Atherton. Rowson. North. Fowell. Recognise them? Yes, of course – they are the names of roads in New Brighton. But they are also the names of the most important people in New Brighton’s history and heritage. And St James’ church in Victoria Road is connected with all of these men, and the church’s history is an integral part of our local heritage.
When James Atherton established New Brighton as a Victorian sea-bathing resort, a church was always part of his plan. Although he died before his ambitions could be realised, his son-in-law and business partner, William Rowson, donated land on Victoria Road, and also undertook the task of raising the funds for building the church. It was built from yellow sandstone from Storeton Quarry and completed in 1856. St James’ is one of the largest churches in Wirral, with the tallest spire, and originally seated a congregation of over 900. Fowell Road, to the west of the church, is named after its first vicar.
Frederic North of Ewart House, Wellington Road, was the church’s greatest benefactor, and on his death in 1910 left the equivalent of £5 million for the erection of churches in Wallasey. Many of the church furnishings and monuments, including the pulpit, the lectern and the east windows, were given by, or in memory of, the families of Atherton, Rowson and North, who can with every justification be described as the founding fathers of New Brighton.
The community has changed a lot since 1856 when New Brighton was home to prominent Liverpool businessmen who lived with their servants in large villas. St James church can no longer depend on the generosity of a few wealthy benefactors. And time and the elements have taken their toll on this magnificent building. In fact, a total of £850,000 will have to be raised to rebuild the spire, repair the masonry and windows, repaint and clean, and modernise the interior. And contrary to popular belief there is no money from the Church of England or the Government to do this. It will all have to be obtained from fund-raising events and grant applications.
St James’ is now starting on this process. And the intention is that the restoration will include plans to open up the church much more for community use and to more actively display the church’s role in New Brighton’s heritage.
The restoration appeal will run under the name “inSpire.” Please look out for inSpire events, and if possible support them. It will be a long journey, but I’m sure that, somewhere, James Atherton is willing us on.
The first inspire event raised over £1,000 when four St James’ choir members
completed the Wirral Coastal Walk in May