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SAVING ST JOHN THE DIVINE, FAIRFIELD

The Liverpool Echo once ran a successful campaign called 'Stop the Rot'. They would feature local buildings within Liverpool that were in danger of collapse, abandoned buildings or buildings which had been left to rot in the public eye. However, the campaign was less than impressed with the  Chair of Stop the Rot. The article goes on to state:

 

30th June 2008:

 

The ECHO's Stop the Rot campaign has been one of our most popular. Its widespread support reflects anger at the endless attrition of many of Liverpool's well-loved local landmarks. So noble is the cause that public figures have fallen over themselves to become associated with the campaign and profess their backing. No one has been keener to bask in the glow of Stop The Rot's reflected glory than Bishop James Jones, David Shepherd's less sure-footed successor as head of Liverpool's Anglicans. Ironic then that Jones's sometimes troubled tenure as Bishop has now run into heated accusations of hypocrisy on heritage.

 

The council's historic environment champion, Cllr Berni Turner, last week suggested the Bishop may need to step down as chair of Stop The Rot, while Cllr Steve Radford has accused the Diocese of a “negligent approach to the heritage of our city”. The sad fact is that a string of historic sites owned by the Diocese have been lost or threatened with the bulldozer under the Bishop. Three years ago, Garston residents had to be evicted after trying to save Bankfield House, a 19th Century villa used as a community centre. It was sold off by the church for demolition. In Edge Lane, the listed St. Cyprian's has been left derelict, despite English Heritage offering the Diocese money towards repairs. How does an abandoned church on the prime route into Liverpool square with stopping the rot, Bishop James?

 

Incidentally, the Bishop chaired Kensington New Deal while the demolition scheme for Edge Lane was devised, leading to the devastation of the heritage and community of the area. He was also the figurehead for the ‘environmental’ Academy built on part of Newsham Park, which led to hundreds of trees being ripped down on a listed Victorian green space.

 

The latest outcry concerns the imminent demolition of St. John's Church, Fairfield. Its tall and elegant stone spire is easily visible from Edge Lane when coming into town from the M62. This handsome landmark has stood proudly over the area since 1851. But health and safety concerns mean Diocesan insurers will sanction its destruction on July 23 – unless Bishop James steps in. Local people are not taking this lying down, and the Bishop has been bombarded with letters from the Victorian Society, SAVE Britain's Heritage, Merseyside Civic Society and local residents.

The wonderful Anglican Cathedral has been funded lavishly, providing a glittering new shop, café and interactive visitor experience to generate revenue from tourists – a genuine achievement. But what about churches and community centres elsewhere? My position is clear: I feel the Bishop cannot continue as chair of the Stop The Rot campaign if he doesn’t stop the demolition of St. John's spire.

 

 

THE NEXT STEP

 

Back in 2008, an article appeared in the Liverpool Echo stating that there are plans to demolish St John the Divine. It shocked us all because it had appeared from nowhere. The church was only being used up until 2007 so it appeared a little drastic to attempt to demolish a church only a year after it being empty.  The following day, we went down to take several photographs of the church to understand what had suddenly occured with the structure of the tower as per the original report.

CAMPAIGN

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SAVING ST JOHN THE DIVINE, FAIRFIELD

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On the 18th June, 2008, the following item appeared in the Liverpool Echo:

 

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save a “landmark” Victorian church tower and spire from demolition. Preservationists have opposed plans to demolish St John the Divine church, in Holly Road, Fairfield. 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. The church now meets at L’arche, Lockerby Road, Liverpool.

 

Last night, the city’s historic environment champion 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.

 

David Garrard, Historic Churches Adviser of the Victorian Society, said: “The loss of the tower and spire would be a great shame. It is one of the last surviving markers of Fairfield’s affluent past, as well as being a significant landmark today.” Preservation campaigner Jonathan Brown said: “This is a highly prominent historic feature on the main highway approach to the city along Edge Lane, and forms part of a unique ensemble of ecclesiastical landmarks that punctuate the journey into Liverpool from the motorway network.”

