatred and in another might be due to mistakes and misunderstandings on the part of planners and builders? Or maybe one or two pieces of broken headstone were already in the overgrown ‘garden’, before any work started?

Is the media running scared due to the subject matter? I’m not sure it is. There are all kinds of stories and subjects in Manchester that don’t get any coverage.

Update: 18 March 2010

A further video has been added to YouTube called ‘Desecration the final proof’. In fact still it fails to provide any hard evidence at all that there were graves in the enclosed ‘garden’ area — the place where the car-park is being constructed. The ‘path’ against the church wall seems to be visible in the background of the video, so is still there. The drainage holes that have been dug are, again, in what was the garden area and the low walls of which are visible on the current satellite image and can be seen on the satellite image.

So we are still waiting for archive photos of that part of the churchyard that runs alongside Holmfirth Street or some other definite proof. Just saying it was a graveyard isn’t good enough and isn’t proof.

Update: 25 March 2010

Video of a visit to the former St.John's church in Longsight

A video of my visit to the site today. This shows the current situation and casts further doubt on the claims of ‘desecration’.


Filed under: Buildings,History,Manchester,Politics — GS @ 3:47 am

18 Comments »

  1. Excellent article, I loved the photo of the “half-house” it really doesn’t look real does it?

    There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to local history, even with recent history people forget and move on so quickly. I guess the best way to explore it is to talk to people who may remember. Two girls from Jamaica who used to live on my street about 30 years ago came back on a visit to visit their Childhood home recently, I over heard them as I was putting the washing out talk about how much things had changed since they’d left the area, but some of the little sentimental things stayed the same.

    Even if our historic buildings out-live their original purpose it is surely a good thing other faiths and causes can take over the magnificient works of architecture.

    I’m pretty sure old headstones don’t have any rights to prevent them from being moved or dugg up “in the name of progress”, the world forgets when there’s no-one left to remember.

    Comment by Dave
    Wednesday 4 November 2009 @ 1:27 pm

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  3. It will be interesting to hear how your investigation develops.

    In writing that ‘the graveyard has not been touched at all’, I was referencing planning documents that described the plot as the church garden and not the graveyard (as claimed by the BNP and EDL).

    I’m pleased that you have decided to look into this thoroughly, and will gladly correct my narrative accordingly as more information comes to light.

    Comment by Tim
    Thursday 5 November 2009 @ 7:45 am

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  5. I am thoroughly disgusted at the desecration of graves – whatever faith or religion, and have taken this matter up with my local mp who is now in discussion with the Diocese of Manchester, the church of England.

    Comment by Kate
    Wednesday 18 November 2009 @ 9:09 am

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  7. In a number of my local church yards gravestones were laid flat and became peths as the area filled. In others long dead people were ‘moved’ into less used corners and I assume eventually forgotten. And those plots used again or used for something else. There was also a small cemetary plot awa from the church with a footpath running through it. All the graves were very old and often the stones were knocked over or broken. But that was in rural lancashire in the mid 70’s, and there were no asians in my village. Perhaps it was the catholics, or the methodists. ;>). That has gone now though and where were the BNP when the WASP council threw all those gravestones away

    Comment by Phil
    Thursday 17 December 2009 @ 9:44 am

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  9. I am a genalogist and I was shocked last year to find that not only had the muslims taken over an old Baptist church last year – St John the Apostle and Evangelist church, Longsight, Manchester, but they broke up all the gravestones… ( some only 60 years old! ) to turn them into hardcore, then poured concrete over the graveyard and turned it into a car park! Absolute outrage! No note was made of the information on the gravestones and I could not find any written record either – so the work I was doing on my student’s family tree is now incomplete!
    I find Dave’s comment that ‘gravestones have no rights’ absolutely abhorrant and completely disrepectful to the dead who those graves represent.
    Discovering our family history is never easy… but if the minorities who come to live here have no respect for English history and our landmarks, then our search for the truth about our ancestry will unnecessarily become an eternal mystery.
    Shame on all those that have been so disrepectful!

