Building » Walton – St Francis de Sales

Walton – St Francis de Sales

Hale Road, Walton, Liverpool 4

A large and in some respects unusual Gothic design by Pugin & Pugin, showing northern European influences. It is relatively unaltered and forms part of an impressive group with the archway, presbytery and school.

A temporary chapel was opened on 16 December 1883, by Mgr Fisher, the Vicar General, and was in a stable lent by a J. Morgan, who later became a Jesuit priest. ‘For four years it served the needs of the growing Catholic population in a district which, centuries before, was the cradle of Liverpool Catholicism’  (Burke, Catholic History of Liverpool, 1910, 237). In 1887 a school-chapel in Hale Road was opened, followed by a presbytery in 1903 and finally a new church, built to the designs of Pugin & Pugin, in 1917.

In 1872 the Catholic population of Walton stood at 56. By 1877 it had risen to 560, and by 1887, when the new school chapel opened, 2,400. Walton became part of Liverpool in 1895.


Built after the death of Peter Paul Pugin (1904), when the practice was taken over by Cuthbert Welby Pugin and Sebastian Pugin Powell. Large church in Northern European-influenced version of Decorated Gothic. Quarry-faced red sandstone, with blue Westmorland slate roofs. The church consists of nave, aisles, apsidal sanctuary and side chapels; there is no tower.

The external design expresses the internal layout. Thus the canted sanctuary is blind so as not to take light from the enormous reredos and Benediction throne over the original high altar. The three external hipped cross gables of the flank elevation are a reflection of the unusual internal arcade arrangement of alternating conventional arches (with clerestory windows over) and high and wide arches, creating an almost transept-like appearance in every other bay. Pevsner states (p. 489) that ‘the principle is really that of de Keyser’s Amsterdam churches, but translated into a rather lifeless Gothic’.

The church shows a fine attention to detail. Thus, within each of the three gables of the flank elevation there is a little gablet filled with tracery. Below this, the main aisle windows and clerestory windows have Decorated tracery, within segmental rather than pointed openings. The visual effect is somewhat spoilt by the polycarbonate window protection which oversails the tracery. In the west window there is a fine rose window with elaborate Decorated tracery; canopied niche below.

The church is entered via a projecting single-storey porch at the ritual southwest corner. It leads into a wide a spacious interior, the vista dominated by the great reredos and altar at the east end, with pinnacles and niches, presumably designed by Pugin & Pugin. The rather lifeless quality of the interior, as described by Pevsner, might be attributable primarily to the uniform painted finish; a small area of paint removal in the sanctuary area hints at the gorgeous polychromy of the original design, surviving under the magnolia.

At the west end is a Hills organ raised on a gallery with a projecting centrepiece and openwork chamfered timber design. Giving off the south aisle, a baptistery with its original gates, now used as a bookshop and repository.

Over the alternating arcades of the five-bay nave is a continuous canted timber roof, the principles supported by wall posts and stone corbels. Throughout there is a high quality of carved woodwork; in the open arcading framing the entrances to the flanking the surviving Sacred Heart and Lady altars, in the dado rail around the aisles, doors to the sacristies, sanctuary seating and frames to the large painted early-twentieth century Stations of the Cross. Early or original stained glass windows, in the south aisle only.

Post-Vatican II reordering  has involved  no disturbance to the original high altar ensemble, but has involved the removal of the marble altar rails and their reinstatement (in part) under the gallery at the west end. There is a new stone forward altar and pulpit.

Heritage Details

Architect: Pugin & Pugin

Original Date: 1917

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed