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The Old tower, St. Hilary's Church, Wallasey
St. Hilary's is the parish church of Wallasey. A notice outside proclaims that there has been worship there for 1400 years and the present (1859) church is believed to be the sixth on the site. There was probably a timber Saxon church before the year 902, when the Vikings named the hamlet Kirby in Walea meaning 'the village with the church on the island of the Britons'. Several stones have been found of a Norman structure, thought to date from 1162-1182, on the site. This was rebuilt and a tower added in the early 14th century.
The next rebuilding was in the 16th century, when the tower (left) was reconstructed (1530). In 1757, the church was in ruins and was rebuilt. This fifth church burnt down in 1857, but the tower is the one that still stands alone in the churchyard. There are only eight churches in Britain named after the French Bishop of Poitiers, St. Hilary. It is likely that these churches were founded by another French Bishop, St. Germanus, who came from near Poitiers and who was invited as a missionary by the 5th century English church.
St. Oswald's Church, Bidston
There is evidence of earlier curches on the site of St. Oswald's going back to the 12th century, when Birkenhead Priory was founded, or earlier. The church was rebuilt in the 13th century and the tower added in the early 16th century. Heraldic shields indicate that the west door dates from around this time. The tower survives but the remainder of the present building dates mainly from the rebuilding of 1855-6.
Holy Cross Church, Woodchurch
This beautiful church (left) is located in a tiny time warp at the centre of the large post-war suburban development of Woodchurch. The approach to the Tudor porch along a path with densely overarching yew trees is magical. There was probably a church here in Saxon times, but the oldest part of the present building is the 12th century nave. The south aisle and tower are 14th century, though the oddly oversized buttresses to the outside corners were added in 1675. The main aisle and porch are 16th century.
St. Andrew's Church, Bebington
There was a church on the site of St. Andrew's (right) 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.
St. Mary's Church, Eastham
It is possible that there was a chapel at Eastham before the Norman Conquest. The manor of Estham, which then included Bromborough, was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The chapel was probably built of wattIe and daub with a timber frame 'Iarge enough to cover the altar and to shelter the sacred elements from the rain and storm', as historian W.F. Irvine wrote in 1896.
The north wall of the Stanley Chapel in the present church may be Norman, although the main building period seems to have been the 13th and early 14th centuries. The steeple was originally built around 1320 and rebuilt in 1752. The aisles date from the 15th century and the south porch from the 16th century. A major restoration took place between 1863 and 1880. The church seems to be generally open for visitors.
In the churchyard stands an enormous yew tree. According to a nearby plaque, when in 1152 the Abbot and Monks of St. Werburgh received the Manor of Eastham, the villagers entreated the new owners 'to have a care of ye olde yew'. In 1808, members of the Royal Archaeological Society expressed the opinion that the yew may have been planted against the east end of the original chapel. They said that the tree's exact age was not known but was possibly 1500 years. In 1988, David Bellamy and other experts certified that the tree was about 1600 years old.
The yew tree
St. Bridget's Church, West Kirby
Although much altered over the centuries, the oldest identifiable parts of St. Bridget's are parts of the chancel, vestry east bay and north aisle, dating from the early 14th century. The tower is mainly early 16th century, built around an older core. Presumably there had been a much earlier church on the site as attested by the Viking name 'Kirkby'.
The Church of St. Mary and St. Helen, Neston
Although there has been a church on the site of St. Mary and St. Helen's (left) since at least 1170, the oldest surviving part is the 14th century tower. Lower parts of this were constructed of Norman masonry from the earlier church. The body of the church was rebuilt in 1874-5, when the last of the 12th century structure was replaced and the top storey of the tower was also added. Viking artefacts were found under the floor at this time, indicating an even earlier church. Some of the stained glass windows were designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris. Four of the church bells are dated 1731.
St. Nicholas's Church, Burton
There was a Norman church on the site of St. Nicholas's (right) dating from the 12th century, stones from which have been dug up in the churchyard and are preserved in the porch and beneath the tower. Built into one of the walls of the tower is a coffin lid dating from the 13th century, which is decorated with a foliated cross. The Massey Chapel (named after the local Puddington family) with its surviving east window was erected in 1380 and the remainder of the present church was built in 1721 (the chancel was rebuilt in 1870). It is constructed of red sandstone and stands in a prominent position on the hillside above the beautiful village of Burton.
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 c.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 (the church is normally left open) boasts a number of antiques including a curious three-decker pulpit, the churchwardens' pew of 1673 (they were the only ones provided with seating at that time!), the mid-17th century altar rails and the box pews of 1710.
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
As ever, indispensible further reading is provided by the Pevsner Architectural Guide: Cheshire by Clare Hartwell, Matthew Hyde and Nikolaus Pevsner, Yale University Press, 2011.
The colour photo of St. Mary and St. Helen's Church is copyright Sue Adair and is licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.
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 are by the author unless otherwise indicated.