St John the Baptist, Tuebrook

Church of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook, Liverpool

George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) was a major figure in the second generation of Victorian architects in Britain.

Apart from his exceptional artistic acumen, which led him to collaborate with like-minded artists in a range of media, he had two outstanding qualities.

First, he capitalised the personal connections he grew up with in Hull, where his father was a physician at Hull Royal Infirmary.  He became the pupil of the great Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), whose uncle was the first of three successive generations to serve as vicar of St Mary Lowgate Church in Hull’s Old Town from 1816 to 1883.  Bodley’s sister married Scott’s brother Samuel, a doctor, in 1846.

One of his early commissions, St Martin-on-the-Hill parish church, Scarborough (1861-2) was financed as a memorial to her father by Miss Mary Craven, the wealthy daughter of a Hull surgeon.

Bodley had a knack of attracting commissions from wealthy patrons seeking a rich architectural expression of their High Church principles. 

Five years later, the £25,000 cost of his church of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook, Liverpool (consecrated 1870) was borne by the wife of the first vicar, Rev J C Reade.

Later commissions included St Augustine, Pendlebury, Salford (1870-1874, £33,000) for the banker Edward Stanley Heywood and Holy Angels, Hoar Cross, Staffordshire (1872 onwards, £28,500), a memorial to the late husband of Mrs Emily Charlotte Meynell Ingram.

His final, posthumously completed commission was St Chad, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire (1905-1910, £38,000) for the brewer Michael Bass, 1st Baron Burton.

Even later than this, a decent Gothic parish church could be built from scratch for less than £8,000.

All these churches are now listed Grade I.

The current Buildings of England entry describes St John the Baptist, Tuebrook as “large, unshowy, but dignified and sensitive…a key work in Bodley’s oeuvre”.  Its exterior is distinguished by its irregular polychrome banding, and the exterior and interior proportions are at the same time dignified and simple. 

The richness of the interior comes from the fittings which Bodley and his practice partner Thomas Garner provided – the marble font and pulpit, the screens painted by Kempe, leading to the choir and sanctuary, where the woodwork of the choir stalls and organ case is oak, stained black, painted and gilded, and the stained glass of the east window and the window to the south of the chancel designed by Bodley and Kempe in collaboration with William Morris. 

The reredos, also designed by Bodley, replaced the original in 1870-71, before the Bishop of Chester, Rev John Graham, would consecrate the church.  There is uncertainty about whether Bishop Graham objected to the original reredos because of suspicions that it had previously belonged to a Roman Catholic chapel, or whether Bodley had manipulated the postponement to make time for improvements to the heating system and the organ.

Bodley’s wall-decorations, painted by his assistant Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), had deteriorated by the turn of the century, and Father Brockman, vicar in 1905, commented, “It costs a good deal to live up to Mr Bodley.”  After Bodley’s death in 1907 his surviving partner, Cecil Greenwood Hare, revised the decorative scheme and this was restored by Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-1994) in 1968-71.  It is now once again in need of restoration.

Bodley designed the Vicarage, built in 1890, and also, in a corner of the churchyard, a curious and little-noticed feature, the mortuary house on Snaefell Avenue.

The rescheduled ‘Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022)’ tour includes a guided tour of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook.  For further details please click here.

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