James Atherton, captured in a painting holding a telescope he used to look back at St George’s following his move to Black Rock (New Brighton).
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. Plans were fashioned at Halliday’s Coffee House in Everton Village on 29 December 1812 where 110 shares were offered at £100 each to raise the £11,000 needed. St George’s was initially run by the investors or “Proprietors” who built it, but Atherton wielded such power that he was able to dictate that the church entrance would not face his mansion, thus preserving the privacy of his family.
Atherton retired in 1823, aged 53. In 1830 he left Everton to cross the Mersey and develop a new residential area at Black Rock. We now know it as the famous seaside resort of New Brighton.
Atherton, a driven visionary, would be buried back at St. George’s churchyard in 1838. His headstone still proudly stands opposite the south door.