Ecclesiastical Buildings in Liverpool

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The Anglican Cathedral
The Anglican Cathedral, Britain's largest and the largest Anglican cathedral in the world, is so vast that it is hard to take in. Inside you are left marvelling that such a volume of space could be enclosed by a man-made structure and these impressions are not dulled by familiarity. The general effect is austere but overwhelming. The building is 619 ft (189 m) long and the tower is 331 ft (101 m) high. Access to the top of the tower is possible by a lift and many steps, the reward being sensational views over Liverpool and the surrounding country.
The architect was 22 year old Giles Gilbert Scott, whose 1901 design was said by the assessors to have 'that power combined with beauty which makes a great and noble building', but by 1909 he had completely revised it. The new design is more or less what we see now and represents the last great flowering of the Gothic Revival in England. It was largely built from local sandstone quarried at Woolton. Scott died in 1961 but work on the building was not finally completed until 1978, yielding 'one of the truly monumental buildings of our time' (Quentin Hughes).
The Oratory
The Oratory, which once served as the chapel for St. James's Cemetery, looks like a miniature Greek temple sitting on its acropolis when viewed from below. It was designed by John Foster Jr, inspired by his travels in Asia Minor, and dates from 1829. The interior, although windowless, is illuminated by a large skylight. It houses a collection of 19th century sculpture and funeral monuments. The Oratory is open to the public on Heritage Open Days.
St. George's Church, Everton
St. George's church, on the highest point of Everton Hill, was designed by Thomas Rickman (based upon the preliminary work of Joseph Gandy) and built by John Cragg. Cragg made his money as the owner of the Mersey Iron Foundry in Tithebarn Street, Liverpool, and was keen to exploit his business in the construction of churches. He was a founder member of the Liverpool Athenaeum, where he probably met Rickman. Rickman was self-taught as an architect, but became an authority on Gothic architecture (he is credited with introducing the term perpendicular in this context) and was a key figure in the Gothic revival in church design in the 19th century.
St. George's itself marks the definitive transition to this style. St. George's was completed in 1814 and was probably the first building where standardised prefabricated cast iron parts (patented by Cragg) were used on a large scale for building frames and windows with a view to re-using the moulds elsewhere and achieving large cost savings. In fact, many of the casts were reused for St. Michael's in the Hamlet, Toxteth, and St. Philip's, Hardman Street (demolished).
The Church of St. Michael in the Hamlet, Toxteth
John Cragg (1767-1854) made his money as the owner of the Mersey Iron Foundry in Tithebarn Street, Liverpool. He worked with the architect Thomas Rickman (1776-1841), who was self-taught but became an authority on Gothic architecture and was a key figure in the Gothic revival in church design in the 19th century. Cragg planned to build his first church in Toxteth at his own expense, partly to exploit his iron foundry. He bought a plot of land in Toxteth Park from the Earl of Sefton in a beauty spot known as Dickenson's Dingle. He had preliminary plans drawn up by Joseph Gandy but the main design was completed by Rickman. The Church of St. Michael's in the Hamlet was completed in 1815.
Cragg made widespread use of cast iron frames, not only for supporting structures and windows but also for external walls. The parapets and pinnacles are made of cast iron too, sand-blasted to look like stone. The rather striking pink colour is presumably rust-proofing. St. Michael's became known locally as the Cast Iron Church. The ironwork in the interior of St. Michael's forms a delicate tracery giving the impression of fine plaster work. The ceiling panels are a double layer of Welsh slate. As with St. George's, the original windows were of plain glass. The stained glass was added later, the large east window in 1858. For more on Cragg and Rickman see St. Michael's Hamlet.
The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth
The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth is one of Liverpool's half dozen oldest buildings. The original chapel (since modified) was built sometime between 1604 and 1618. It has long been associated with non-conformist religion and became a presbyterian meeting-house in 1672. This was an isolated rural community at the time that could get away with such sympathies, though surprisingly the land was donated by the Roman Catholic Molyneux family. Richard Molyneux acquired the whole area, a former royal hunting ground, in 1605. The chapel was extensively rebuilt in 1774.
The Church of St. Agnes and St. Pancras, Toxteth
The church of St. Agnes and St. Pancras was designed by John Loughborough Pearson and opened in 1835. The Pevsner Guide calls it 'by far the most beautiful Victorian church of Liverpool [...] an epitome of Late Victorian nobility in church design'. The style is 13th century with English and French elements.
The vicarage (on the right) dates from 1887 and was designed by Richard Norman Shaw.
