Woodcut of old church and docks.


Liverpool Parish Church stands at the heart of the business centre of the city, looking across the River Mersey, and adjacent to the Liverpool Waterfront. There has been a place of worship on this site for more than 750 years.

The Medieval Church

The original chapel of St Mary Del Quay, (believed to be situated near to the present day Maritime Chapel) is first mentioned in records in 1257.

There is no certainty about when it was built or who built it, but we know it was used a chapel of ease for the main Parish Church which is situated about four miles away in Walton in north Liverpool (a chapel of ease is a church building, built within the boundary of the Parish for the attendance of those who could not easily reach the main Parish Church).

Ancient Stonework    Stonework embedded and encased in later phases of brick.

By the mid-14th century the population of Liverpool had grown to about 1,000 people and an outbreak of plague prompted the consecration of the church yard for burial. Around the same time in 1361/62, a larger chapel was constructed and dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of mariners. It may have been used as a votive chapel in which offerings and prayers for safe passage would be made by sailors or those about to cross the River Mersey on the hazardous ferry run by monks of Birkenhead Priory. At least one guide book to the city, dating from the late-18th century talks about a statue of St Nicholas in the church yard to which the sailors presented offerings before going to sea.

During the later Middle Ages the City of Liverpool grew. In the late 15th century the existing chapels were unified and the church doubled its size with the addition of an aisle and further chantry altars; it was now dedicated not only to St Mary and St Nicholas, but also St John. Each chantry altar had its own priest paid for by a wealthy patron for whose souls they would pray; a fourth chantry of St Katherine also served as a grammar school.

A national inventory of church goods made in the mid-16th century shows St Nick’s was more substantially and lavishly furnished than the mother church at Walton. It was also used for more than just religious purposes. The town held meetings there, local taxes and transactions were collected there and in the late-16th century sail making was taking place, the church being one of the largest and driest places in the town (although this practice was later condemned by the town’s authorities).

HMS Liverpool BellThe bell from HMS Liverpool is situated in the Maritime Chapel.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

During the Civil War, the Parliamentarians, who were defending the nearby Liverpool Castle, surrendered and were imprisoned in the church. In 1699, the Parish of Liverpool, with a population of about 5,000, was created as an independent parish in its own right and had two churches: Our Lady and St Nicholas (often called the ‘Old Church’ or St Nicholas) and a new parish church of St Peter. The new parish had the highly unusual arrangement of having two Rectors, who were to be of equal status and to preach alternately in both the churches.

In 1747, a spire was added to the existing tower of the church, and in 1749 the churchyard was extended by the addition of a piece of land reclaimed from the river due to the construction of a sea wall. It is hard to imagine now, but before the land was reclaimed during the late-19th century to make a space for the present Liver Building, the river and dock system actually came right up to the boundary wall of the church.

George’s Dock, which was the third dock to open (in 1771), was immediately outside the church and was the resort of ships arriving largely from the West Indies. A merchants' coffee house stood in the church yard (possibly in the former chapel building of St Mary del Quay) which had commanding views of the river. Thoroughfares passed in every direction through the church yard which created an atmosphere of hustle and bustle, far removed from the traditional quiet place of solitude and reflection anticipated in a church yard.

Although the churchyard was well used, by 1775 the fabric of the building was reported to be in a ruinous state. An unusual approach to its redevelopment was adopted, with the decaying roof and walls being dismantled, and the new church building constructed around the existing tower and also the pews (whose owners forbade their dismantlement).

St Peter's Chapel

The wooden altar in St. Peter's Chapel.

18th Century ChurchPew Plans


Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Subsequent neglect to maintain the tower resulted in its failure in the early-19th century: it collapsed in 1810 as the congregation were assembling for morning prayer, and 25 people, including 17 girls from the Moorfields Charity School, were killed. A new tower was subsequently designed in 1815 by Thomas Harrison of Chester. At the end of the 19th century the Church began its association with the Gladstone family when William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister, acquired the Living. His descendants continue to appoint the Rector.

From 1815 until 1927 the building was little changed but in that year an administrative block, which now includes the Parish Centre, was added. On 21st December 1940, the church was hit by incendiary bombs during an air raid, and in the blaze which followed, the church was destroyed. Only the tower and the administrative block were unscathed. A great many interesting memorials to individuals and families important in the early history of Liverpool were lost, along with a set of stained glass windows, many of which also had historical links. Throughout the war, worship continued in the ruins and in a series of temporary buildings erected on the site. The old tower and spire escaped serious damage and were incorporated into a new church built to the design of Edward C Butler and consecrated in 1952 on the Feast of St Luke (18 October).


Aftermath of the BlitzDedication of Finial Cross

In 1993 a major re-organisation of the administrative block was undertaken, and at the same time the chapel in the north aisle was reordered to become the Maritime Memorial Chapel (when the great statue by Arthur Dooley of the Virgin of the Quay was installed); Princess Alexandra opened the Parish Centre in the same year.

Today the Tower continues to appear on maritime navigation charts, even though there are taller buildings around us. This is not the only way in which the church’s strong maritime links continue. Every year a number of maritime groups come to the church for services. At the same time, St Nick’s is at the heart of the business and commercial districts and also serves as the main civic church. The building and Gardens continue to develop and find new uses, particularly with the refurbishment of the Alexandra Room in 2017 and the new garden designs in 2018. You can find out more about St Nicholas’ Gardens, including some of the sculptures and memorials here

St Nick’s remains one of the most prominent churches of the North West. In the 20th century, six Rectors of Liverpool became bishops and one became a Cathedral Dean. One curate, Michael Ramsey, became Archbishop of Canterbury, and a number of other curates have gone on to be Deans and Bishops. Today the Church is part of the Greater Churches Network of the Church of England, but locally it is still one of the most significant buildings in Liverpool’s heritage. As visitors to the city today once again turn their attention to the waterfront, St Nick’s remains where it has always been: the last sight you see as you leave the shore, and the first sight you see as you return.

Altar and Rood

Sanctuary and Rood Cross

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