    Comment by Linda
    Sunday 21 March 2010 @ 12:46 am

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  11. g7uk.com in reply to Linda: I have spent some time looking and I have yet to see a shred of evidence that there were ever graves in the area where the car park is being built at the former St. John’s Church in Longsight.

    All the archive photos I have seen show headstones at the front (east side) and along the south side of the church which are still there. Plus a line of standing headstones up against the wall on the west side near where the car-park is being built. The latest YouTube video includes an archive photo from Manchester Libraries which is captioned ‘gravestones clearly visible where the excavation took place’ but in fact those headstones don’t seem to have extended more than a few feet beyond the wall of the church on the west side and out towards the south which is still grassed.

    In fact, what looks like a row of headstones lying flat next to the west wall can be seen in the latest YouTube video as shown below!

    A scene from the YouTube video

    Aerial view from Bing MapsIf you look at the various satellite images you can see there was a walled enclosed area and this is the ‘church garden’ that is mentioned in the Manchester Evening News and elsewhere. There is a good aerial view on Microsoft’s Bing Maps. Search for ‘Holmfirth Street, Longsight’ then click on Aerial then Bird’s Eye View. This shows the church before any work began and I can see no headstones either standing or lying flat in that enclosed garden area. I wish there was a way to link directly to it on Bing, but apparently not. The walled area can also be seen in the Street View shot shown further up this page.

    Would the church have constructed a wall-garden on top of graves?

    I would suggest that possibly a large part of the ‘hardcore’ mentioned and seen in the videos actually came from the wall that surrounded the garden. True there is the photo of a broken headstone in the video. But was there more than one? Was there a path of headstones through the enclosed garden? I don’t know…

    What would settle this would be some archive photographs showing headstones in the area to the west of the church before the ‘garden’ existed. As a photographer myself, my gut feeling is that if there had been headstones in that area there would be more archive photographs around that show the church from that angle. Photographers are always looking for ‘foreground interest’ to give their shots depth and the fact there are few shots could mean the west side was a bit of a boring view.

    The latest YouTube video would have more credibility if didn’t once again include photographs of headstones that are actually on the east and south sides of the church and are still standing. It’s misleading and just one thing that makes me question the motives behind this and the honesty.

    One way or another I’ll publish any further information that I discover.

    I was reading about the Ardwick cemetery recently. It was cleared in 1963/4 to make a playing field for Nicholls Secondary Boys’ School on Hyde Road. However, in late 1964, the headmaster was unhappy due to ‘pieces of debris and rubble’ on the surface and refused to let the boys use it until further work was done. Which makes you wonder what the ‘rubble’ might have been from?

    Comment by GS
    Sunday 21 March 2010 @ 6:58 am

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  13. I attended St. John’s Church from being a child in the 1950’s to the late 1960’s or early 70’s.

    There were graves on all sides of the church then but I think the clearance of graves took place a long time ago. The graveyard has been like it is now for some time.

    Graves where the stones lie flat are intended to be like that, they haven’t been moved. This type of grave was the most prevelant there when I was a child.

    The graves at the back are not a path, they are in the same position that they have always been.

    Comment by Raymond Kelly
    Monday 17 May 2010 @ 12:25 am

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  15. how dare some people try to say this hAS not happened two years ago i took photos of what htese people were doing just go to the church any day and see cars parked on the grave they put bags of gravel down next to the wall and they park there still my friend lived at the council houses that run along side it . the pakisani councillor marayan khan claims they were no grave there thats a i nsult to the english in longsight why does she not live around dickenson road because of its filth dirty area she is now up where i got out to and is trying to edge in to pretwich and bury what happened is a disgrace and the whole of that area feel really sorry for the people who are old and still have to walk along the streets all the old men and ladies who dress respectfully are so confused and afraid shame on the 3 councillors and the one who felt sorry for the guy who who had let in 15.000 illeagals went to prison then the councillor gave him a job? doing paper work he never got sacked did he

    Comment by jackie aslam
    Monday 7 June 2010 @ 9:13 pm

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  17. thanks for your thorough and detailed investigation on this matter. as a muslim it would be abhorrent to desicrate any existing grave. Any changes that have occurred have obviously happened prior to the islamic centre taking over the premises. If graves were to be removed, flattened or filled in then they would have all been done.. the area that is car parking is the area that was already available, it was just levelled and squared off within the existing perimeter, without the desecration of any graves. in addition, the reason the church was taken over was because it was empty and in disrepair and was available as the muslim community needed a centre. Please use your logic and recognise that this is BNP propoganda and only an attempt to cause disunity and hatred between faiths. true believers know the truth.

