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Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph, Wirral

Description: Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph

Grade: II
Date Listed: 28 September 2012
Building ID: 1407367

OS Grid Reference: SJ3152487359
OS Grid Coordinates: 331525, 387359
Latitude/Longitude: 53.3786, -3.0308

Location: 20 Willowbank Road, Birkenhead CH42 7JY

Locality: Wirral
County: Wirral
Postcode: CH42 7JY

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Listing Text


Roman Catholic church, 1899-1900, by Edmund Kirby of Liverpool. Ruabon brick with terracotta dressings, Westmorland green slate roof, cast-iron rainwater goods, Early English style.

Reason for Listing

St Joseph's RC Church is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural quality: it possesses a distinctive and well-proportioned Early English-style exterior that displays a skilful use of extensive moulded brickwork and elegant lancet windows

* Architect: it was designed by the notable ecclesiastical architect, Edmund Kirby, a former pupil of E W Pugin, and is a good example of his later work

* Intactness: the church is little altered externally and retains much of its original historic character. Later interior alterations, including the addition of some features, have also added to, and enhanced, its special interest

* Interior quality: its lofty interior maximises light and a sense of space, and contains high quality features and fittings throughout, including polished granite and ashlar nave piers, moulded brickwork dressings, a Portland stone and polished granite font, highly decorative Stations of the Cross, an ornate organ gallery, and elaborate later stencilled decoration and paintwork


St Joseph's RC Church, Birkenhead was constructed in 1899-1900 to the designs of Edmund Kirby (1838-1920) of Liverpool at a cost of £9200. The land for the church was donated by Joseph Bell Topham, and the building work was carried out by a local builder, Peter Rothwell.

The foundation stone was laid on 19 March 1899 by the Right Rev Dr Allen, Bishop of Shrewsbury and the church was opened on 19 August 1900. However, the installation of the church's fixtures and fittings was carried on into subsequent years as funds allowed. A presbytery was constructed in 1906.

In the 1950s the church's south-west porch entrance was converted into a window, and in 1968/9 the sanctuary was reordered and the original altar removed. The church interior was redecorated in 1984.


Roman Catholic church, 1899-1900, by Edmund Kirby of Liverpool. Ruabon brick with terracotta dressings, Westmorland green slate roof, cast-iron rainwater goods, Early English style.

PLAN: The church is located at the junction of North Road and Willowbank Road and consists of a tall nave with lean-to side aisles, a short chancel, and side chapels. It is aligned north-south with the chancel located at the south (ritual east) end. The following geographical references in the description of the church will be referred to in their ritual sense.

EXTERIOR: All the church's elevations incorporate stringcourses, as well as continuous hoodmoulds and sill bands to the windows.

The west end elevation consists of the gable end of the nave, which has full-height buttresses to the outside that rise above the roofline in the style of slender turrets with gableted caps. To the centre of the gable are three tall, stepped lancets forming the west window, which are separated by gableted pilaster strips. Below the west window, and lighting the narthex, are three sets of small, paired lancet windows with trefoil-arched heads. A blind oval oculus is set to the gable apex with a cross finial above. To the left of the nave is a low porch with windows in the same style as those to the narthex, a hipped roof, and a Gothic-arched, entrance opening to the north return. To the right of the nave is a 2-storey porch with trefoil-arched windows to both floors and a hipped roof. A Gothic-arched opening to the ground floor of the south return has been converted into a window.

The nave is of 11-bays with a clerestory lit by paired lancets with cusped heads and set within a blind arcade. Below are lean-to side aisles; that to the north side is buttressed and is lit mainly by four, 4-light lancet windows. Set to the western end of the north side aisle is a porch (as described above), and to the eastern end the aisle's lean-to (pent) roof projects forward for a single bay with a doorway to the west return with a segmental-arched head set within a blind trefoil-arch. The south side aisle incorporates three cross-gabled projections to the centre, which form the confessionals and are lit by 3-light, stepped lancet windows. To the western end of the south side aisle is a 2-storey porch (as described above), and to the eastern end is a low, hipped roof projection, which forms part of the sacristy.

The chancel is identified externally by two tall paired windows with sexfoils that rise above the nave's eaves line to each north and south side and are set underneath individual gables. Attached to the north side of the chancel is a low, buttressed side chapel lit by a 3-light, stepped lancet window. The south side chapel is completely enclosed by sacristy projections that wrap around and across the east elevation. The chapel is thus identified by a gabled roof lantern with glazing to three sides that rises above the sacristy rooflines.

The church's east end elevation is partly obscured by the adjacent presbytery but does incorporate a large rose window with an oval blind oculus to the gable apex and a floriated Celtic cross-style finial. Gableted buttresses in the same style as those to the west end flank the east end; that to the left (south) side also acts as a chimney for a low, cross-gabled, sacristy projection attached to the chancel's south return.

The attached presbytery is not of special interest.

INTERIOR: Internally the church has plastered walls, a mixture of plain leaded glazing and coloured cathedral glass to the windows, and exposed moulded-brick arches to the nave arcades, chancel and south side aisle. The nave and chancel both have arched-braced roofs, with each brace being brightly painted and stencilled in a variety of colours (the interior's stencilwork was introduced in 1971 and 1986). The nave ceiling is boarded and painted red. The nave arcades incorporate ashlar dressings and are supported by columns of various polished granites with carved ashlar capitals and bases of varying style. Above the arcades, and set below the clerestory windows, are a moulded-brick frieze of small trefoil arches and a stone cornice, which support the roof braces.

Parquet floors can be found throughout the church interior, except in the narthex, which has a quarry tile floor with a geometric border. The narthex also has a glazed tile dado that carries on into the main body of the church. The north-west porch contains a stone piscina, and the former south-west porch is now used as a small shop area.

A timber winder stair at the west end of the south side aisle leads up to the west gallery (added in 1910), which is bracketed and spans the full width of the nave. The gallery is painted and gilded with a balustrade incorporating pierced upper panels, and contains an organ by Alex Young & Sons of Manchester (1911) that was refurbished in 1934 and 1971.

Both side aisles have boarded ceilings, painted green with candy-stripe roll-mouldings and chevron decoration, and brightly painted and stencilled roof trusses supported by stone corbels. The Stations of the Cross (1904) that adorn the side aisles are believed to have been carved in Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany, and consist of large, gableted and crocketed, painted and gilded panels with cross finials and relief imagery. Panelled screens located in the three, central cross-gables of the south side aisle form confessionals and incorporate some of the Stations of the Cross. The screens are surmounted by pierced quatrefoil balustrades.

Situated at the east end of the north side aisle, and separated from the chancel by a decorative pierced screen, is the Lady Chapel, which has a painted and gilded, timber reredos incorporating linenfold panelling and a tester above the altar. A statue of the Virgin Mary to the centre is a replacement erected in 1952. At the east end of the south side aisle is the Sacred Heart Chapel, which has a raised floor and is lit by a gabled roof lantern with glazed, cusped windows to three sides with patterned leaded glazing and some coloured cathedral glass. The east wall is decorated and incorporates the original tabernacle from the High Altar. Both side chapels have panelled dados.

Flanking the chancel arch are near-life size statues set upon corbelled plinths; that to the left depicts St Peter (1904), whilst that to the right depicts St Joseph (1903). Set in front of the chancel arch to the left is a Portland stone font (1902) supported on a polished granite colonnette base. The chancel itself is enclosed by painted and gilded timber altar rails (1923) and has a raised floor and a decorative, painted, square-panelled roof. A tall panelled dado topped by a decorative border and cornice runs around the three walls and incorporates three canopied sedilia to the south side. Set into an alcove below the east rose window is a carved, painted and gilded, oak reredos (1923) from Saltzburg, Austria. Flanking the reredos to each north and south wall of the chancel are blind arches. A late C20, free-standing altar stands to the centre of the chancel and re-uses the original mensa (stone altar slab). Above, and suspended from the ceiling, is a carved crucifix.

The sacristy wraps itself around the south side chapel and eastern end of the church and contains a mixture of parquet, quarry tile and floorboard floors. A large room to the south-east corner of the building, which is used as a day chapel, has exposed purlins, a king-post roof, and a fireplace with a marble surround to the north wall, which is adjacent to a door leading into the chancel.

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