The original report stated that the tower and spire were unsafe and that stonework from the tower were falling into the road, giving great concern for any passers-by.  When we visited the church, we found that the tower stood a good few feet from the boundary wall and were puzzled why stones were apparently falling into the road. We measured the side wall of the base of the tower to the road and found there was a 12ft distance between the road and the tower and couldn’t understand how stones were apparently ‘jumping’ into the road.

 

We took high resolution detailed images of every inch of the tower and noticed that part of the spire was weathered. Investigating this further, we found that when the building was ‘re-organised’ in 1979, the tower was sand blasted back to its original state/colour and that the company had gone overboard in blasting the tower, such to an extend that some of the façade of the brickwork were falling off. This was evident in the images that we took although we could see no real physical issue with the spire itself. Had there been such a structural issue, we felt that the roads would have been closed off and houses evacuated on all sides.

 

We headed home and felt that something wasn’t right. That if the spire were in such a dangerous condition then it would have been taken down straight away. That the roads would have been taped off and that it wouldn’t have needed any discussion or legal challenge (as it wasn’t listed).

 

We then spoke to various public bodies, The Victorian Society, Historical Churches Advisor, and of course attempted to have the building listed by English Heritage.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Before the Church was closed, a set of images were taken to show the interior of the Church. It is difficult to understand the once grand layout of the original specification of the Church and yet, these plans were approved in the late 1970's to re-order the interior and remove walls from the Church. We have not uncovered any original interior pictures of the original layout and it is a frustration that it appears none were taken and this is very much the case for buildings or churches that are suddenly demolished.

 

If a building is to be demolished, then correct recordings of the building's interior should be photographed in detail. This would provide historians in the future with some idea of the layout of the Church, where it stood and why it was demolished. In the age of mobile phones etc, there should be no excuse for buildings to be properly recorded as a matter of principal incase of some disaster such as a fire or damage to the stained glass windows. The following images are from the interior of the church before the closure.

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After the above article appeared in the Liverpool Echo, many people e-mailed the Bishop to give their opinion on the saving of this landmark Church. The Bishop received many e-mail’s from far and wide explaining their reasons for wanting the church to be saved. People worshipped at the church; people could trace their relatives being married/baptised in the church. Funeral services were held in the building and above all, it stood as a beacon for the small village of Fairfield. Having lost one of W Raffles Brown’s work, we didn’t want to openly lose another church designed by him.  

 

There were regular phone calls and e-mail’s from many people in the community to us and we were honoured that we could help to drive the campaign to look to save the building – or at least attempt to with a heavily promoted campaign, and strong backing from people with building expertise.

 

 

 

 

 

STOP THE ROT

CONTACT AND SUPPORT

PUBLIC MEETING

On the 6th August we received an e-mail stating the following. It gave us 3 days to complete our campaign and work out who was going to stand at the hearing:

 

P U B L I C  N O T I C E, IN THE CONSISTORY COURT OF THE DIOCESE OF LIVERPOOL

 

PARISH OF FAIRFIELD CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE DIVINE

AT HOLLY ROAD / LOCKERBY ROAD LIVERPOOL

 

TAKE NOTICE that application has been made by the Vicar of the above named Church to the Chancellor of the said Diocesan Consistory Court pursuant to section 18 of the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Measure 1991 to authorise the Work of emergency demolition of the said Church

 

AND ACCORDINGLY the Chancellor has directed a Hearing of this application on Saturday 9 August 2008 commencing at 10.00 am at

St Sebastians Parish Centre

Lockerby Road

Liverpool L7 0HG

 

ANY PERSON having or pretending to have any right title or interest in the proposed Work required to be authorised IS HEREBY CITED TO APPEAR at the Hearing so set down to make such representations as may be deemed appropriate

 

DATED at Liverpool this thirty first day of July 2008

 

Roger H Arden

Registrar of the Diocesan Consistory Court

St James House

Liverpool L1 7BY

 

I (Jonathon Wild) on behalf of Maelstrom stated that I would like to be one of the people to stand up to speak. I had heavily researched the history of the building, the impact that it had on the local parishioners, the change of the structure from that of the original design to the newer design.

