North of the Mersey
Old Churches near Liverpool @ allertonOak
Last updated 31st March 2016
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St. Cuthbert's Church, Halsall
The church of St. Cuthbert (left) dates from about 1320, probably replacing an earlier church, and stands on slightly elevated ground, along with most of the older habitations. The 126 ft (38 m) tower and spire were added in about 1400 and rebuilt in 1852. The interior is impressive and atmospheric, with much use of dark stained oak.
St. Peter's Church, Freshfield
St. Peter's (right) dates from 1746. It is unusual in being designed in a contemporary Georgian style, with elegant clear glass windows, rather than the the more usual mock-mediaevalism of slightly later times. The name comes from the ancient chapel of St. Peter that stood nearer the sea on the site of the present St. Lukes church and was destroyed during a storm in 1739. In the 1870's, the east end was removed and the present chancel, sanctuary and side chapel (The Formby Chapel) added in a then fashionable neo-Gothic style, presenting us nowadays with something of a hybrid.
St. Helen's Church, Sefton
St. Helen's, or Sefton Church as it is often called, 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. Catherine's Chapel, Lydiate
The chapel (left) was built for the Ireland family, lords of the manor of Lydiate for 400 years, in the late 15th century. The work was begun by Lawrence Ireland I who married Catherine Blundell of Little Crosby; the chapel is dedicated to her name-saint. It suffered damage during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40) but continued to be used in secret by Roman Catholic recusants, who put up a strong resistance in this area. This haunting ruin among the trees held a sombre fascination for me as a child, when I followed others, including Lawrence and Catherine, in carving my initials in the stonework.
The Ancient Chapel of Maghull
The chapel (right) is all that remains, the chancel and the north-aisle chapel or Lady Chapel, of an early 13th century church. It is now known as the Ancient Chapel of Maghull and is situated in the grounds of the present St. Andrew's church. It was modified and extended significantly in 1755 and again in 1830. This later work was demolished when work began on the new church in 1878 and some of the stone was reused for the porch; the west and south walls of the chapel were rebuilt to provide a completed building and the roof was relaid with the original slates.
St. Mary's Church, Hale
St. Mary's church stands on the site of an earlier church dating back to 1081. The present church dates from 1758-9, though the tower is 14th century. It was restored in 1874 and 1903 but a fire in 1977 left just the walls standing. However, the foundations of a narrower, timber-framed church were revealed, perhaps predating even the 14th century church. The interior was rebuilt to a new design in 1979-80.
In the churchyard you can experience genuine rural tranquility. It contains the tomb of local celebrity John Middleton (1578-1623), the Childe of Hale, allegedly 9 ft 3 in (2.8 m) tall, though the tomb is only 6 ft (1.8 m) long. The local lord, Gilbert Ireland, is said to have employed the Childe as a minder. On being awarded a knighthood, he took Middleton to London with him where he trounced King James's favourite wrestler. Evidently not being one to bear grudges, the King gave him a prize of 20 but, being a simple soul, Middleton allowed himself to be separated from his winnings by his more streetwise travelling companions. His portrait hangs in Speke Hall.
St. Luke's Church, Farnworth
The first church was founded here in around 1180, dedicated to St Wilfrid. It assumed its present name in 1859. The original church was an aisle-less chapel. The aisles, doorway and west window were added in the 13th and 14th centuries. The tower was built c.1450. The chancel and south chapel were added in the late 15th century and the south transept c.1500. There was much rebuilding during a refurbishment in 1855 and further restoration was undertaken 1894-5.
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
As ever, indispensible further reading is provided by the Pevsner Architectural Guide: Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West by Richard Pollard and Nikolaus Pevsner, Yale University Press, 2006.
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.