The Churchyard and Garden
The church stands at the heart of the business centre of Liverpool, looking across the river Mersey and adjacent to the World Heritage Waterfront buildings including the 'Three Graces'. Its location is a reminder of the church's mission to the people of the City Centre and to the seafaring and port community.
The Churchyard was created by the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry in 1361 and remained in use as the only burial ground in Liverpool until 1849. In 1891 it was cleared and landscaped as a public garden in memory of the shipowner Thomas Harrison whose company offices were adjacent (in Mersey Chambers) and overlooked the ground.
Until the building of George’s Dock (opened 1771), the seaward wall of the churchyard was the waterfront and the river reached the churchyard wall at high tide. Between 1758 and 1772 a gun battery was built on the foreshore to guard the entrance to the harbour against French incursions. The churchyard is now a haven of green, much used in the summer by office workers and others as a place of relaxation and refreshment. It was first awarded EU ‘Green Flag’ status in 2002.
Hover over the icons on the following plans for further information about each feature.
Flagpole and Tablets
This flag pole, in use at a Royal Navy Training Establishment, was erected in 1993 by members of the Old Comrades’ Association to commemorate the servicemen who participated in the north Atlantic convoys to Russia during the Second World War.
Liverpool Blitz Memorial
This monument by the sculptor Tom Murphy commemorates the many thousands of civilian casualties in Liverpool and Bootle during the sustained Luftwaffe bombing campaign between August 1940 and May 1941. The names of the casualties are inscribed upon scrolls deposited in the base of the memorial. The monument was unveiled and dedicated by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on 7th July 2000.
The artist, Tom Murphy, has written: Each person will interpret the sculpture from their own knowledge and perspective. However, the key elements include: The mother who is clutching her baby while frantically trying to encourage her young son to escape down the staircase to a safer place; The small boy playing with his aeroplane, standing precariously at the top of the stairs, lost in the excitement of war; The abstract staircase, shrinking as it rises, symbolizing the diminishing options for the family group; The staircase also indicates the way bombs spiral as they fall; Each step of the stairs has jagged cut outs, which give the transient effect of shards of glass, particularly on a sunny day, when they can be seen within the shadows cast by the sculpture; The aeroplane held by the small boy can be seen both as an instrument of destruction, or as a Cross in remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives during the Blitz.
The Dockers’ Cross
A wooden crucifix can be seen on the ‘east’ wall of the church near the Blitz Memorial. It has become known as the ‘Dockers’ Cross’ because it was visible from the former overhead railway which ran along the Dock Road close to the churchyard. The tradition was that dock workers, seeing the crucifix from the trains, would cross themselves, hence the name by which it is popularly known.
The Landmark Tower
The present building is the third to stand on the site. Nothing remains of the original medieval church which, with the exception of the tower, was rebuilt in the Georgian ‘Gothick’ style in 1774. The weight of the spire and the dilapidated state of the tower gave cause for concern but no action was taken. Eventually, on 11th February 1810 the tower collapsed and caused heavy casualties. It was replaced between 1811-15 by the present tower and lantern designed by Thomas Harrison. Harrison’s 175 foot (53 metres) lantern tower is the best feature of the church. Before the large buildings were built at the Pier Head (1907-16) it was a great landmark on the waterfront.
It seems that the former weather vane (a gilded copper sailing ship 4’4” (1.3 m) long) survived the collapse of the spire and was re-erected on the lantern of the new tower. This had been placed on the lantern in 1814 but may also have been on the old spire of 1746. In December 1940 the nave of the church was destroyed by bombing. Major repairs became necessary to the tower which were completed during 2005. At the conclusion of the project a re-dedication ceremony was held on 11th December 2005 from which point the tower became known as the Landmark Tower.
The tree and plaque adjacent to the Tower Gardens gate commemorate the loss of the ship Atlantic Conveyor during the Falklands Campaign of 1982.
The facade of the church facing Old Churchyard is carved with shields bearing the instruments of Christ's passion and above the door are carvings of the Lily (a medieval symbol of Our Lady) while the ship next to it is a symbol of St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors. They reflect the ancient dedication of the church.
Inside the Church
This is the ante-room to the church, a place for greeting and notices. A board is available for visitors to pin requests for prayers. The octagonal font was presented in 1852, though baptisms also now take place in the Sanctuary using a bowl font. It bears the inscription “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” The carvings represent the symbols of the four evangelists or gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The font is one of the few pieces to survive the destruction of the church in 1940.
The Cattrall Screens
Glass screens (installed in 1984 in memory of Harvey Cattrall) separate the Narthex from the Nave. They were engraved to the designs of David Peace, whose work is also found in Westminster Abbey. Among the engaved symbols representing St Nicholas – patron saint of children, sailors and financiers – are toys (including a teddy bear and A A Milne’s Piglet), a boat and money bags. A striking view of the hanging Rood (the Crucifixion) can be glimpsed through the plain glass chalice on the central doors.
The architect of the rebuilt church, Edward C. Butler, was instructed to make the space as open and as light as possible,. Consequently many of the traditional features of a church are altered. The choir stalls were set at the back of the church, there is no screen between the nave and the sanctuary and the lectern and pulpit are replaced by two raised reading desks or ambos. To improve the visibility of the altar the floor of the nave is slightly raked.
The windows are mostly of clear glass but are given a border of fragments recovered from the old church. The only stained glass window represents post war hopes in its inscription 'For the healing of the nations'. It shows the vision of the defeat of the devil - shown as a multi-headed dragon – described in the Book of Revelation. On the right kneels the figure of St Nicholas offering a ship to the Virgin. It will be noticed that the ship has no funnel colours.
The Sanctuary’s design reflects the aim of the architect and congregation in 1952 who were anxious to make the focus of Eucharistic worship, the altar, as visible as possible. Consequently the usual choir stalls were transferred to the back of the nave, the nave floor was made to slope gently towards the sanctuary, no screen was erected and the usual pulpit and lectern were replaced by two identical ‘ambos’ or reading desks. The seats for Priest and Deacon are the work of Robin McGhie, presented in memory of Charles Godden, a Lay Reader. All fixed woodwork is of carved untreated oak with the vine (“I am the vine, you are the branches”, John 15) as a dominant motif.
The sanctuary is entered under the ‘rood’. The figure of the crucified Christ with our Lady and St John is carved from the timbers of the pre-war bell frame. The cherubs’ heads which support the roof truss are one of the fragmentary remains of the Georgian church.
St Peter’s Chapel
The dedication recalls the history of the parish by commemorating the second church in Liverpool, built in 1704 in Church Street. The 18th century altar was once the altar of St Peter’s, a building famous for the quality of its woodwork. The blessed sacrament is reserved in this chapel and mid-week Eucharists are celebrated in it.
Charred timbers from the old church form a cross on the wall. On the morning after the destruction of the church in 1941, the then Rector (David Railton) salvaged these timbers from the ruins of the building and formed them into a cross which provided a focus for the worship that continued there throughout the War.
The Maritime Chapel of St Mary del Key (St Mary of the Quay)
Previously known as St George’s Chapel (after the dedication of Liverpool’s third church), it became known as the Maritime Chapel following its reordering and dedication in May 1993 as part of the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. It perpetuates the memory of the medieval shrine and marks the church’s long association with Liverpool’s maritime life. Furnishings are the work of Robin McGhie.
A memorial book presented by the families of the MV Derbyshire Association lists the names of the crew lost in that vessel and others lost at sea. Those wishing to add an entry, commemorating individuals or ships, should apply to the Memorial Book Secretary c/o the Church Office. A small charge is made to cover the cost of calligraphy. The beautiful statue of Our Lady standing in the prow of a boat was the last major work of the celebrated Liverpool artist Arthur Dooley, a past member of the congregation. It serves as a reminder of the origins of the church in the Middle Ages when St Mary’s Chapel was built on the waterfront, probably soon after the foundation of the town in 1207.
A 360-degree photograph of the interior of the church has been published by Jeff Starley who has kindly agreed for it to be available through our website. To see the photograph, click here.