 

Having been ‘sworn’ in with an oath towards the Judge, I was free to speak for a short time.

 

I stated that we had already lost the organ, the single bell in the tower, the original pews and none of this could be traced, the last thing we wanted was the church to be demolished and this part of Liverpool forgotten about. I put in a strong case and argued that ‘brickwork from the tower’ could not have fallen into the road as there is a 12ft gap between the base of the tower wall and the road itself.

 

I stated that my hobby is a Church Bell ringer for the last 20 years and I had worked on bell installations during my time as a hobby to a professional group, and that I had been in church towers for most of my life. I put my case forward that the spire was suffering from weathering and overzealous cleaning in the 1980’s and this is what is dropping off, the façade of some of the brickwork lifting off. I mentioned that I had no official architectural experience yet was drawing from my years of being in and amongst church towers from the bottom to the top, and saw no evidence myself from the exterior that the spire was about to fall down. I also stated that if the spire was about to fall down, this meeting should have not been held so close to a dangerous structure and that I was able to visit the exterior of the church this morning and stand underneath the tower structure.

 

Within this speech, I reminded them that towers have previously been capped and still made as a functioning tower (although I stated that this would result in the loss of the spire ‘beacon’ on the horizon. I stated that we had lost other churches that were literally demolished in a matter of a weekend because of outside interests. I stated that we lost Emmanuel Everton’s Church simply because they wanted to widen the road, and this never happened!

 

I stated that the Church authorities had not given enough time for alternative plans to be looked in to. Fund raising for the Church building, looking to offer the space to local communities or even turning the space in to apartments which would at least save the structure.

 

Further speakers rose to give their side on the church, both for and against including Jim Huthwaite (a former Church Warden), a PCC member, a grand speech from Mr Jonathan Brown, Ms Elizabeth Pascoe (local resident and architect), Councillor Steve Radford and the Archdeacon. I believe we came across fair and our arguments were listened to fairly. I thanked the Judge for allowing me to speak when I was not part of the congregation or a resident of Fairfield.

THE OUTCOME

 

The Diocese of Liverpool updated their website with the following:

 

The Consistory Court of the Diocese of Liverpool, with Chancellor the Honourable Sir Mark Hedley presiding, has approved the application by the Parochial Church Council of St John the Divine to demolish the church building.

 

In concluding his judgement Sir Mark states: "That leaves only demolition which in my judgment, for the reasons I have sought to explain, is necessary and must be done as a matter of urgency. On that basis, with sadness and regret but with conviction that it is now the right thing to do, I authorise the demolition of the church building of St John the Divine, Fairfield."

 

The Diocese of Liverpool is satisfied that the correct decision has been made. The Church Council did not make this decision lightly but felt that they had no other option. The spire is in real danger of collapse and it was on the clear advice of structural engineers that the Church Council requested permission to demolish.

 

The Archdeacon of Liverpool, Ven Ricky Panter, said: “As a Diocese we regularly work with other public bodies to maintain and secure our built heritage. In this case, the decision by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that the building did not merit listing means that effectively public funds are not available to save the building. It now lies with the diocese and the church council to secure the building as quickly and safely as possible so it no longer poses a risk to those in the local community. This may or may not involve demolition of the whole building but will require dismantling the spire.”

 

You can download a copy of the full judgement by clicking HERE

 

We were naturally disappointed to read the above statement. But there was a glimmer of hope. Point 9 raised the same fact that I had done so in my campaign and before the Judge:

 

......a report was obtained from Mr. Brian Morton of the Morton Partnership, consulting and civil and structural engineers, dated 7th August, 2008, who has very wide experience of dealing with damaged church buildings. He took the view (in layman?s language) that the spire was not about to fall down but recognised that pieces may well continue to fall off. Part of the trouble is that the expert evidence (unsurprisingly given the exigencies of time) is not wholly definitive. There are clearly concerns that not all defects are latent and more may be discovered once remedial work is attempted.