Telegraph Road, Heswall, Wirral CH60
A simple but well-proportioned building by E. Bower Norris & F. M. Roberts, with a tall nave and tower in a prominent location on the approach to Heswall. The church has a calm and lofty interior which retains its original character and has been sympathetically reordered.
The parish of Our Lady and St John was formed in 1914. At first Mass was said in the ballroom of the Victoria Hotel in Lower Heswall, but two years later the venue was transferred to the King’s Hall cinema in Telegraph Road. In time the first church was erected, an ex-army hut or ‘tin tabernacle’, on the site of the present church, though a little further up the hill and perpendicular to the present orientation. Generous gifts of plate, vestments, altar frontals and processional items soon adorned the little church.
Plans had already been made for a permanent church when in 1938 the local authority began work on widening Telegraph Road, which necessitated the demolition of the tin church. As a result the parishioners built a new temporary church, which took a fortnight, in spite of the roof being blown off in the ‘Equinoxial gales’.
The construction of the new permanent church was equally rapid, the foundation stone being laid on 18 March and the church opening on 4 November 1939. However, it opened without its marble altar and altar rails, which had been delayed ‘somewhere in Europe’, due to wartime disruption, and did not arrive until 1950. The architects were E. Bower Norris & F. M. Reynolds, and the contractor was James Danson of Birkenhead.
The church is in a simplified Romanesque style, with a tall five-bay nave, narrow side aisles, a chancel, narthex with west gallery and a northwest tower. It is built of brown brick laid in Flemish bond, with a red pantile roof. The main entrance at the west end is a round-arched portal with a stone doorcase and a mosaic tympanum with the papal symbols supplied by Ludwig Oppenheimer. A rose window above lights the gallery. Additional entrances are provided in the northwest facade of the tower and a northeast porch. A former baptistery projects at the southwest corner. The nave is lit by clerestory lancet windows.
The high clerestory windows accentuate the lofty scale of the interior, which is plainly treated. The walls are smooth plastered and painted, and the floors are of wood block. The sanctuary, narthex and former baptistery are surfaced in mosaic by Oppenheimer (though the sanctuary floor is now carpeted). Behind the altar in a shallow flat niche is a crucifix flanked by mourning figures of Our Lady and St John. The marble altar, communion rail, baptismal font and holy water stoups, which were designed by the architects and supplied by Dinelli & Figli of Pietrasancta in Italy, only arrived in Heswall in 1950. The altar has been brought forward and reduced in length so that it sits on only two of the original four square marble columns. The other two columns are now used as pedestals to support the font and lectern. To the left of the sanctuary is the Sacred Heart Chapel and to the right the right the Lady Chapel.
Symbols of the early Christian church and the evangelists are seen in the window heads. The four in the sanctuary depict the triumph of the Cross through the supreme sacrifice and the Peace of Christ, together with the survival of the early church. The rose window represents Our Lady and St John. The baptistery window of Christ’s baptism is now in the sacristy. The original pendant light fittings with translucent shades and wrought iron brackets, made by the Beaten Metal Co., remain. The pews and some of the seat furniture too is original and was designed by the architects. The baptistery, which still retains its decorative metal gates, is now used as a repository.
Architect: E. Bower Norris & F. M. Reynolds
Original Date: 1939
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed