The Original Parish Churches

Old Liverpool Churches @ allertonOak  
Old Liverpool Churches home page
allertonOak home page
Here we take a look at the five churches of the original Liverpool parish of 1699 that served the wards created in 1767: St. Nicholas, St. George, St. Peter, St. Thomas and St. John. Among these fine buildings, only the Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas has survived the ravages of time, albeit in a much modified form.
In the text below, whole paragraphs in italic are quotations from original sources, as follows:
LI   Lancashire Illustrated by S. Austin, J. Harwood and G. and C. Pyne, 1831.
SIL   The Stranger in Liverpool, Anon., 1841.
ROL   Recollections of Old Liverpool by a Nonagenarian, Anon., 1863.
The docks and St. George's Church c.1760
The church c.1750 with the old tavern in the churchyard
The original tower before its collapse in 1810 ...
... and the local waterfront at that time
The Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas, Pier Head
The Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas, commonly known as the Sailors' Church, is nowadays Liverpool Parish Church. There has been a church on the site for perhaps 1000 years, originally the chapel of St. Mary del Quay. At that time Liverpool was part of the parish of Walton and only became a separate Parish in 1699. The first church of St. Nicholas (the patron saint of mariners) on this site dated from 1361. In the first part of the 18th century it was a modest building with a square tower and spirelet, but a full spire had been added by 1747.
The body of St Nicholas's was rebuilt in the later 18th century and new bells installed in the tower. Tragically, the tower collapsed onto the congregation one Sunday morning in 1810 resulting in 25 deaths and as many serious injuries. The present tower (with its conspicuous weathervane in the form of a sailing ship) was completed in 1815 and, unlike the remainder of the church, escaped bombing during World War II. The church had been reconstructed by 1952.
  This is the oldest ecclesiastical foundation in the town, and was formerly a chapel of ease under Walton. Both the Church and Tower have been rebuilt since the date of their first erection. On the 11th of February, 1810, a few minutes before the commencement of divine service, the old tower suddenly fell upon the roof of the Church, burying in its ruins twenty-eight individuals, mostly children belonging to a charity school, who were at that moment entering the church. Since this fatal occurrence, a new tower has been erected [...]. The churchyard was formerly the boundary of the river Mersey, and it is recorded that a portion of it was washed away by a storm in 1565, an event not likely to occur again, as old father Neptune is now kept at arm's length by a furlong of embankment. [LI]
  Although not mentioned in 'Domesday Book', the original chapel of 'St. Nicholas and Our Lady' was, without doubt, in existence, and had been so long before that book was compiled. The first mention we find of it was at the date of 1050. For some centuries the chapel of 'St. Nicholas' - the patron saint of sailors - was the chapel of Ease to Walton, and it was not severed from it until 1699, when Liverpool was constituted a separate parish. In 1360 the chapel was taken down and a larger building erected. In 1361 the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield issued a licence to bury the dead in the chapel cemetery, to save them being taken to Walton. [...] In 1725 a new peal of bells was put up, cast at Bristol. They arrived by sea, the old bells being sent thither by the same route. [...] In 1749 the churchyard was enlarged westward. The new ground is much lower than the other portion. [...] In 1765 a new organ was put up in the church, the old one being given to the Blue Coat School. In 1810 the steeple of this church fell, by which calamity twenty-four of the children of the Moorfields School, who were proceeding up the middle aisle, were killed, as were also three adults who were seated iu their pews preparatory to the commencement of the service. [...] The accident arose from the perversity of the ringers, who 'would set the bells going', although they were warned that the belfry and steeple were unsafe. The ringers being on the ground floor, successfully made their exeunt, having been warned of the coming catastrophe by the falling of a large stone on one of the bells, which prevented its swing. The dead children were laid out in a row in the churchyard, to be picked out by their parents. [SOL]
The new tower c.1830
As it is today


On Sunday morning, February 11, 1810, I was standing in St. Nicholas churchyard, in company with two old friends. We were waiting the arrival of the congregation, and the commencement of the morning service. The second bells were chiming. We had been looking on the river with that interest which is always felt in gazing upon such a scene. Our conversation had turned upon the benefits which a good sound Christian education must confer upon the lower classes of society. [...] Our remarks had been evoked by the neat appearance of the children of the Moorfields Schools, who had just passed near where we stood, as they entered the church. [...] We heard, as if above us, a smart crack. On looking round to ascertain the cause, a sight burst upon our view, that none who witnessed it could ever forget. The instant we turned, we beheld the church tower give way, on the south-west side, and immediately afterwards the spire fell with a frightful and appalling crash into the body of the building. The spire seemed at first to topple over, and then it dropped perpendicularly like a pack of cards into a solid heap, burying everything, as may be supposed, below it. There were many persons in the churchyard, waiting to enter the sacred edifice, and, like ourselves, were struck dumb with horror and dismay at the frightful catastrophe. We were soon aroused to a state of consciousness, and inaction gave way to exertion. In a very short time, the noise of the crash had brought hundreds of persons into the churchyard to ascertain the cause. Amidst the rising dust were heard the dreadful screams of the poor children who had become involved in the ruins, and not long after, their screams were added to by the frantic exclamations of parents and friends who, in an incredibly short time had hurried to the scene of the disaster. Crowds of people rushed into the churchyard, some hurrying to and fro, scarcely knowing what to fear or what to do. That the children were to be exhumed was an immediate thought, and as immediately carried ...
