Building » Sefton Park – St Clare

Sefton Park – St Clare

Arundel Avenue, Sefton Park, Liverpool 17

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

One of the most important Catholic churches in England and amongst the most original and influential buildings of its date in the country.

The church was paid for by the brothers James and Francis Reynolds, who were Liverpool cotton brokers, at a cost of £7,834. Leonard Stokes was Francis Reynolds’ godson.

The Sefton Park area is the setting for a group of late-nineteenth century churches of exceptional quality and interest. After the construction of Princes Park which commenced  in  1843,  followed  by  Sefton  Park  from  1867,  the  surrounding  area became a fashionable residential district. St Agnes, Ullet Road was built in 1883-85 for the Anglican community; the Unitarian Church, also on Ullet Road followed in 1896-99; and St Clare was built in 1889-90. All three of these important churches is listed Grade I. St Clare is not located on a main thoroughfare overlooking parkland like the other two churches, but is set a little further north, closer to Smithdown Road, and the poorer areas of housing where the Catholic community was more populous.

The immediate setting is very attractive, for the pedestrian approach from Arundel Avenue passes across a quiet garden, enclosed by stone walls. Attached at the north east corner, and forming an integrated design with the church, is the presbytery, domestic in scale, and Arts and Crafts in character. A drawing by Bidlake (hung in the presbytery), shows that the house was intended to be more elaborate. On the south side of the church is the modern parish centre.


Built of buff-coloured brick with stone dressings and a slate roof, this free-style late Gothic church of 1889-90 is one the most advanced of its date in the country. Tall and narrow, its sheer walls and large areas of blank masonry are relieved by window openings with late Decorated tracery of great delicacy and refinement. The east window, exceptionally high up, and partly filled with blank tracery has strange carved stone loops that droop like ropes at each side of the hoodmould. The west front has a large seven-light window with shields in panels below each light and a broadly weathered sill. The junction of church and presbytery is handled with great skill, where the complex grouping of elements is taken up above roof level to house an octagonal stair turret with a copper fleche.

The interior layout derives from Bodley’s St Augustine’s, Pendlebury of 1874, and thus from Albi Cathedral in the use of wall piers with narrow passage aisles behind. The piers are linked by semi-circular arches to form a low arcade that supports a continuous balcony running along each side of the nave. The bases of the piers and the triangular mouldings of the shafts that rise up to the top of the walls are unprecedented, and far removed from conventional Gothic forms. A drawing of the interior by Bidlake shows that Stokes had intended it to be faced entirely in stone, but presumably the budget did not permit this, for everything above the spring of the arcades is plastered and painted white.

The originality of the architecture is developed further in the design of the fittings. Stokes’s polygonal stone pulpit is striking for its battered and attenuated lines, whilst the font is carved from alabaster in the form of a chalice with a domed copper cover. The  reredos  to  the  high  altar is a  large  triptych  combining  painting  by  Robert Anning Bell and relief sculpture by George Frampton. The marble high altar dates from the 1920s, and the altar rails from 1933. The chapels have marble altars from the interwar period, at which time the pews too were installed (Stokes intended moveable seats).

List descriptions


G.V. I

Church. 1888-90. L. Stokes. Brick with stone dressings, slate roof. Single vessel with small north transept and north and south chapels in a free late Gothic style. The north face has 6 deeply recessed windows of 4 lights at the upper level with Perpendicular tracery but sharply pointed heads. The small gabled transept has a 3-light window and pilaster buttresses and a stair turret ending at the lintel of the window. In the angle of transept and nave is a small octagonal turret with copper fleche. Before the 1st 2 windows is a low chapel with round-headed 5-light window and a 7-light window slightly pointed, in the return wall. At the western end is a small gabled porch. The west front is simply treated with a 7-light window in a deep splay with broad weathered sill. This has ornate tracery and 2 sharply
chamfered king mullions. Shields in panels below each light.South front is organised as north front but a lean-to accommodates the confessionals. East front has 5-light window with complex tracery in a relieving arch,the
springing of which rises from the weathered sill.

Interior of 10 bays with waggon roof over wide nave and supported by deep splayed internal buttresses which are pierced to form passage aisles. The arcade which supports the combined gallery and clerestory is round arched with simple mouldings dying into the piers. East window with crucifixion and saints. Marble altar rail passes across the width of nave and chapels. High altar and reredos of the same material surmounted by large triptych. Polygonal stone pulpit with battered panelled sides and open tracery above.
Marble font, a bowl simply treated with copper cover. One of the most original and influential buildings of its date in the country.

Listing NGR: SJ3779488649



Presbytery. 1890. L. Stokes. Brick with slate roof. Runs north from the chancel of church with 2 large windows to each floor. These are casements, with glazing bars forming an arch in the centre, but flat-headed with a course of bricks on edge over, to ground floor, and simpler windows to
1st floor. Decoration is confined to the stone-dressed doorway which has a deep splay and sharply pointed arch. The hood mould ends in stops carved with date. Door with ornamental hinges, pierced in a rose pattern for glazing. External stack on gable and rear gabled wing with swept
roofs but all simply detailed.

Listing NGR: SJ3781488671

Heritage Details

Architect: Leonard Stokes

Original Date: 1889

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade I