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Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, including boundary wall, railings and gate piers

A Grade II Listed Building in Birkenhead, Wirral

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Coordinates

Latitude: 53.3999 / 53°23'59"N

Longitude: -3.0416 / 3°2'29"W

OS Eastings: 330842

OS Northings: 389732

OS Grid: SJ308897

Mapcode National: GBR 7Y63.9Y

Mapcode Global: WH876.7SWZ

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, including boundary wall, railings and gate piers

Listing Date: 10 August 1992

Last Amended: 26 March 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1201599

English Heritage Legacy ID: 389143

Location: Wirral, CH41

County: Wirral

Electoral Ward/Division: Bidston and St James

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Birkenhead

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Merseyside

Church of England Parish: Birkenhead Christ the King

Church of England Diocese: Chester

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Summary

Roman Catholic church, 1860-62, by Edward Welby Pugin, with the chancel added in 1876-7 by Pugin and Pugin to a simplified design. Rock-faced sandstone with red-sandstone ashlar dressings, Welsh slate roof. Decorated Gothic style. Both the link and presbytery are much later additions and are not considered to be of special interest.


Description

Roman Catholic church, 1860-62, by Edward Welby Pugin, with the chancel added in 1876-7 by Pugin and Pugin to a simplified design. Rock-faced sandstone with red-sandstone ashlar dressings, Welsh slate roof. Decorated Gothic style

PLAN: The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is located at the junction of Cavendish Street and Price Street and is aligned north-west - south-east with a polygonal apse at the south-east (ritual east) end. The church consists of a tall nave with lean-to side aisles, a polygonal apse with a wrap around sacristy, and an unfinished NE tower. The following geographical references will be referred to in their ritual sense.

EXTERIOR: red-sandstone ashlar banding exists to each elevation and the church's windows, which contain leaded glazing (some incorporating stained glass), have quoined red-sandstone ashlar surrounds; most are trefoil-arched lancets. Most of the windows also have hoodmoulds with foliated stops; those to the apse and aisles are continuous. The west end is formed of the west gable end of the nave, which is dominated by a large rose window, beneath which is a series of five narrow trefoil-arched lancets; a small glazed quatrefoil exists to the gable apex. The west entrance is formed of a pointed-arched doorway containing panelled double doors with a carved and painted tympanum incorporating a rose set within a quatrefoil, and a hoodmould above with painted foliated stops. The head of the doorway is flanked by two quatrefoils containing painted sacred monograms in relief. Marking the outer edges of the gable end are full-height gableted buttresses, and wrought-iron cross finials exist to the base and crest of the gable behind, with a further finial located at the church's east end. Flanking the west gable end are the west end walls of the lean-to side aisles, which are both lit by windows consisting of paired trefoil-arched lancets with a glazed cinquefoil above; integral buttresses exist to each aisle's outer corner. The tall 5-bay nave has a clerestory formed of wide single lancets arranged in pairs to each bay. The side aisles are divided into bays by buttresses and each bay has three trefoil-arched windows. Two sets of lower confessional boxes project out from the aisles on each side, each with three gablets set over roundels containing glazed quatrefoils. The north aisle also has a gabled porch at the west end with a pointed-arched doorway containing boarded double doors. Rose windows at each east end of the aisles light side chapels. Located to the north-east corner of the church is an unfinished tower that rises only to the eaves and has a stair turret to the north-east corner. The tower's north wall incorporates a decorative canopied niche containing a statue of the Virgin Mary, which is set above a trefoil-arched window. The 5-sided apse is lit by triple-light trefoil-arched lancets set high up the wall in the form of a clerestory; those to the north side are cut off by the tower. Beneath the windows is a red-sandstone ashlar band with affixed relief lettering in calligraphic script that reads: 'haec est domus Domini firmiter Aedificata Bene fundata est Supra firmam petram', a chant for Vespers for the dedication of a church that translates as 'this house of the Lord is firmly built, well anchored upon solid rock'. A low lean-to sacristy wraps around the apse and is lit by 2-light and 3-light mullioned windows with segmental-arched heads and chamfered mullions. To the east wall above the sacristies is a carved roundel containing a coat of arms and the date '1877'. A low single-storey link (not fully depicted on modern OS maps) is attached to the south side of the church and connects to the 1952 presbytery. Both the link and presbytery are much later additions and are not considered to be of special interest; they are consequently excluded from the church's listing.

