As we approach one hundred and fifty years of the church, let us look back at the History of St. Bridget’s Wavertree and see how it has fared in a changing world. The first part describes the early history and the first 100 years of life in the church (the information is based on extracts from a publication written by the Reverend Peter Pritchard who was curate at St. Bridget’s when the 100th anniversary took place). The second part covers events from 1972 and is based on extracts from St. Bridget’s records.
Obviously, among all the other countless important events in Lancashire at the time, the opening of another church in the nineteenth century does not merit much space, and so it is not surprising that in the third volume of the Victorian County History of Lancashire we find only the following short statement: “In 1871 St. Bridget’s was erected as a Chapel of Ease; it possesses a reredos of Venetian Mosaic work. A separate ecclesiastical parish was constituted in 1901.”
That is brief and to the point, and the purpose of this history is to fill out the picture since the days when the committee consisting of the rector of Liverpool, The Reverend A. Lodge, and five Wavertree laymen put in hand the planning of and raising funds for a church “to be for the free and unappropriated use of all the inhabitants, rich and poor alike, without distinction.”
A glance through the subscription list which raised £5,477 of the £6,600 required for the building, reveals many prominent names in Victorian Liverpool; among them William Rathbone, Thomas Brocklebank and William Gladstone. But among the famous, we also find contributions from Mr. Parker, a plasterer, Mr. Davies, a gardener, and anonymous people listed simply as “a poor woman”, “a working man”, and “a Free Churchman”. The principal of Liverpool college, The Reverend George Butler, preached a sermon at Holy Trinity Church and the offertory of £38 was given to the fund.
The foundation stone of the new church was laid on Monday, 21st September, 1868, by The Reverend Augustus Campbell, and in an article published in “The Liverpool Mercury” on Wednesday, 5th of July, 1871, a summary of the progress made in the three years is given, together with a full description of the building which because it “diverged in a striking manner from every architectural style adopted in the churches of this district of England” had come in for some criticism. The article also notes that the total cost of the church is now about £8,000, and that some of this still has to be raised. Some idea of the architectural interest evoked at the time can be gathered from the fact that long and detailed sections were devoted to the Church with pictures and plans in professional journals, for example “The Building News” had a special article on 8th December, 1876, and the magazine “The Builder” had its main description on 15th July, 1871, and an additional article on the alter-table on 12th March, 1881.
With the consecration of the new church in 1872 begins the long period of association with Holy Trinity Parish, because for many years St. Bridget’s is a “Chapel of Ease” within Wavertree Parish. The name refers to “a consecrated building in aid of the parish church to which building a separate district has not been assigned.” So if we look up in such references as “Gore’s Directory of Liverpool” the entries for St. Bridget’s in those early years we find it always linked with the Parish Church. From 1874 to 1881 the directory gives the names of the Rector of the Parish and the curates and then states “Curates of the parish officiate for both churches”. After 1882, however, it seems that a distinction is made between the curate at the Parish church only, and the curate who serves the whole district- for in that year The Reverend C. Stephenson is called the curate of the district, whereas the Reverend W.H. Harpur is listed as curate of Holy Trinity church.
By this time the Reverend Aneurin Lodge, who had been responsible for the building of St. Bridget’s, had been succeeded by the Reverend C.W Stubbs, and on the occasion of his leaving to become Dean of Ely, in 1894, that we find a mention and a description of St. Bridget’s in the “Liverpool Review” for 30th June. The article says:
“The noble and beautiful interior of the church which Rector Lodge built some 22 years ago as a Chapel of Ease to Holy Trinity was packed even to the porch, the seating accommodation being altogether inadequate to the demand, and St. Bridget’s under such circumstances presents a striking spectacle. From the outside the edifice has a singularly uninviting- I should call it an absolute ugly- appearance….. Such an unpromising exterior was surely designed for the purpose of enhancing and emphasizing the beauty within. For here symmetry of form and harmony of colour come upon the stranger with such unexpected lavishness that he is lost for the moment in admiration and pleased surprise”.
So roughly a generation after its opening, the church building was still impressing people by its unusual beauty.
At the end of the nineteenth century, when the nation was taking the first steps towards the formation of the welfare state, St. Bridget’s was a thriving parish. Together with Holy Trinity church, it boasted a total of five clergymen, led by Canon J.T Mitchell. The changing nature of the parish, which today is one of the most socially deprived in Liverpool, is clearly underlined by the two annual activities recorded as popular events in 1897: the flower service and St. Bridget’s swimming club. The church also had a thriving social club.
From 1875, the church worked alongside the church schools of St. Bridget. By the 1890’s there was a real need to expand both the Day Schools and Sunday Schools which carried the church’s name. In 1891 a Grand Bazarre was held to raise funds to support this expansion. A list of individuals who subscribed to building funds underlines the Victorian interest in the provision of Christian education- an interest which has been deeply unfashionable in the last years of the twentieth century, but which is receiving renewed government support at the beginning of the twenty-first.
As the Victorian era was succeeded by the Edwardian, and the Boer war came to an end, Liverpool had a new bishop in Francis Chavasse, and the foundation stone of the soon-to-be-built Anglican Cathedral was laid by Edward VII in 1904. Three years later, St. Bridget’s also welcomed a new churchman- Charles Peter Clarke- who would enjoy a long association with the church. After six years as curate, he became vicar of St. Bridget’s in 1913, and went on to serve in that role until 1950. In this period, St. Bridget’s became a separate and distinct parish rather than a satellite of Holy Trinity. In 1950, the vicar- by then Canon Clarke – retired, having served the Church faithfully through the episcopates of three Bishops- Chavasse, David and Martin. He left a newly restored church organ to the care of his successor, Richard Coulter, who had been a Chaplain to the Forces in World War II. After the war, British society was very different and a vicar’s work was far more challenging, but he faithfully served a committed congregation. Periods without an incumbent followed for St. Bridget’s, placing great responsibility on those lay people who took up the task of keeping the Church functioning. A brief period of service by Herbert Mountfield was followed by a further time without a vicar. To the relief of all, five years of stability under Reverend Harold Bishop began in 1964.
