Building » Grassendale – St Austin

Grassendale – St Austin

Aigburth Road, Liverpool 17

Built in 1838, St Austin’s is one of the oldest churches in the Archdiocese, and has a distinguished history of service to the Catholic community of South Liverpool. 

A simple Gothic church of pre-archaeological form and character, it  contains a number of art works and furnishings of high quality (not mentioned in the present list description), including  the Lady Chapel decorations and Italian Baroque incised marble flooring, the Giles Gilbert Scott War Memorial, the Robert Thompson altar table, and the Julia Carter Preston font. The presbytery too deserves recognition  for  the   quality  of  its  interior,  in  particular  the  oval staircase.

When built, the church catered for a predominantly rural area. The land was given by Peter  Chaloner,  a  ship  builder,  and  several  members  of  the  Chaloner  family  are buried in the adjoining churchyard. The Mission was founded and is still served by the Benedictines. The church was opened by Bishop Briggs, Vicar Apostolic, on 27 June 1838.

Built in 1838, the original church forms a simple rectangle, built of red ashlar sandstone and brown brick, with a steep slated roof. The style is Gothic, but pre- Puginian, and its most striking feature is a pair of tall octagonal west turrets. A rose window occupies the west gable, and is flanked by two tall lancets. Attached to the west end is a later Gothic porch with angle buttresses and a coped gable containing a niche with a statue of the Virgin and Child. 

The side walls are buttressed and divided into five bays, each with a lancet window. A flat roofed porch, office and confessional with a lead fascia was added at the south east corner in the 1980s.

The interior is box-like, with a shallow recess for a sanctuary, and a west gallery. The sanctuary is set within a Gothic arch, and is flanked by two smaller arches, on the north side containing a Lady Chapel, and on the south side a blocked doorway.

The Lady Chapel, which was formerly lit by a glass lantern, is elaborately panelled in oak, made up from fragments, including a pierced frieze, possibly late medieval, a coffered ceiling and mid-19th   century canopy work. The floor is paved in marmi mischi (coloured marble inlay), of the late 16th  or early 17th century from Southern Italy or Sicily, and bearing the emblem of a Cardinal. Behind a statue of the Virgin are Victorian paintings of scenes in the life of the Virgin set in canopied frames.

The interior was re-ordered in the early 1990s, when new seating was installed, and a dais  was formed projecting into the nave. The altar table, made by Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson was brought from Ampleforth Abbey at that time. The main reredos, which resembles an organ case is made from fragments of stained timber, though the result is of lesser quality than the Lady Chapel. Only the gallery, with its plain benches and panelled front survives from the original interior.

The organ, which is situated in the west gallery, was built by Wadsworth of Manchester  and  dates  from 1887. It was turned sideways in 1899. After being damaged in an arson attack in 2004, the instrument was stripped down and restored. The west window has coloured glass, and there is a stained glass window of the Baptism of Christ dated 1858.

The church is also notable for two 20th century furnishings: a large War Memorial tablet by Giles Gilbert Scott with an alabaster figure of the Virgin set on a background of ‘porphyry’ and green marble, and a font containing a pottery bowl decorated in sgraffito by Julia Carter Preston that commemorates the service at St Austin’s of Fr Henry King dating from 1980.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established, built under the supervision of Dom Bede Prest OSB

Original Date: 1838

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II