Ecclesiastical Buildings outside Liverpool

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The Great Hall
The Chapter House (below) and Scriptorium
Birkenhead Priory
Birkenhead Priory was originally the Benedictine Priory of St. James, founded on an isolated headland in the later 12th century. The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 by Henry VIII resulted in its closure. The buildings were abandoned and the estate managed by a royal bailiff until it passed into private ownership in 1544. It wasn't until 1896 that an appeal was launched to buy and save the remains of the priory and persuade Birkenhead Corporation to take over responsibility for the site.
The Chapter House (lower left - the ground level storey) was built around 1150 AD and is the earliest surviving building on Merseyside. It was consecrated as an Anglican church after the Dissolution and is still used for services.
The Scriptorium (upper right - upper storey) was built over the Chapter House in ca. 1375 and was probably used by the monks as a writing room and possibly a strong room. It is now known as the Conway Chapel, dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway, a naval training school founded in 1859 and housed for most of its life aboard a 19th century wooden battleship stationed on the Mersey here until 1941.
In 1819, an increase in the local population due to the arrival of a steam ferry service from Liverpool led to the building of St. Mary's Church (lower right), Birkenhead's first parish church, adjacent to the site of the Priory. It was consecrated in 1821 and took over from the Chapter House as a place of worship. Only the tower and parts of the outer walls remain.
In this extract from Recollections of Old Liverpool (1863), an anonymous author recalls the priory in the mid-18th century:
  The view of Birkenhead Priory was at one time very picturesque, before they built the church near it and the houses round it. I recollect when there was not a dwelling near it. It seemed to stand out well in the landscape, and certainly looked very pretty. It was a great shame that persons should have been permitted to carry away the stones for building or any other purpose. Had not a stop at last been put to this sort of work there would not in time have been a vestige of the old abbey left. I recollect that there was a belief that a tunnel or subterraneous passage ran under the Mersey to Liverpool from the Priory, and that the entrance in 1818, when the church was built, had been found and a good way traversed.
The Scriptorium
St. Mary's Church
St. Andrew's Church, Bebington
There was a church on the site of St. Andrew's before the Norman Conquest. Some of the stones, which are of sandstone from the Storeton quarry, survive in the south wall of the present church. The curve of the adjacent road follows the boundary of an ancient circular burial ground (Viking settlers believed that corners were hiding places for evil spirits). A new church was built in Norman times; the area was then known as Whitchurch from the creamy colour of the stone used. A tower was added during the first half of the 14th century, when other extensions were also undertaken.
Part of the south arcade survives from the Norman church and the north arcade is a copy of this from 1847. The chancel and chapels were built in the 16th century in a contrasting Perpendicular style (the nave is mainly Early Decorated style). The final structure was to have been more integrated, but work was interrupted by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The contrast is also evident inside: the east end has cathedral-like proportions and large windows, while the earlier part seems more like a mediaeval village church.
Norton Priory
Norton Priory dates from 1134 when the Augustinian monks moved here from Runcorn Priory. The Norman doorway (on the left) survives from a period of expansion around 1200, although a large part of the priory was destroyed by fire in 1234 and rebuilt. The impressive statue of St.Christopher currently on display in the museum dates from around 1400.
In 1536, the abbey fell prey to the dissolution under Henry VIII and it and its estate were bought by Sir Richard Brooke, Vice Admiral of England. He utilised some of the Abbey buildings as part of his Tudor house. In 1750, a Georgian mansion was built on the site of the Abbey and in 1868 a new entrance to the mansion was constructed, incorporating the Norman doorway. The mansion was demolished in 1928, leaving only the Abbey remains standing.
St. Michael's Church, Shotwick
It is likely that there was a Saxon church, of which nothing remains, in Shotwick. A Norman church was in existence at the time of the Domesday Book and the oldest parts of the present church of St. Michael (the arch of the south doorway and the wall up to the first buttress) date from around this time. Rebuilding took place in the 14th and 15th centuries and the present tower dates from 1500.
The porch bears deep grooves used in olden days for sharpening arrows for archery practice following Sunday Mass. The beautiful interior of St. Michael's boasts a number of antiques including a curious three-decker pulpit, the churchwardens' pew of 1673, the mid-17th century altar rails and the box pews of 1710.
