A Short History of
Holy Cross Church, Woodchurch
6th century AD. A Saxon Church probably existed here before the present church was built. The Domesday Book (1086 AD)
mentions a priest at the manor of Landican of which Woodchurch formed a part. There is no mention of a church, although
by that date there is likely to have been one at Woodchurch. The raised ground and the circular churchyard is evidence that
a Druid burial ground has been deliberately claimed for Christ as a place for preaching and a site for a church. The name
Landican is probably a corruption of Llan-Tecwyn, so was Tecwyn, a 6th century missionary monk from Wales, a predecessor
of the Domesday priest? Later evidence of Celtic influence in the area is the discovery of part of a Saxon wheel-cross which
can now be seen built into the wall of the chancel of the present church.
12th century. A Norman Church was built on the site in the 12th-century. The simple stone structure forms the present nave, although it has been much altered to accommodate later extensions to the church.
13th century. The first Rector named on the sandstone tablets at the west end of the church is Ralph de Caldwell (1286), although recent research indicates that Hugh Domville of Brimstage was probably the first (c.1200).
14th century. A chancel, south aisle and tower were added. The chancel and south aisle were cut through the original masonry, an arcade of four arches being formed in the south wall. From the nave crossing it can be seen that the chancel arch is slightly crooked and that the whole chancel is out of true with the nave. A “weeping” chancel is said to symbolize the head of Christ inclined on the Cross. The tower was refaced and strengthened in 1675 with massive stepped buttresses to the SW and NW corners.
15th century. Fine examples of medieval craftsmanship are found in the font and in the bench-ends of the clergy
stalls in the chancel. Beneath each angle of the octagonal stone font is carved an angel with arms outstretched in
flight, and the carvings on the stem include the instruments of Christ’s Passion. (The 1930’s wooden font-cover
was given by the children of Woodchurch.) The four bench-ends in the chancel are thought to be the best example
of medieval woodwork in Wirral.
16th century. The Tudor porch with its heavily studded oak door complete with spyhole is more than 400 years old. The
deep vertical grooves in the stonework of the outer arch are attributed to the repeated sharpening of arrows.
As you enter the church look out for the date-stone 1584 in the south aisle. That is when extensive renovation was undertaken, including the introduction of tracery in two of the windows.
17th century. Bread shelves, a charity board and hatchments help to tell us something about the social conditions of the time. At the back of the south aisle hang a pair of black oak bread shelves on which loaves were placed each Sunday for distribution to the poor. Two benefactors gave £50 each for the purchase of land, the rent from which was used to pay for the bread.
The charity board hangs at the back of the nave near the choir stalls, and is described as a memorial of those “that have been Encouragers of Learning and Benefactors to the Parish of Woodchurch”. There is included two cow charities that enabled cows to hired out to the poor at an annual rent of 2s 6d each. There is also reference to a gift of £500 given by William Gleave in 1665 to build a free-school and school-house and to employ a schoolmaster. The school foundation continues today as Woodchurch C.E Aided Primary School.
Three wooden epitaph tablets with hatchments hang on the north wall of the chancel. The first is in memory of Mary, wife of George Hocknell of Prenton “by whom he had issue 10 children”; she died aged 37. The armorial bearings, or hatchments, were probably privately commissioned.
18th century. Building works included rebuilding the church vestry “in a decent and convenient manner” complete with chimney (1766) and bringing a thousand slates across the Mersey from Liverpool to repair storm damage (1776).
19th century. Restoration work on the interior of the church was undertaken through the generosity of the Revd Joshua King (Rector 1821-1861) and the enthusiasm of his nephew, George Smith King. The 18th-century lath and plaster ceiling was removed, exposing the fine roof beams, plaster was stripped from the walls and the east end of the chancel renovated. George Smith King himself carved the decorative corbels on the ends of the oak beams in the chancel. It is said that he was still working on the nave when his bride arrived for their wedding! Sadly, George died shortly afterwards at the age 32 after being taken seriously ill at sea on the way to India.
20th century. Sensitive change are words that describe the work that took place last century, the most significant of which was undertaken in the 1930s and 1960s.
The 1930s changes took place during the incumbency of Bryan Robin (later Bishop of Adelaide), who was the grandson of Philip Robin, another of Joshua King’s nephews and himself a Rector of Woodchurch. The south aisle was brought back to its original use as a chapel, with the parish’s oak triptych war memorial forming the altar reredos (the memorial is now situated the north aisle). Floor tiles in the nave were replaced by flagstones. A new organ, built by Rushworth and Dreaper of Liverpool, was placed at the west end of the nave under the tower and the adjoining pews were adapted for use by the choir.
The most noteworthy of the changes, however, is the rood screen, a modern work which blends happily
into its ancient setting. Designed by Bernard Miller, it was carved by Alan Durst out of local oak from
Barnston Dale. From the nave we see the central figure of Jesus hanging on the cross with Mary and John
on either side. At the foot of the cross there rises a vine which encircles scenes carved along the rood beam
depicting the seven sacraments of the Church with Holy Communion in its central position. On the chancel
side of the rood we have Christ reigning from the cross as priest and king. The screen has been well described
as “a work of artistry inspired by sincerity, love and reverence”. Extensive housing development in the twenty years or so following WWII saw the population of the parish increase from a few hundred to over 10,000. This led to the enlargement of the church by the addition of a north aisle and new vestries. Three 17th century windows from the old north wall were re-installed, and a fourth, made in the same style, was added. At the same time a nave altar was introduced in front of the rood screen, thus enabling the congregation to participate more fully in Eucharist. These alterations were dedicated by the Bishop of Chester in in 1965. The modern stained glass window, opposite the south door, was executed by W.Davies of Irby, to a design based on the winning entry in a competition for the children of the parish. In recent years the beauty of the church has been enhanced in a number of ways including, for example, the discreet colouring of the woodwork of the organ screen and the memorial.
Today we a have a medieval church, enlarged, altered and enhanced, serving the people of the 21st century. In some ways of course the needs of the modern community are very different; the community for one thing is very very much bigger than our medieval predecessors could have imagined and the request to turn off mobile phones at the start of services would surely have been met with utter bemusement. In many ways the needs are exactly as they ever were –the Church is still a place where members of our community come to worship God, to find Christian fellowship and explore faith, to give thanks at times of joy and to find comfort in distress.
Our church is open for viewing every Wednesday morning 11am-12 noon.
First Saturday of every month 9.30am-11.00am
By special arrangement with the Parish Office (0151 677 5352)
However, before making a special journey, please check with the Parish Office (0151 677 5352) to check opening times.