Category Archives: Liverpool’s Heritage

Liverpool Olympia

Olympia Theatre, West Derby Road, Liverpool

The circus industry has traditionally been peripatetic – we associate going to the circus with a “big top” tent in a field – but there was a moment, early in the twentieth century, when it seemed sensible to build auditoria big enough to house a circus ring.

That moment was brief.  The prolific theatre-architect Frank Matcham (1854-1920) converted the Brighton Hippodrome from an ice rink in 1901, but it was rebuilt as a variety theatre the following year.  Frank Matcham’s London Hippodrome on the corner of Leicester Square, built in 1900, was adapted as a variety theatre in 1909.

There are two places in Britain where you can still experience circus in a purpose-built hippodrome – Blackpool Tower Circus (1894;  interior by Frank Matcham 1900) and the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome (1903), but there’s a third survivor which is one of the largest and grandest of Frank Matcham’s auditoria.

The Olympia Theatre, West Derby Road, Liverpool (1905) was a proscenium theatre with a circus ring and water tank for the briefly fashionable spectacular performances known as naumachiae

To accommodate the standard 42ft-diameter circus ring projecting into the stalls area, the proscenium is 48 feet wide, and the stage measured 100 feet wide by 41ft deep.  The fly-grid is 68 feet above the stage floor. 

The base of the ten-foot-deep 80,000-gallon under-stage tank survives without its hydraulic machinery:  the basement storey also contained stabling for elephants and horses, and cages for lions.

The original seating-capacity was 3,750.

The Olympia was built by Moss Empires only a couple of hundred yards from their rival Thomas Barrasford’s 3,500-seat Royal Hippodrome (1902;  demolished 1984), which stood opposite Low Hill Cemetery (now Grant Gardens). 

Ken Roe, in his visit-notes for a Cinema Theatre Association tour in 2000, commented –

The Olympia was provided with 36 separate exits, but the problem turned out to be how to get the people into the place, not out…

Harold Akroyd, The Dream Palaces of Liverpool (Amber Valley 1987), remarked that –

…an asylum once occupied the site of the Olympia, which prompted the comment that Moss & Stoll must have been mad to open a music hall so close to the city…

This story is too good to check, however:  The Stage, April 27th 1905, indicates that the site was formerly occupied by the Licensed Victuallers Association almshouses.

Three balconies spread the audience across a wider space than a conventional proscenium theatre.  Beneath the Dress Circle were ten boxes facing the stage.  The additional proscenium boxes facing the audience were clearly intended only for circus shows.  Their onion domes are complemented by the plaster elephant-heads that embellish the side walls.  A sliding roof provided ventilation between houses.

Associated British Cinemas Ltd took on the lease in 1929.   On February 11th in that year the Olympia became Liverpool’s first sound-cinema when Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer opened.  For perhaps the only time in the Olympia’s history, queues stretched out of sight down West Derby Road.

As competition from large-capacity modern super-cinemas grew in the 1930s even the Royal Hippodrome went over to films, and ABC, which operated both buildings, closed the Olympia as a cinema on March 25th 1939.

After wartime use as a Royal Navy Depot, the Olympia was sold to Mecca Ltd and reopened as the Locarno Ballroom in 1949. 

This conversion did practically irreversible damage to Frank Matcham’s auditorium.  Raising the stalls floor to stage level involved inserting concrete pillars into the basement area; the rear-stalls projection-box was dismantled and stairways were constructed from the stalls to the Grand Circle.

In August 1964 Mecca closed the ballroom and adapted the building as one of their chain of bingo clubs. 

Clearance of the surrounding housing led to closure in 1982, after which it remained on Mecca’s hands, listed Grade II, empty and for sale.  Its listing was raised to Grade II* in 1985. 

It remained dark until Silver Leisure Ltd, owners of the adjacent Grafton Ballroom, bought it in April 1990.  Ten years later Silver Leisure reopened the building, impressively refurbished, with a programme of boxing, wrestling and concerts. 

It has continued in the same family ownership, renamed Eventim Olympia with standing space in the stalls and seating in the lower and upper balconies. From the outset it was a huge risk to build the Olympia in inner-city Liverpool, but against huge odds, this enormous building has survived and earns its keep in the twenty-first century.

