Why did it take ten years to build Christ Church?
This is the basis of a talk given to the Ormskirk National Trust Support Group on March, 2018
When people visit the Ministry Centre they invariably comment on it being a beautiful and well-planned building. What they do not realise is that it some 17 years to build. And more, there’s a story to be told.
The period between March 1999 and December 2006 was in many ways the most difficult, trying and failing to get first building through planning. We had to content with an organised opposition and we were savaged in local press.
The Ministry Centre story is very much a repeat of what happened when rector of Aughton, Rev W H Boulton tried to build Christ Church. He took faced organised opposition and he too was challenged in the Ormskirk Advertiser.
Eventually, some ten years after foundation stone was laid, Christ Church was eventually consecrated.
The story begins before the Norman conquest.
The parish boundary between Aughton and Ormskirk has an important part to play in the building of Christ Church. Such boundaries were very important, much more so than today and the boundary between the ancient parishes of Aughton and Ormskirk is along Hurlston brook which flows along Dyers Lane and through Coronation Park.
This is an ancient boundary. In fact, it used to be called Mere brook or in the original Anglo-Saxon, gemere brook meaning boundary. The brook actually cuts through part of Ormskirk Parish Church churchyard which would suggest that the boundary predates the building of Ormskirk Parish Church.
In fact, the reason for St Ann’s RC church for being where it is is as a direct result of this parish boundary. In the 1840’s the vicar of Ormskirk refused permission to have a Roman Catholic church built in his parish. However, Mr Boulton, the Rector of Aughton gave his permission and so St Ann’s was built on the Aughton side of Hurlston Brook.
Upto 1834, when Rev William Henry Boulton became Rector of Aughton, not much happened in this self-sufficient rural parish – apart from the civil war skirmish (or battle) on 20th August 1644.
Mr Boulton is the hero of this story. He served as Rector of St Michael’s for 50 years 6 months. The eldest son of R Boulton, of Harrock Hall, a well-to-do family, he was educated at Trinity College, Oxford. Moreover, he managed to marry a rich widow. An Evangelical in his views, he was said to have had a genial and benevolent disposition. He was a justice of the peace for the county.
As rector he enjoyed a high income but it would have been expected of him to use this for the benefit of his parishioners. In a tribute made to him towards the end of his ministry, his parishioners wrote: “He spared neither himself nor his wealth for the welfare of his parishioners and his neighbours. Christ Church stands as a lasting monument to his generosity, and that of his family, who jointly contributed £4000 to its erection
It was during his incumbency that a major event took place in his parish, representing a massive technological breakthrough and one which would completely transform his parish along with the entire world. On 2 April, 1849 the railway station at Town Green opened. Now Aughton was connected to the wider world and this would soon lead to a rapidly growing population.
In fact, there was already a movement to build a new church to the north of the parish. In 1848 prompted by some members of his parish, Mr Boulton wrote to Colonel Plumbe Tempest the Patron of St Michael’s and the principle landowner of the district, requesting a new church be built. This would be a chapel-of-ease, that is not a parish church in its own right but a daughter church of St Michael’s.
It seemed that he was given a strong push by Thomas Culshaw, a church member with some influence and much energy, who himself petitioned Colonel Plumbe for a new church. In his letter he offers the Colonel some practical suggestions for financing this church.
Mr Culshaw cites three reasons for a new church. Firstly, some 329 parishioners lived more than two miles from their parish church, St Michael’s. It seems that Ormskirk Parish Church doesn’t count – even though it would have been very close to where these residents lived. However, he argues that this new church would need to be ¾ mile from Ormskirk boundary.
Moreover, Mr Culshaw argues that that these parishioners do not want to go to Ormskirk because it belonged to the high church Oxford Movement what he calls Puseyism.
Finally he cites “vice of all descriptions – the prostitution, the drunkenness and pilfering carried on in this neighbourhood, together with the ignorance and heathenism of the population.” He continues: “for of late, crime and immorality have been much on the increase partly growing to the great influx of the Irish and partly owing to the great want of clerical supervision.”
Some things never change.
In a further letter Mr Culshaw offers some land close to St Ann’s church and money.
However, Colonel Plumbe did not give his permission partly because Lord Derby was already building two new churches for Ormskirk – at Newburgh and Westhead and also because he perceived differences between Mr Boulton and this group of parishioners
However, in 1865 a new opportunity arises when suddenly, it seems out of the blue, some land is made available for a new church. In a circular written to his parishioners Mr Boulton writes;
“It has accordingly been determined that immediate exertions should be used to build a new church for about 400 persons, and for this object a very eligible site of a statute acre of land, or rather more, on Aughton Moss, has been generously offered as a gift by Edward Houghton, Esq., of Lytham.”
He argues that the present parish church, St Michael’s, was unable to accommodate all the worshippers on a Sunday. He points out that the census of 1861 recorded the number of inhabitants within the parish as 1,869 with 360 houses. That number had increased from the previous census by between 400 and 500 inhabitants and approximately 100 more houses.
Here Mr Boulton takes a risk, even a step of faith The estimated cost of this new church is £6000 but only £4000 has been collected. He decides to go for it.
