Our Lady of Compassion
RC Church - Formby

Part of Formby Catholic Community
School Lane, Formby, Liverpool. L37 3LW.
Tel: 01704 873 230

HomeService TimesKey eventsGroups & ClubsFacilitiesLinksFind Us

A History of Our Lady’s Church


This short guide to the Church of Our Lady of Compassion gives a brief history and introduces the visitor to some of the interesting features as part of a brief tour around the inside of the church. The information is taken from a booklet produced for a Church flower festival in 1992. One day the Webmaster will get around to updating it but in the meantime you'll find some fascinating glimpses of history on this page.

How the Church came to be built.

Following the Reformation, many people in the then remote area of Formby continued to be Catholics under the protection of Catholic landlords. Early records tell us that a Fr Edward Molyneux in Alt Grange used one of his rooms for saying mass. From 1664 he was travelling to Formby to celebrate Mass in local houses or in public.

James 11's supposed Catholic sympathies encouraged some to look forward to easier times and in Formby the parish began work on a chapel in 1686; the old chapel is now the convent adjacent to the present rectory. With the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William and Mary this building was used firstly as a barn then as a cottage.

From 1702 Fr Edward is recorded as living in the Priest House on Priest House Lane. The local Catholics had reclaimed their chapel by the 1780's, although the mass was only legalised (under certain conditions) in 1791.

An increase in numbers was the main reason for the start on the present church and it was Monsignor Carr who provided the main impetus; he came here in 1862 and died here in 1913. His grave, and that of his nephew (a priest here with him for long a time) is just to the right of the path as you leave the church.

The church was designed by the architect Henry Clutton (1819-1893) and was solemnly opened on 14th August 1864 (the vigil of Our Lady's Assumption) by the Bishop of Liverpool. The title of the church, "Our Lady of Compassion" is intriguing, since most old chapels would be called "St Mary's".

Refurbishment and renovation have taken place during the life of the church. The latest changes in 1991 included reordering the altar and pews and the addition of a meeting room designed by the architect Richard O'Mahoney.

As you enter the church.

Originally the entrance to the church was through a single large door. In 1906 the opening was divided by the pillar (on which stands the statue of Our Lady) and the two doors were fitted.

Turn left from the main entrance and note the capitals of the columns. They were completed in 1902 at a cost of £96 (a parishioner donated £50). Each one is unique with many recognisable plants including ivy, roses, daffodils, primroses, vines etc.

In 1897 new gaslights, mounted on stands in the side aisles between the pillars, were installed to replace the original paraffin lamps. These were again replaced in the 1920's after much discussion as to whether gas or electric lighting should be used. Gas lighting was chosen, suspended on the fittings that now support the electric lights.

On the walls are wooden Stations of the Cross, mounted in 1949 in memory of the Robinson family (according to the plaque below station number 1). The carver's name appears on the right hand side of the seventh and eight stations. This craftsman's family undertook a number of other pieces of work in England including the choir stalls at Downside Abbey.

Towards the front of the Church. The small chapels on either side of the altar were completed by 1917 in memory of Monsignor Carr; the left chapel was dedicated to Our Lady and the right to St Joseph. With the recent reordering, the left hand chapel is now the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The tabernacle (on top of the altar) was part of the previous high altar and is decorated on the doors with enamels depicting the four evangelists. The statue to the left of the chapel is Our Lady of Sorrows, holding Jesus' crown of thorns. Previously, this had been to the immediate left of the high altar.

Eight statues adorn the semicircular wall behind the main altar; they are thought to be the patron Saints of eight children of the anonymous donors of the old high altar built in 1907.

From left to right these represent; St Margaret of Scotland with the crown, St George, a knight with a sword, St Anthony, a Franciscan friar, St Peter, carrying a large key, St Paul denoted by a sword and book, St Catherine of Alexandria, standing on the wheel on which she was martyred, St Patrick, a bishop with mitre, standing on a snake, and St William, Archbishop of York.

Below the statue of St Margaret stands a small cupboard once used to house holy oils.

