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Roman Catholic Church of St Michael and All Angels, Wirral

Description: Roman Catholic Church of St Michael and All Angels

Grade: II
Date Listed: 26 March 2014
Building ID: 1416926

OS Grid Reference: SJ2867586509
OS Grid Coordinates: 328675, 386508
Latitude/Longitude: 53.3706, -3.0734

Locality: Wirral
County: Wirral
Postcode: CH49 5LH

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Listing Text


Roman Catholic church, 1964-5, by Richard O'Mahony. Ribbed reinforced-concrete walls with a tall tent-like, steel-framed roof

Reason for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of St Michael and All Angels, constructed in 1964-5 to the designs of Richard O'Mahony, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the church's dynamic and bold design displays considerable architectural flair and innovation;
* Planning: the church's T-shaped plan responds fully to the theological ideas promoted by the Liturgical Movement, and subsequently endorsed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-5);
* Interior interest: the roof's unusual angles and inventive lighting effects are used to direct attention to particular locations such as the sanctuary and the site of the font;
* Interior decoration: good-quality materials (Finnish timber, smooth concrete, Mourne granite), simple furnishings and sculpture by Norman Dilworth complement the bold character of the building;
* Setting: the church is a highly visible landmark both from the M53 motorway, signifying arrival in Birkenhead and within the Woodchurch estate itself.


Construction of the Woodchurch housing estate commenced in the 1940s, based upon an initial design drawn up by Herbert J Rowse, with later work in the 1950s designed by the Borough Architect T A Brittain. The parish of St Michael and All Angels was created in 1952 and Mass was originally held in a chapel at nearby Landican Cemetery before moving to the school hall of St Michael's School, which was constructed in 1956 to educate the children of the expanding estate.

The foundation stone for a new church was laid in April 1964 and St Michael and All Angels RC Church opened on 8 September 1965, with regular services starting on 30 September, the feast of St Michael. The church, which was built to accommodate 700 worshippers, was constructed to the designs of Richard O'Mahony at a cost of £75,000, and the first parish priest, Father Gerard Corcoran, is also understood to have had input into the design. The sanctuary and sacristy furniture and fittings were also designed by O'Mahony and cost an additional £6,900.

In 1967 the architect Richard O'Mahony was awarded a Gold medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects North West Region, the builders Mohin Bros of Bebington were awarded a Silver medal, and the church as the client was awarded a Bronze medal. The church's sanctuary was re-ordered in the 1990s and the altar rails were removed.


Roman Catholic church, 1964-5, by Richard O'Mahony. Ribbed reinforced-concrete walls with a tall tent-like, steel-framed roof

PLAN: the church is aligned east-west and has a T-shaped plan with nave and transepts focussed on the sanctuary, enabling the congregation to be sat on three sides of the altar. The sacristy in-fills the T-shape on the south side. The church is located at the south-east end of an axial route through the Woodchurch housing estate known as Home Farm Road that links St Michael & All Angels with the Anglican Holy Cross Church (C12 origins, Grade II*), which is located at the road's north-western end.

EXTERIOR: the church is dominated by its tall tent-like steel-framed roof structure that springs from the church's corners in a series of folded planes that terminate above the altar. The roof, which rises to a height of 83ft above the sanctuary and is a landmark seen from the neighbouring M53 motorway, is clad externally with aluminium and incorporates lighting louvres on the front west face that direct light down onto the sanctuary below. The roof also incorporates a narrow horizontal opening at the bottom of the east face that directs light onto the Blessed Sacrament Chapel behind the altar. A Potent-cross shaped pierced opening exists to the apex of the roof. The church's walls are of ribbed reinforced concrete and incorporate a narrow clerestory band that gives the appearance that the roof is floating. The main west entrance consists of a glazed wall and entrance doors, all of which have been replaced in weathered enamel and which lead into the narthex.

INTERIOR: internally there are brown and blue quarry-tiled floors throughout and the wall surfaces are a mixture of white-painted plaster and concrete. Originally the church had under-floor heating, but the system subsequently failed and is no longer in use. The narthex spans the full-width of the nave and is sub-divided laterally into a series of spaces separated by concrete walls connected by an open enfilade; one of the side walls bears the church's RIBA bronze medal, and the southernmost section of the rear east wall incorporates a narrow horizontal glazing band lighting the nave. Two sets of double doors to the centre of the narthex's east wall lead into the main body of the church, which is designed to focus on, and direct attention to, the sanctuary. The roof is clad internally with Finnish timber and the ceilings of the nave and transepts are adorned with scattered panels depicting angels and religious symbols. The former baptistery is located at the northern end of the narthex and is accessed via the nave. An octagonal concrete light shaft with niches in its side walls containing supplementary lighting originally projected light down onto a Mourne-granite font below, but the font has since been moved to the south side of the sanctuary, and the baptistery is now used as a shop. On the south side of the nave are three confessionals lit by square rooflights. Set towards the eastern end of the nave's south side is a full-height tower-like structure constructed of dark-grey/black brick that breaks through the roofline externally and is framed by glazed openings. Internally the tower incorporates a recess set high up the north face that was originally intended to act as an organ loft, but an organ was never installed. A small concrete base projects from the lower part of the tower's north wall and is surmounted by a life-size sculpture by Norman Dilworth entitled 'Mother and Child' with gold-coloured, textured, abstract backdrop panels behind. The adjacent south transept is used as a day chapel and has a simple timber altar located on the west side. The north transept contains a C19 organ in a Gothic-style case that was donated to the church in the 1990s and is not of special interest*. The roof's louvred west face is designed to bring light directly down onto the sanctuary and make it the most well-lit space in the church. The main altar sits upon a carpeted stepped platform and is of Mourne granite like the lectern, which lies to the north side of the sanctuary. Located behind the sanctuary, and separated from it by a concrete dwarf wall incorporating a double-depth band of glazed bricks, is a small Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The chapel's altar is of the same granite as the church's other furnishings and is surmounted by a square silver tabernacle with a pyramidal top and cross finial designed by the late Francis Xavier Velarde; the tabernacle is positioned so that it can be seen upon entering the church. The sacristy is located on the south side of the church and retains original built-in cupboards.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the aforementioned C19 organ brought into the interior from elsewhere in the 1990s is not of special architectural or historic interest.

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