Atherton Street, New Brighton, Wallasey, Wirral, Cheshire CH45
An architecturally ambitious and little-altered Catholic church of 1935, designed by E. Bower Norris. Monumental in scale and Baroque in its spatial conception, the building is modelled and ornamented with extreme simplicity. Attention internally is focussed on the high altar and side chapels, which are clad in sumptuous marbles. Built on an elevated site, with its hemispherical dome, the church is a landmark seen from both land and sea, and is cited as a navigational reference point on the marine chart for the Liverpool Bay.
In 1879 a room was rented in Egerton Street where Mass was said for Catholics of New Brighton. In 1881 a church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, and designed by Edmund Kirby was opened in Hope Street near the junction with Rowson Street. Shortly afterwards a school was erected close by. In 1909 Fr Thomas Mullins was appointed rector, whose vision was to build a great church that would serve as a beacon for Catholicism far and wide.
In the early twentieth century New Brighton was a rapidly-growing seaside resort and a commuter suburb for Liverpool. Early after his arrival in New Brighton, Fr Mullins established a new church fund, but his ambition was such that it took many years before he was able to embark on the building project. It is said that his initial brief brought him into conflict with the diocese, and original drawings show that he intended the church to be one bay longer than its present length, and the presbytery three storeys rather than two. He succeeded, however, in his desire for a great dome with a span of 86 feet, which had been opposed by the Diocese on cost grounds. The site selected was in Atherton Street at the top of St George’s Mount, at 170 feet above sea level the highest point of New Brighton. It had previously been occupied by a mid-nineteenth century mansion, which had been acquired for a Cenacle Convent by nuns from France. It later became an emergency centre for the treatment of wounded soldiers in the First World War. E. Bower Norris was appointed architect and was instructed by Fr Mullins to design a new church in the Baroque style. The foundation stone was laid in July 1932, and the church opened in August 1935. The builder was James Milestone of Liscard, and the cost was £58,000.
The Kirby church in Hope Street was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, and after the war the school was moved to Atherton Street, alongside the new church. In 2006 the church was threatened with closure, a prospect that met with local opposition and led to a successful application for it to be listed. Following closure in 2008, discussions were held with interested parties in order to identify a suitable use for the building. This has recently resulted in an agreement to lease the property for a period of 20 years to the Institute of Christ the King, a society dedicated to the celebration of the traditional (1962) Latin Mass. It will form a base for the Institute’s work in the NW Region.
See list entry, below. The church is Baroque only in its layout, which is cruciform and derives from the Roman Gesù type. The structure is of reinforced concrete (see figure 1), clad externally in brick. Roofs are concrete barrel vaults with asphalt coverings.
Above the crossing is a copper-clad concrete shell dome set on a tall drum ringed by paired pilasters. The transepts progressively step down in height and width, creating spaces for chapels within the enclosure of the end gables.
The interior is grand and spacious, the nave measuring 40 feet long and 50 feet high to the barrel vault, whilst the dome rises to 86 feet above the sanctuary. At the west end is a narthex with choir gallery, and narrow processional aisles run to each side of the nave arcade with provision for six side chapels. Decoration is concentrated solely on the high altar, reredos and two main chapels, which are all clad in sumptuous coloured marbles. The sanctuary too is paved in marble, and the high altar and altar rails remain unaltered, for the church escaped post-Vatican II reordering. On the Lady altar is a late seventeenth/early eighteenth century polychrome wooden sculpture of the Virgin and Child, probably Spanish or Portuguese. The Stations of the Cross are said in the listing description to be by George Thomas of Liverpool (the relief carving of the Baptism of Christ in the baptistery is probably from the same hand). The benches were introduced in the 1950s.
Original Date: 1935
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II