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Roman Catholic Church of English Martyrs

A Grade II* Listed Building in Wallasey, Wirral

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Latitude: 53.4244 / 53°25'27"N

Longitude: -3.0634 / 3°3'48"W

OS Eastings: 329431

OS Northings: 392477

OS Grid: SJ294924

Mapcode National: GBR 7X1V.K5

Mapcode Global: WH761.X6D5

Plus Code: 9C5RCWFP+PJ

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of English Martyrs

Listing Date: 30 July 2003

Last Amended: 18 September 2013

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1390589

English Heritage Legacy ID: 490561

ID on this website: 101390589

Location: English Martyr's Roman Catholic Church, Wallasey, Wirral, Merseyside, CH45

County: Wirral

Electoral Ward/Division: Wallasey

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Wallasey

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Merseyside

Church of England Parish: Wallasey St Hilary

Church of England Diocese: Chester

Tagged with: Church building Romanesque Revival architecture

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Roman Catholic church.1952-3 to plans drawn up before the Second World War. Designed by Francis Xavier Velarde. Relief sculptures by Philip Lindsey Clark, font and Lady Altar statue by Herbert Tyson Smith. Brown brick with cast stone decoration and plain tile roofs.


Roman Catholic church.1952-3 to plans drawn up before the Second World War. Designed by Francis Xavier Velarde. Relief sculptures by Philip Lindsey Clark, font and Lady Altar statue by Herbert Tyson Smith. Brown brick with cast stone decoration and plain tile roofs.

PLAN: whilst aligned approximately north-south, liturgical compass points are used for the description of the church. Nave and sanctuary under a single roof with narrow side aisles and a shallow, curved chancel apse. Lady Chapel at east end of south aisle, sacristy with choir gallery over in wing at east end of north aisle. Attached south-east square campanile and entrance porch, and attached south-west square baptistery and entrance porch. Small porch at west end of nave.

EXTERIOR: the church is built of brown brick in English garden wall bond (5:1) without a cornice or parapet. At ground-floor level the liturgical south elevation has a flat-roofed aisle with five blind round-headed arches, each containing a cast stone relief figure of an English Martyr. The nave has round-headed clerestorey windows arranged in a pattern of four windows arranged in a cruciform separated by two single windows (4:2:4:2:4). Attached to the left-hand end of the aisle is a flat-roofed entrance porch linking to a square baptistery with a pyramidal tiled roof topped by a metal cross. The east elevation of the porch has a blind round-headed arch within which is a doorway with timber double doors and a pointed-head cast stone tympanum. The east and west elevations of the baptistery both have two-light round-headed windows with a cast stone relief mullion of an angel. The west side of the entrance porch and west ends of the two aisles each have a similar window. Attached to the right-hand end of the aisle is a similarly-detailed, flat-roofed entrance porch linking to a tall, square campanile. The campanile has a cast stone relief pieta on its liturgical south elevation. The tower has an octagonal cast stone lantern with a copper pyramidal roof topped by a metal cross. The division between the nave and sanctuary is marked by a single flying buttress. At ground-floor level is the flat-roofed Lady Chapel, which has a four-light round-headed window with cast stone relief mullions of angels. The sanctuary behind has two heights of similar four-light windows. The slightly recessed curved apse has three small square windows to the side elevation. The windows all have metal window frames; the round-headed lights have large diamond and triangular-pattern glazing. The east elevation of the curved apse is blind. The liturgical north elevation has a flat-roofed aisle at ground-floor level with three blind round-headed arches. The clerestorey fenestration is similar to that on the south elevation. At the left-hand end is the projecting two-storey gabled sacristy and choir gallery wing, with pairs of round-headed windows, and a single-storey flat-roof block beyond containing confessionals and subsidiary rooms. The curved apse has three small square windows to the north side elevation. The liturgical west end of the nave has a single-storey, gabled porch on the ground floor, with a round-headed doorway with timber double doors in the south elevation and a two-light, round-headed window with relief mullion in the west gable wall. Above is large circular window with cast stone cross glazing and a large relief figure of Christ. The external relief sculptures are by Philip Lindsey Clark.

