Fernhill Road, Bootle, Liverpool 20
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
One of the major churches of the twentieth century. Opened in 1936 to the design of the Liverpool architect Francis Xavier Velarde, Pevsner described St Monica’s as ‘an epoch-making church for England’. A powerful design, much influenced by the Modern Movement of continental Europe, particularly the work of Dominikus Bohm in Germany. The massive tower has external sculpture by Herbert Tyson Smith. The interior has much bare brickwork, relieved by a more decorative sanctuary with a fine reredos with carved angels and a floating canopy. Velarde’s attention to detail can be seen in the design of the chrome altar rails, the fluted holy water stoups, the font, and even the chrome mantles over the recessed radiators in the aisles.
In 1922 Fr Benedict Cain was given the task of setting up the mission of St Monica. This was established in a large Victorian house at 3, Breeze Hill, next door to Christ Church, the Anglican parish church. A site for a church was soon acquired at Fernhill, then on the edge of Bootle, next to Derby Park (the 22-acre park had been given to the town by Lord Derby in 1895). A new temporary church was opened by Bishop Dobson in October 1923.
The parish soon outgrew the temporary church and fundraising began for a larger and more permanent replacement. In 1935 Archbishop Downey laid the foundation stone, and on 4 October 1936 he returned to open and bless F.X. Velarde’s new church. Various parishioners presented gifts to the church, including the sanctuary lamp, statue of Our Lady, the altar rails and the Stations of the Cross. The presbytery was built later, in 1953.
See list description, below. Additional information:
In 1984-5 the sanctuary was reordered, with the original high altar cut down and reused as a smaller forward altar, ambo and font on a raised dais at the liturgical east end of the nave. The original sanctuary otherwise remains unaltered, with the tabernacle placed on the east wall beneath the original canopy, on a pedestal made from the original altar. The oak chairs for the president and acolytes behind the forward altar appear to be original.
The list description does not fully capture the quality and consistency of design of this remarkable building. Velarde’s attention to detail can be seen in the design of the chrome altar rails, the fluted holy water stoups and font, and even the chrome mantles over the recessed radiators in the aisles (it is desirable that the modern replacement heaters should be replaced in due course with ones more closely matching the surviving original cast iron radiators).
Entry amended by AHP 4.12.2020
Summary:Roman Catholic church, 1935-1936, by Francis Xavier Velarde. Pale buff brick with painted-concrete dressings, green pantile roof. Modernist style influenced by the work of Dominikus Bohm in Germany
Reasons for Designation:The Roman Catholic Church of St Monica, constructed in 1935-1936 to the designs of Francis Xavier Velarde, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: Architectural interest: * the church’s impressive rectilinear lines and geometrical block-like forms, towering windows, and the dominance of its brickwork create a building with a striking yet simple monumentality; * it is the masterpiece of Francis Xavier Velarde, one of the most original ecclesiastical architects of the C20; * the principal facade of the west tower is dominated by three exceptional sculptures of angels with their heads bowed by the notable C20 sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith, whilst the interior contains high-quality works by WL Stevenson, including stations of the cross, a statue of the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus, and angel reliefs that complement and enhance the boldness of the interior; * the impressive and lofty interior has a powerful sense of space that cleverly uses key architectural features, such as the narrow steel ceiling ribs and rhythmical nave arcades to draw the eye towards the most sacred part of the church, the sanctuary, whilst natural light is specifically used to convey theological ideas; * Velarde’s high-quality fixtures and fittings survive, including dramatic raised chequerboard panelling on the east wall, a striking suspended baldacchino, chrome Art deco rails and gates, and a stone blockwork altar (now reduced in size) that mirrors the strong geometrical lines of the building itself. Historic interest: * the building’s bold Modernist design, influenced by Velarde’s own spirituality, is unlike anything seen in English church design in the mid-1930s and was inspired by the work of the German Brick Expressionist architect Dominikus Bohm.
History: In 1922 Father Benedict Cain established the mission of St Monica in a large Victorian house at 3 Breeze Hill, Bootle next to the Anglican parish church. A site for a church was subsequently acquired at Fernhill on the edge of Bootle next to Derby Park, which had been gifted to the town by Lord Derby in 1895. A temporary church was constructed on the site in 1923, but as new housing estates grew up around and the parish enlarged, the church quickly became too small. A fundraising campaign was thus started to raise the funds for a larger permanent church, including a scheme where families could buy an individual brick or series of bricks and were given a plan of the church showing the location of the bricks. In 1935 Archbishop Downey laid the foundation stone and on 4 October 1936 he returned to open and bless the Church of St Monica. The church, which is inspired by the brick expressionist churches of Dominikus Bohm in Germany, was designed by Francis Xavier Velarde and was built by LH and R Roberts of Islington, Greater London. The temporary church remained on the site until the early 1950s when it was demolished and construction of a presbytery began on the cleared site in 1953; the presbytery is reportedly not by Velarde. The sanctuary was re-ordered in the 1980s and the altar moved forward to its current position at the east end of the nave.
