Wallasey - English Martyrs

St George’s Road, Wallasey, Wirral CH45

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The first of F. X. Velarde’s major post-war churches, and one of  the largest and most richly decorated. It contains a group of significant art works. Designed before the war, it forms a transition between the more expressionist  churches  such  as  St  Monica,  Bootle,  and  his  later  and more personal work. The building remains largely unaltered.

The parish first took shape in 1901 when a Mass centre was supplied by a priest from St Peter and St Paul, New Brighton in a house at 59 St George’s Road. In 1907 a temporary building, largely of corrugated iron, was erected and served as a church. First steps were taken to build a new church in the 1920s and early ‘30s, but plans were halted by the outbreak of war. After hostilities ended, shortages of labour and materials caused delays, but eventually the foundation stone was laid on
4 May 1952, and the church was opened on 31 August 1953 at a cost of £50,000. The architect was F. X. Velarde, and the main contractor Tysons.

Around 2004, an arrangement was made with St Mary’s Catholic College for the joint use of the church, with the College taking responsibility for the management of the building. Recently, the parish of St Peter and St Paul, New Brighton has been assimilated with English Martyrs as the parish of the Holy Apostles and Martyrs, and with the exception of the presbytery, the church has been taken back from the college.

See list entry, below.

The church was designed by F. X. Velarde, and was built 1952-53, although plans had been drawn up before the War. It is large, built of pale grey-brown brick in English bond without cornice or parapet, in the architect’s distinctive interpretation of the Romanesque style. A tall southeast campanile, attached to the nave by a huge curved buttress, has an octagonal stone lantern topped by a copper pyramid roof. The baptistery, a cube with a pyramid roof is also expressed as a separate feature. The main church consists of a nave, with aisles, one of which is aligned on the Lady Chapel, and sanctuary. A choir gallery is placed above the sacristy, separated from the sanctuary by a phosphor bronze grille. The exterior sculpture includes a Pietà at the base of the tower, a cast stone figure of Christ of the Resurrection set against the west rose  window,  and  smaller  figures  depicting  the English  Martyrs  and  the  Church Militant in the form of angelic hosts along the south aisle wall and around the sanctuary.

The mass of sheer brickwork is also expressed internally, the side walls of the nave being carried on round arches resting on sturdy reinforced concrete columns. A mighty arch separates the nave and sanctuary. The clerestory windows are punched into the bricks in a cruciform pattern, whilst the sanctuary has three tiers of round- arched windows again in a cruciform arrangement. Attention is focussed on the sanctuary with its bold expressionist sculptural ensemble. The high altar slab is supported on a truncated oval with a relief carving of the Angel of Agony offering the chalice. This is set off against the reredos that recalls the Last Supper with effigies of the twelve disciples rising in a pyramid to the head of Christ at the summit. An enormous scene of the Crucifixion in metal is suspended against the east wall. In the adjacent Lady Chapel, an altar supports a statue of Our Lady with St John Fisher, holding his axe of martyrdom and offering a bouquet of roses, representing the English Martyrs.

Grey-brown and silver are the two predominant interior colours.  Pale grey-brown for the bricks; silver for the spiral bands on the columns of the aisle arcade and their capitals with crowns of martyrdom, the sculptures and the Stations of the Cross. For all these features are finished in white gold, which shimmers in the soft pale blue light that filters down from the coloured glass clerestory windows. The tabernacle too is silver. The ceiling is patterned in zig-zags and geometrical sunken panels, and decorated in orange blue and silver.

The only alterations carried out to the building since it was erected are the relocation and reduction in length of the altar, with the truncated part used as a base for the tabernacle, the removal of the communion rail, and the recent replacement of timber pews with loose seating. A row of original pews, which are simple in design, has been retained along the wall of the south aisle. The baptistery remains in its original form, although no longer in use.

The external and internal sculpture is  largely the work of  Philip Lindsey Clarke. Exceptions are the statue of Our Lady, which is by David John and Anthony Fraser, and the Lady Altar and baptismal font which are by Herbert Tyson Smith. The latter is a square block of stone set at a diagonal, carved with flying angles and roofed by a pyramid of fish scale tiles. Moveable items also designed by Velarde include silvered stools, a credence table, the ambo (currently dismantled) and altar candlesticks.

Diocese: Shrewsbury

Architect: F. X. Velarde

Original Date: 1953

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II*