You are here: Home : News
News: September 2017
Archive: 

Published October 2012

Places of Worship: Roman Catholic Church Buildings in the Archdiocese of Liverpool 


Background to the Project


English Heritage has recently completed a pilot project to enhance our understanding of Roman Catholic Church heritage in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. This project involved the creation and enhancement of records of church buildings based upon an architectural survey commissioned by English Heritage and carried out by external consultants and the Roman Catholic Church. Liverpool was chosen for the pilot area as it represents the largest concentration of Roman Catholic architecture in England.

The data produced by the project is held by English Heritage in the National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE), and made available through PastScape. The NRHE includes records of many of the archaeological sites and historic buildings in England and helps to inform the understanding of the significance of different types of heritage.

This project is one of the activities carried out to improve knowledge and understanding of places of worship as part of the recently launched National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP). The plan provides a national framework for bringing together work by English Heritage and others in the heritage sector to protect the historic environment.


The Roman Catholic Church of St Clare

The Roman Catholic Church of St Clare in Sefton Park © Mr Glyn Williams


History of Roman Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Liverpool


Pre-Reformation Liverpool featured little in the way of shrines and monastic churches and accepted the turn towards Protestantism started by King Henry VIII (1491-1547). However, many remained loyal to the pre-Reformation Catholic Church which became a secret and illegal devotion under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). By the end of the 17th century, Liverpool was inadequately provisioned with Roman Catholic churches and open Catholic worship had become an illicit activity.

The Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 finally permitted Catholics to worship in public and to build churches for the first time since the Reformation. Modest church buildings were erected as their chapels could feature neither bells nor steeples.

The mid-19th century saw an influx of Irish immigrants into the city as a result of the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852). This greatly increased the Roman Catholic population of Liverpool and created the need for a cathedral. Further population growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries when Liverpool was the second port of the British Empire saw an abundance of religious buildings which is still evident today.


Development of the Style of Roman Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Liverpool


There is little evidence of Roman Catholic architecture prior to the 18th century in the city. However, developments in the style and design of Roman Catholic buildings in Liverpool since the 18th century Catholic Relief Acts are strikingly evident. One of the oldest extant Roman Catholic churches in the city is the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady Help of Christians in Prescot which was built c.1790. The building is a good example of an early post-Relief Act church which were simple structures with little external ornamentation. Like the Roman Catholic Church of St Mary in Ormskirk (built in 1823) the building features no bell towers and has unadorned walls that resemble domestic buildings. These types of churches were created to be inconspicuous in order to fit in with the legal requirements of discreet worship.


The Roman Catholic Church of St Bartholomew

               The Roman Catholic Church of St Bartholomew in St Helens © Mr Peter Sargeant


The early 19th century began to introduce more ornate and highly stylistic church buildings. The Roman Catholic Church of St John in Wigan (built in 1819) was designed in the Classical style. Features typical of this style include its exterior Ionic colonnaded porch and Corinthian columns on the interior. The Roman Catholic Church of St Bartholomew in St Helens is a magnificent example of a late Classical church that was built in 1840 as the Gothic style began to dominate Roman Catholic architecture. The main body of the church is in the design of a prostyle temple with a column-supported portico. The interior is similarly grand and features Classical arcaded screens and a semi-domed apse. The preceding Gothic style became an increasingly popular template for church design in the 19th century. The Roman Catholic Church of St Mary in Wigan (built in 1818) was the first truly Gothic style building in the area. The exterior of the building features geometric Perpendicular tracery and a vaulted and galleried interior. The Roman Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier in the city centre is one of the most important buildings that demonstrate the style of the Catholic and Gothic revivals in England.


The Roman Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier

                 The Roman Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool © Mr Brian Lomas


The design of Roman Catholic architecture changed with the influx of immigrants arriving from Ireland in the wake of the famine in 1847. It was decide that churches should be built to newer designs that were bigger and more cost effective. E. W. Pugin started a newer urban church that, whilst retaining some of the key features of the Gothic style, allowed for a more open space. Completed in 1864-1865, the Roman Catholic Church of St Mary in Chorley characteristically features broad aisle naves with a clear view of the sanctuary. The architectural practice of Pugin and Pugin later took over and designed churches in the Decorated Gothic style. The Roman Catholic Church of St Elizabeth in Scarisbrick (1888) and the Roman Catholic Church of St Charles Borromeo in Aigburth Road (1899-1900) clearly carry on the Gothic style of church with typically dramatic features. Another deviation from the Gothic style can be seen in the the Roman Catholic Church of St Clare in Sefton Park (1889-1890) which is one of the most important examples of the Arts and Crafts style churches in England.


The Roman Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith

The Roman Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edward Arrowsmith in Wigan © Mr Peter Sargeant


In the first half of the 19th century the Gothic style of church building was losing favour to styles such as the Romanesque and the Neo-Byzantine. Examples of the former include the Roman Catholic Church of St Mary in St Helens (1924-1929) and the Roman Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith (1925-1930). The church of St Oswald’s was inspired by the Romanesque churches of the south of France and features a castle-like turret and a stencilled vaulted roof. The Roman Catholic Church of St Monica in Bootle (1936) shows a move towards more modern styles. The building was influenced by the Modern Movement of continental Europe and features a unique tower with external sculpture.


The Roman Catholic Church of St Monica

                           The Roman Catholic Church of St Monica in Bootle © Mr Philip Pye


Post-war building in Liverpool provided some truly spectacular examples of modern Roman Catholic architecture. The Roman Catholic Church of St Gregory the Great in Lydiate (1958) has a reinforced concrete frame and a separate glazed octagonal baptistery. The Roman Catholic Church of St Catherine of Siena in Warrington (1958-1959) has a similar concrete frame structure and features a rather abstract open-framed concrete tower. The Roman Catholic Church of St Jude in Wigan (1964-1965) is unusually fan-shaped in plan and features unique abstract dalle de verre stained glass by Robin Riley on the nave walls. However of all of the modern church designs in the city perhaps none are more iconic than the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in central Liverpool (1962-1967). Spires have been replaced with abstract shapes and the reinforced concrete and granite exteriors give the building a very modern look from the more traditional examples that have come before it.


Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King

Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool © Mr Brendan Oxlade LRPS


Further Information


Brown, Sarah and de Figueiredo, Peter, 2008. Religion and Place: Liverpool’s Historic Places of Worship; Swindon: English Heritage.

Lewis, David, 2001. The Churches of Liverpool; Liverpool: The Bluecoat Press.