Agecroft’s cemetery buildings were designed by the Manchester architects Walter Sharp and Frederick Foster. Unfortunately we know little about Foster but more information is available about Sharp and his buildings. Walter Richard Sharp was born in 1859 in rural Paxford, Worcestershire the youngest son of Mary and Benjamin Sharp, a builder employing two men. He was educated at Chipping Camden Grammar School, later completing his early architectural training with his elder brother and father in Birmingham. Arriving in Manchester as a young man he was articled to John Wynne (1842-1927) from 1878 until 1883 when he set up his own practice, initially renting offices in St Mary’s Gate. During the 1880s Sharp also acted as a letting agent for various properties from this address.
In 1893 Sharp was the successful finalist in the competition to design Salford Artizan Dwellings for the Corporation’s Health Committee, a competition which attracted 124 entries and was probably his first important commission. The dwellings were to be built on land between Queen, Collier, Rolla and Starkey Streets in the Greengate district where ‘dwellings unfit for human habitation’ were demolished by the Health Committee to make way for the 69 three room flats. Joseph Corbett, the Salford Borough Engineer and keen advocate of sanitary reform, was closely involved with the scheme, visiting similar initiatives in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London to inform his judgement in selecting the scheme. Corbett would also be involved in the selection process at Agecroft later in the decade. An important development in a densely populated and unsanitary area, the Greengate project involved a significant investment of £10,000 and came on the back of the royal commission on housing of 1885 which identified the need to address housing conditions, particularly in urban areas. From the 124 submissions the Salford Corporation short-listed eight sets of plans which were displayed in the Pendleton Free Library, Broughton Road. These included Sharp’s winning designs for the dwellings which also depicted a central fountain as part of the development with well-dressed promenading citizens taking the air; a fanciful idealised view of life in Greengate during this period. However, the project received national coverage in the Building News in 1893 and in Edward Bowmaker’s The Housing of the Working Classes, published in 1895 with plans of the dwellings accompanied with descriptions of the facilities which included shared laundry facilities and baths, inside toilets, balconies and stressing the importance of adequate levels of ventilation.
In 1892 Sharp was involved in the design of housing in Broughton on land bounded by Vavasour, Vernon, Talavera and Croft Streets. The plans and elevations reveal substantial and attractive terraced houses with bay windows, attic rooms, cellars and inside bathrooms. The designs are captioned with Sharp’s trademark Latin, quasi-religious inscriptions, no doubt the result of his grammar school education and perhaps his religious convictions allied to a strong sense of the social responsibilities of the architect. More designs for housing are being discovered by researchers giving a fuller picture of the range and development of Sharp’s skills as an architect.
Sharp also designed several buildings for the Methodist church in Salford and Manchester during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These include the Gravel Lane Wesleyan Chapel and adjoining house in Salford (1892) and the Bridgewater Hall in Hulme (1898). Sharp’s building at Gravel Lane replaced an earlier Methodist chapel that was demolished to make way for new railway lines into Victoria Station. A total of £15,000 was raised for the new building which seated 1,000 and was describes as ‘lofty, light and airy’. With its ten classrooms, working men’s institute, library, coffee bar and recreation room it was described by the Manchester Guardian as ‘one of the most complete premises in Methodism’ and on a par with the Oldham Street Central Methodist Hall in Manchester. In 1907 the Building News featured the Victoria Hall and adjacent house in Ancoats also for the Methodists. The detailed architectural drawing and plan show Sharp’s post Agecroft architectural confidence and reveal an impressive building. The two 95 feet towers flank a central projecting gable with oriel windows in a composition which features half-timbered decorative details set against imposing stone towers. The lively decorative elements of the exterior would also have contrasted with the relative plainness of the interior of the hall. Unfortunately all of these buildings have been lost.
Apart from the buildings at Agecroft, Sharp’s only other known building to survive in Manchester is the former women’s night shelter on Great Ancoats Street in Manchester. A brick building built in an Arts and Crafts style with black and white timbering, oriel windows and many surviving internal decorative details such as stained glass and tiling it was opened in 1899 for the Manchester and Salford Mission. The building functioned as a coffee tavern, a home for vulnerable women and night shelter, a role it maintained until the 1960s. Recently the building has been restored and converted to housing and has been designated Grade II status. Further detailed descriptions of the building can be found at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1119732 although there is an error in architect attribution. For information on Sharp and Foster buildings at Agecroft go to: http://madlab22.ismysite.co.uk/the-cemetery-buildings/