Details:Roman Catholic church, 1935-1936, by Francis Xavier Velarde. Pale buff brick with painted-concrete dressings, green pantile roof. Modernist style influenced by the work of Dominikus Bohm in Germany. PLAN: the church is located at the junction of Fernhill Road and Earl Road to the north of Derby Park, and is aligned east-west with the entrance at the east end and the sanctuary at the west end. A later detached presbytery, which lies to the north and is connected to the church via an enclosed walkway is excluded from the listing. The following geographical references in the description of the church will be referred to in their liturgical sense. EXTERIOR: the Roman Catholic Church of St Monica is a substantial building, almost cathedral-like in scale. The church consists of a nave with aisles, a narthex and massive wide tower at the west end, and a sanctuary with north chapel and south organ/choir loft. The nave and sanctuary have pitched roofs (that to the sanctuary is slightly lower in height), whilst the rest of the church is composed of flat roofs with parapets incorporating brick rowlock-course copings. All the windows have square-patterned leaded glazing (most with pale pink and blue coloured glass), and all but the clerestory windows and narrow slit windows at the top of the tower have painted-concrete surrounds. The west end is formed of a flat-roofed narthex projection with a central entrance with a doorcase incorporating a canted tympanum panel decorated with a carved relief depiction of St Monica (probably by WL Stevenson). The doorway contains square-panel oak doors (painted black on the external face, but unpainted on the internal face) with slender vertical bronze handles, and is flanked by 2-light mullioned windows with angled sills. A series of seven small stones exist below the narthex’s parapet with carved symbols and a date stone inscribed ‘JCF 1936’. Surmounting the roof of the narthex is a tall metal crucifix. Rising above and behind the narthex is a massive west tower lit by exceptionally tall 8-light mullion and transom windows arranged in four rows of two with a zig-zag frieze and simple shallow flat hood above; three windows exist to the west front and one window to each north and south side return. All the lights have round-arched heads and each light is divided into six leaded panes (replicated in the church’s other windows). Above the west windows are three identical, very tall and slender angel relief sculptures with their heads bowed by the sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith. Above the windows on the north and side side returns are fin-like eagle sculptures, with four narrow slit windows with painted-concrete sills to the uppermost part of the tower. The tower is flanked by low flat-roofed north-west and south-west entrance porches with doorcases incorporating a zig-zag and semi-circular relief frieze to the head and windows lighting the side returns. Both have square-panel entrance doors in the same style as those to the west entrance; the porch to the south-west side is larger than that to the north-west side and incorporates a former baptistery (now a shrine). The 6-bay nave has near full-height aisles to each north and south side lit by exceptionally tall 8-light mullion and transom windows arranged in four rows of two, with round-arched heads to the two uppermost lights. The windows have a zig-zag frieze above and a shallow flat hood in the same style as those to the tower. The side aisles have flat roofs and square-topped buttresses surmounted by triangular copings that rise above the parapet and connect to the nave roof. Each buttress is pierced transversely by a round-arched opening, forming a series of flying buttresses. Set behind to the nave wall is a clerestory formed of small paired lancet windows. The sanctuary has a 21-light mullion and transom north window arranged in three rows of seven (each light has a round-arched head) and a blind east gable end. Projecting on the south side is a flat-roofed organ/choir loft lit by a similarly styled 12-light mullioned and transomed east window arranged in three rows of four. A low flat-roofed chapel projects out from the north side of the sanctuary with an entrance doorway in the same style as those to the north-west and south-west porches, but containing a single door. To the left of the doorway is a 7-light mullioned window and to the right is a single-light window; both windows have painted-concrete surrounds incorporating angled sills. At the church’s south-east corner is a low flat-roofed vestry and sacristy projection with an 8-light mullioned window with small paned glazing to the east wall. INTERIOR: internally the church has exposed brick walls and doors of waxed oak. The nave, side aisles, north chapel, organ/choir loft and vestry areas have parquet flooring in double herringbone and brick half-bond patterns, with square-basket parquet flooring to the sanctuary. The former baptistery (now a shrine to St Monica) has a green, white and blue patterned terrazzo floor, whilst a plainer terrazzo floor exists to the narthex. The narthex, which lies at the west end of the church, has been partitioned at each north and south end to create a disabled toilet and a small shop. A large round-arched east opening with glazed metal double doors leads through into the base of the tower and the nave beyond, which are also accessed via the north-west and south-west entrances. The