Christ Church

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The building of Christ Church

The land on which Christ Church stands was originally part of monastic property and belonged to the monks in the Priory near Woodside. When Henry VIII closed the Priory he sold the land to Ralph Worsley who had been a page at his court. Ralph Womley's daughter married Thomas Powell, a merchant in Liverpool and in 1713 the land was sold by the Powell's to John Cleveland. His daughter married Francis Price and a large pan of the land on which Birkenhead was built remained in the Price family for over 100 years. In November 1836, a Mr Ball purchased thirteen acres and three perches of land for 7195-15-0 from Mr Price, including several cottages. He then sold William Potter a portion of the land on the west side of Slatey lane. This lane ran from near the Grange Farm to the stone quarries just beyond our church. It was a very narrow track and was widened about the time the church was built.

The outside of the original church building was shaped differently at the east end. The present cloakrooms, kitchen, staircases, organ chamber and choir vestry were added later.

The church was built of red sandstone from the quarries nearby and finished in 1849. It was the largest church to be built in Wirral and was designed by Robert William Jearnard, an architect from London.

It had 1209 sittings - 414 were free and were "to remain unappropriated forever." The pews and free sittings have no distinctive difference in appearance except the former have very low doors. The architectural style is of the date of the latter part of the reign of Edward I. The reading desk and the clerk's desk were on the south side of the chancel and the pulpit which had carved canopies, pendants, and quatrefoil panels, on the north side.

The pulpit was much higher than the present one and Canon Robson commented on how far away from the people he felt when preaching.

The organ and choir were in the gallery at the west end of the church. The crypt room was used as a school and had desks arranged for 100 infants, 200 girls and 370 boys - a total of 760 children. The day school in Borough Road did not even open until 1880.

There were three entrances to the church; through the west door to the Nave and the Nave Gallery, through two entrances at the North and South sides of the church to the North and South Galleries and transepts and to the school room - these latter entrances are rarely used today.

The church was lit by gas until 1899 when a faculty to install electric light was given and the church changed to electric light on 31st January 1900.

The Opening of Christ Church

From The Claughton Messenger 1903:

"The unconsecrated building was opened by licence on Sunday 25th February 1849.
 

General view to the east end
 
  
The west end with its gallery
 
  
The north and south transept galleries.

1878 - 1880

In 1881 major alterations were made at the east end of the church which was extended to make two new exit staircases. These are the staircases we normally use today. The extension added two more rooms below, our present kitchen and the area including the church office and ladies toilet. The alterations were discussed at the Annual Vestry Meeting in 1878, when Canon Robson commented on "the smallness of the egnefs" (exits) from the church, the unusual height of the pulpit and the impossibility of rendering the musical portions of the services effectively with the organ at the West End. It was proposed that an architect should be consulted and so long as the work was no more than 1,000 the alterations should be carried out. A faculty was obtained and at the March Vestry Meeting in 1880 the plans were accepted at the cost of 1,130.

1881

In 1881 the organ was moved from the back of the nave gallery to its present position and the choir moved into the chancel. The pulpit was lowered and as the result of a special bazaar to raise the money a clock was placed in the spire.

1925

In 1924 the church was struck by lightning, causing damage to the organ and setting the roof of the south transept on fire. The church had to close for several weeks while the transept was boarded off. From the insurance money and voluntary contributions it was decided to make several improvements. An opening was made high up in the wall of the south transept between the gallery and organ chamber. A new screen of oak replaced a glass screen at the west end (main entrance). A new heating system was installed and electric wiring was renewed. One or two box pews were removed from the nave and transepts to make an open space in front of the chancel steps and the walls of the whole church were redecorated.

In Rev Taylor's incumbency more seats in the nave were removed and all the pews were spaced out to give room to kneel in comfort. Later, in Rev Skipper's time, seats in the chancel on the north side were removed to make a new choir vestry.

Notes on the organ and its position

Although the date 1888 appears on the console of our organ, the greater part of the instrument is earlier than this. The original instrument by Henry Willis, "Father" Willis, being installed some-time between 1855 and 1865. This earlier organ was situated in the West Gallery, the best position for sound, and although only two manual, was quite a large instrument with 25 stops. The removal of the organ from this position to the chance! took place in 1881, and is regarded by many musicians and organ lovers nowadays as a mistake. As a result, the organ could not be heard in the nave, therefore, it was decided to enlarge it and this was done by Henry Willis in 1881.

In 1925, the church was struck by lightning and a fire started which did minor damage to the organ. A thorough overhaul was required, with some mechanical improvements, and these were carried out by Henry Willis III, the organ builders grandson.

A minor restoration and cleaning were done i& 1948, but a more comprehensive renewal of worn-out parts was carried out by Messrs Rushworth and Dreaper in 1976 at a cost of 10,000. To celebrate the restoration on that occasion, a recital was given by the internationally famous organist Nicholas Danby in March 1977.

A nationally known expert on organs said of our organ - "The organ is a superb example of Henry Willis I and as such can be almost classed as a national heritage."

The organ has thirty-nine speaking stops and three manuals.

Notes about  pew rents

Last century pew rents were common in most churches. Parishioners chose where they would like to sit and paid for each sitting. The cost of a sitting might vary from one to five shillings, old money. Families were large in those days and some had more than one pew allocated to them.

The name of the family was printed on a card attached to the end of the pew and no-one else was expected to sit in those seats. Families often left their Bibles, prayer books and cushions in the pews.

A few seats were free for visitors. In Christ Church, 414 seats, chiefly in the galleries, were free while the remaining 800 were rented. In St Michael's Church, all the seats on the north side of the centre aisle were rented and those on the south side were free.

when people visited another church, perhaps when they were on holiday, they usually asked the Wardens or Sidesmen at the door where they might find a free seat and the sidesman would escort them to a place.

Pew rents were paid quarterly or half-yearly. In 1899 pew rents amounted to 90 at Christ Church and 82 at St Michael's. Each year a Pew Renter's Warden was elected at the Annual Vestry Meeting. In 1882 he was paid 10 for his work.

At the consecration of Christ Church in 1854, a document was drawn up which stated that the Church Wardens were allowed up to 50 a year from the pew rents to provide salaries for the Verger and other officers of the Church and to provide vestments, books, bread and wine for Holy Communion. The sum of 50 could only be altered by consent of the Bishop of Chester.

Pew rents had been abolished in most churches by the time of the Second World War in 1939.
 

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Map reference : 


These notes and pictures gave been copied from the church's own web site.

Visit them at  http://christchurch.birkenhead.net/
 

Please see our  Home Page  for important copyright notice

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This site has been constructed by, and remains the copyright of, its authors,
Edwin and Sheila Macadam,

Shelwin, 30, Eynsham Road, Botley,
Oxford OX2 9BP
July 2001 -