Fernhill Road, Bootle, Liverpool 20
One of the major churches of the 20th 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 Father 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 October 4th 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.
The exterior is faced with 2 inch greyish bricks from Hadley, Shropshire, the half-inch joints being originally in lime mortar mixed with red Parbold sand.
• The doors throughout are of waxed oak, and the paving consists of 2 ft x 2 ft concrete flags.
• The angel reliefs attached to the reredos are by W.L Stevenson of Liverpool.
• The Eric Gill-influenced Stations and statue of Our Lady are also by Stevenson.
• The English Martyrs chapel lies to the ritual north (geographical south) of the sanctuary; it retains its original iron gates, seating, altar and triptych reredos with paintings of St Thomas More, St John Fisher etc, signed GW, dated 1938.
• The drawings on glass in the sanctuary windows are by Mrs. W.G. Holford, Rome scholar in decorative painting. A double layer of glass is used, with the drawing between.
• The builder was L.H. & R. Roberts, who also provided the original choir stalls and the plain and solid oak benches of the nave.
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 capture the quality and consistency of the 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).
Last updated: 29.11.17.
Architect: F. X. Velarde
Original Date: 1936
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: I