... into execution. Men of all ranks were seen, quite regardless of their Sunday clothes, busily employed in removing the ruins, gentlemen, merchants, tradesmen, shopmen and apprentices willingly aiding the sturdy labourers in their good work, and, in a short time, first one little sufferer, and then another, was dragged out from the mass of stone and brick and timber that lay in a confused heap. Twenty-eight little ones were at length brought out, of whom twenty-three were dead; five were alive, and were taken to the Infirmary, but of these, only three survived. They were horribly maimed, and so disfigured that they were scarcely recognizable. These twenty-eight poor little bodies were at first laid in rows in the churchyard to be claimed by their parents and friends, many of whom were to be seen running to and fro looking distracted with the great calamity that had befallen them. Of all the pitiable sights I ever beheld, the sight of these little things laid on the grass was the most piteous; and, as, one by one they were claimed and taken away, in some instances parents claiming two, and in one instance, three children, the utmost sympathy was felt for those who had been so suddenly bereft. [...] Beside the children, there were only about twenty people seated in the church, far from the scene of the disaster, and they, on the first indication of danger, had fled and sought safety outside the building. How the bell-ringers escaped, it is impossible to tell, but escape they did, and that unhurt, with the exception of one, who rushed back to get his clothes and was killed. It was to their intense stupidity and obstinacy that this catastrophe may be ascribed. Previous to the accident, they had been told that the tower was unsafe, and on that very morning, they were advised not to ring the bells again, until an examination of the building had taken place; but ring they would, and ring they did, and the result of their ringing was a death-knell unmatched in local history. [ROL]
St. Peter's Church, Church Street
When Liverpool first became a parish in 1699, money was raised towards building a new parish church dedicated to St. Peter. The church, designed by John Moffat, was consecrated in 1704. In 1880, following the appointment of Liverpool's first bishop, St. Peter's was made a pro-cathedral while plans were being made about a new cathedral building. Once the decision was made, funding was sought by demolishing St. Peter's and selling off the valuable site for retail. Harrods were interested but eventually Woolworths won out. The church ceased providing services in 1919 and was demolished in 1922. A brass cross can nowadays be seen embedded in Church Street where the altar once stood, just down from the present Marks and Spencer store (which can be seen in the photo - it was then a hotel).
  St. Peter's Church is situate in Church-street. It was [...] consecrated in 1704. The outside is plain and well-built. The top of the tower is octangular, and agreeably proportioned: upon each angle is a pinnacle, representing candlestick, and a gilt vane, resembling a flame. The church within is well pewed and lighted. The galleries are supported by four tall oak pedestals on each side, richly carved: upon these are an equal number of slender columns, which support the roof. The altar is a most excellent piece of carving in brown oak, representing grapes, flowers, and foliage. In the centre of the pedirnent, as a crest, is a pelican. All the carvings in this church do great honour to the artist. [...] At the west end is a large, handsome organ, on each side of which is a gallery for the children belonging to the Bluecoat Hospital. [...] The tower is 103 feet high, and contains a peal of ten good-toned bells. [SIL]
The pinnacles and vanes mentioned above were removed sometime in the 19th century leaving the tower looking rather blunt.
