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St Mary's RC Church; History, Records and Information

The Catholic Church of St Mary
Highfield Street
L3 6AA

The first Catholic church in Liverpool since the Reformation was built
in Edmund Street, on what was then a narrow path just outside the
town, in the early eighteenth century. Exactly when the church
opened is unclear, but some of it must have been completed by 1727,
as Nicholas Blundell records, in his diary, see 256 people
assembled in it to receive their palms at one of the Masses on Palm
Sunday. This church was destroyed by an anti-Catholic mob in 1746,
who were rioting following the defeat of the Jacobite Rebellion; 'On
April 30th ... a mob of seaman, ship's carpenters and others came to
burn the Catholic chapel in Edmund Street. The two Jesuit fathers and
several of the principle members of the congregation came out to
meet them and were treated with surprising  respect' wrote Robert
Stoner, an invaluable guide to the history of early Liverpool
Catholicism. 'Quietly and without any violence the crowd opened a
passageway for Father Bedingfeld to go to the alter, take the
Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle and solemnly carry it, through
a lane formed by the crowd, across Edmund Street to the house of a
friendly Presbyterian gentle named Howard, who opened his
door to receive him ... Then the mob tore up the benches, made a
bonfire of everything combustible in the chapel and priests' houses,
and completely destroyed the chapel and four adjacent houses'. In
May of 1746, the mob destroyed a private house which was
suspected of housing a Catholic chapel. This was almost certainly the
house of Mrs Elizabeth Greene, whose husband, Captain Francis
Greene, had been the only Catholic from Liverpool, as far as is
known, to have joined Prince Charles in the doomed Jacobite
Rebellion of 1845. Undeterred, Mrs Greene rented a house in Dale
Street and open a temporary chapel in the attic. 'Here on Sundays
and holidays the faithful would gather while it was still dark, being
admitted in small groups, by different entrances by the light of a
candle, until the attic itself, the lodging-rooms and tea-rooms in the
two storeys below and the staircases were all full,' says Stoner.
'Although the two houses on either side were owned by friendly
Presbyterian families, no little bell was rung to announce the
Consecrations or the Communion, but a silent signal was passed from
group to group.'

	Perhaps fearing further rioting, the city Corporation refused
permission to rebuild the chapel in Edmund Street, but permission
was granted for a warehouse which could be used 'for any purpose'.
The new St Mary's was built in a courtyard just to the south of the
upper end of Edmund Street, almost on Bixteth Street. 'The new two-
storey chapel of brick faced with stucco ... was designed with a view
to defence as well as camouflage,' writes Stoner. 'The whole of the
eastern side of the chapel was made to look exactly like a warehouse.
Two large folding double doors were constructed, one above the 
other, which, if they had been opened, would have disclosed solid
wall behind them. Above them was fixed a rope and pulley, capped
against the rain, as is usual in Liverpool. And the large leaded
windows only looked into the enclosed courtyard and gave sufficient
light for Mass. The upper storey was the Chapel and was reached by
a broad staircase on each side from within the lower storey of the
building. The end portion, from which these staircases led, was
bricked off from the rest of the ground floor, which was used for
lumber as part of the disguise, and this end portion was also secured
by strong double doors.' Despite these precautions, the Warehouse
Chapel was discovered and attacked in 1759, but was so strongly built
that the damage was quickly repaired. Liverpool's Catholic
community grew in status and confidence at the end of the
eighteenth century, building new chapels in Chorley Street (mainly
for Irish seaman) in 1777 and St Peter's in Seel Street (as well as the
chapel in Sir Thomas Buildings) in 1788. By 1845 it was felt necessary
to build a church 'worthy of the rising importance of the town and
the position of Catholics', and a new St Mary's Church, designed by
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, was built in Edmund Street to
replace the old Warehouse Chapel. It was described as 'magnificent'
and 'a grand monument of architectural skill,' by the Catholic
Almanac in 1900. In 1885, as the site was needed for the expansion of
Liverpool Exchange railway station, the church was moved to
Highfield Street piece by piece and reassembled, while the
congregation worshipped in a temporary iron church on Pownall
Square. Sadly, this Pugin church was lost in the Blitz, and the
handsome replacement church, opened in 1953 and designed by
Weightman & Bullen, has closed very recently, ending hundreds of
years of Catholic worship at the site.

The above description comes from 
'The Churches of Liverpool' 
by David Lewis
Published by The Bluecoat Press
ISBN 1 872568 76 9

© 2001 David Lewis 

(This book also has many fine photographs of Liverpool churches)

Reproduced with the permission of:
Colin Wilkinson of
The Bluecoat Press 
Bluecoat Chambers 
School Lane
L1 3BX

Extracts from Archdiocese of Liverpool Directories:

Founded: December 2nd 1707

New church: Edmund Street in 1845

Removed to Highfield Street and reconsecrated July 7th 1885

Baptism Registers 1741 - 1895 (at Liverpool Record Office)

Marriage Register 1741 - 1919 (at Liverpool Record Office)

Destroyed by enemy action in 1941

Rebuilt in 1953

Parish closed 2000

Later registers held at St Anthony's, Scotland Road


The Church building was demolished in 2001.

Early registers have been deposited at the Liverpool Record Office

Record Office ref.:	282 HIG	
Registers:		Bap.	1741 - 1895 *
			Mat.	1837 - 1919 *
			Def.	1856 - 1883, 1889 - 1900, 1918 *



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Last Updated May 2007
© 2007 Patrick Neill