tower has a flat ceiling with ribs arranged in a grid formation. A metal ladder stair with intermediary gantries is located to the north-east corner and provides access to the tower’s roof. On its east side the tower opens up to the near full width of the nave with a giant round-arched opening (later structural supports have been added at the arch apex on each east and west side). Located off the north end of the tower is a former baptistery (now a shrine to St Monica), which has a round-arched entrance and chrome Art Deco gates (now painted). The nave is an exceptionally tall space with a flat ceiling incorporating thin steel ribs that continue across the sanctuary ceiling where they are partly gilded. The original pendant lights were removed and replaced by spotlights, which have since been replaced by pendant lights (installed in 2016) brought in from another church and altered to be sympathetic to the interior of St Monica’s. Round-arched arcades exist to each north and south side of the nave and are formed of tall internal buttresses separated by transverse tunnel vaults. The aisles are pierced through the internal buttresses; that to the south is a full aisle, whilst that to the north is a passage aisle only. A shallow clerestory exists above. Low-relief Eric Gill-style stations of the cross by WL Stevenson adorn the buttresses, whilst large stone angel reliefs affixed to the nave’s north and south walls at the eats end of the nave arcades are probably also by WL Stevenson. The reliefs are set above low arched openings leading to the north chapel and the vestry and choir loft access on the S side. Block-like oak bench pews provided by the builders LH and R Roberts exist to the nave and south aisle, and both aisles have radiator recesses containing a mixture of original cast-iron radiators and modern heaters, with narrow chrome mantels to each recess. Confessionals lie towards the west end of the south aisle, each one with square rooflights (now boarded over). One of the confessionals has been knocked through to create access to an enclosed external walkway* connecting to the presbytery* (the presbytery and walkway are not of special interest and are excluded from the church’s listing). A lady chapel lies at the east end of the south aisle with an altar and a near life-size Eric Gill-style sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus, which is reportedly by WL Stevenson. At the east end of the nave is a large stepped, T-shaped dais/platform surmounted by a geometric blockwork stone altar and lectern, which were formed from the original altar that was moved forward in the 1980s and reduced in size. An octagonal font lies to the south-west of the altar platform. A north chapel is accessed through a tall round-arched opening at the east end of the north aisle, and has full-height chrome Art Deco gates (now painted). The chapel is a narrow space with a ribbed barrel-vaulted ceiling and an external doorway in the north wall. The chapel’s south wall incorporates a 7-light internal window with round-headed lights and an Art Deco metal grille in the same style as the chapel entrance gates sandwiched in between side-hung casements. The window looks through into the sanctuary and lies opposite the chapel’s external north window. At the eats end of the chapel is a terrazzo altar platform with a stone altar with metallic red panels to the front surmounted by a 1938 painted triptych depicting English martyrs. A timber wall panel behind is decorated with gold relief stars and crowns. The sanctuary, which lies beyond a squared arch, has Art Deco polished-chrome rails with a terrazzo floor set behind in the same style as that to the narthex. A round-arched doorway on the south side, which leads to the vestry, has a square Art Deco clock mounted to the wall above left. A flight of low grey-marble steps leads up to the main body of the sanctuary, which has an east wall composed of raised off-white panels arranged in a rectangular chequerboard pattern with fluted gold-painted Ionic pilasters. Affixed to the wall are six angel reliefs by WL Stevenson that are painted gold. Set to the centre in front of the east wall is the original stepped altar platform with a pedestal made from the original stone altar, which is surmounted by the tabernacle. A high baldacchino above is suspended from the ceiling on metal chains incorporating stars, and has a white, gold and yellow coffered underside incorporating square and 8-pointed star motifs. The baldacchino also incorporates decorative gold finials in the form of pierced roundels containing a star with ribbons set below. The sanctuary’s north window incorporates three black outline drawings of St Gregory, St Augustine and St Aidan on glass by Mrs WG Holford, Rome scholar, which consist of a double layer of glass with the drawing set in between. The south wall of the sanctuary has a massive 21-light unglazed internal mullioned and transomed window in the same style as the external window on the north side of the chancel. An organ/choir loft exists behind, which houses an organ by J W Walker and Sons. The vestry rooms contain some original built-in cupboards and a small late-C20 kitchenette. A concrete open-well stair with a metal balustrade leads up to the choir/organ loft and a toilet above, where there is ladder access out onto the roof.
Architect: F. X. Velarde
Original Date: 1936
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade I