The place I live isn’t known for its aesthetic beauty, trendiness or cultural delights. If anything, it attracts more bad press than good. So it’s all the more surprising that somewhere like the Moravian Settlement at Fairfield exists here. It’s hidden away between two main roads and you could easily drive past it every day without realising it’s there.
The Moravians are a sect of Christianity started by early reformer John Hus in Bohemia. He was way ahead of his time and for his efforts was burnt at the stake in 1415.
The early Moravians were evangelistic and sent missionaries throughout the world to far-flung places like the West Indies, South Africa, the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, Greenland and Droylsden.
Yes, Droylsden. They arrived here indirectly having started part of their mission to England in nearby Dunkinfield. As their community grew, the site in Dunkinfield proved too small and so they bought a farm in Droylsden and began to build. The year was 1783.
The church was the first building to be built. It doesn’t particularly look like a church from the outside and the only clue to its purpose is given by the bell tower.
Inside, the church is simple and plain though it has a rather majestic organ. Men sat on one side and women on the other.
The opportunity to climb the tower gave me the chance to appreciate the organ from the inside. I stood concealed above the altar, surrounded by pipes, feeling vibrations in my feet and watching the bellows inflate and deflate as the organist below pumped the pedals and pressed the keys.
Climbing higher, we reached the rafters. As the church was under construction, the congregants building it would have to travel from Dunkinfield each day. Once the roof was on, they could sleep under rafters and save themselves the daily commute.
Before services the bell is rung 100 times. We were able to have a go at pulling the rope and ringing the bell.
The burial ground is known as ‘God’s Acre’ and originally was used as an orchard. The first grave appeared in 1785, the year the church building was completed. Men and women were buried separately, men on one side and women on the other side of the graveyard. This no longer applies today and couples can be buried together.
The Moravians believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and this is as true in death as it is in life. It is because of this belief that the gravestones are plain squares, all the same size and laid flat on the ground. The inscriptions consist of the name of the person and the dates they lived. They are also inscribed with person’s marital status, e.g. SS = Single Sister; MB = Married Brother; GG = Good Girl (young girl).
The streets running at right angles from the church are Brethren Street and Sister Street.
The Night Watchman’s house is on Brethren Street and is the only one with a cellar. The cellar was used as a kind of jail cell for anyone found misbehaving at night.
Brethren Street has the first houses to be built in the settlement. The bricks were laid with the narrow end showing to make the walls thicker. In the 1950s when a house was being renovated a brick was discovered with initials and the date IN1785. It was quite normal for the handmade bricks to be dated and initialed in this way. This one has now been reset in the wall to display the inscription.
As the area was a busy farming community the streets were muddy and clay would be constantly trodden into the houses. Cobblestones were laid to make paths through the quagmire.
The flat paving stones laid into the streets have crosses carved into them. This isn’t just to demonstrate the religious affiliations of the community, but also so they can be identified if they are stolen. Theft is still a problem today as I found out when I woke up one morning to find the weathered stone on my garden wall had been stolen during the night.
If you look closely at the houses on Sister Street you can see where an extra house has been slotted in. Originally a path ran through here that was used to move cattle from the pastures by the canal to the farmyard on the far side of the settlement. When the farm closed and Cow Lane was no longer needed a house was built here closing the path off.
The college was originally the house the Sisters lived in and was the first girls’ school. When the school moved into larger premises, the building was used as a Theological College. The college closed in 1958 and was left derelict for a few years before being renovated and put to use as a Sunday School. It now houses the museum.
Infant Street is so named because this is where the first infant school was sited.
The Moravians saw the importance of education and believed in educating girls as well as boys. Amos Comenius, who is known as ‘The Father of Modern Education’ was a Moravian. He believed learning was something that began in the earliest years and continued throughout life. He was a strong advocate for the education of women and believed learning, spiritual and emotional growth were inter-linked.
This sculpture is situated near the entrance to the settlement. It features a Sister and a young boy with books representing the importance of education to the community.
These three storey houses face the entrance to the settlement and were used for cottage industry. At one point there were 50 weaving looms and 200 spindles in use on the top floor.
The entrance to the settlement originally had wooden gates which were locked every night at 9pm. The stone pillars were moved here in 1933 after the local property to which they belonged burnt down.
This house near the entrance was the home of Charles Hindley, a mill-owner and MP. He campaigned for reduced working hours in mills. Later this house was the home of the settlement’s doctor.
Houses were built in different styles. People were able to have some say in the design of their homes when they were being built.
Some of the buildings are actually flats, though it’s not obvious from the outside.
A few houses are owned by a housing association and rented out, but the majority are owned by the Moravians. They are predominantly rented to members of the Moravian community, though non-members can apply to live here.
The houses are all listed buildings and so repairs and renovations have to be carried out sympathetically and in line with regulations.
This plaque showed that the house was insured in case of fire. In days before a public fire service existed a fire engine turning up to a house fire would go away again if the crew thought they wouldn’t be paid for their service.
It’s not just the houses themselves that are all slightly different. Look up and you can see a whole range of different chimney styles.
The houses are all well looked after and had flowers in baskets and tubs displayed.
The settlement has many grassy areas making it easy to forget you’re in a city.
The people living in these houses can look out onto a nice grassy area.
The bell tower can be seen peeping over the top of roofs of many of the houses.
The symbol for the Moravians is a flag carrying lamb and can be found in many places around the settlement.
The museum is small, but has many artifacts from days gone by.
In an upstairs room of the museum you can see a mock-up of a Sisters’ dormitory. The dresses on display have different coloured ribbons. The ribbons symbolised the marital status of the Sister: red = Good Girl; pink = Single Sister; blue = Married Sister; white = Widowed Sister.
This building was originally the Brethrens’ House and boys’ school, but the girls’ school was later moved here. It is still a girls’ school today, but is now a state school run by the local council rather than a religious school run by the Moravians.
The settlement has been used many times by film companies. The list below shows some of them.
The Moravian Settlement at Fairfield is in Droylsden which is a 20 minute tram ride from Manchester city centre.
Have you visited any hidden-away communities or settlements? Share in the comments below.