In the early nineteenth century, Liverpool adopted a number of place names from London. Soho Street and Islington being two obvious ones. I assume naming a church St Martin-in-the Fields is another nod to the capital city and, at the time of its consecration in 1829, it would have drawn respectful comparisons with its counterpart. Erected by the Government at an expense of 20,000, it was designed by John Foster Jnr. who, along with his father John Foster Snr., was responsible for much of Liverpool’s Classical Revival. Between them, their list of buildings is astonishing, although some of their finest examples no longer survive, amongst them the Custom House, St John’s Market and St Catherine (Abercromby Square), St Martin’s Church is another lost building – like St Michael’s (Pitt Street) and St Luke’s (Berry Street) a victim of the 1941 May Blitz.
It is a forgotten church and images of it are quite rare. My lantern slide is inscribed The Black Church, by which it was locally known Surrounded by Silvester Street (the church on the left is St Silvester), Vauxhall Road, Blenheim Street and Limekiln Lane, it occupied a large tract of land. My 1835 map of Liverpool shows it surrounded by newly laid out streets, with industry and housing rapidly encroaching. It was built of red sandstone but had turned black thanks to its proximity to local industry (although most Liverpool churches had similarly turned black – it was clearly a local landmark). It would appear that its congregation had largely deserted it by the early twentieth century. This is not too surprising, by the mid-1840s it was in the heart of Catholic Liverpool following the mass Irish immigration resulting from the Irish Famines.
The church remained a shell until the early 1950s and was eventually cleared to make way for a children’s playground. St Martin’s Cottages (the first purpose-built council housing in Europe) were obviously named after then (and they suffered a similar ignominious fate, although at the hands of the Council, in 1977).