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

Liverpool’s vanished necropolis

Grant Gardens (formerly Low Hill Cemetery), Everton, Liverpool

People who know Liverpool well will be aware of St James’s Cemetery which lies in the eighteenth-century quarry below the site of the twentieth-century Anglican Cathedral. Opened in 1829, it’s the well-known resting place of nineteenth-century Liverpudlians but it’s not the first such cemetery in Liverpool.

The Low Hill General Cemetery was opened in 1825 where Brunswick Street becomes West Derby Road on the approach to Everton – a compact, level five-acre site around which the Liverpool architect John Foster Jnr placed boundary walls and an austere but elegant Greek Revival entrance.

Its title “General Cemetery” indicated that it was open to any who did not wish to be buried according to the rites of the Church of England:

The chapel will be at the service of such persons who may wish to use it, and any religious funeral ceremony may be formed in it by the minister, or other person chosen by the parties who may require its use, provided such ceremony is not an outrage upon the decencies of life or offensive to civilised society…or, if preferred, the interment may be made without any form or religious rite.

The Necropolis Burial Ground, as it came to be called, remained a popular burial place throughout the mid-Victorian period, until in the late 1890s it became full with eighty thousand interments, and was closed by the City Council as insanitary.

The buildings were demolished and the gravestones cleared, but the bodies remain in situ beneath the blank lawns that have replaced the flower beds of Grant Gardens (named after the chairman of the Parks & Gardens Committee), which opened in 1914.

Nothing above ground survives of John Foster Jnr’s design.  The existing ornamental gateposts bear no resemblance to the entrance in early twentieth-century photographs, nor are they in the same position:  Liverpool Necropolis Information – Toxteth Park Cemetery.

No-one would recognise the site now as a place of burial.  However, on at least one occasion dog-walkers in Grant Gardens were made disconcertingly aware of what lies beneath.  In February 2021 a sinkhole appeared caused by an incorrectly backfilled crypt:  Sinkhole appears after former crypt collapses at mass grave site – Liverpool Echo.

There is a compilation of newspaper reports of burials at the Necropolis at Necropolis burial ground (

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

Collegiate School

Former Collegiate School, Shaw Street, Everton, Liverpool

Liverpool’s St George’s Hall is prominent in a city rich in nineteenth- and twentieth-century architecture, and the remarkable story of its young architect, Harvey Lonsdale Elmes (1814-1847), winning two separate architectural competitions to design it, is well-known.  In his short life he designed few buildings, none of which he saw completed.

The only other surviving design by Elmes is the façade of Liverpool Collegiate School on Shaw Street, Everton.  Its Perpendicular Gothic style, in contrast with the neoclassical St George’s Hall, indicates that the school was an Anglican foundation.

The building behind is not Elmes’ because of an unseemly dispute with the managing committee who deprived him of the commission in order to employ a cheaper local contractor. 

(He had similar trouble over St George’s Hall, when the Corporation commissioned Joseph Franklin, the City Surveyor, to start the project, but Franklin, to his great credit, stood aside in deference to Elmes.)

The foundation stone of the Collegiate School was laid by Lord Stanley (later the 14th Earl of Derby) in October 1840, and the building was opened by W E Gladstone and the Bishop of Chester in 1843. 

One of the first Victorian public schools, its original collegiate organisation provided three separate curricula, an upper school offering a classical syllabus for boys aspiring to the “gentlemanly professions” at twenty guineas a term (who were allowed to use the grand Shaw Street entrance), and two further programmes, the middle school at ten guineas and the lower school at three, preparing pupils for business and commercial occupations (and who used the side entrances).

Its original facilities included an art gallery, museum, evening institute and a shooting range. 

The octagonal lecture hall was at first the largest covered meeting-place in Liverpool, with a reported capacity of 3,000, and was used for concerts by Jenny Lind and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra before the completion of the Philharmonic Hall in 1849.

The Upper School moved to new premises at Lodge Lane, Sefton Park, in 1884, and the Middle and Lower (or Commercial) schools amalgamated when they were taken over by Liverpool Corporation in 1907.

The Shaw Street school’s alumni included the comedian Ted Ray (1905-1977), the actor Leonard Rossiter (1926-1984) and Holly Johnson (b1960), the lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

The school was reorganised as a comprehensive school for nine hundred boys in 1973, and after closure in 1983 became vandalised and was partly burnt down. 

