School Lane, Formby, Liverpool 37
Church built in transitional Lombard Romanesque/Gothic style by the distinguished Catholic architect Henry Clutton, on land given by Thomas Weld-Blundell of Blundell Hall. Although externally plain, the interior volume impresses, and contains a number of features and furnishings of great quality and interest. Chief among these is the fitting out in the 1920s of the baptistry and Motherhood Chapel, by artists associated with C. R. Ashbee’s Gloucestershire School of Handicraft. The church was altered and adapted after the Second World War by the notable Liverpool architect F. X. Velarde. Catholic worship has taken place here since 1686, when the first chapel (now the presbytery) was built. Together with the churchyard and its structures, the Rectory with its outbuildings and the presbytery, the church forms part of a group of considerable architectural, townscape and historical interest.
During Penal times Catholics in the Formby area were served by priests sheltered at nearby Catholic houses, notably Ince Blundell, Alt Grange and (until the Formby family became Anglican) Formby Hall. In 1686, with the short-lived easing of restrictions on Catholic observance, a chapel was built by the Blundell family in the present School Lane. This building, much altered, survives as the presbytery. With the accession of William and Mary this it became a barn and then a cottage, before being reclaimed as a chapel in the 1780s.
The present church was built by Mgr James Carr, who took over the Formby Mission in 1862. Before that he had been sent to the Isle of Man, where in 1857-9 he built the church of St Mary at Douglas, from designs by the London architect Henry Clutton. The land for the new church at Formby was given by Thomas Weld-Blundell of Ince Blundell, who also gave £1500 towards the cost of the building and £100 towards altar furniture. Mgr Carr again employed Clutton, a well-connected Catholic convert who was brother-in-law to Cardinal Manning. The foundation stone was laid in 1863 and the building opened on 14 August 1864 (the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption) by the Bishop of Liverpool. It was built by Parker & Parker of Liverpool, with seating for 450, and the total cost was over £3500.
The church was relatively cheaply built, and designed to be augmented and enriched as funds allowed. The capitals of the nave columns were originally left plain, only receiving their enrichment in 1902 (when an organ was also installed in the western gallery). It is possible that the south porch and the lean-to addition running along the outside of the south aisle, housing confessionals, were also built about this time. In 1907 a new High Altar was consecrated by Bishop Whiteside and in 1916 side altars and a tabernacle installed in memory of Mgr Carr (who died in 1913 and is buried outside the church). In 1923 the baptistery was built, again in memory of Mgr Carr, at a cost of just over £1779. The decoration of the Baptistry was carried out by Paul Woodroffe, one of the craftsmen associated with C. R. Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft at Chipping Campden (which dissolved in 1908). Three years later the apsidal Chapel of the Motherhood of Our Lady was added, giving off the south aisle at the west end. Here the sculpture of Our Lady with the infant Jesus is by Alec Miller, also associated with the Guild of Handicraft.
A programme of works undertaken from 1947 under the direction of F. X. Velarde included the rebuilding of the organ gallery and the introduction of glazed vestibule doors at the main entrance. The interior was redecorated in light colours, overlaying the original polychromy (some of which has been revealed in the course of present redecoration). New statues of Our Lady and St Joseph were installed over their respective side altars and new altar rails and furniture introduced.
In 1991 the church was reordered by Richard O’Mahony, with the removal of the High Altar and the altar rails. St Joseph’s Chapel became the Lady Chapel and the original Lady Chapel the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The font was moved from the baptistery to its present position under the west gallery. A new meeting room was also built at this time.
In 2007 the baptistry was damaged by fire but has now been repaired. In 2008 the church is again undergoing a major internal refurbishment.
Architect: Henry Clutton
Original Date: 1863
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed