I discovered this unique church when my husband and I were doing a bit of geocaching. From that point on, I wanted to visit the cast iron church. We even went there a couple of times, but it was closed or in renovation. Finally we got to see it this week. It is an unique building, built in 1815, now is Grade I Listed. The name of the church is St Michael’s and the ‘Hamlet’, due to the nearby houses. More details are available on their website (www.stmichaels-hamlet.org.uk).
In early 1800s, Rickman and Cragg won a contract to design and build a new church in Everton. The church was finished in 1814 and it costed £11,500 to build. Cragg contributed with £600. The church was built with prefabricated iron from the Mersey Iron Foundry. The iron was bolted together inside the church. It was the first cast iron church. Even before the construction started at the St. George’s church in Everton, Cragg bought some land near Toxteth Park.
After they finished St. George in 1814, Cragg and Rickman decided to build a second cast iron church, this will be St. Michael in the Hamlet. This time, the costs were of only £7,865. It’s uncertain, but Cragg might have funded the whole project himself. The lower price might be down to reusing the same design and cast mouldings from the previous project. Cast iron was used both in the interior and the exterior of the church.
John Cragg was born in 1767 in Cheshire, the third of five children. He moved to Liverpool and lived at Delfside, where now is Liverpool Cathedral. He owned Mersey Iron Foundry and was trying to find new ways to use iron. He was also devout and he was a churchwarden of Liverpool Parish Church. For a few years he was a member of the Parish Committee of Liverpool.
He loved reading and wrote his own book advocating for the use of iron. After building St. Michael, he built six more houses nearby, five of them still survive today. He died in 1854, aged 87.
Thomas Rickman was married twice, his second wife and baby daughter dying in 1814. He moved to Birmingham where he opened an architect’s office. During his career, he designed churches and large houses. He died in 1841, leaving behind 2,000 architectural sketches and 57 volumes of diaries which he had kept from 1807 to 1834.
The nave looks similar to a train station, due to the use of cast iron for the main body of the church. It’s light and quite different from a stone church. The window frames are made with cast iron too, and so are the doors. There are only two churches like this, St. Michaels and St. George’s.
The clock in the tower and the windows are the gift of the parishioners, in the memory of the 148 men that died in the First World War.
The font was installed in 1875. It was used for baptising ceremonies.
The organ was moved in 1902 in this position. It’s no longer in use, being replaced by an electronic one.
Due to its age, the church needs restoration. In 2006-2007 some repairs were made to the nave with funds from the English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. More repairs are needed, as the paint inside is not good. Even so, it’s a fascinating place to see and I think it’s worth a visit.
Outside the church is a small cemetery that offers the opportunity to properly see the church from outside. When the church was built, it was surrounded by farmland.
The cast iron church is free to visit. You can find it at St Michael-in-the-Hamlet with St Andrew Parish Church, St Michael’s Church Road, Liverpool, L17 7BD. There are a few parking spots on road near the church and there is a bigger car park nearby.