INTERIOR: internally the church's walls and ceilings are plastered and there is an abundance of stained glass. The narthex has a quarry-tile floor and a panelled ceiling, and double doors set within a glazed timber screen lead into the main body of the church. The 5-bay nave, which has a floorboard floor, incorporates an arcade on each side formed of tall pointed arches supported by polished-granite columns with alternate plain and foliated sandstone capitals. At the west end of the nave is a large choir and organ gallery with a panelled front. The gallery contains a Rushworth & Dreaper of Liverpool organ installed in 1951 and is accessed by a panelled stair located at the west end of the south aisle; the large stained-glass, west rose window depicts the Virgin Mary to the centre surrounded by lilies symbolising purity. The nave and apse roofs, which are 1951 replacements, are both carried on a series of trussed rafters, and the side aisles contain a series of pointed arches springing from the nave arcade that incorporate pierced roundels to the inner spandrels. A richly carved sandstone pulpit of 1875 with depictions of the Annunciation, Nativity and Coronation of Our Lady is supported on pink-marble and stone columnar shafts and is accessed by a short spiral stone stair that wraps around one of the nave columns. A carved font is constructed of the same materials as the pulpit, but with the use of black rather than pink marble. The side aisles contain large carved and gilded timber Stations of the Cross and partly leaded-glazed doors accessing the confessionals. At the east end of each aisle are side chapels with altars, reredoses and altar rails of stone and marble. The reredoses incorporate a central statue niche flanked by painted and gilded trefoil-arched panels, and stained-glass imagery of saints exists to the rose windows above each side chapel altar. The sanctuary has a decorative tiled floor and its marble altar rails and decorative metal gates were reconstructed in the 1950s. A plain modern trestle-table altar has been placed in front of the original sandstone and marble altar, which is set upon a marble platform. A 2-stage reredos of 1895 behind is by Pugin & Pugin and incorporates two rows of canopied niches containing statues and partly-gilded paintings of saints and angels by Hardman & Co. The stained-glass clerestory windows in the sanctuary were badly damaged by the 1941 bombing and were replaced by Hardman with some substitution of the original saints.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the church is enclosed on the west and north sides by a low sandstone wall surmounted by cast-iron railings. Aligned in front of each entrance are square gate piers with chamfered edges and gableted caps with quatrefoil decoration, with plainer piers terminating the walls at each end.

History

With the construction of the Birkenhead docks in the 1850s the population in this part of the town expanded rapidly and Mass was said in a house near Dock Cottages, a tenement block for dock labourers. Land was subsequently acquired for a new church, and when it was realised that the cathedral site in Shrewsbury was incapable of accommodating a substantial church, the Earl of Shrewsbury suggested that a cathedral be built on the site in Birkenhead.

Designs for a church costing £22,000 were drawn up by Edward Welby Pugin, but the Earl thought that a budget of £35,000 was more realistic and agreed to provide £15,000 of his own money. A school designed by Pugin opened in 1856, but the Earl of Shrewsbury died shortly afterwards and the title passed to a Protestant branch of the family. His promise of the additional funding was therefore never realised, although he did leave a legacy of £2,700. Construction of the church's nave and side aisles commenced in 1860 and was completed in 1862, with the chancel being added later in 1876-77 by Pugin & Pugin to a simplified design. E W Pugin's original intended tower was never completed and the church did not become the diocesan cathedral.

The church was restored in 1951 by Reynolds & Scott following severe bomb damage sustained during the Second World War, which also destroyed Pugin's neighbouring presbytery, killing the Canon and his housekeeper. A new presbytery designed by Reynolds & Scott was added in 1957.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Birkenhead is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: although not completed as originally envisaged due to the death of the church's benefactor, the church nevertheless possesses an imposing and finely detailed Gothic design with a scale indicative of its original intended status as a cathedral church;
* Interior quality: the light and spacious interior retains many original and early features, all of which are of a good quality. Particularly notable is the 2-stage reredos by Pugin & Pugin incorporating canopied niches containing paintings by Hardman & Co;
* Architects: the church was designed by the nationally significant architect E W Pugin and completed by his brothers, Peter Paul Pugin and Cuthbert Pugin, who are themselves notable architects.

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