    Comment by kam
    Monday 5 July 2010 @ 11:17 am

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  19. Hi,
    i went to St Johns church and was baptised there, i grew up visiting the rectory daily as i used to play with the vicars daughter Katherine Dawson (it was her father who actually baptised me!!!), i can confirm there were graves all around St johns church with no available space which any car park could have been built. The grave stones lying on the floor were always there since i could remember. I always used to ask reverand Dawson if the dead people would mind us walking on them!!! And yes the half house has always been there too!!! Just thought i would leave this comment as St Johns school (which used to be where the cash and carry is now facing the church) was where i was educated, i remember that too, it was built in exact same brick as the church was, two beautiful buildings gone to waste because the council want to make money, such a sad sad thing.

    Belinda Livesey

    Comment by belinda Livesey
    Saturday 26 February 2011 @ 7:32 pm

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  21. Surely there must have been graves all around St John’s Church, look at any old Church and it will be packed with gravestones. Two of the commenters above who attended the Church saw that St John’s had graves all around it.

    This grave matter – no pun intended – should be sorted out once and for all. Two Bodies of people who should be able to help in doing so, are Manchester City Council and the Church of England (but don’t hold your breath!). Surely they both should have records of everything that has gone on, such as planning, digging up of graves and change of use etc. at St John’s in the past?

    Comment by Ms M Davis
    Friday 3 June 2011 @ 7:26 pm

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  23. There’s no such thing as Islamaphobia! It’s just been made up by the far left Islamofacists, including those idiots who want sharia law in the UK. They want us to hate them, because as long as there is hate, they have a cause.

    Comment by Michael
    Wednesday 28 March 2012 @ 11:58 am

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  25. When i see things like this and people prepared to defend it i could weep.

    Comment by Billy
    Saturday 16 June 2012 @ 8:29 pm

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  27. g7uk.com

    in reply to Bill:

    Bill, defend what? All the evidence suggests that what was claimed in fact never happened.

    If you’re genuinely concerned about the destruction of graveyards in Manchester and want to take up this as a cause then I suggest you look at the Wesleyan Methodist Cemetery in Cheetham Hill instead.

    Not only were the headstones bulldozed there but the bodies were dug up and all to make way for a Tesco supermarket and according to the BBC some of the remains ended up on a tip. More information at the bottom of this page.

    Much worse than what was claimed to have happened at St. John’s in Longsight (and which didn’t from what I can see).

    Comment by GS
    Saturday 16 June 2012 @ 9:16 pm

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  29. I grew up in Ancoats and St Albans was demolished to provide land for an extra large warehouse, the Moslems didn’t do that.
    Looking with expectations as to what will happen to St Patrick’s church in Livesey St after it went out of business.
    Wasn’t happy also with the demolition of St Brigids on Mill St Bradford not to mention Mill St. Then the same happened to St Aloyius Ardwick. Mine tincket it is called PROGRESS !!!!

    Comment by bernard carroll
    Wednesday 18 July 2012 @ 1:39 am

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  31. GS-

    You have primary sources on this page stating that they witnessed graves on all sides. In the absence of records of graves being moved in a controlled fashion it seems reasonable to conclude that there is a significant chance of graves being under a car park.

    Comment by John C
    Thursday 6 December 2012 @ 8:25 am

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  33. Like many other people I went to St John school and attended the church. I also live in Bates st for 15 years. I can confirm that there were gravestones all around the Church, What a shame this has happened

    Comment by John
    Sunday 9 March 2014 @ 3:15 pm

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  35. I was christened in this church 1981 would love to visit is this still possible? ?????

    Comment by Samantha Davies
    Thursday 20 August 2015 @ 8:26 pm

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