The History of St Nicholas’ Church, Blundellsands
‘Some old things are lovely, warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them’. D H Lawrence
The little prefabricated iron church of St Nicholas, on the edge of the sand hills and situated at what is now the south end of Warren Road, was erected to serve the rapidly growing suburb of Blundellsands. It was a convenient place of worship for the wealthy businessmen who were building their homes along the coastal strip, with its magnificent views across the sandy shores of Liverpool Bay to the mountains of North Wales.
The grand 14th century mother church of St Helen’s, Sefton village was several miles distant to the east, yet these families of cotton merchants, and shipping owners, dressed in their Sunday best, preferred their little iron clad building in the sand hills as their place of worship. One of these businessmen, Sir William Forwood, an immensely influential figure in the life of the City of Liverpool (he served twice as Lord Mayor during his long and distinguished career), was to prove to be a great benefactor of St Nicholas’. A remark made to him by a visiting American expressing surprise at the conditions under which the people of Blundellsands worshipped, bore fruit and resulted in Forwood proposing that a more substantial structure in which to worship should be built.
A committee was formed, a competition organised and in 1872 a Foundation Stone was laid. Just over a year later, on September 4th, the new St Nicholas’ Church was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Chester, in whose Diocese the church then lay. Originally it was to have had a fine spire, where the north porch now stands, but escalating costs eventually prevented this. The resulting building was a relatively plain and modest affair (though I imagine infinitely preferable to the previous tin church), with no stained glass in its windows, no glowing oak woodwork in its chancel and sanctuary, no adequate vestry (the Vicar had a vestry of sorts in what is now St Martin’s Chapel) and no church hall for the congregation to meet in. The west end finished abruptly on the gable wall with a single large six light window and the roof was devoid of the familiar copper covered fleche.
Over the next twenty years however, as the Parish grew and prospered, significant additions and alterations were made to create the present familiar and distinctive appearance of the church on the corner of Bridge Road and Mersey Road. By the end of 1883 the church possessed its fleche, its west end gable wall, had two new windows and a rose window (replacing the original single six-light window), a narthex and baptistery (now St Barnabas’ Chapel).
At this time the interior of the Church was very plain with plastered (and stencilled) walls and ceiling, a hand pumped organ and none of the woodwork we see today. All this changed in 1890 when William Douglas Caröe, a nationally important church architect was commissioned to radically alter and beautify the interior of the church. Caröe was the son of the Danish Consul in Liverpool and his father, Anders Caröe, was a long-standing member of the congregation. The family lived in “Holmsdale” a large house where now stands the Channel Reach flats. His vision for St Nicholas’ took shape over several years, during which time he was aided and encouraged by an equally visionary incumbent, the Reverend Charles de Blois Winslow. Together these two men were to transform the interior.
From 1890 right through until 1927, from the introduction of the roof trusses and panelled chancel ceiling, to the reredos, pulpit, choir stalls, sanctuary panelling, organ screens and stained glass windows Caröe gradually improved the appearance of the church. Of course succeeding incumbents added further improvements. In 1951 St Martin’s Chapel was created as a memorial to those who had lost their lives in the recently ended war. A further Church hall was built in 1957, alongside the earlier one of 1910. In 1967 a new organ console was installed in St Martin’s Chapel. More recently, in 1996, a Votive Ship, a model of the Dalgonar was placed in this Chapel. These are but a few of the furnishings and artefacts to be found in the church and all have their stories to tell.