The church and vicarage of St Nicholas, Wallasey were erected by the late Mr Frederick Harrison and the late Sir Heath Harrison, in memory of their father and mother, James and Jane Harrison, who lived at the Laund, Wallasey from 1857 to 1879. During their residence there, took most active interest in the welfare and well-being of the village of Wallasey and its inhabitants. Erected near the sea, the church was appropriately named after St Nicholas, the patron saint of voyagers.
It is a magnificent memorial, built mainly of Storeton sandstone and because it is built predominately on sand, its base is a steel and concrete raft.
The foundation stone was laid, as will be seen from an inscription on it in the east wall of the church, by Miss A J Harrison, eldest sister of the donors, on Tuesday, 26 April 1910. The inaugural service was conducted by the Revd Canon Cogswell DD, Rector of Wallasey. The inscription on the trowel which was handed to Miss Harrison by Mr J Francis Doyle, the architect, was as follows: “This trowel was presented to Miss Alice Jane Harrison on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the Harrison memorial Church, Wallasey, April 26. Ad majorem. Dei Gloriam.
The church measure 128 ft 6 in (39.1 m) in length and 54 ft (16.4 m) in width. The tower is 75 ft (22.8 m) high. The ground plan consists of nave, north and south aisles, narthex, chancel, lady chapel, clergy and choir vestries and organ chamber. There were two main entrances and the north and south sides, the north side is now closed because the new toilet facility was built behind it. The lady chapel also has its own entrance.
The exterior of the building is of rock-faced Storeton stone with rubbed-face quoins and dressings. The interior is of rubbed-faced Storeton stone and plaster. The roof is covered in Yorkshire flags. The floor of the chancel is paved with Hopton Wood marble with borders of green Tinos and red Verona panels. The remaining floors are of wood block. There is seating accommodation for 548 in the nave, aisles and transepts, for 36 in the lady chapel and for 26 in the chancel, giving a total capacity of 610. The chancel is a the west end of the church, no doubt on account of the exposed position and the severity of north west gales.
The sculpture and wood carving were by Norbury and Sons of Liverpool. The carving of the exterior is first notice at the porches where the enrichment occupies two spandrels of the arches. Along the side of the church will be found bosses carved with portraits of King George V and Queen Mary commemorating their coronation year. To one side, the bosses of the chapel windows are richly treated with foliage of vine, maple, hawthorn and seaweed. Above the windows, a string course, stopped at one end by a dragon cut on the buttress top, contain paterae of considerable interest. A noticeable feature here is the carving of a mediaeval monk who secretes a rain-water outlet. Round the corner from this point are found two more heads as label bosses representing King Edward I and his Queen Eleanor.
The bosses for the large windows of the narthex, chancel and transepts are big in scale and carved with foliage, while those of the tower windows represent the heads of ‘devils’ and suggest the fleeing of evil at the sound of the church bells. They are certainly grotesquely ugly.
On entering the building by the porch and looking down the nave the first items to note are the bosses to the moulds on the nave arches. The subjects of these beautiful carvings are of particular interest. The four evangelists depicted are: St Matthew the Tax-gatherer with some coins; St Mark, the secretary of St Peter, with a quill pen; St Luke , the beloved physician, with mortar and pestle and St John, Bishop of Ephesus, with the crozier of his office. One shows a ship and another, an anchor, emblems of St Nicholas to whom the church is dedicated, while the carving of the seaweed foliage gives local interest to this seaside edifice.
Two heads, those of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, face the viewer from the arch of the tower. Beyond, under the tower, in the capitals of the piers, are heads: one of St Nicholas with three bags of gold, recalling the best known legend of him and the other of St Peter with cross keys (St Matthew, 16v19).
Looking into the chancel, two cherubs’ heads face inwards flanking the great stained glass window. Between the three arches to the lady chapel are carved two angels which are repeated on the chapel side of the arches. These are among the gems of the building.
Up in the roof are large wood corbels of seaweed and fish while the four angle ones contain these emblems: the cross, anchor, heart and crown – the last suggesting the ultimate reward of the life made up of faith, hope and charity. The lady chapel roof is supported on stone corbels carved with trefoil foliage.
The font stands at the entrance to the nave, the proper position for the Rite of baptism, which give entrance to the Living church. Raised on two steps and of polished Hopton Wood stone, the bowl is octagonal leading to a quatrefoil shaft like those of the nave columns.
“Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” is carved in raised letters round the top and panels on each face are enriched by devices applicable to the baptism Rite, the subjects being:
1. Dove – John 1, 31, 32, 33.
2. “ICHTHUS” in Greek characters, the word meaning a fish and found in the catacombs and other places, being used by the early Christians as a secret sign. The letters of the word form the initial letters of five words which mean in Greek, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”..
3. A Jerusalem cross – the sign of the Cross used in the Baptismal service.
4. Triangles – symbolic of the Trinity – see the words used in the Baptismal Rite.
5. Three fishes in water and a net – symbolic of the Christian immersed at Baptism and caught in the Gospel net (Matthew 13 v 47).
6. I.S.H. – being in Greek the first letters of the sacred name of Jesus and in Latin, the initial letters of the three words ‘Jesus Hominum Salvator’ jesus, saviour of Man.
