Wallasey's Day Of Rest

Sunday Activities In Old Wallasey

Written by Margaret O'Reilly in 1992

I was born to the wailing of the ships' sirens on the Mersey, and that is the first sound I remember, but coming a close second were the bells of St. Mary's, Withens Lane, Liscard, which rang out joyfully morning and evening every Sunday.

In those days, Sundays were still special. Most people were affiliated, if only loosely, to one church or another, and even parents who did not attend regularly themselves mostly sent their children to Sunday School. It was a day set apart from the bustle of the working week, a day to be savoured with quiet pleasure.

Wallasey held churches of almost every denomination, and most were well filled at each service. There was something to suit all tastes.

Of the Anglican churches, St. Mary's, St. Columba's and St. Thomas's were High; Christ Church, Martin's Lane, was very Low indeed, and the others came somewhere inbetween.

All non-Conformist denominations were well represented, the three most attractive buildings being the Methodist churches in Manor Road and Claremount Road and Marlowe Road Congregational, all of which were especially popular for weddings!

The lesser Evangelical groups were also catered for, as were Theosophists and Christian Scientists, but O don't recall Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jewish Synagogue was in Falkland Road, though of course their Sabbath was Saturday, not Sunday. Jewish shops opened on Sunday.

Cream of the crop has to be lovely old St. Hilary's, with its two towers, the older one being all that remains of the former church which was burned down in 1857. During my youth, rumour's were rife regarding 'secret' passages connecting the old tower with Mother Redcap's on the promenade, and also with the Red and Yellow Noses at New Brighton.

My brother-in-law, who was in the choir before World War I, told me that he and some other boys once gave the choirmaster the slip and explored the old tower, and did in fact discover a passage, going down it some way before it blocked off.

In my young days, the church was always well filled, the old village families having their own pews; but I hear that now all is changed. The church has been completely revamped. The beautiful old pews have been replaced with chairs, the High Altar is rarely used, modern services catering for a smaller congregation are conducted from a circular podium, and the Lady Chapel is a creche! The ancient village banner always proudly carried in the Village Festival Procession, which used to stand in the chancel, has disappeared without trace. Happily, however, they still have a small choir and a team of bell-ringers.

St. Nicholas' church near Harrison Drive used to be known as the Golfers Church. The then vicar, Canon Roscamp, was himself a keen golfer, and held services for golfers, at which all collections taken went towards the upkeep of a bed in the old Cottage Hospital. In 1926, a stained-glass window was dedicated, showing two golfers entering the church.

The little Memorial Church (Unitarian) in Manor Road, was and still is of great architectural interest, being Grade 2 listed building, a perfect example of a particular type of late Victorian architecture. I remember attending church parade there with the Guides as guests of their company. There was a large congregation. Now sadly numbers have dwindled beyond the point of viability.

My own church was Egremont Presbyterian, members of which were mainly Scots or of Scots descent. The large, imposing building replaced the original one which stood on the corner of King Street and Trafalgar Road. This became the Lyceum Cinema, later demolished to give place to the Gaumont.

In the '30s, the minister was the Revd Erskine Blackburn, an extremely eloquent preacher. He had the honour of having a service broadcast over the wireless, as it was called then. Unfortunately, he got carried away and over-ran his time. The broadcast was live, and it was not considered etiquette to cut off a religious service, so the news and all subsequent

programme were ten minutes late, and it was whispered amongst the congregation that our respected minister had had his knuckles rapped by the BBC!

At St. John's, Egremont, there flourished a really successful Sunday evening Youth Club. Young members first attended Evensong, then repaired to the church hall for an enjoyable get-together at which many innocent romances sprang up under the leadership of the popular vicar, the Revd. Colin Montgomery. One Sunday he brought his soldier brother to spend the evening as a visitor. he was a quiet man who spoke little but joined in all the various activities. Ten years later his name was a household word; and young people in their twenties, many of them in the forces, were able to boast proudly they had once played table tennis with the celebrated war hero Monty!

As a child I was fascinated by the little Quaker Meeting House sandwiched between a laundry and a row of shops in Withens Lane. Surrounded by high railings, a modest but appealing little building stood in a tiny churchyard with plain grey headstones of uniform size set in a close-cropped green lawn. It always seemed a little oasis of peace and tranquility, and I am very sorry to learn that services were discontinued in 1973, Wallasey's Quakers having moved to Birkenhead.

Including the Sacred Heart at Moreton, five churches catered for the Catholics of Wallasey. The newest, SS Peter and Paul's at New Brighton had an imposing dome and was a striking landmark, a far cry from the Catholics' original assembly point, one room in a Seacombe pub! Father Griffin of Moreton instituted the Donkey Derby, an annual race along the shore which attracted crowds of visitors.

The name Wallasey is held by some authorities to mean the Island of Welsh, and certainly in my youth there was a huge number of Welsh speakers in the town, their spiritual needs being met by a cluster of chapels, mainly in and around Liscard. Most striking was one that stood near the junction of Mainwaring Road and Liscard Road. Built in dirt-resistant stone, it remained pure and permanently white, a truly magnificent building; in the sixties I heard that it was to be demolished, and that people of all religions or none at all were complaining purely aesthetic grounds. It was indeed demolished, but a group of Americans bought the stone, and shipped it across the Atlantic with a view of rebuilding the church in the US, so happily it hasn't after all, been lost to posterity!

Residents who liked to spend their Sunday's at Harrison Drive during the summer still had the opportunity for religious observance. Depending on the tide, missioners from some evangelical source would arrive at some suitable time and build a long rampant of sand, with a text picked out on shells, and in the evening would hold a service. Crowds of people would gather to join in prayers and sing hymns, usually the most popular old-fashioned ones, sheets with the words being passed round. People who had played hard all day found a pleasant contrast in the peaceful half-hour thus spent.

In 1935 a plebiscite was taken in Wallasey on the question of whether or nor to open the Cinemas on Sunday. Of a possible 47,000, only 19,000 bothered to vote, and the No's won by a large majority. All the same, there were those who believed that people should have freedom of choice, and therefore voted in favour although they would not themselves have gone to 'the pictures' on a Sunday.

Every November, when the new Mayor had been elected, Mayor's Sunday was celebrated, a procession marching from Manor Road to St. Hilary's church for a civic service. All Scouts and Guides took part, and it felt good swinging along between the thronged pavements to music played by the Scouts, the Boys' Brigade or the lads of the Nay League Training School. Afterwards the procession marched back to the Town Hall before disbanding.

Once a year the new Mayor was Cllr. George Raikes, an off-beat character who was immensely popular. He was a Catholic convert, and that November he and his immediate entourage stopped off at St. Alban's, whilst the rest of the procession proceeded to St. Hilary's as usual. This offended the traditionalists, who said it was ridiculous to hold a Mayoral celebration without the Mayor; so the following year, having been re-elected, he went back to St. Hilary's, which upset the Catholics. It was not an ecumenical age! Today, no problem would have arisen. Cllr. Raikes later became MP for the borough.

I hear from the Vicar of St. Mary's that, although he has to 'borrow' a team of bell-ringers, having sadly none of his own any more, the bells do still ring out their joyful peal at weddings and other special occasions. I'm glad about that! We go back a long way, those bells and I!