In 1966, only nine weeks after his enthronement as Bishop of Liverpool, Stuart Blanche preached in St. Bridget’s to mark the building’s rededication, with a service of thanksgiving following its internal redecoration, which restored the interior to the glory of its inception.
Mr. Bishop left St. Bridget’s in 1969 to take up the post of vicar of All Saints’ Church in Rainford, and his replacement at St. Bridget’s, the Reverend Ted Littlejohn, was instituted that October. By that year, St. Bridget’s was increasingly faced with the challenge of caring for and achieving relevance to the local community.
On the 30th April 1972, St. Bridget’s celebrated its Centenary. In October of that year, Nigel Sands was appointed as the new vicar. He took on a church whose finances were deeply insecure, but nonetheless, oversaw continuing fine work in the community- notably the highly successful nursery run by three of the church’s stalwart ladies.
The years of the 1970’s reflect the burgeoning financial needs of the church. Gift Days and Fairs briefly alleviated the problems, but the major contributor to running costs was the nursery. In 1974, the church received a gift of a new processional cross, and new robes were purchased for the choir, creating a processional scene of great dignity.
Two years later, the Church’s school celebrated their centenary in July with a range of activities including a service of thanksgiving attended by the Bishops of Liverpool and Warrington, and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. In the same year, HRH Princess Alexandra visited the school.
New curtains were given to the church in 1977 in memory of Ken Thompson, a regular member of the congregation; today they still cover the West doors of the Church, although their present condition fully attests to their 24 years of use.
At this time, under the auspices of the organist, Eric Trust, the existing organ- which needed an estimated £16,000 of repair work- was replaced by one purchased from St. Mary’s Church in Ince for £5184. An organ fund was needed to pay for this, and gifts were received from a number of Liverpool Parishes.
When Reverend Sands left in 1978, his replacement, Alan Ripley, took on a church whose finances were sound- so much so that in 1979, a house was purchased for Sister Carol Reeve of the Church Army, while she worked at St. Bridget’s. She led regular Summer Schools for local children.
The early years of the 1980’s were expensive for St. Bridget’s, which had to fund extensive repairs to the Church porch, the Church Hall and Sister Carol’s house. The annual visit of Liverpool Male Voice Choir was a welcome adjunct to the necessary fundraising. In 1983, the old vicarage was sold and a new one, at the corner of Lawrence and Salisbury roads, was purchased.
Records continue to identify a variety of fundraising events such as sponsored hymn singing by the choir and jumble sales. Money raised from these events was used to refurbish the Church pianos- just in time for a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of curate Rev. Pritchard’s ordination.
Numbers attending the nursery began to fall as one of the local schools offered a free facility. In 1985 the P.C.C. agreed to sell the Church Hall as it was in a poor state of repair- although it would be some time before this objective was achieved.
Bill Sanders, the present incumbent of St. Bridget’s, came to the church in September of 1987. Under his leadership, some significant changes were made to the interior of the building- a new kitchen and toilets, new porch doors and carpet! The following year, 1990, a new central heating system increased the comfort of congregation and minister.
By 1991, the church hall had at last been sold, leaving St. Bridget’s with only the church building itself as a location for its ministry to the community. Ted Harris and Hugh Lea-Wilson began the arduous task of creating beauty from the jungle that was the church garden.
1994 was an active year, both spiritually- with strong participation in the JIM (Jesus In Me) Mission- and in its ministry to the community, with initial discussion of plans to purchase the adjacent school building after its cessation as a school. In 1995, the Alpha course arrived at St. Bridget’s, and a group of church members embarked on training under the GUML (Group for Urban Ministry and Leadership) scheme. In July of that year, the church architect recommended the purchase and refurbishment of the old school- a process revealed by the subsequent survey as being far more costly and difficult than anticipated.
Eric Trust led a choir of some 50 members of the Church in a Christmas production of Graham Kendrick’s ‘Rumours of Angels’ in 1995, assisted by Alan Kendrick, the composer’s brother, and Alan Kennedy, one of the church’s leaders.
In 1996, Bill Sanders added the church of St. Thomas’, Wavertree, to his ministry. Fortuitously, Hugh Lea-Wilson was licensed that year as a Lay Reader. A new sound system was purchased, facilitating a repeat production of ‘Rumours of Angels’ and ‘Crown Him’.
St. Bridget’s celebrated its 125th year in 1997, coincidentally the year that Bishop David Shepherd retired. The vicarage in Lawrence Road was also retired and replaced by a newer building in Ashfield, near to St. Thomas’ Church, reflecting the induction of Bill Sanders to joint charge of both churches.
In the years since then, the major initiative has been the purchase of the former school building- after a protracted negotiation- and the inception of ‘St. Bridget’s Lighthouse’ with its expressed purpose to serve the community in both its secular and spiritual needs.
Fundraising has become a bigger issue than at any other time in the history of St. Bridget’s: but we go forward in the certain faith that this is not our Project, but The Lord’s, and that He will bring His plans to fruition.