It was refurbished by the architectural practice Shed KM for the developer Urban Splash, and reopened as an apartment block in 2000.

The Shaw Street façade is a fortunate survivor, reminding us that Harvey Lonsdale Elmes was adept at a wide range of styles.  His only other surviving work is his Italianate extension to Thingwall Hall, Knotty Ash, c1846-47. 

Other buildings by Elmes have been lost – Druids Cross House, Woolton (1847;  demolished 1978;  Grade-II listed lodge survives), Allerton Tower, Allerton (1849;  demolished 1937) and the West Derby County Asylum, Rainhill (1847-51;  demolished 1992).

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

Liverpool’s cultural learning zone

Liverpool Central Library: atrium

Photo: © Christopher Brook

When Harvey Lonsdale Elmes’ St George’s Hall was completed in 1854 it brought dignity to the untidy area known as Shaw’s Brow around St John’s Church and St John’s Market (both now demolished), and the building contractor Samuel Holme proposed that its setting should become a kind of forum “round which should be clustered our handsomest edifices, and within the area of which our public monuments ought to be placed”.

The steep gradient which falls away from the site of the Hall precluded any kind of enclosed space, so the donor of the Free Library and Museum, the merchant, banker and politician William Brown (1784-1864), gave the strip of land on which was laid the street that now bears his name.

Initially, the Free Library and Museum (1857-60) sat alone towards the bottom of the hill.  Its imposing Corinthian portico complements St George’s Hall opposite. The grand entrance steps came later, c1902.

The Library was extended by adding the Picton Reading Room (Cornelius Sherlock 1875-79), an impressive galleried rotunda, modelled on the British Museum reading room in Bloomsbury.  It’s an inspiring place to read or study, and it has an entertaining echo that transmits conversations from the opposite side of the great space.  Its column-free basement, originally a lecture theatre, is now a versatile and attractive children’s library.  The semi-circular external façade pivots a bend in the street-line and responds to the apsidal end of St George’s Hall. 

Later still, behind the William Brown Street buildings, the Hornby Library (1906) was built to a dignified design by the City Architect, Thomas Shelmerdine. It now exhibits the Library’s rare books collection.  It’s noted for displaying the only copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-38) that is regularly turned from page to page.

These two extensions are named respectively after the pioneer of the city’s public libraries, Sir James Picton (1805-1889) and the merchant and bibliophile Hugh Frederick Hornby (1826 -1899) who bequeathed his book-collection and £10,000 for a building to house it.

The Library and Museum were badly damaged in the May 1941 Blitz though most of their collections had been removed, and reinstatement took until the end of the 1960s with a further extension in 1978.

The rebuilt facilities did not wear well, and the increasing demand for digital resources eventually required a radical refurbishment, safeguarding the Grade II*-listed Victorian structures.

The resulting design by the Austin-Smith:Lord practice is open plan, transforming the usefulness of the building with a dramatic atrium topped by a glass dome and above all a roof terrace.  It reopened to the public in 2013.

The potential uses of the Central Library complex are virtually limitless, from school homework to academic research, to online business support and keep-fit for over-sixties.

I called on the Archives service to provide the last visit on the last day of the last Interesting Times tour, Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022).

The Archivist, Jan Grace, and her colleague Carl gave a tour of the Victorian spaces and showed us the comprehensive collections in the third-floor Local Studies area, all of which are freely available on open shelves.

Because we’d spent the week touring odd corners of Liverpool’s history, I’d asked Jan to provide a display in the Search Room of archives relating directly to the buildings we’d visited, from the Atlantic Tower Hotel where we’d stayed to such places as the Florence Institute, the Park Palace Ponies, the Lister Drive Old Swimming Baths and more Gothic churches than you could shake a stick at.

I was particularly grateful to have this exceptional opportunity as a grand finale to my tour programme, which has always aimed for the “Heineken effect”, visiting places that other tours can’t reach.

Liverpool Central Library: Archives Search Room – Unexpected Liverpool tour, June 10th 2022

Photo: © Jan Grace

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


Scouse pie, Homebaked Bakery, Anfield, Liverpool

Photo: © Ian Stuart

Football-fixated tourists find their way to Oakfield Road, Anfield, where they discover the superb hand-made pies sold at Homebaked Bakery, in the shadow of the Liverpool FC stadium.  The fans simply call it “the Pie Shop”.

