The fascinating history behind the church on the edge of the Baltic Quarter
1 month ago
Liverpool’s Baltic Quarter is one of the most vibrant and rapidly developing areas of the city centre.
Amidst the bars, cafes and new apartments is an imposing octagonal building many of us will walk past every day without any idea about its past, or present.
Proudly displaying the five Nordic flags, the red brick building in Park Lane at the Baltic Quarter has a fascinating history and enjoys a vibrant and varied modern day function for the local community and beyond.
The Scandinavian Seamen’s Church was built in 1883-84 as a base for the Scandinavian Mission in Liverpool.
Mass migration from Scandinavia to the exciting opportunities of America first brought its people to the port of Liverpool as part of their journey to the other side of the Atlantic.
Many were farmers enticed by the American dream of huge swathes of land to raise their families and make their fortune. On route they passed through Liverpool, having arrived by train from ports in the north-east like Hull.
The scale of this mass migration was huge. By the late 1860s, more than 95 per cent of all Swedish migrants arriving in New York had sailed on ships registered in Liverpool. Many stayed in the city for weeks or even months before their onward journey. A small number stayed and never made it to America.
At the same time, Liverpool’s dominance of ocean-going trade saw a great number of Nordic vessels bringing cargo to Europe from around the world. The sailors often needed places to live or be treated, while the merchant elite community also featured Scandinavian families.
And so, a Scandinavian mission was founded with weekly services, hospital visits to sick and injured sailors and other services such as helping men keep in contact with their families at home.
Demand for a church grew and the result was the Gustaf Adolfs Kyrka we see today.
The land in Park Lane had previously been home to poor quality housing and was obtained from the Corporation of Liverpool. Funds were raised by preaching tours and appeals back in Scandinavia, with contributions from different churches helping towards the construction costs.
The church was consecrated on 1st December 1884 and featured many aspects typical of Scandinavian architecture, including the high pyramid roof.
The building suffered heavy damage during the bombing of Liverpool during World War II, when it served as a focal point for families of Nordic seafarers in the British war effort.
But it survived and stands as a proud symbol of Liverpool’s Scandinavian community, past and present.
Today the church is looked after by Building Custodian Ole Stokke. It has undergone structural changes to adapt to modern day worship and church use, including the addition of a new floor to house a social centre and the relocation of the alter.
It still serves as a focal point for worship for the Scandinavian community with weekly prayer services. There are fortnightly Finnish School get togethers, coffee mornings featuring Nordic food and services in conjunction with the German Church.
However, now known as the Nordic Church and Cultural Centre, it serves a wider purpose as a social centre and facility for local people of all denominations and nationalities.
It is also something of a tourist attraction. Ole said: “We have tourists stopping by, often on their way to Liverpool Cathedral who are interested to learn more about the church and its history. We had Japanese visitors recently who wanted to look round.
“We have also had wedding receptions here and brass band rehearsals, and the church used to be home to the Swedish and Norwegian consulates when they were in Liverpool.”
The small accommodation area also acts as a bed and breakfast for visiting Scandinavian football fans in the city for Liverpool home matches, with many returning on a regular basis throughout the season.
So next time you’re leaving John Lewis via the car park, or walking home from the Baltic Quarter, take a look at the church that has adapted and changed to serve its congregation of Scandinavians and their descendants, and remains one of Britain’s most striking and important remaining Victorian buildings.