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SAVING ST JOHN THE DIVINE, FAIRFIELD

THE BACKGROUND TO THE CAMPAIGN

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Welcome to the new website on the history and campaign to successfully save St John the Divine, Fairfield, Liverpool from demolition. A hard-fought campaign against a unlisted building, yet an important building for the history of Liverpool, and of course a noticeable landmark on the entrance and exit from the main thoroughfare into Liverpool City Centre.

WELCOME

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SAVING ST JOHN THE DIVINE, FAIRFIELD

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This website is to review three items.

 

1- To provide a background on the brief history of St John the Divine and how the building was constructed, altered, and left empty for some years.

 

2 - To focus on the campaign that we went through to highlight the plight of the building, secure the building’s future, and save it from the wrecker’s ball.

 

3 - To provide a clear outcome in the process, so that this website can provide a testament that abandoned churches do not need to be demolished, and that they can be used for alternative requirements.

St. John The Divine Church is unlisted and a much-loved church particularly by the residents of Kensington and Fairfield. The Church was built between 1851-53 and built by the architect W Raffles Brown. The building was used as a Church and community centre till 2007. We then learnt in 2008 that there was a very great threat to the Church's future when the church council said it needed to be bulldozed because of its dangerous state.

 

A spokesman added: “Structural engineers have advised that there are major problems with the church spire which make it a very serious health and safety risk. “The repair work could cost anything up to £500,000 and would need to start immediately, so the church council felt we had no other option.” The building will be demolished and the church will use the proceeds to further its work in the community.

 

We felt that there was a viable option to save this building for future use as a community centre, or to turn the church in to apartments.  Cllr Berni Turner said she had asked English Heritage to recommend the building be listed. The church was built by Victorian architect W Raffles Brown and has been a landmark since it was consecrated in the 1850s. The Victorian Society said that, as many of the Victorian houses to the south of the church are due to go as part of the Edge Lane widening scheme, demolition of the tower and spire could strip Fairfield of one of its last historic features.

 

And so began a very hastily put together campaign, knowing that the church could be demolished at anytime as it wasn't listed. We knew we had to get as many people on board, both locally and national bodies, and the below information will provide a background to the church and our campaign.

 

 

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THE HISTORY OF ST JOHN THE DIVINE

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St John the Divine, Fairfield, Liverpool sits on the corner of Holly Road and Lockerby Road. Set back from the main throughfare, Edge Lane, the spire on the Church Tower can clearly be seen from many locations within the local area.

 

The Church was constructed from 1851 to 1853 and was to the design and architects plans of William Raffles Brown (1822-1867).

 

(Architect and surveyor, of London, Liverpool and Dublin, active from the 1840s until the 1860s. William Raffles Brown, who was born in the parish of St Pancras, London, on 20 October 1822, was a son of James Baldwin Brown, a barrister, high court judge and writer, and  a brother of the Rev. James Baldwin Brown,  a well-known Congregational minister.)

 

 

The building was consecrated on the 14th January 1853 by the Revd. John Graham. It led a sheltered and normal life for a Church until it was directly hit in 1940, in the second World War. It was not until 1948 that the building was restored to its former glory.  At this time of restoration, a new east window was commissioned by Shrigley & Hunt (which has now been removed).

 

Fast forward to 1979 and a major alteration took place of the building to create a new Church/Community Centre within the original walls. This was to the designs of Robert Gardner-Medwin and Carl Thompson. There was major structural work, and this involved the retention of the original church tower, one bay of the nave, the south aisle wall, and the lower part of the west wall.   The original church bell was sold, and the chancel, vestries, and the main part of the nave including the original roof structure were demolished and replaced with a new brick structure and a modern roof. A large hall formed a major part of the new structure. The community centre ceased active use in December 2007.

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We turn to the documentation presented by English Heritage who explained their reasons not to list this building:

 

The church has incurred such a high level of alteration both externally and internally through the partial demolition and rebuilding works that took place in 1979/80 that it is now largely a late 20th century creation. The majority of original fabric has been lost, with only the tower, spire, and two external walls surviving to provide any indication of the original architectural character of the building. In addition, even these walls have incurred significant alteration in form of a window converted into a doorway, a doorway converted into a window and the loss of the upper part of the west wall.