St. Peter's Church c.1800 ...
... and c.1900
The church in the 18th century before rebuilding
The new church c.1835
St George's Church, Derby Square
St. George's Church was constructed on the site of the old castle, now Derby Square. The original building was begun in 1726 and completed in 1734 to the design of Thomas Steers. A local market operated on the terrace at that time. Structural problems began to appear in 1760, which led to its gradual rebuilding between 1819 and 1825 to a more classical design of John Foster. The work was completed with a new spire of reduced height in 1833. Falling congregation sizes led to the closure of the church in 1897 and its demolition in 1899. In its place the Victoria Monument was erected in 1902.
  Saint George's Church, situated westerly of a line formed by Castle Street and Pool Lane, has the Crescent, at the end of Lord-street, on the east. [...] This edifice stands upon the site of the ancient castle of Liverpool, and was erected under the authority of an act of parliament passed in 1715. It was much enlarged, and a new steeple built a few years ago. The body of this elegant structure is rusticated, and combines solidity with neatness. [...] The several parts of the structure harmonize exceedingly well, and form a pleasing and consistent whole. [LI]
  An act for building this church was obtained [...] in 1715, but it was not consecrated till 1732. It is an elegant building, and, with the exception of the framework of the pews, gallery, and pulpit, has recently been rebuilt, under the superintendence of Mr. Foster, the talented surveyor and architect to the corporation. The body of the church is rusticated; the windows are twelve in number, with circular head and architrave, with a rich Doric entablature, surmounted with an elegant empaneled parapet. A new and powerful organ, built in London, occupies a large space of the organ loft, and has a very handsome effect. The base of the steeple is 30 feet square, and the whole height is about 214 feet. The base is rusticated, and crowned with a Doric entablature, corresponding with that which belongs to the church. The entrance door of the steeple is also Doric, with two pilasters supporting an entablature with a pediment; the window above the door is plain and neat. From the before-mentioned base springs a square pedestal for the support of the Ionic order, which is of an octangular form, with a column attached to an angle [...]. Between the columns are belfry windows, surrounded with an architrave and crowned with an entablature ; above those windows is the clock, which is placed in sunk panels. The next tier of columns which surround the base of the spire (which is circular) are detached, and are of the Corinthian order. [...] This order has a balustrading at the top, which forms a passage round the springing of the spire. The spire is quite plain, running to a point, with oval openings for lights. [...] Beneath the church are vaults, in which lie buried the mortal remains of many of the principal natives of the town. [SIL]
Another view of the original church
View down Lord Street c.1835
Just before its final demolition c.1890
St. Thomas's Church c.1750 ...
St. Thomas's Church, Park Lane
St. Thomas's Church was designed by Henry Sephton and consecrated in 1750. The site was at the junction of Park Lane and Liver Street, then an affluent area. The church had the tallest spire in Liverpool at that time, but the top 20 ft of the spire blew down in a gale in 1757, the debris causing considerable damage. It was reconstructed, but by about 1820 it was in a dangerous state again. The entire tower was rebuilt in 1822 but without the spire and in the 1830s the interior was renovated. It was further altered in 1871 to render it more suitable for the poor community that had emerged as a result of dockland expansion.
By the turn of the century most of the population of the area were Roman Catholic and the church fell into disuse. It finally closed in 1906 and was demolished in 1911. The parish was absorbed into that of St. Michael, Pitt Street. The whole area was devastated in the May Blitz of 1941; there was a warehouse on the site after the war and it later became a car park until 2004. Archeological excavations began in 2005 and, among other things, revealed the grave of Joseph Williamson of Williamson Tunnels fame. The site of the graveyard is presently the St. Thomas Memorial Garden, completed in 2010.
... with the Old Dock and Custom House c.1800 ...
