Ringing in the Changes; Liverpool Has a New Landmark but It's Been There for Nearly 200 Years. Peter Elson Reports

Article excerpt

AFTER the tower of Liverpool Parish Church fatally crashed - literally and metaphorically - into the city's history books, the wardens were taking no chances with its successor.

The present tower of Our Lady and St Nicholas, completed in 1815, has just undergone a pounds 110,000 restoration. This not only prepares it for another two centuries, but marks its designation as a memorial to 800 years of Mersey seamen. It will be rededicated on December 11.

Now named the Landmark Tower, it was for centuries the city's tallest structure, the first and last sight for sailors arriving and leaving the port. Since Edwardian times it has been overlooked, but never overshadowed, by the new Pier Head buildings.

During its lifetime, the church, widely referred to as St Nick's, has been blitzed by German bombs, bulldozed, dismissed as worthless by a bishop and its congregation suffered from the city's population changes.

Yet Our Lady and St Nicholas's church, seated on its perch above the corner of Chapel Street and George's Dock Gate, on Liverpool's Strand, survives in fighting form, still a beacon for the city into the new century.

The church's regular congregation of around 100 souls raised a pounds 10,000 donation towards the tower's restoration.

The magnificent 4ft 4in wide sailing ship weather vane (called the Donnelly in Liverpool folklore) was regilded for pounds 500 with 23 carat gold courtesy of a parishioner.

It is believed that this is the original weather vane from the 1746 spire and 1500 tower which collapsed on February 11, 1810, as morning service was about to begin, killing 25 people, mostly teenage girls. If the weather vane is the original, this makes it the oldest surviving artefact on the riverfront.

David Brazendale, church warden and tower restoration project manager, says: "We had the tower inspected about four years ago to check on the toll that nearly two centuries of weather and pollution had taken on it.

"Work started in May, undertaken by specialist masons, Maybank's of Oldham. The tower appeal was opened last December and money came from a wide variety of sources, including church funds, heritage sources and other Liverpool organisations like Merseyside Police and fire brigade.

"The congregation were very generous and we also had substantial anonymous donations. This must be due to the huge affection that people hold for this church, not only in Liverpool, but around the world. The congregation comes from as far away as New Brighton and Ainsdale. I come from Crosby. The revival in city centre living has also helped us.

"Neither are we an old congregation - last Sunday 20 children attended.

"Whose idea it was to dedicate the Landmark Tower to Liverpool's merchant seamen depends on whether you ask me or my wife Hilary. …