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St Joseph's Church, Birkenhead

Description: St Joseph's Church

Grade: II
Date Listed: 15 November 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1403417

OS Grid Reference: SJ2702588246
OS Grid Coordinates: 327026, 388246
Latitude/Longitude: 53.3860, -3.0986

Locality: Birkenhead
County: Wirral
Country: England
Postcode: CH49 6PY

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Listing Text


Roman Catholic church, 1953-4, by Adrian Gilbert Scott, stripped Perpendicular Gothic style, buff Wellington brick with ashlar dressings, 'Lombardic' tile roof, cast-iron rainwater goods.

Reason for Listing

* Architectural quality: a striking and bold stripped Perpendicular Gothic exterior employing a blend of modern and traditional influences, and using high quality materials, including buff brickwork, sparse ashlar ornamentation and a Lombardic tile roof.
* Architect: designed by the notable architect, Adrian Gilbert Scott who trained under Temple Moore and specialised in ecclesiastical commissions for the Roman Catholic Church.
* Intactness: survives little altered and retains the majority of original features.
* Interior quality: the interior contains good quality fixtures and fittings, and has an impressive simplicity of design that incorporates Gilbert Scott's characteristic camel-vaulted arches and tall dado of Blue Horton stone contrasting with pale plastered walls above.


Upton's first Catholic place of worship since the Reformation was established in a chapel at Upton Hall, which was bought by the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus in 1862 and established as a convent and boarding school for girls. The first public mass was held in 1863, but as numbers grew new premises were required and a large barn was converted into a convent and mission chapel in 1871.

In 1931, it was recognised by the parish priest, Father William Corcoran, that a new church was required for the increasing Catholic population. However, funding could not be found and it wasn't until 1945 when a new priest, Father Stone, arrived that fundraising began. Father Stone approached Adrian Gilbert Scott (1883-1963, son of George Gilbert Scott Jr) for the commission, whose brother Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. A site opposite Upton Hall was chosen for the new church (to be known as St Joseph's) and construction began in February 1953. The foundation stone was laid by the Right Reverend John Murphy, Bishop of Shrewsbury on 5 July 1953 and the church was opened by the Bishop on 31 August 1954.

The church was consecrated by the Right Reverend Eric Grasar, Bishop of Shrewsbury on 18 October 1979. In advance of the service, the church was redecorated and the altar was brought forward to its current position (prior to this the church had been using a portable altar). In 1983 the church was redecorated again, the original pendant lights were removed, the sanctuary light was replaced and the reredos was altered.


PLAN: Church is aligned north-east - south-west and is set back from Moreton Road with a car park in front (south-west side) and gardens to south-east side. South-west tower with flanking baptistery and enclosed porch, side chapels to north-east end of nave, sacristies wrap around sanctuary to three sides.

EXTERIOR: Plain leaded glazing to all windows. South-west front elevation with tall 3-stage tower to centre with near full-height, stepped clasping buttresses and stylised, crenellated parapet. Tall, pinnacled stone doorcase to ground floor centre of tower contains wide doorway with timber 2-panel double doors incorporating small, paired, slender glazed upper lights, three small Tudor-arched lights above and blind cusped arcade to top of doorcase. Belfry stage with large, open, 4-light window with a similarly styled surround to that of the doorway below with paired Tudor-arched inner lights flanked by single outer lights in the same style; all with louvres. Tower's side returns with near full-height, gableted buttresses set to rear, 2-light cusped and ogee-arched windows to second stage, 2-light belfry windows in same style as those to front. Two low single-storey, flat-roofed projections flank tower to each side; that to north-west side contains the former baptistery, that to south-east side comprises an enclosed entrance porch with a carved stone door surround to the south-east side containing double doors identical to those to front, carved shield above, raised parapet above entrance with cross finial. Small, single leaded-lights to south-west ends of each projection. Nave is lit by tall 2-light windows with cusped ogee-arched heads. Full-height projections set to each end of nave on each side; those to north-east end (containing side chapels) project further and are lit by shorter 3-light windows with cusped ogee-arched heads to north-east and south-west sides, those to south-west end (shallow shrine projections) have windows to south-east walls in same style as those to nave. Projections on each side of nave are separated by a single-storey, flat-roofed projection (containing confessionals) lit by two very small lights. Sanctuary has side windows in same style as those to nave and south-west projections. Three flat-roofed sacristies (inter-linked internally) wrap around sanctuary to three sides with single and 2-light mullioned windows, plain rear doorway to east corner contains 3-panel door. Chimney rises from north-east corner of north side chapel. Detached presbytery to north-east of church is not of special interest.

INTERIOR: Double and single internal doors are all identically styled to those to exterior. Dado of Blue Horton stone approximately 8ft high to all walls except in sacristies and choir gallery, pale plastered walls above. Brown and buff patterned quarry tile floor (now hidden under later coverings) to nave and narthex, parquet floors to sacristies. Travertine marble floor to sanctuary. Enclosed baptistery (now used as a small shop) to north-west side of narthex. Narrow doorway to south corner of narthex accesses a stone spiral stair leading to large choir and organ gallery above narthex with wide camel-vaulted arch to front, tiered seating and original pews, plain balcony front with stone copings. Stair continues up into empty tower room above. Nave contains two confessionals set to centre of each side wall, original pews, and has large camel-vaulted arches to shrine projections, side chapels and sanctuary. Sanctuary is accessed via three steps with marble altar and plain timber lectern to front. Original stepped altar platform set to rear, along with large marble and carved wooden reredos (originally gilded but now painted white), original damask panel to centre of reredos now removed. Doors in side chapels and one to south-east side of sanctuary lead into sacristies.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.