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How Liverpool’s Bombed Out Church was nearly demolished for a new road

1 month ago

By The Guide Liverpool

How Liverpool’s Bombed Out Church was nearly demolished for a new road

The Bombed Out Church is one of Liverpool’s best known and most loved landmarks, and a venue for everything from outdoor theatre to tai chi sessions, beer festivals and even an ice rink last Christmas.

But, although it’s now enjoyed by many thousands of visitors every year, the Bombed Out Church was almost lost to the city forever more than 70 years ago.

The ruins of the old St Luke’s Church, the result of massive bomb damage in the May Blitz of WWII which devastated Liverpool in 1941, were threatened with demolition in the 1950s.

Plans suggested that the whole site including the church remains were cleared to make way for a new road out of the city. 

It was saved after intervention from the then Bishop of Liverpool who pushed for the ruins to become a memorial to those who had been lost in the war. He was successful and in June 1952 the church and original railings which surround it were given a Grade II listing.

Bombed Out Church

Sam Raymond, site manager at the Bombed Out Church, says it seems unlikely now to think the site almost didn’t survive.

“At one point, it could have become no more than a junction on an A road that would leave the city. I think it’s a testament to its significance and a collective feeling that there’s something very special about the church that has led people to value it and keep its flame alive where other buildings have sadly fallen off the map,” he says. 

“The church is so much a part of the city’s tapestry, it’s a meeting place even for people who’ve never been inside, partly because of its location but also simply its uniqueness. 

“It’s like a symbol of the city’s identity. If you think of the New York skyline or the Seattle skyline, those buildings are the things people think of when they think of that place. What would Liverpool be without its buildings?

“Having the church used by so many communities really encourages a sense of shared ownership of the building. It’s an important part of the city which is why we want it to represent and celebrate all the different people who live here and our cultural heritage.”

Stephen Davismoon
Picture – Stephen Davismoon

Sam says there’s an endless fascination among visitors around the Bombed Out Church’s story.

“Because it was hit by an incendiary bomb, the damage was caused by the fire which that bomb started rather than an explosion so all the external masonry is largely intact and in really good condition. 

“In other places you have fragments of a building remaining but here we’ve actually got a complete shell which still serves as a functioning space. Obviously it appears drastically different from when it was a working church but there’s still a doorway, the nave where the congregation would have sat, and the chancel where the service would have been led from, so essentially the building still functions in the same way it was originally intended.”

In fact, the Bombed Out Church wasn’t just rescued once by people power in Liverpool, it was saved twice.

Even after getting the listed building status which protected it from the bulldozers, the site was left in a derelict state for over 50 more years. 

Its regeneration to the place we all know today was thanks to supporters who cleared and transformed the site so it could be used for various arts and cultural events and eventually reopened to the public in 2007.

Picture – Shutterstock

Now, whenever there isn’t an event happening, it’s open for anyone to walk around and see the incredible building for themselves.

And Sam says the team at the church never tires of seeing the expressions on the faces of people experiencing it for the first time.

“The number of people who we’ve had over the past 12 months has been amazing and it’s lovely seeing them being endlessly curious about the place. 

“Because we’ve been so proactive about using the site, it’s making it an increasingly welcoming, family-friendly and exciting place to visit, not just for international tourists and visitors from the UK, it’s bringing in people from Liverpool who’ve never been inside but relate to the church as that place they get dropped off by a cab. 

“Once you walk into the building, you’re outside but also inside so somewhere in between. And even though it’s on a really busy junction in the city centre, with buses going past constantly, when you go inside there’s this stillness. You catch a glimpse of the outside world through the windows, but overwhelmingly what you see is sky.”

Sam believes the Bombed Out Church will always be special in Liverpool for all kinds of reasons.

“The arts is a great way of bringing people in and it’s a fantastic use of the space, but we’re incredibly conscious that it’s significant to different people in different ways. It’s not an official war memorial but it symbolises the city’s resilience, its spirit, its capacity and ability to overcome difficulty and turn it into something positive.”

Visit the Bombed Out Church website HERE.

Get more Liverpool history HERE.

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