John Cragg (1767-1854) was not a pleasant man.
I know of only one observation by any of his contemporaries, which simply states that he was “a remarkable man to whom I cannot find a single gracious allusion on anybody’s part”.
His claim to posterity’s attention is that, as the proprietor of the Mersey Iron Foundry, he collaborated with the architect Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) in designing and producing iron components with which to construct prefabricated Gothick churches and other buildings.
Their first project was the parish church of St George, Everton (1812-14).
Even before the completion of St George’s, John Cragg had resolved to make further use of his architectural mouldings to Rickman’s designs, apparently without consulting the architect.
Cragg purchased land in Aigburth not far from the River Mersey in February 1813, and by June 1815 had completed the church of St Michael-in-the-Hamlet.
The essential difference between these two churches is the more adventurous use of materials.
At Aigburth, the framework of the whole structure is iron, filled with a slate base and brick walls, a device patented by John Cragg in 1813.
All the embellishments of the brick walls are of iron – window and door frames, tracery, pinnacles, dripstones and copings. Originally the exterior ironwork was painted to resemble stone, and the brickwork stuccoed to match.
The roof and interior ceilings and panelling are of slate set in iron frames. The moulding of the clerestory windows is also used for a fireplace at the foot of the staircase to the original organ gallery at the west end.
The total outlay using the moulds from St George’s came to £7,865.
Cragg went on to use some of his mouldings yet again in a group of five houses he built, one as his residence and the others as a speculation, around the church to form St Michael’s Hamlet.
St Michael’s was restored by the Liverpool architect brothers William James Audsley (1833-1907) and George Ashdown Audsley (1838-1925) in 1875.
When increasing population demanded an extension to the church in 1900 the north aisle was doubled in width, making sympathetic use of the original decorative features.
The clock was added in 1920 as a war memorial, along with a dedicatory window and wall-tablets.
In the chancel lies a memorial slab commemorating the Herculaneum Pottery Benefit Society, dated 1824:
Here peaceful rest the POTTERS turn’d to Clay
Tir’d with their lab’ring life’s long tedious day
Surviving friends their Clay to earth consign
To be re-moulded by a Hand Divine!
St Michael-in-the-Hamlet was extensively restored in the 1980s, and is now a Grade I listed building.
John Cragg’s third iron church, St Philip’s, Hardman Street, Liverpool (1815-16, closed 1882-84), is described, illustrated and lamented in this article: https://liverpool1207blog.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/st-philips-church-hardman-st-liverpool-1816-2017.
St Michael-in-the-Hamlet Church is a destination in the rescheduled Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022) tour. For further details please click here.