I wasn’t looking for the former Unitarian Church in St Helens but stumbled across it by accident. I was glad I did because whilst it is always a shame when any church closes (and this congregation came to an end in 1998) old church buildings can sometimes be utilised in ways that are imaginative, in keeping with the original purpose and bring some social advantage to the community. All this is certainly the case with St Helens, a solid and utilitarian building that is now a cinema.
As I walked past my eye caught the inscription above the door proclaiming it to be the Unitarian and Free Christian Church, although it is many years since this was actually the case. In fact there are more reminders of the original function of the building despite it being well converted to other purposes. On the front wall the foundation stone is very prominent, recording the role of Anne Holt my distinguished predecessor as editor of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society – a highly regarded historian and member of the famous Liverpool ship owning family – who had inaugurated the building in 1949. Inside there is another tablet which commemorates the opening of the church in 1950 under the presidency of Elizabeth Ann Fryer.
The sanctuary was not large but the group of buildings were varied and clearly adapted to a number of uses. Nowadays the building is a cinema, named Lucem House, a volunteer-led social enterprise. It takes its name from the motto of the borough of St Helens, Ex Terra Lucem – ‘Out of Earth – Light’ (so I was told by Paul Jones the operations manager of the cinema) and the church itself has been nicely turned into a small cinema auditorium. In the foyer they have created an attractive box office and the whole place has a pleasant ambience.
Paul told me that the cinema has been in operation for over three years, the building also being let out for functions and used by a local photography club. They have a screening every week and the day I was there were looking forward to A Night to Remember starring Kenneth More. Paul Jones is an expert on the Titanic (another item of history with notable Unitarian connections) and this film certainly reflects his interests. The film was to be followed by a poetry reading by Len Saunders, the head steward and a poet and actor who has been known – so I was told – to dress up on suitable Titanic related occasions as Captain Smith or Lord Pirrie. He wasn’t in character that day but shared with me some of his poems.
The Unitarian Heritage (published in 1986) says the congregation was founded in 1901 and the original chapel built in 1904. I can’t locate any images of the original building but it was destroyed during the blitz of 1941 and apparently rebuilt on the same site after the war. Now, after a period of neglect, the buildings have been well restored and well adapted to another imaginative use.
St Helens Unitarian Church – now Lucem House
Paul Jones in the box office
Update 1st August 2017.
I was very shocked and saddened to read that Len Saunders was the victim of a violent unprovoked assault in July which tragically resulted in his death at the end of the month. There are details and tributes to him in the local paper:
There is a crowdfunding page set up to raise money to provide step free access to Lucem House Cinema in Len Saunders’ memory. The page can be accessed here:
5 thoughts on “St Helens – Lucem House Cinema”
I remember being at the opening of the new St. Helens church building along with my mother and my father. Anne Holt was there on that day too and officially opened the building. Internally it was more like a church hall with a stage rather than a church. I also remember going there to take a service – was it once or twice – when I was at Ullet Road. Nobody came to open up until about 6.29p.m. for a 6.30p.m. service. Margaret and I were just walking away when someone actually arrived. On another – or maybe it was the same Sunday – the St. Helens rugby team returned after winning ‘the Cup’ and we had a dreadful time getting home again to Cheltenham Avenue.
Many thanks for the memories
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Thanks Andrew. Fascinating memories. I had never even seen the building before. As you can see the various memorial tablets from that opening are well preserved today.
Hi all…yes tragically my best mate len was attacked in a nearby street approx 2 weeks ago.he is was on his way home with a friend from lucem house community cinema when 2 youngsters stopped them and asked them for a cigarrette.tbe 17 year old punched len in the face resulting in len unnconscience but he hit his head hard on the kerb.he was on life support for over a week but never regained conscioussness. As you can tell im still very shocked.i was in america at the time for 3 weeks but upon hearing about my mate len on the friday nite we got the 1st possable plane home to be by his bedside on the sunday evening. We are all still very shocked by this incident but len would want us to carry on his legacy.we are thinking of naming our back spare rooms the saunders suite after len.he dedicated his life to that cinema so it only fits purpose that we shoukd do this in his memory.we have also setup a fund raising page on our website in memory of len to raise money to get a ramp installed for people with disabilities. As you can gather im still appalled by this tragedy len was my best mate and my side kick…its now a world without laurel and hardy thats what people thought of us both which is nice….i thank u all….Paul Jones/operations director lucem house ltd
This is such an unbelievable and shocking tragedy. I was really pleased to meet you both in May and see the work you are doing. It was quite clear that Len was someone who was making such a positive contribution to society and all those around him. It is absolutely terrible that you should lose him in this way. I send my deepest sympathy. I am sure you will be successful in raising funds for a suitable memorial to him in the cinema. I see there is a link on your Facebook page to Just Giving. I wish you all the best for the future.
Dear Dr Steers – I am a documentary producer making a short piece about Len Saunders to go into a Channel 4 documentary. We would be interested in potentially using your photograph of Len in our film and wanted to get in touch with you to get permission to use it as you are the copyright holder. Id be really grateful if you could get back to me at my email address so I can explain a bit more. Thanks, Harriet