Beresford Road, Oxton, Birkenhead, Wirral CH43
The finest example of a type of small-scale and intimate church which was developed by Edmund Kirby for particular situations where the budget and the site was limited (St Agnes, West Kirby of 1897 is another example). Whilst the building is small and externally self-effacing, the quality of detail in the moulded brickwork to the door and window openings, the string courses and hood moulds, and the timber work of the roofs to the nave and sanctuary is high. Combined with the later fixtures and furnishings, in particular the Arts and Crafts stained glass by Margaret Rope, this gives the building a special significance.
The development of Oxton on land belonging to the Earl of Shrewsbury began in 1839, first with weekend houses for Liverpool businessmen, and later with substantial houses for wealthy commuters. The Catholics living in and around Oxton, who were principally servants working in the large houses, attended Mass at the chapel of the convent established by a French order of nuns, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, at Lingdale House in Ashburton Road. In 1882 the second Bishop of Shrewsbury, Edmund Knight, decided to live in Birkenhead, and Mass was celebrated at his house, Avondale, on the corner of Reedsville and Slatey Road.
Bishop Knight’s successor, Bishop John Carroll, bought Overdale, the large stucco house (now part of Birkenhead School) on the corner of Bidston Road and Beresford Road, where the ballroom became the chapel. When Bishop Carroll died in 1897, his successor, Bishop Allen, chose to live in Shrewsbury, and Overdale was put up for sale. The purchaser was Edmund Kirby, the Liverpool ecclesiastical architect and a devout Catholic, who continued to offer the use of the chapel to Oxton Catholics. Soon Kirby and other prominent local Catholics successfully petitioned the bishop that a church might be built, for which the site, given by the local Topham family, was the orchard of Overdale.
The foundation stone was laid in 1898, the church was consecrated in 1899, Edmund Kirby naturally serving as architect, and of the total cost of £2,000, half was provided by local Catholics.
In 1908, Bishop Allen’s replacement Bishop Hugh Singleton decided to return to Birkenhead, living nearby in Beresford Road until his death in 1934. Holy Name was kept as an Episcopal Church and during this period was significantly embellished and enriched.
The church, as built, was small and aisleless, a simple five bay rectangle with a polygonal sanctuary, but without a porch, baptistery or Lady Chapel. It is low in height, built entirely of warm red brick, with a red tiled roof, exposed arch-braced timber trusses and boarded ceiling. The windows incorporate intricate patterns of leading and bottle glass quarries, a rose window being the principal feature of the west end.
Two years after the opening, the carved timber high altar, reredos and wall panelling were installed in the sanctuary, and in 1903 the three east windows by Hardman were added, all to Kirby’s design. The windows depict the Presentation in the Temple flanked by the Nativity and the Agony in the Garden. The pews in the style of Pugin are also from this period.
With the return of the Bishop to Birkenhead in 1909, significant additions followed. The lean-to porch and baptistery were built at the west end in 1909, and the Lady Chapel and the sacristy probably also date from this year. The oak communion rails (removed and partly incorporated at the base of the reredos following Vatican II) were donated in 1910. The pulpit was installed in 1923, followed by the Lady Chapel tabernacle and credence table in 1924. The carved oak screens to the side arches, a confessional, and a decorative cover to the font were added shortly after. These were all designed by Edmund Bertram Kirby, who joined his father as a partner in the practice in 1905, and were carved by the Norbury family of Huyton (with the exception of the Lady Altar which was carved by the 70-year-old William Henry Le Mesurier).
Three sets of stained glass windows were commissioned from Margaret Rope, and installed between 1918 and 1928. These are all in a late Arts and Crafts style, with intricate leadwork, rich colours and bold figurative compositions. The earliest is the group of windows above the Lady Altar which was given by John Lindon (who donated the Lady Chapel, and other fittings) in memory of his mother and his wife, and dates from c.1918. It was made shortly before Margaret Rope entered the Carmelite convent at Woodbridge, Suffolk, and depicts Our Lady with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist. The larger group of windows in the Lady Chapel is the John Lindon memorial and was erected in 1929. It shows ‘Nine Martyrs of the Shrewsbury Diocese’, all of whom were martyred between 1582 and 1689, and were born in the area of the future diocese. In addition to the main figures (and those of Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, and Our Lord, King of Martyrs), Sister Margaret included personal details of the lives of the martyrs, such as the coats of arms of their counties, colleges and seminaries, flowers as symbols of their Christian names, and their martyrdoms. The last window, also dating from 1929, is on the liturgical south side of the nave and shows St Teresa of Lisieux and St Winefride.
Stations of the Cross, painted on panel by Malcolm Drummond, follower of Walter Sickert and a member of the Camden Town Group, were added in 1926. Bishop Ambrose James Moriarty, who succeeded Bishop Singleton, again decided to live in Shrewsbury, and in 1925 the first parish priest for Holy Name was appointed. Until 1955 the former Bishop’s House served as the presbytery, but in 1955 a new house was erected at the east end of the church to the design of John Sheridan of Edmund Kirby and Partners.
The side entrance to the church was enlarged in the early 1990s to give better access to the church and a meeting room was created within the shell of the former garage. A small timber hall dating from 1926 was recently rebuilt in a more permanent fashion at the north end of the site.
In the 1960s the Crucifix was installed within the sanctuary arch and Malcolm Drummond’s stations were replaced (reputedly given to St Helen’s church, Caernarfon). The reordering of the sanctuary to meet the requirements of Vatican II was carried out in 1985 by Bing Vis, and involved reducing the high altar in size, bringing it forward, and the removal of the communion rails. The sanctuary steps were extended and carpeted, and the tabernacle was relocated on the Lady Altar. The pulpit was reduced in height and moved to the epistle side of the sanctuary arch. The font was removed from the baptistery at the rear of the church to its present location between the sanctuary and the Lady Chapel. The confessional was replaced by a reconciliation room, and the front rows of benches were removed. Around this time the sacristy was extended to provide a garage.
Update: The church was listed Grade II in 2013, following Taking Stock. List description at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1414960
Architect: Edmund Kirby
Original Date: 1899
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II