One of the most impressive church buildings surviving from the first half of the nineteenth century in Liverpool is undoubtedly St Andrew’s Church of Scotland on Rodney Street. These days it is really little more than a façade but it is remarkable that so much has survived given its turbulent history since the congregation left in 1975 and the fact that it was virtually in ruins for many years.
There were plans, at one point, for the building to become a library for one of the universities which would have been a very good usage for such an imposing and well sited building. But that didn’t happen and one of the towers was demolished as the whole building faced complete destruction at one point. The tower had to be re-instated, which is just as well, and the shell of the church now houses flats. Fortunately, this means that St Andrew’s is maintained in the streetscape of Rodney Street, you can still enjoy the dramatic vista looking along this Georgian street, now with the Anglican Cathedral standing at the conclusion of the view.
It is one of the few surviving buildings designed by local architect John Foster junior and never fails to impress with its massive ionic columns. There were a great number of churches in Liverpool which were built by Scottish immigrants to the city but St Andrew’s was by far the most prominent and long-lasting of those affiliated with the Church of Scotland.
It was opened for worship in December 1824 and the first minister was the Rev David Thom who was called as minister to a breakaway group from the original Church of Scotland on Oldham Street in 1823. The congregation met initially in the former Music Hall on Bold Street but even before they had moved to their grand new church doctrinal divisions had become apparent and, unable to remove Mr Thom, the congregation had called another minister as colleague. By June 1825 Thom was being charged with deviating from the Westminster Confession and was subsequently removed from his charge by the Presbytery of Glasgow. Rev David Thom DD, PhD was a Universalist and he went back to the old Music Hall on Bold Street with his followers and founded what he termed the Berean-Universalist Church, eventually building his own chapel on Crown Street in 1851. ‘Universalist’ was a reference to the belief that all people would eventually be saved, and Berean an allusion to the people of Beroea (Acts ch.17 v.11) who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (RSV).
Everyone with an interest in the religious history of Liverpool owes a debt to David Thom for his book Liverpool Churches and Chapels which began life as a series of lectures – Liverpool Churches and Chapels; their destruction, removal or alteration; with notices of clergymen, ministers and others – delivered to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, of which society he was a Vice-President. He died in 1862 but the original Liverpool congregation of which he had briefly been minister continued in Rodney Street and then subsequently met in Liverpool Cathedral until closure a few years ago. A recent tablet attached to the front of the old church records their existence.
The base of one of the columns
The surviving original tower
Former Sunday School rooms
The pyramid tomb of William Mackenzie in the graveyard