INTERIOR: the walls are of unadorned brown brick. The floor is largely carpeted, but where visible at the east end of the nave, the sanctuary and Lady Chapel, is of large terrazzo squares with thin copper edge banding and inset cross motifs. The nave has seven-bay arcades with circular reinforced concrete columns and round-headed arches. The columns are decorated with paired silver spiral bands and the capitals have incised silver crown and cross motifs. The clerestorey windows are punched into the sheer brickwork above, and the wooden nave roof has a flat centre with striped sunken panels, and angled sides with bold zig-zagging. It is painted predominantly orange and cream. The side aisles have square relief panels of the Stations of the Cross, with the figures painted silver. The flat aisle roofs are painted orange with circular roof-lights and silver metal cross decorations. A mighty, round-headed arch separates the nave and sanctuary, echoed by a smaller, round-headed arch to the curved apse. The sanctuary is raised by a flight of shallow steps, with the roof a continuation of the nave roof. The forward placed high altar has a wide oval concrete base with a silver-painted relief carving of an angel offering a chalice. Standing within the apse arch is a large, flat-pyramidal reredos of concrete or cast stone, which recalls the Last Supper with relief heads of the twelve disciples rising to Christ at the summit. The figures are painted silver and attached to the wall behind is a silver metal rood. The Lady Chapel has an altar with a statue by Herbert Tyson Smith of Our Lady with St John Fisher holding his axe of martyrdom and a bouquet of roses, representing the English Martyrs. To the left of the sanctuary is the upper choir gallery with a round-arched opening with a bronze grille. The ceiling is painted with a diamond pattern of orange and blue on a cream background. The baptistery contains a fine stone font by Herbert Tyson Smith standing on a polished marble base. A square stone block with a gold-painted relief carving of angels chasing devils is set at a diagonal on a battered circular stem decorated with two inscribed wavy lines painted gold. The font cover is pyramidal with a fish-scale pattern and a cross finial. The baptistery roof is painted orange with thin silver and blue ribs. The adjacent flat entrance porch roof is painted with a diamond pattern of blue and white on an orange background, mirrored on the east entrance porch roof.

EXCLUSIONS: the presbytery and link block on the liturgical north side of the church are excluded from the listing.


In 1907 Roman Catholics in Wallasey erected a temporary church, constructed of corrugated iron, to replace the Mass centre set up by a priest in a local house in 1901. By the 1920s and early 1930s the first steps were taken to build a new permanent church, but plans were halted by the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war concluded shortages of labour and building materials caused further delays, but eventually the foundation stone was laid on 4 May 1952 and the church opened on 31 August 1953. The architect was Francis Xavier Velarde (1897-1960), a pupil of Professor Charles Reilly and a major Liverpool-based Catholic architect of the Inter-War and Post-War periods. The main contractor was Tysons and the cost of construction was £50,000.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of English Martyrs, Birkenhead, of 1952-3 by Francis Xavier Velarde is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architect: the church was designed by the notable Catholic architect, Francis Xavier Velarde, who had studied at the Liverpool School of Architecture where he was taught by Professor Charles Reilly before setting up a practice admired for its ecclesiastical designs, especially for Catholic churches a number of which have since been listed including the parish churches of St Teresa of the Child, Up Holland, Lancashire, and St Monica's, Bootle, Merseyside, both Grade II, and the war memorial Thanksgiving Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Blackpool, at Grade II*;
* Architectural interest: Velarde developed a highly distinctive and personal style based upon his studies of Romanesque architecture, the north German tradition of building in unadorned brick and the work of modern German designers, which he combined with a clear spirituality, with English Martyrs standing out as one of his finest post-war churches, clearly demonstrating this individual architectural style;
* Design: the church is boldly modelled with the elements of the composition separated out to create a functional geometry and series of urban spaces which make an actively positive contribution to the streetscape;
* Interior: the Romanesque character of sheer brick walls and spatial massing is embellished with high-quality craftsmanship which is sympathetic to, and enhances, the spirit of Velarde's design, notably the exuberant and distinctive colour schemes of the patterned ceilings, arcade columns with diagonal silver bands and silver motifs to the capitals, relief Stations of the Cross in the low aisles, and culminating in the sanctuary which has a fine high altar with a relief-carved angel offering a chalice and a spectacular pyramidal reredos and rood;
* Artistic interest: the highly regarded sculptor, Herbert Tyson Smith, designed both the highly unusual and very fine square font with a pyramidal fish-scale cover and relief carvings of angels chasing devils, and the altar in the Lady Chapel of Our Lady with St John Fisher.

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