7. Lamb and Banner – see Baptismal service: “We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock…he shall not be ashamed….manfully to fight under his banner”.
8. X.P. – being in Greek the first two letter of the word ‘Chrst’ – the anointed one.
A carved mould and angle buttress give a quaint and handsome effect.
There is an oak cover with highly wrought bronze enrichment of fleur-de-lys forming a cross with a ring in the middle to facilitate lifting.
The organ, originally built by Nicholson of Worcester, is placed in a loft on the south side of the chancel over the choir vestry. It is played from a console on the church floor level, close to the choir stalls. It has since been rebuilt.
Crossing the nave at the entrance to the chancel is a low wall with the pulpit at one end and a rise of seven steps to reach it. These are of Hopton Wood stone, polished and richly moulded.
The panels of the body of the pulpit are carved with a rich diaper ornament. In the centre of each of the two front panels are emblems representing the ‘written’ and ‘spoken’ word – an open book for the former and two crossed trumpets for the latter, sounding the gospel note both east and west.
A carved cornice of vine leaves and fruit completes the upper portion. The lining and floor of the pulpit are of oak and the book rest of bronze.
The lectern consists of the familiar eagle which signified the flight of the Gospel throughout the world. It is supported on an oak pedestal which, in turn, rests upon the backs of three lions
The reredos was designed by J Francis Doyle and is a beautiful creation. It is constructed of specially selected oak, measures 14 feet from north to south and rises 15 feet to the top of the pinnacles. Its design reflects the gothic character of the church. The central panel represents our crucified Lord with the Blessed Virgin and St John standing at the foot of the cross and carved in the highest relief. In niches at the sides are a quartet of angles, carved in the round, in attitudes of adoration and devotion. The whole is surmounted by intricately carved canopies with delicate pierced work and pinnacled shafts, ornaments and crestings. Every canopy has crockets and foliation of a different design and these have been copied from the finest examples in our best English cathedrals. Immediately beneath is a carved and traceried retable. The angles are supported on carved corbels representing the rose, pomegranate and cornflower.
The reredos was constructed and installed by Harry Hems and Sons, ecclesiastical craftsmen from Exeter. They also made the oak altar, altar rails and lectern.
This window represents the great Apocalyptic Vision.
In the head of the centre light is our Lord enthroned, crowned and holding in His right hand a sceptre and in His left hand the orb. His feet rest upon the globe of the earth. Around the throne, running into the lights on either side, is the emerald rainbow and before the throne are burning the seven lamps which are ‘the seven Spirits of God’.
In the outer lights on both sides of the throne is a band of angels in adoration and below them kneel the four and twenty Elders casting down their crowns before the Lord.
Below these, at the foot of the lights, is shown part of the multitude of all nations, peoples and tongues. In the lower part of the centre light kneels St John, the seer of the Vision with his eagle beside him. He has laid down his book and bows his head in prayer over his clasped hands. In the centre opening of the tracery is the Lamb of God standing upon an altar. In the larger openings surrounding Him are kneeling, worshipping angels and in the four quatrefoils are the four creatures, emblems of the Evangelists, namely, the Angel of St Matthew, the lion of St Mark, the bull of St Luke and St John’s eagle. The colour is predominately white and gold against a blue background.
THE LADY CHAPEL WINDOW
This window was erected to the memory of Mabel Harrison as recorded in the inscription at the foot of the centre light: “To the Glory of God and in memory of Mabel Harrison erected by her sister Marion”. It represents the ministry of Guardian Angels.
The angel in the centre light bends over a praying child and aids its prayer. In the head of the light two small angels bear a scroll with the words “He shall give His Angels charge over thee”.
In the southern light an angel protects a young maiden against the temptations of the world. Behind the group, the tempter, as a human-headed serpent, coiled in the branches of a tree, plucks the fruit and holds it out to the maiden, but the angel interposes his mantle and wing to shut it out from her sights.
In the northern light, a youth, as a pilgrim through the world, is accompanied by an angel who moves with him step by step on the journey. His right hand rests on the boy’s shoulder. The youthful pilgrim carries a staff in his right hand and his left hand rests upon the water bottle in his girdle. Behind, the Evil Genius, with butterfly wings, holds a cup alluringly above him.
In the two centre openings of the tracery are delicately painted portraits of the lady commemorated and in the outer lights are small angels’ heads. Throughout these small pieces runs the text “In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven”.
The colour is mainly white, gold and soft blue with occasional touches of quiet green.
THE GOLFERS WINDOW
This was placed in the lady chapel by Herbert Edward Wild to mark his appreciation of the Sunday morning service for golfers – a service which he attended regularly from its inauguration until failing health prevented him.
But the window attracted criticism at the time because many Christians felt that golf on a Sunday was a distraction which kept people from attending church. Other critics were unhappy at sacred images of Christ being portrayed in the same window as mere golfers. They complained bitterly in the 1920s.
In fact, the windows were intended as an attempt to reconcile such worries. They show Christ involved in various activities on the Jewish Sabbath – attending the Synagogue (religious duty); healing the sick (part of his mission on Earth); and walking in the cornfields (i.e. at leisure). The implication is that ordinary Christians, like the Lord, can combine their duties as Christians with leisure pursuits … in the modern age, golf.
THE EAST WINDOW