OUR HISTORY AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE IT HAPPEN
St George’s Church is in Everton, Liverpool, Merseyside, England. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building, and is the earliest of three churches in Liverpool built by John Cragg, who used many components in cast iron which were made at his Mersey Iron Foundry. It is an active Anglican parish church in the Diocese of Liverpool, the Liverpool archdeaconry, and the Liverpool North deanery.
First St George’s parishioners inhabit God’s little acre atop Everton ridge
Artist William Herdman provides an insight into the very first 1814 parish of St George’s Church, pictured here top left in its dominant position north of Everton’s hillside village. Herdman had set up his easel in pretty fields at the bottom of the hill that within 30 years would become one of the most densely populated concrete jungles in the world, inspired by a fast-growing town population swollen by tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the devastating Irish Potato Famine.
James Atherton, the visionary founder father of St George’s Church.
St George’s was the vision of James Atherton who was born in 1770 in Ditton near Widnes where his father was a farmer. By 1792 James had moved to Liverpool and married Betty Rowson. They settled at Pool Lane (later South Castle Street). The 1796 Gore’s Directory described him as a grocer, but by 1798 Atherton had rebranded himself as a property developer.
Around 1807 he purchased a portion of Everton’s St. Domingo Estate, building a smart home for his family on Everton ridge with spectacular Mersey views. Close by, he laid out – amongst others – the impressive Albion Street.
Those who bought the new villas and mansions had everything except a spiritual centre. Atherton immediately donated land opposite his mansion…
The builder and the architect – contrasting figures that clashed before completing a revolutionary building masterpiece.
The building of St George’s Church in Everton became a fascinating and often confrontational affair between architect Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) and builder John Cragg (1767-1854) before the ‘Iron Church’ was finally completed in 1814. Cragg was a complex individual, one of the promoters of the original Liverpool Cotton Exchange and a founder member of the prestigious Liverpool Athenaeum Club. He was described as “a most intelligent and enterprising iron founder” by contemporary author A.T. Brown who then added: “He is a remarkable man to whom I cannot find a single gracious allusion on anyone’s part.”
The ‘Iron Church’ helped inspire cast iron frame structures like Liverpool’s Royal Liver Buildingand the skyscrapers of New York.
The use of an emerging cast iron building technology in the late 18th and early 19th centuries had previously been restricted to industrial buildings like Shropshire’s Ditherington Flax Mill (1797), arguably the first iron-framed structure in the world and ‘the grandfather of skyscrapers’. This revolution was driven by the need to reduce the fire risk in the emerging factories, particularly in mills like Ditherington.
Liverpool builder John Cragg and architect Thomas Rickman recognised the cross-over opportunities for other large buildings. The cast iron technology was still in its infancy, but it would enable them to build high and wide while opening up views within a church environment that had previously been greatly affected by giant stone pillars…
THE CHANGING COMMUNITY
Merchants, servants and former slaves in the same congregation remind us of very different times.
St George’s Church, at 240 feet above sea level, dominates Everton’s high ridge. In 1814, the former village with its cottages, Halliday’s Coffee House, welcoming inns, and the less welcoming 1783 Lock-Up Tower lay nearby to the south. Beyond the church’s west gate, fields tumbled down the hill towards the River Mersey. To the south west lay the densely packed town centre…
THE JANE AUSTEN LINK
St George’s and the Jane Austen link, a new dense urban working class parish, before the controversial clearances create the ‘Lost Tribe of Everton’.
Millions have a passion for Jane Austen and classic books such as Pride and Prejudice. Few make the link between Jane and her greatest friend and confidante Anne Sharp who loved St George’s Church and lived in nearby York Terrace.
Anne had become a governess for Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight in Kent, but finished her days in Everton. By 1823 Anne was running her own boarding school for girls at 15-16 Everton Terrace near the church. Her young pupils would have received a unique insight into one of the world’s most famous authors.
Through trials and changes, St George’s is still a thriving Anglican Church
St George’s is the oldest surviving building in Everton (well, second oldest, if you count the famous lock-up!) and is still used for its original purpose as a gathering place for Christians to worship God and serve the local community. Since the establishment of church in 1814 there have been over 30,000 baptisms, 11,000 weddings and innumerable funerals. St George’s first Vicar, Rev. Robert Pedder Buddicom was energetic in setting the tone for the church- establishing the St George’s Schools (whose legacy survives in the Beacon CE School next door to the church) and publishing at least 15 volumes of sermons. It was reputed that ‘it was no uncommon thing for him to be three months without sitting down to a proper dinner’.
Throughout its history, the church has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of the fast changing community surrounding it- from organising services in…
How we can pass on St George’s to the next generations
In 2014, St George’s celebrated its 200th anniversary. However, by this time it had become increasingly clear that urgent repair works were needed on the church roof in order to save it. A collaborative effort between St George’s Church, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Finlason Partnership, Mather & Ellis Ltd., Whatever & Co., and the support of countless smaller donors and supporters has enabled the complete renovation of the roof, protecting the interior of the church from the effects of the wild weather experienced at Liverpool’s highest point. As you have seen, St George’s has been at the heart of the Everton community from its earliest days through decades of change, both positive and turbulent. There will no doubt be more repairs needed in the coming years…