Wallasey - Our Lady Star of the Sea and St Joseph

Wheatland Lane, Seacombe, Wallasey, Wirral CH44

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A lofty and imposing urban church designed by Edmund Kirby with a bold outline and a powerful west front. The form of the church owes much to the nearby Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception by E. W. Pugin, to whom Kirby was apprenticed. The interior too is noble and well-proportioned, and includes a high altar and reredos panelled in fine coloured marbles, as well as high quality early twentieth century stained glass. The church has been sensitively reordered.

The Seacombe mission was founded from St Alban’s Liscard in 1860. Mass was said in an upper room of a house in Chapel Street. In 1862, the house was purchased to serve as the presbytery (it is now No. 14 Chapel Street) and on the adjoining land a two storied school-chapel was erected. The population grew rapidly with the development of Birkenhead docks, and in 1870 a large plot of land was purchased in Wheatland Lane for £600. Five years later the present presbytery and schools were erected, part of the school being used as a chapel.

In 1883, a legacy of £9,000 was left to the Diocese on the death of a local benefactor, Mrs Clarkson of Orrell House, of which the Bishop granted £5,000 towards a new church. Edmund Kirby was appointed architect, and the foundation stone was laid in August 1888. The church was opened in July 1889. From 1887 the parish priest was the Rev. Hugh Singleton, until he was elected as Bishop of the Diocese of Shrewsbury in 1908. During his 21 years at Our Lady and St Joseph, he made a number of improvements to the church and its facilities. These included carved oak altar rails and screens, new altars for the side chapels, memorial stained glass windows and a marble high altar and panelling to the sanctuary.

The church suffered slight bomb damage in World War II, after which it was renovated, fitted with new benches and Stations of the Cross. Reordering following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council involved the moving the high altar forward and  adding  a  matching  front  to  the  plinth  of  the  reredos  as  a  setting  for  the tabernacle. In 2006 a further reordering took place that involved the extension of the sanctuary, moving the high altar further forward, and the relocation of the pulpit and baptismal font. The tabernacle was removed from the high altar and placed on the Sacred Heart altar, which was screened out as a chapel for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. At the west end a new meeting room was created, together with a kitchen and toilets. This involved extending the narrow organ gallery out into the nave, with a second meeting room at gallery level. Other works included the repair of the stained glass windows.

Edmund Kirby (1838-1920), the architect of Our Lady and St Joseph, was a pupil of E. W. Pugin, and the church has similarities to Pugin’s church of Our Lady, Birkenhead (qv), built ten years earlier. It is similarly tall, powerful and simple in outline, the great vessel containing nave and chancel under a single roof, with a row of lancet windows at clerestory level. Lower aisles have lean-to roofs, punctuated on the north side by two gables with rose windows marking the confessionals and on the south side by the high roof of the Sacred Heart chapel. The powerful west front stands directly onto the street, and is dominated by a huge rose window deeply inset within a giant arch. The sanctuary is apsidal with three large windows with Geometrical tracery.

Internally, the tall nave and chapels are separated by a five-bay stone arcade on round piers. The walls are plastered and painted white. The pulpit with clustered marble shafts originally wrapped around one of the piers, but has been moved onto the extended sanctuary. The high altar and reredos dating from c.1900 are panelled in coloured marbles. Flanking the chancel arch are canopied statues of Our Lady and St Joseph. A timber parclose screen separates the sanctuary from the Sacred Heart chapel, and this has been repeated in a simplified form in the additional screening for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The stained glass in the three east windows of the chancel commemorates the fallen in World War I and is of high quality. The subjects are the Annunciation with scenes of the Nativity set below; the Crucifixion with scenes of the Via Crucis; and the Resurrection with scenes of the Entombment. The glass in the Lady Chapel showing Our Lady of the Rosary is unusually dedicated to those soldiers and sailors who survived the war, and was donated by the Living Rosary Confraternity.

Diocese: Shrewsbury

Architect: Edmund Kirby

Original Date: 1889

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II