St. Lawrences's Church, Frodsham
There was a church on the site of St. Lawrence's at the time of the Domesday Book, though the earliest parts of the present church, constructed from beautiful local sandstone, date from about 1180. The tower is 14th century, at which time the chancel was also lengthened; further building work was done in the 16th century and after. There are some Saxon and Norman carved stones inside the tower and the nave is said to be one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Cheshire.
St. Mary's Church, Thornton-Le-Moors
A chapel was present on the site of St. Mary's in Saxon times and is recorded in the Domesday Book. The nave, chancel, south aisle and south door of the present sandstone church date from the 14th century and the chancel retains its medieval hammerbeam roof. A chapel (the Elton Chapel) was added in the 16th century. The tower also dates from this time, but was damaged by fire in 1909 and rebuilt in 1910. A south porch was added in the late 17th century and a full restoration was carried out in 1878. Inside, the altar rails and altar table are dated 1694 and here are two 17th century fonts and a mediaeval piscina.
The church now stands in stark contrast to the nearby Stanlow Refinery.
St. Andrew's Church, Tarvin
There was a church on the site of St. Andrew's in the 12th century, which was rebuilt in the 14th century; the south wall and south arcade survive from this time. Most of the remaining building, including the tower, is 15th century, with further restorations taking place in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are reminders of the Civil War in musket and cannon ball marks to the side of the tower.
The approach from Church Street is very attractive, with 18th century gatepiers and an avenue of lime trees, and the churchyard is interesting and atmospheric.
St.Peter's Church, Plemstall
There are records of a church on the site of St. Peter's as far back as the 7th century, when the Mersey used to flood the surrounding land and the locality (barely elevated) was known as the Isle of Chester. A legend, perhaps of the 5th or 6th century, tells of a shipwrecked fisherman who, on finding refuge here, built a church as an act of thanksgiving, dedicating it to St Peter the fisherman. Although the surrounding land has been drained, the church still stands in an amazingly isolated location.
The name Plemstall or Plegmundstall ('the fenny island of Plegmund'), derives from the eponymous 9th century scholar who took refuge from the Danes as a hermit on the Isle of Chester. He became tutor to King Alfred and assisted him in the consolidation of his kingdom; he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 890 and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
There are remains of a 12th century church, but the present sandstone building is mainly 15th century. The tower was added in 1826, replacing a wooden belfry. Most of the original glass has gone, but there are fragments from the 14th century. In a display case in the north aisle are a Breeches Bible of 1608, a King James Bible of 1611, a folio edition of the bible printed by Edward Whitchurche in 1549, a black letter bible of 1549 and a King James Bible of 1623.
In the graveyard at the rear of the church is a strikingly macabre 14th century tomb of the Hurleston family.
St. Helen's Church, Sefton
St. Helen's church is based upon a Norman church, the private chapel of the Molyneux family, dating from 1170. The original church, not much of which remains, was added to over the centuries, with the spire appearing around 1320. It was substantially in its present form by 1550; gravestones date back to the 17th century.
The interior of the church contains much early woodwork including three screens dating from the early 16th century, an octagonal pulpit from 1635, a muniments chest c.1350 and many carvings. There are brass monuments to Tudor members of the Molyneux family, but the oldest is that to Sir William Molyneux (d.1290). There is also a 1596 bible.
A notable rector in Tudor times was the aptly named Parson Nutter, called The Golden Ass by Elizabeth I because of his wealth and ignorance, who wasn't known for his application to the job but nevertheless left a huge hoard of gold under his deathbed.


St. Cuthbert's Church, Halsall
St. Cuthbert's church dates from about 1320, probably replacing an earlier church, and stands on slightly higher ground, along with most of the older habitations. The 126 ft (38 m) tower and spire were added in about 1400, though the present spire is a more recent replacement.
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The photo of the interior of Norton Priory is from the Norton Priory website; my thanks to the author. The Pevsner guides, The Buildings of England - Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West (2006), by Richard Pollard and Nikolaus Pevsner, and The Buildings of England - Cheshire (2011), by Clare Hartwell, Matthew Hyde, Edward Hubbard and Nikolaus Pevsner, are 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.