... and shorn of its spire c.1830
This church was built under the authority of an act 2lst George II, cap. 24, and was consecrated in the year 1750. , The square part of the tower was decorated with windows in the Grecian style, with two couplets of Corinthian columns and an attic balustrade. The body of the church consists of a, rustic base, and two rows of windows, between which are Ionic pilasters, and above them a cornice and balustrade, terminated with vases. The east end of the church has a circular projection, which forms the chancel. The church within is well lighted, and exhibits that kind of simplicity which is to be preferred to crowded and ill-disposed omament. [...] The whole is simple and pleasing. On the 15th of March, 1757, there was a heavy gale of wind, which blew down twenty feet of the spire of this church: the stones penetrated through the roof, and did considerable damage.
It was subsequently restored, and the spire was raised 240 feet from the ground. In the year 1822, however, considerable alarm was excited by its perceptible vibrations, particularly during strong gales of wind. It was, in consequence, surveyed; and the report of the surveyors being confirmatory of the dangerous state of the spire, the common council gave orders for taking down that part from the summit to the foundation, and it was entirely rebuilt; but a stunted cupola now surmounts the tower, instead of the splendid spire which formerly challenged the admiration of every stranger. The body of the church has been completely repaired and beautified, and was this year (1838) re-opened for divine service. There is likewise a service on Sunday evening. [SIL]
St. John's Church in the latter part of the 19th century ...
St. John's Church, Old Haymarket
Work on St. John's Church, designed by Thomas Lightoller, began in 1775 and the church was consecrated in 1785. The entrance was on Old Haymarket and the building was in the middle of a plot that had been enclosed in 1767 as a large public burial ground. The church at that time served one of the most crowded areas of the city, with nearly half of the burials in the churchyard children and many of the remainder from backgrounds of extreme poverty. The churchyard was closed for burials in 1865 after 82,491 bodies had been interred.
By the later 19th century the church had become unserviceable and the congregation much diminished. The faux-Gothic building, of course, predated the 19th century Gothic Revival and was unloved by commentators by that time, one of whom stated, 'For more than a century this unsightly structure has been allowed to disfigure the landscape. [... ] As an example of ecclesiastical art the church of St. John has not a single redeeming feature.' It closed in 1898 and was demolished in 1899. A cathedral had been planned for the site but in the event St. John's Gardens, designed by Thomas Shelmerdine, were laid out instead.
  St. John's Church was built in the year 1784 [...]. The tower is square, 123 feet high, and ornamented at the top with pyramids. The north and south fronts of the church have each five windows in the basement and five in the attic; between each of these windows rises a sort of pilaster supporting a pedestal, on each of which is placed a pinnacle; between these, over each window, rising on high plinths, are large vases. A square projection at the east end forms the recess of the altar, over which is the organ in a small gallery. [SIL]
... and near the time of its demolition
Images in order, with thanks to the relevant parties:
Docks and St.George engraved by E.Finden after a picture by W.Westall, from Great Britain Illustrated, 1830, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St. Nicholas 1750, from Liverpool as it was during the Last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century by Richard Brook, 1853, sourced from Google Books.
St. Nicholas original tower by W.G.Herdman, from Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St. Nicholas local waterfront by W.G.Herdman, from Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St. Nicholas new tower by Henry Jordan after a picture by G. & C. Pyne, from Lancashire Illustrated, 1831, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St. Peter's 1800 by W. H. Watts, engraved by W. Green, from Muir's Bygone Liverpool, sourced from Chester Walls.
St. Peter 1900, sourced from Chester Walls.
St. George 18th century, from Liverpool as it was during the Last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century by Richard Brook, 1853, sourced from Google Books.
St. George 1835 engraved by F.R.Hay after a picture by G. & C. Pyne, from Lancashire Illustrated, 1831, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St. George another view by W.G.Herdman, from Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St. George and Lord Street engraved by B.Winkles after a picture by Harwood, from Lancashire Illustrated, 1831, sourced from Ancestry Images.
St George 1890, sourced from Streets of Liverpool.
St Thomas 1750 by Edward Rooker, sourced from Genuki.
St Thomas with the Old Dock and Custom House by W.G.Herdman, from Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843 sourced from Ancestry Images.
St Thomas 1830 , sourced from St Thomas’ Churchyard, Park Lane, Liverpool: Archaeological Watching Brief.
St. John late 19th century, sourced from OnLine Parish Clerks for the County of Lancashire.
St. John before demolition, sourced from Liverpool Picture Book.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author unless otherwise indicated.