This long-established and celebrated bakery stands on the corner site of two terraced streets that not long ago were threatened with demolition.

Liverpool City Council has repeatedly and notoriously condemned solid artisan housing for redevelopment under the Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI), dreamed up by John Prescott’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) in 2002. 

Two particular examples, the Welsh Streets and Granby Street, both in Toxteth, aroused local people to protest against the deliberate neglect and destruction of houses that proved to be capable of economic renovation.

In Anfield, a similar HMRI began the clearance of nearly two thousand properties, intending to replace them with thirteen hundred new homes, until funding was cut and eventually the initiative was stopped by David Cameron’s coalition government in 2010, leaving the district in limbo.

Community anger and frustration about what amounted to government vandalism focussed on Mitchell’s Bakery, a long-standing family business much loved by neighbours and football fans alike.

Local people looked for a way to retain the bakery when it closed in 2011. 

2Up2Down, a creative and social initiative led by the Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, empowered members of the Anfield community to revive the bakery and establish the Homebaked Bakery Co-operative in 2012. 

The following year they created the Homebaked Community Land Trust to lease the building from the Mitchell family. 

Later, Liverpool City Council took over the freehold and leased the bakery back to the Co-operative so that they could refurbish the long-abandoned upstairs flat as social housing. 

From 2015 onwards this was extended into a larger project, Oakfield Terrace, an exciting scheme for the Trust to provide eight houses and accommodation for local businesses, driven by the intense involvement of local people in partnership with the City Council and development professionals.

All this exemplary community development is built on the pies and cakes that the bakers at Homebaked Bakery turn out daily. 

An obvious favourite is the Beef Scouse pie, billed on the menu as “the staple dish of Merseyside”.  There’s also a vegan version which must be the staple dish of vegan Merseyside.

But the star attraction is the Shankly.  Its ingredients aren’t published:  “We asked the Shankly family what his favourite dish was after a long day at Melwood, and it’s exactly what’s in our pie.”

When you eat at Homebased Bakery, or on the pavement walking to a match, you dine like football aristocracy.

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

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.

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.

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

Jesuit gem

St Francis Xavier RC Church, Everton, Liverpool

When I was at university, one of my hall-of-residence associates was studying science in preparation for training to be a Jesuit at the English College in Rome.

From knowing him, I’ve always regarded the Jesuits as the border collies of the Catholic clergy – astute, focused, determined, committed and effective.  Adherents vow to devote their lives Ad Majorem Dei Gloria – to the greater glory of God.

The Society of Jesus built the first post-Reformation Catholic chapel in Liverpool in 1736.  It lasted two years before it was destroyed by a mob, and was promptly rebuilt, disguised as a warehouse.  Their work in Liverpool ceased after the suppression of the Society by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, and their chapel was passed to the Benedictines in 1783. 

The Jesuits returned to Liverpool in the 1840s at the invitation of a group of eight Catholic businessmen who financed the building of the church dedicated to St Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit order, on Salisbury Street, Everton. 

The foundation stone was laid in 1842.  By the time the church was completed in 1848 Liverpool was experiencing a huge influx of poor Irish people fleeing the Great Famine.  The thousand-seat capacity of the original church became inadequate and a secondary worship-space, the Sodality Chapel, was opened in 1888.  (A sodality is a lay religious brotherhood.)

The 1848 church, designed by Joseph John Scoles (1798-1863) is stone built, with separate roofs for the nave and aisles and a polygonal apse, and an impressive tower and spire at the south-west corner.  The spire was always intended, but only added in 1883.  The high altar, reredos and pulpit, and the Sacred Heart altar of 1852-53, were designed by Scoles’ pupil, Samuel Joseph Nicholl (1826-1905).

Most of the original glass by Hardman & Powell was blown out in the Blitz, but an almost complete set of fragments of a window depicting St Ignatius was found in a box and restored in 2015.

The Sodality Chapel was designed by the Liverpool-born architect Edward Kirby (1838-1920), a pupil of the Gothic Revival architect Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875).  It’s smaller but more elaborate than the main church, with a polygonal apse and an ambulatory behind the altar.  Its stained glass is by Burlison & Grylls.

In the 1930s St Francis Xavier was the largest Catholic parish in England serving a population of 13,000.  It continued to flourish, despite damage to the building in the Liverpool Blitz, until the clearance of the surrounding streets emptied its congregation. 

