Gorton was once the workshop of the world. Here the first locomotives taking trains across South Africa, New Zealand and Palestine were built at Gorton Tank and Gorton Locomotive Works. Here the world’s first commercial computer, Ferranti’s Mark 1, was created.
All that’s gone, but what remains is extraordinary – the world heritage site that is the church and friary of St Francis, now deconsecrated and known as Gorton Monastery. It’s one of the most startling Gothic revival buildings in Britain; powerful, awe-inspiring, exquisite and expertly detailed by E. W. Pugin, son of the Houses of Parliament designer A. W. Pugin.
It deteriorated alarmingly a few decades ago; like Gorton after de-industrialisation. Much of the site was wrecked. But thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers it has been lovingly restored, although the project is not complete. The building was even on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World in 1997 alongside Pompeii, Macchu Picchu, The Valley of the Kings and the Taj Mahal.
Gorton Monastery recently reopened as a venue. Concerts, weddings, conferences take place there regularly, but Sunday is a day for the community, and the building is then often open to the public.
It is where we begin and end the tour. Not only do we examine this sacred space in detail, with a Powerpoint talk and a short walking tour but we also venture outside to find the remains of Gorton’s industrial hey-day; great stories of love, labour and lore. At the end we return and flop into the café for much needed sustenance.