Architects are appointed: W. & J. Hay of Oxton Road, Birkenhead. They had designed St Hilary, Wallasey in 1859. Christ Church was designed in the “flowering decorated” style.
Clearly this was an ambitious project in that the church was designed to hold over 400. It was later to be known as the little cathedral on the hill – ambitious to say the least.
So on 26th March, 1867 the Christ Church foundation stone was laid by the Lord Bishop of Chester, Rt Reverend William Jacobson. (The Diocese of Liverpool was only formed in 1880)
A bottle, hermetically sealed, containing copies of the ” Ormskirk Advertiser,” ” London Standard,” ” Liverpool Daily Post,” “Courier,” and ” Mail,” with current coins of the realm, were placed in the customary cavity under the stone.
The Ormskirk Advertiser wrote:
“Aughton is with easy reach of Liverpool and merchants from that world-renowned seaport who wish for a country seat where they can take their families away from the foul and murky atmosphere of the big town, could scarcely pitch upon a more suitable spot.”
The ceremony took place on a windy but sunny afternoon. The crowds caught a glimpse of Brunel’s great ship the “Great Eastern” steaming out of Liverpool. This is clearly the age of massive technological advance.
The “Great Eastern was the largest ship ever built at the time. Great as it was, that ship could not and did not last; after distinguished service it was broken up over at New Ferry in 1889.
Building begins with most of the stone quarried locally in the Aughton Delph. Caen stone, being easily workable, was used for font, pulpit and reredos
Within four years the church had been completed outside but inside was just an empty shell. Moreover, the churchyard had not yet been levelled.
This was 1871 and Mr Boulton was facing a financial crisis with expenditure rising to £7440. The project was already £2650 overspent and some £1700 was still needed for completion – and that was not counting the £1000 required to endow the living.
At this point the rector is taking flak, not least from those who disputed the need for such a new church. Mr Boulton wanted to press on while it was reported that a group of parishioners “refuse to expend any more money except in actually opening the church.”
The Ormskirk Advertiser suggests that Lord Derby is called in to arbitrate.
A pamphlet is issued calling for a crisis meeting between the rector and his parishioners.
He was presented with two options. The first was for the Rector to raise another £3500. This would give him freedom of action including the option not charging for pews. The second was for a committee to take over the completion and then the running of the church: this option would need just £1700, less than half of Mr Boulton’s target.
Incidentally it seems that later in 1871 a license was given for the performance of divine service at Christ Church until consecration – and so things clearly started moving.
However, in 1872 a poem is widely circulated in which the Rev W H Boulton is gently mocked.
“ST. LONG LANE.”
(Not in the Calendar).
Serene and calm, bold and high,
Rises the tower of St. Long Lane,
Proudly uplifting to the sky
Its glittering pinnacles and fane.
Through bygone years, the wint’ry blast
Hath beat around its breast in vain ;
Firm as a rock its bulwarks last
This noble pile of St. Long Lane
Afar the ship-toss’d sailor sees,
O’er crested wave and watery main,
Welcome as is propitious breeze,
The distant tower of St. Long Lane.
The foot-sore traveller stays to view,
With eager glance and optic strain,
Marks well the course he must pursue
By Magic Tower of St. Long Lane.
But yet, withal, some spell doth hold,
In deep mysterious hidden chain,
Groined arch, and tower, and turrets bold,
Of Mystic Church of St. Long Lane.
And though high soars her lofty head,
Beacon of ocean and of plain,
Her aisles are silent and no prayers are said
In hapless fabric of St. Long Lane.
Unused, unopened, and unblest,
A weird-like influence to her walls pertain :
Where feathery songsters pipe themselves to rest,
The only choristers of St. Long Lane.
And winters pass and summers go.
And sunlight shines and sunbeams wane,
O’er cloistered church forlorn below
The Gothic tower of St. Long Lane.
However, some how, Mr Boulton prevailed and he manages to find the rest of the finance so that Christ Church is fitted out in some style.
On 4th May, 1877 the Bishop of Chester returns for the consecration of Christ Church as a chapel-of-ease by took place, even though the building had been in use since 1872. This is because a church building is only consecrated once all outstanding debts are paid. The total cost of building Christ Church was £12000 with some £4000 being donated by the Rector of Aughton and his family.
Incidentally in 1872 Long Lane Baptist church was built to hold 180 people with the school-room with room for 100 children. The cost for this building was £600
In 1874, Christ Church School (now known as the Old School) was opened.
There are many figures, both in wood and stone, and many faces. You can see the face of the Bishop of Chester who laid the foundation stone- Rt Rev William Jacobson, above the pulpit. On the facing side of the chancel appears the head of Queen Victoria.
The head Rev William Henry Boulton, is on the outside of the building, near the top of the tower. Exposed to the elements, he is now corroded
A ring of eight bells was installed in 1878, weighing a total of 3.6 tons.
The first peal was sounded on Thursday, 19 September that year.
On the 8th Anniversary of the Consecration, May 1885, Christ Church was lit by gas – the entire cost being borne by Mrs D Williams who lived in ‘Artegas’ on the corner of Long Lane and Prescot Road.
IN April, 1885 Boulton died in post. The memorial window to him and his wife Anne, who died three years earlier is situated in Christ Church on the south side of the sanctuary. It has as its theme: Feed my sheep”