The Archdiocese proposed to demolish the nave in the early 1980s, until a national outcry led to a compromise:  the Archdiocese agreed to maintain the Sodality Chapel while the parish took responsibility for the nave.  As a result, a glass screen was erected in the arcade between the two, and for years the nave remained unrestored. 

On the pretext of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the parish in 1997, an impressive campaign enabled the restoration of the nave from 2000 onwards, and in 2001 the Archdiocese amalgamated two neighbouring parishes, and the Sodality Chapel was renamed the Chapel of St Mary of the Angels and St Joseph. 

In 2007, the three-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first Catholic priest in Liverpool, Father William Gillibrand SJ, a shrine was dedicated to St Mary Del Quay, commemorating the very first Christian chapel in Liverpool, founded in 1207.

The St Francis Xavier College moved into the adjacent presbytery in 1845 and then into a new building alongside by 1857.  This in turn proved too small, and a purpose-built replacement by Henry Clutton (1819-1893) opened in 1877.  The corresponding sandstone “poor schools” designed by Joseph Spencer were started in 1853 and extended by the same architect in 1857.  The College moved to Woolton in 1961.  The Salisbury Street buildings and their surroundings became derelict until they were taken over by the ecumenical Liverpool Hope University and opened as its Creative Campus in 1999.

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

Cragg’s own church

St Michael-in-the-Hamlet Church, Aigburth, Liverpool

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:

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

Ancient chapel

Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, Dingle, Liverpool

At the bottom of Park Road, Dingle, in south Liverpool, the main road makes a sudden, unexpected S-bend which can only represent a very ancient land-boundary. 

It’s no accident that the inside of the bend is occupied by an ancient burial ground.

And the chapel within has been known as the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth for almost two hundred years.

At the start of the seventeenth century, Dingle was an isolated settlement two miles away from the town of Liverpool, then still huddled around its neglected medieval castle.

The early history of British Nonconformity goes back to a time barely a generation after the turmoil of the Tudor Reformation, when people acted in ways that are now difficult to recognise, and one of the oddities of the religious conflicts of the time was that Sir Richard Molyneux, 1st Baronet (1560-1662), as a member of a Catholic family sympathetic to victims of religious persecution, allowed Puritan families to occupy land that he had purchased within the medieval Toxteth Park.

In 1611 a group of farmers built a school and Anglican chapel for Puritan worship there and enlisted a fifteen-year-old youth from Winwick, near Warrington, Richard Mather (1596-1669), as master.  He came to Toxteth soon after his sixteenth birthday, spent a few months studying at Brasenose College, Oxford, before starting work as preacher and teacher in November 1612 and taking holy orders a few months later.

The Archbishop of York’s inspectors suspended him early in 1634 because he had never worn a surplice in the past fifteen years.  Their report declared that “it had been better for him that he had begotten seven bastards”.

He emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts in 1635, became a noted preacher in New England, where four of his five sons graduated at Harvard University and took orders.  His son and grandson were respectively presidents of Harvard and Yale Universities.  Among his later descendants, eighty became clergymen.

The early congregation included the astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks (1618-1641), who is credited with demonstrating that the Moon moved in an elliptical orbit round the Earth, and was one of the first to observe the Transit of Venus in 1639, which enabled him to estimate the size of the planet Venus and the distance between the Earth and the Sun.  He has a memorial in the Chapel, though it’s uncertain whether he was buried there.

By 1662, after the Restoration of King Charles II, Toxteth Chapel was served by two Presbyterian ministers, Thomas Crompton and Michael Briscoe, who were formally licensed under the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, making the Chapel a Presbyterian place of worship.

Through the following century the Chapel was alternately enlarged and neglected, until it was partly rebuilt in 1774 by those of its congregation who chose to become Unitarian.

The colonnaded “Colybarium” contains monuments dating from 1795 onwards to the Holt, Rathbone, Melly and Holland families, and the porch was added in 1841.

The interior, with its pulpit and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century galleries, was archaic by that time, and was spared Victorian embellishment. 

It is listed Grade I because, according to the list description, “As a chapel which was Nonconformist before 1660, and preserves an excellent set of furnishings which were complete by a century later, this chapel is of the highest importance”.

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