Monthly Archives: June 2022

St Nick’s

Parish Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas, Liverpool

When you sail into the Mersey estuary towards the city of Liverpool, the chart indicates as a landmark the distinctive tower and lantern of the Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas, still prominent alongside newer and higher structures.

“St Nick’s”, as it’s commonly known in the city, dates back to a time when the little riverside port was a remote corner of the medieval parish of Walton. 

Though there was a church on the site by c1360, and nearby an earlier church, St Mary-del-Key, dating from at least 1257, the existing building is much later. 

The tower was designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester (1811-5) after its predecessor collapsed in 1810 killing twenty-five people;  the body of the church is a post-war replacement for the burnt-out shell destroyed in the Blitz.

In 1699, the Parish of Liverpool separated from Walton, and under an unusual arrangement Our Lady & St Nicholas was paired with a new church, St Peter’s (consecrated 1704) and served by two ministers of equal status who were required to preach in each church alternately.

In 1714 the tower of Our Lady & St Nicholas was embellished with a distinctive spire that acted as a waymark for vessels on the river.  In the late eighteenth century the church was described as “ruinous” and it was rebuilt, but the medieval tower remained unaltered until its collapse in 1810.  It fell as the congregation were entering for morning service;  of the twenty-five fatalities, seventeen were girls from Moorfields Charity School.

The replacement tower was designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester (1744-1829), surmounted by “an elegant and appropriate Lantern” topped by a ship weathervane possibly retrieved from the ruins of the old tower.

St Peter’s became the Pro-Cathedral for the new Diocese of Liverpool in 1880 and was demolished in 1922, superseded by the partly-built new Anglican Cathedral.

An air raid on December 21st 1940 burnt out Our Lady & St Nicholas, and on the night of May 5th-6th 1941 a further bomb left only the outer walls, the tower and the adjacent parish centre. 

Services continued in temporary structures or in the open air throughout the war, and the new church, designed by Edward C Butler, was consecrated in 1952, a simple Gothic design in which the interior was reoriented to place the high altar at the west end.

The Maritime Memorial Chapel in the north aisle was dedicated in 1993.  It contains a statue of Our Lady of the Quay, commemorating the very first church on the site, the work of the revered Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley (1929-1994).

Our Lady and St Nicholas has high status in Liverpool.  Though its actual parish boundaries, embracing a population of 16,000, embrace the river-front extending to Lime Street, Liverpool ONE and the Albert Dock, it serves the wider city as Liverpool Parish Church and its minister is the Rector of Liverpool.

The present Rector, Father Crispin Pailing, is the author of God’s Town:  Liverpool and her Parish since 1207 (Palatine 2019), which traces the history of the church and its ministry through the centuries.

There can be no-one better qualified to show how the parish has adapted and responded to the community’s needs up to the present day:  Ministry/Outreach/Projects – Liverpool Parish Church (

St Nick’s welcomes visitors and is usually open during the day.  Music is prominent in the life of the parish [Bells – Liverpool Parish Church (] and art – inside and outside the building – is an aid to contemplation:  Music and Arts – Liverpool Parish Church (

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

Anhalter Bahnhof

Anhalter Bahnhof ruin, Berlin, Germany

When you emerge from the Berlin S-bahn station, Anhalter Bahnhof, you’re confronted with the vestigial remains of the late nineteenth-century inter-city main-line terminus of the same name, a reminder of a different Berlin that’s largely disappeared.

The earliest railways to reach Berlin each terminated at their own station – Postdamer Bahnhof (1838) from Potsdam and the Anhalter Bahnhof (1839) from Anhalt.   These were followed by the Frankfurter Bahnhof (1842), the Stettiner Bahnhof (1842) from Stettin (now Szczecin) and the Hamburger Bahnhof (1846-47).

The Berlin rail system went through frequent and radical realignments during the nineteenth century and the original Anhalter Bahnhof was completely and magnificently rebuilt in 1876-80 to the designs of Franz Heinrich Schwechten (1841-1924) as a major terminus under an iron-and-glass trainshed, said to be the largest in continental Europe though smaller than St Pancras.

The bombastic glazed brick façade was decorated with sculptures — figures representing Night and Day by Ludwig Brunow (1843-1913) flanking the clock, and International Traffic by Emil Hundrieser (1846-1911) crowning the central pediment.

Albert Speer’s 1930s scheme for a world capital [Welthauptstadt] called Germania to celebrate the anticipated Nazi victory in the Second World War would have severed the approach tracks to the station, which Speer proposed to convert into a swimming pool.

After the Wannsee Conference of January 1942 inaugurated the Final Solution plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews, Anhalter Bahnhof, unlike the other Berlin stations that transported Jews in freight wagons, provided ordinary carriages with armed guards, attached to scheduled services, to give the impression that elderly Jews were being taken to a well-deserved retirement.  

The terminus was practically put out of action by Allied bombing in November 1943 and February 1945, and although the Allies restored services from 1946, the East Berlin authorities took a dim view of trains from East Germany arriving at a terminus in the American sector, and diverted all traffic to the Ostbahnhof in 1952.

The station stood empty and unused until 1960 when most of it was demolished.  In response to public protests the central portion of Schwechten’s façade was retained and cleaned.  Brunow’s statues were replaced by reproductions so that the originals could be shown at the German Museum of Technology built on former railway land nearby.