The new lectern and altar, made of stone from Huddersfield, are part of the most recent refurbishment and closely match the stone of the pillars.

Incorporated into the altar are part of the bones of two Christians called Basil and Aurelius, from the catacombs in Rome. This custom comes from an old tradition of building a church with the altar positioned over the tomb of a martyr. This is supposed to be the case with the high altar of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. It also reminds us of the continuity of worship in the church.

The cross on the front of the altar is taken from the Molyneux coat of arms - a reminder that Fr Edward Molyneux started the parish.

The candlesticks on each side of altar have been made from those that stood on the previous high altar.

Above the altar there is a large hanging crucifix with Mary on Jesus' left and St. John on his right.

The two small crosses and candle holders on the central pillars in front of main altar mark two of the four places where Archbishop Worlock anointed the walls of the church during its dedication in October 1991. The remaining two are situated on the side walls at the back of the church.

Incorporated into the front of the new lectern is the oak door of an aurnbry (a cupboard which held oils used for the sacraments) from the old priest house in Priest House Lane. The date 1691 can be clearly seen.

Our Lady's Chapel, to the right of the main altar, was previously dedicated to St Joseph; note the woodworking tools on the walls, and the panel at the front of the altar representing his death. The two men shown on the walls above eye level are Mordecai who was Esther's cousin and became her guardian and Eliezer, Rebecca's guardian. The finely carved wooden triptych shows Mary's visit to Elizabeth. The details of the faces clothes and even jewellery are beautifully worked but the craftsman is unknown.

Towards the back of the Church.

Facing the back of the church, the first statue on the left depicts St Teresa. Above is a stained glass window of St Stephen. It was made in the 1920's although, with such vibrant colours and free style, it looks more modem.

On the right of St Teresa are pictures of the seven sorrows of Our Lady repositioned from the back wall. Beyond the statue of St Theresa is 'The Motherhood Chapel'. The inscription on the screen on the back wall translates to 'I have been fruitful like a vine' and is taken from the book of Ecclesiasticus. Over the arch, the Latin reads; '…the Father gave his Son to the world by Mary's cooperation and the Holy Spirit'. The shape of this chapel, particularly the roof, was used as the basis for the design of the new meeting room.

The small carved figure on the left pillar at the back is Edward Arrowsmith, a local saint. The stone panel of the Last Supper on the back wall, next to the sacristy door was originally part of the high altar. The document that hangs on the wall nearby is an agreement signed, on 25th September 1988, by members of the following churches in Formby. It affirms our intention to pray and work together, with all God's people to bring about the visible unity of the church.

Formby Methodist church United Reform Church Holy Trinity Our Lady of Compassion St Anne's St Jerome's St Luke's St Michael and All Angels St Peter's

The baptismal font replaced an earlier slate font. The inside is painted slate and it is thought that this font made in 1923 incorporates part or all of the original. It was moved to this position in 1991.

A carved panel depicting the Holy Family is on the right hand wall at the back of church. It is marked 'B.O.W 1941' but there is no more information about its origin.

Near the main entrance is the small baptistry and door to the gallery. The gallery was extended in 1947. Note the carvings of angels above your head. The Latin reads 'to you all the angels, cherubim and seraphim, cry out Holy, Holy, Holy'. The statue on the wall nearby is of St Anthony.

The baptistry and adjacent belltower, built in 1923, replaced the existing structure that had become unsafe. The plaque on the left of the baptistry gates shows that it was dedicated to Monsignor Carr. The font stood in the centre of the baptistry, but since the new rite of Baptism (1970) baptism is always celebrated in the main part of the church.

The stained glass windows in the baptistry represent, (from left to right) Naaman the leper who was healed in the Jordan, John baptising Jesus, the martyrdom of St. Alban, St Gregory (the Pope) meeting slave boys from England ('Angels, not Angles'), St Paulinus baptising in York, and finally the open gates of heaven. The Latin inscription on the railings is, from Isaiah, 'You will draw water in joy from the springs of the Saviour'.