As with the exterior, the survival of interior features is restricted to fragments; some original doors, a small section of tiled flooring to the ground floor of the tower, the fragment of a nave pier to the west end of the building, a decorative corbel that no longer provides any support, and four monuments. The modern replacement structure is not a special interest in itself, and has severely compromised the original historic character and architectural interest of the building. The loss of the nave chancel and the original roof has left no indication internally that the building originated as a 19th Century church. While the tall spire surmounting a tower is a notable feature it is only a fragmentary survival of the original building. The church’s tall spire is clearly a local landmark within the Edge Lane and

Fairfield area. However, it is of local rather than national interest, and does not compensate for the very high level of alteration, and loss of original character, that has been incurred to the building as a whole.

 

The Church of St John the Divine is not recommended for listing for the following principal reasons: It has incurred significant external and internal alteration since its

original construction in 1851-53, which has severely compromised its original historic character. Following partial demolition and rebuilding works in 1979/80 much of the original fabric has been lost and replaced including the roof, two external walls and the interior.Internally the building is no longer recognisable as an ecclesiastical structure, with the nave and chancel replaced with a community hall styled as a sports hall. The majority of original interior features have been lost including pews, pulpit, organ, and font.

 

 

WILLIAM RAFFLES BROWN

 

A note or two on William Raffles Brown, the architect for both St John the Divine and St Chrysostom Church Everton.

 

Architect and surveyor, of London, Liverpool and Dublin, active from the 1840s until the 1860s. William Raffles Brown, who was born in the parish of St Pancras, London, on 20 October 1822, was a son of James Baldwin Brown, a barrister, high court judge and writer, and  a brother of the Rev. James Baldwin Brown,  a well-known Congregational minister.  He was also he uncle of Gerard Baldwin Brown, Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh, for fifty years.  William's uncle by marriage was the Rev. Thomas Raffles, independent minister at the Newington Chapel, Liverpool,  at which he was baptised on 1 July 1823.  

 

William Raffles Brown was living in Liverpool by 1848, when he designed the Unitarian chapel in Hope Street with Thomas Denville Barry. In the 1851 census for Liverpool he is described as a twenty-eight-year-old architect, living with his wife, Mary, at the house of his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Stott, a  widow and bootmaker.   Between 1849 and 1854 he entered at least nine architectural competitions in England, winning first place in five of them.

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He designed two further churches in Liverpool - St Chrysostom, Everton, and St John the Divine, Holly Road - both erected in 1852.  He had moved to London by 1854, when he exhibited three designs for a new church at Old Brentford, Middlesex at the Royal Academy but in 1856 he appeared before Lancaster Insolvency Court.  The following year he entered the competition for the new markets in Dundalk, Co. Louth;  he was not successful but in the same year he won the competition for the Mechanics' Institute, at Lurgan, Co. Armagh.  It may have been this success which brought him to live in Ireland. Once in Ireland he moved from address to address in Derry, Belfast and Dublin, where he was arrested for bankruptcy in March 1861.    

 

He worked for some time for JOHN SKIPTON MULVANY in Dublin; in the summer of 1862 he submitted perspectives of designs by Mulvany for exhibition at the RHA 'in a less complete state than might have been desired', and his address is given in December 1864 as 50 Lower Sackville Street, where Mulvany had his office. In Mulvany's obituary in the Irish Builder of 15 May 1870 it is noted that 'for a lengthened period' he secured 'the efficient services of 'the late talented Raffles Brown'. Brown appears to have spent the final years of his short life back in England, dying on 27 September 1867 at the seaside town of Portishead, near Bristol. He was married three times, first to Mary (née Stott), second to Caroline, who died at Clontarf on on 8 July 1863 and finally, on 20 October 1864, to Annie, daughter of Henry Evans, of Portishead.  J.A. Picton, in his Memorials of Liverpool (1875) recalled him as an erratic genius, whose 'power of sketching and combining beautiful forms and effective grouping was something remarkable'.  However 'a settled, steady life was irksome to him; and after a chequered career of a few short years, he sank into an early grave, his life an incomplete problem, an unfinished sketch'.