Ullet Road Unitarian Church, Toxteth
Ullet Road Unitarian Church was designed by Thomas Worthington and Son and opened in 1899. It was built at the end of the Gothic revival period and the interior contains a wealth of Art Nouveau, with windows for the most part from the William Morris workshop to designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
The church hall (right) and cloister (lower left) were given by John Brunner and Henry Tate and completed in 1902. They are separately classified as Grade I listed. The Unitarian church buildings are grouped around three sides of a central garden, referencing the collegiate feel of a university quadrangle. According to National Heritage they form 'one of the most elaborate non-conformist ensembles in the country'.
St. Clare's Church, Toxteth
The loosely Gothic-style St. Clare's church (on the left) is described in the Pevsner Guide as 'one of the most imaginative churches of its date in the country'. It is the only Grade I listed Roman Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. Opened in 1890, it cost £7,834, funded by cotton broker brothers Francis and James Reynolds and designed by Francis Reynold's godson Leonard Stokes (his first major work).
The Church of St. John the Baptist, Tuebrook
The Parish Church of St John the Baptist (on the right) was built in 1867-70 to the design of G.F. Bodley, 'large, unshowy, but dignified and sensitive' according to the Pevsner Guide.
The Church of All Hallows, Allerton
All Hallows church was built in 1872-76 for John Bibby II (1810-1883), a merchant and second son of John Bibby I (1775-1840), shipping magnate and founder of the Bibby Line. He donated £20,000 for the construction, which was intended as a tribute to his first wife Fanny née Hartley, who was born on All Hallows Eve and had died in 1856. The foundation stone was laid on All Hallows Eve, 1872.
The church was designed in the Perpendicular Style by Liverpool architect George Enoch Grayson, who, with his partner Edward Ould, designed St. Peter's church Woolton and many other exceptional buildings in Liverpool and elsewhere. The exterior is local red sandstone and the interior makes much use of white stone from Storeton.
Of particular interest is the outstanding ensemble of stained glass. 14 of the 15 stained glass windows were designed by Edward Burne-Jones, with supporting foliate lights in the earlier windows designed by William Morris, and constructed by William Morris & Co. They have a remarkable symmetry of concept embodying clear storytelling and represent some of the finest Victorian stained glass anywhere.
Burne-Jones thought that the east window of 1875-6, The Adoration of the Lamb (lower left), probably based on a painting by Van Eyck, was his finest window design. The overall tone is delicate whites and browns. Typical of late Burne-Jones is the single composition spread across all of the lights.
The later windows, those in the south aisle (for example, The Ascension, lower right), employ stronger and darker colours. By this time Burne-Jones had taken over all of the design work and the colouring was also probably due to his increased influence over Morris. The use of deep pink, mauve and dark blue is very unusual.
All Saints Church, Childwall
There was probably a now demolished chapel on the site of this beautiful sandstone church in Childwall Village in the 11th century, and some of the building materials have Norman or even Saxon origins. It is Liverpool's oldest parish church and the only one with mediaeval origins. The oldest part of the present structure is the 14th century north wall of the chancel with its window (lower left - the glass is 19th century). This is an outer wall of the tiny original church.
The porch is 15th century and has a Saxon stone in the west wall, probably a coffin lid, a ceiling carved with the stone heads of the four apostles and a 500 year old oak door. The nave (upper right), with its north and south aisles, was also added in the 15th century and the sloping floor, which follows the gradient of the land, once continued into the chancel before it was levelled in 1851 (regrettably it now seems).
The west tower with its spire was added around the same time as the nave. Thus the building stood until the early 18th century, when a major programme of extension and rebuilding began, which has continued to the present day. The tower and spire were demolised and rebuilt in 1810 following the disaster at St. Nicholas's church in Liverpool that year, when 25 people died following the collapse of the tower there. It is thought to have been relocated slightly further to the west.
The churchyard is a profoundly peaceful and atmospheric place. It was first mentioned in a document of 1386. One of the oldest epitaphs reads: 'Sacred to the memory of John Jones, who departed this life in his 95th year, June 1st, 1517. My sledge and hammer both decline, my bellows they have lost their wind, my fire is extinct, my forge decayed, and the dust in my vice is laid. My coals are spent, my iron is gone, my nails are driven, my work is done.'
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The photo of the interior of the Oratory is from Art in Liverpool; my thanks to the author. For more on All Hallows church, Allerton, see A History of Allerton and Mossley Hill on this site (allertonOak). The Pevsner guide, The Buildings of England - Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West (2006), by Richard Pollard and Nikolaus Pevsner, is particularly indispensible for much more architectural detail than could be attempted here.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs, except where stated, are by the author.