The footprint of the station platforms and tracks is occupied by an all-weather football pitch and a concert venue, Tempodrom.  Alongside, a vast bunker constructed as a shelter in 1943 houses the Berlin Story Museum, an exercise in dark tourism from which no-one emerges feeling cheerful, telling the story of twentieth-century Berlin warts and all:

Seldom Seen

Seldom Seen Engine House, Moss Valley, Derbyshire

The Seldom Seen Engine House is indeed seldom seen, because it lies in dense woodland off a private road along the Moss Brook valley west of the village of Eckington, Derbyshire.

Though it’s only a few yards from the road, leaf-cover makes it practically invisible except in winter.  Indeed, for most of the year it would be hard to find but for the sign provided by Derbyshire County Council Countryside Service.

The name is apt, because though the site is surrounded by villages – Eckington, Mosborough, Renishaw, Marsh Lane – it’s out of the way and frequented only by walkers.  Even to local people the place has been out of sight if not out of mind for more than a century.

It forms the sole remaining vestige of Plumbley Colliery, which operated from before 1875 until shortly before the start of the First World War, connected to the Midland Railway at Renishaw by the private “Penny Engine” railway.

The brick-built engine house is an imposing structure and sufficiently significant to be designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  It stands something like forty or fifty feet high, its interior empty and inaccessible.

It’s thought to have served as both a winding-engine and a pump, but there doesn’t seem to be any record of the now-vanished machinery.

Plumbley Colliery suffered repeated mining accidents, some of them fatal, but one particular tragedy stands out.

On March 16th 1895 three Eckington children, Esther Riley (9), her brother Percy Riley (8) and their friend Rebecca Godson (8 or 9), were skating on the frozen engine pond when the three-inch-thick ice broke.

Their screams brought the engineman, Alfred Williamson, aged 23, who jumped into the pond, knowing that the water was at least six feet deep, in an attempt to save the children’s lives.

Two youths, Rowland Taylor (14) and Edward Redfern (16), had heard the screams and attempted to assist Alfred Williamson with the rope he’d tied to himself and left on the bank, but he went under. 

He and the three children he tried to rescue all drowned.

Taylor and Redfern ran to Eckington Police Station to summon police officers who, accompanied by the local doctor, Dr West Jones, and various colliery managers, with great difficulty and the practical assistance of two young miners, Arthur Fairley and James Silvers, eventually retrieved the bodies.

These four unfortunate young people had no memorial until 2020, when the Natural Eckington organisation raised funds for headstones in Eckington Churchyard, and yet there’s nothing to show the site of their demise and to commemorate the heroism of those who attempted to rescue them and at great risk retrieved their bodies.

The Hole in the Road

Castle Square, Sheffield (1993)

Nineteenth-century Sheffield was a town that thought it was a village.

After Sheffield became a city in 1897 it was a city that thought it was a town.

Sheffield folk don’t take easily to the idea of grandeur.  They make things.  Predominantly Nonconformist, truculent and quietly proud of their skills and products, they look upon other Yorkshire cities as brash.

The Blitz of December 1940 flattened much of the city centre and the city planners took advice from (among others) Birmingham City Council’s City Engineer, Herbert Manzoni, himself notorious for rendering his own city unrecognisable.

Their plans saddled Sheffield with a plan for a “Civic Circle” road centred on the Town Hall, together with an Inner Ring Road and an Outer Ring Road.

One aspect of this scheme, to be picked up by Sheffield’s City Architect, Lewis Womersley, on his appointment in 1953, was that as far as possible pedestrians and motorists should move around the city centre at different levels.

Womersley’s Castle Market (1960-65) happily achieved this, taking advantage of its sloping site to provide access on three levels to shops, clear of motor vehicles at ground level.

At the traditional Market Place, however, the idea didn’t work out. 

A dual carriageway, Arundel Gate, swept across the Duke of Norfolk’s grid of Georgian streets, and came to an abrupt halt at the top of Angel Street, where a roundabout directed traffic downhill along Commercial Street towards the Parkway.

Against Womersley’s wishes, motor vehicles negotiated this tight turn at ground level, and pedestrians were pushed below ground into a dramatic space with a circular oculus open to the sky, opened in 1967.

Though the planners called this circle Castle Square, Sheffield folk obstinately labelled it the Hole in the Road

The only decorative feature was a 2,000-gallon fish-tank which became a popular meeting place, replacing Coles Corner which had lost its raison d’être after the Cole Brothers’ department store moved to Barker’s Pool in 1963.

Despite the subway-level entrances to adjacent shops and a couple of sad little stalls for buying newspapers and cigarettes, this memorable piece of townscape proved to be dead space and as the years passed it became more and more grubby and threatening.

Promotional literature for the proposed Sheffield Minitram, a driverless elevated people-mover, showed its track supported by a single pillar in the centre of the Hole in the Road as it climbed High Street.  The project was quietly dropped in 1975.

When the full-size, standard-gauge Supertram was planned, it was quickly obvious that the Hole in the Road would have to go. 

It was closed and filled in, possibly with rubble from the demolition of Hyde Park Flats, in 1994.

There’s a story that when the fish tank was emptied the only remaining fish was a piranha. I can’t vouch for it.

The generation of locals who met their date by the fish tank may regret its demise but even Lewis Womersley would probably agree that Castle Square was a dubious idea in the first place.

The story of Castle Square – the “Hole in the Road” – is featured in Demolished Sheffield, a 112-page full colour A4 publication by Mike Higginbottom. For details please click here.