Building » Waterloo – St Thomas of Canterbury

Waterloo – St Thomas of Canterbury

Great George’s Road, Waterloo, Liverpool 22

Stone-built church in fourteenth century Gothic style, one of a number built in the Archdiocese from designs by Edmund Kirby. Although the external design and internal planning are conventional for their time, the church contains a number of fine internal furnishings, notably the high altar and side altars, made by Boulton of Cheltenham from designs by Kirby.

Waterloo grew from the mid-nineteenth century as a seaside suburb of Liverpool. A mission was established in 1868 by Fr Albert Bennett and the foundation stone for the present church laid by Cardinal Manning on 24 August 1875. Manning returned to open the completed church on 19 August 1877. At the west end of the church there is a monument to Richard Honan (died 1973) ‘a munificent donor towards the building of this church’.

The  architect was  Edmund  Kirby,  responsible also  for  the  design of churches  at Hindsford, Parbold, Chorley, Aintree and elsewhere. The church was richly fitted out over time. The high altar and reredos were added in 1879 (consecrated by Bishop O’Reilly on 1 December that year), from Kirby’s designs and made by Boulton of Cheltenham, at a cost of £1,150. Bishop O’Reilly consecrated the church (and the Sacred Heart altar) on 14 September 1892. Mosaic panels were added to the reredos in about 1920 in memory of Fr Edmund Walsh. The Lady Altar (again by Boulton from Kirby’s design) was installed in 1893 or 1894. The Stations of the Cross (which have been attributed to N.H. Westlake) were installed in 1881, as was the organ; by Isaac Abbot of Leeds (cost £800). White marble communion rails were added in the early 1880s and a large Portland stone pulpit in 1947. These last two were removed at the time of the 1982 reordering by Richard O’Mahony, although the communion rails were retained at the front and sides of the side chapels. In 2005 a new glazed confessional was built in the south transept.


The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical terminology.

The church is built of course buff sandstone with pink sandstone dressings, under a slate roof. It is built in fourteenth century Gothic style and consists of nave, north and south aisles, canted chancel with flanking chapels, short transepts and a western porch/narthex. There is no tower. The west front faces the street and has a gabled porch  projecting from a low  lean-to  roof, with paired  doorways  and  a quatrefoil oculus. Above this, two tall windows with Geometrical bar tracery flanking a central canopied niche containing a polychrome statue of St Thomas. In the gable, a circular window with Geometrical plate tracery. The flanking elevations are more simply treated, with few and small lancet openings to the aisles, and two plain lancets to each bay at clerestory level. Projecting gabled transepts with Geometrical tracery beyond. Canted east end with three groups of paired trefoil lancets surmounted by sexfoils.

The entrance porch leads into a lobby, with doors right and left into the church. The nave arcade is of five bays, with circular piers of polished granite and naturalistic carved foliate stone capitals (now painted cream). Above this, two clerestory lights per bay, with plain glass. Waggon roof, with the bays marked by ribs carried down on wall posts to stone corbels projecting from a moulded course above the arcades. Projecting timber gallery at the west end, supporting the organ of 1881. Short transepts project from the western bay on either side of the nave. Moulded chancel arch with sanctuary beyond, flanked by Sacred Heart and Lady Chapels.

The church  is notable for the quality and quantity of  its late nineteenth and early twentieth century furnishings. These include:

  • The fine marble High Altar and reredos of 1879 (not 1893, as stated in The Buildings of England), designed by Kirby and made by Boulton. The reredos has statues of the four Evangelists, St George and St Thomas under canopied niches. Tall central tabernacle throne with the symbols of the four Evangelists repeated on the doors of the tabernacle, surmounted by a marble Pelican in her Piety (photo bottom left). The mensa was removed and the area made good in marble as part of the 1982 reordering, with a panel of St George and the Dragon reset in the centre. Other altar carvings of the Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket and King Henry II doing penance at the saint’s tomb were reused in the new forward altar and ambo.
  • Five mosaic panels added to the reredos in about 1920, in memory of Fr Edmund Walsh. Green geometrical patterns with inlaid mother-of-pearl.
  • The Lady Altar to the north, also a Kirby/Boulton collaboration. With a large pieta under a Gothic canopy forming the backdrop.
  • The Sacred Heart altar to the south, with marble angels holding a cartouche on the frontal, and triple Gothic canopies over the figures of the Sacred Heart and flanking angels, dating from 1892 and also presumed to be a Kirby/Boulton collaboration.
  • The surviving marble altar rails at the front and the sides of the flanking chapels.
  • A good collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century stained glass, makers as yet not identified. These include the ‘Passion window’ in the four central lights of the apse (c.1877) and flanking windows illustrating scenes from the life of St Thomas (c1882 and 1906),  The transfiguration in the south transept (c1925), Our Lady with St John and St Patrick in the Lady Chapel (1923), Our Lady of Lourdes with St Peter and St John the Baptist at the west end of the north aisle (c1923) and the so-called ‘Sacred Heart’ window at the west end of the south aisle.
  • The font, c1877, made from a solid block of Shap granite, moved from the baptistery (at the west end of the north aisle) to the second bay of the north side of the nave in 1982, when it replaced the 1947 pulpit – the front of which survives as a flower stand at the west end.
  • In the north aisle, a fine Gothic monument to Fr Bennett (died 1902), founder of the Mission, with low-relief marble carving.
  • Good Stations of the Cross, 1881, painted on slate panels with gilded frames, which have been attributed to N.H Westlake.
  • Unusually, a papal throne. The Presidential chair in the sanctuary was made by Ormsby’s of Scarisbrick for use by Pope John Paul II at the Mass he said at Liverpool Airport on 30 May 1982. It was presented to the parish by Archbishop  Worlock  to mark  the  1982  reordering. Ormsby’s  subsequently made the two side chairs and a credence table.

*The church closed for parish worship in 2020. The building will become the local centre for the Emmaus Project*

Entry amended by AHP 18.12.2020

Heritage Details

Architect: Edmund Kirby

Original Date: 1875

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed