Church History

Although there was no Parish Church in Ainsdale until 1886, the story of the Christian church here goes back for almost a thousand years.

The first settlers were Vikings who gave the village its name.

They were not, however, Scandinavian Vikings in horned helmets, set to raid and pillage as in Northumbria, but Vikings whose forebears had already settled in Ireland.

When they were driven out they sought land to settle, and came along our coastline.

From 1884 the Rural Decanal Committee under the Rev. Prebendary-Cross responding to pressure from Ainsdale, had made moves to establish a Church in the village. They now negotiated with Mr. Weld Blundell for a site, and the Rev. Lonsdale Formby, offered £500 for the building of the church.

Eventually three sites were offered and a meeting was held in the Assembly Room to debate their merits.

However, the need for the new building was now urgent because the congregation had grown so much that the assembly rooms were unsafe! Undaunted, the congregation moved to a derelict brick works (next to the present laundry).

It was a community effort with farmers fixing planks for seats and spreading clean rushes on the floor – no doubt the resident insect population proved a distraction. Obviously this was not ideal so in 1887 services were held in the as yet, incomplete church, using bricks for seats and tarpaulins for the roof, while Mr. Rimmer's house next door was used as a Vestry.

Parishioners were entitled to feel a sense of achievement, when, on February 27th 1887 services were held at 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. in the new church with Mr. Buston preaching a most impressive and eloquent sermon on Job 22 v 21."

The Rev. Robert Odgers Greep was appointed Curate in Charge in October 1887. In February 1888 a presentation was made to Mr. & Mrs. Buston with the Reverend Greep presiding. He had arrived to find a new Church and an active congregation.

St. John's was now licenced for services as a Chapel of Ease of St. Peter's Formby. He himself was married at St. John's, 28th September 1892 to Miss Spencer, an Ainsdale Sunday School teacher, but there was still much to be done.

The village expanded greatly and new facilities were needed: there was no vicarage or school and the children were still travelling to Formby or Birkdale. Because there was no parish hall gatherings such as the vicar's wedding party had to be held in the Weslyan School Room!

The indefatigable Rev. Greep raised the money to build the day school on its present site. A successful three-day bazaar was held in September 1891 in an attempt to raise the £800 required. The total income of the church for 1891/2 was only £186, 9s. Id.

Two small stones at the front of the building were laid by Annie Lucy H. Formby of Formby Hall and by Catherine Emma Buston, wife of the Lay Reader.

By 1906 the Rev. Greep was planning the Consecration of the Church. Originally this was planned for Saturday, 16th December 1905 and the service sheets were printed but the actual ceremony took place on 5th June 1906 and Bishop Chavasse of Liverpool consecrated the church. Sadly, the Rev. Greep was already a sick man and he was just able to "read himself in" thus becoming the first vicar of Ainsdale. He was not well enough to conduct services, never preached in the Church and made his last visit to the school on June 30th. He died on November 22 1906 and was buried at Birkdale Cemetery November 26 by Canon Bridge. A beautiful brass lectern was put in the church in his memory. The new incumbent was the Reverend Alfred Edward Drew (1907-1911). Although he was in Ainsdale for such a short time he made several important contributions to the Parish. A parochial hall was built on the Vicarage site to accommodate the numerous church societies. It opened January 30th 1908 and cost £430, raised by the 20,000 shilling fund. The Parish Magazine was started in May 1907 and is a fascinating source of information about church activities. Apart from Sunday Schools and Bible Classes there were: The Boys' Cricket Club, Football Club, the Men's Club, Girls' Friendly Society, Band of Hope, Mothers' Meeting, Silver Thimble League, a Bowling Club and Men’s' Billiards. Boy Scouts began in 1911. All these flourished under the Rev. Drew and some serious debates took place such were well attended and the church was a lively community. There was no radio or television so people spent more time together and the church was a real community distinct from the Weslyan and R.C. communities. The Rev. Drew left in 1911, but continued his ministry until 1948.

By 1921 St. John's was unsafe because the roof was too heavy, so the vicar, William Webster started a 20.000 shilling fund. This raised £650 for repairs so the belfry was dismantled and the bell hung on wooden supports in the churchyard. Next, a three-day bazaar was held on 11.12 & 13 October in 1923. This was an amazing feat, with stalls, a bank, cafe and entertainments and it raised £1,000. The money was used to install electric light, redecorate the whole church, build a choir vestry and finally to replace the organ at a cost of £300.

He left his mark on St. John's for besides being an organiser and fund-raiser extraordinary he was deeply artistic and designed many of the features of the present church. In 1923 the small West window was donated in memory of Miss Mary Louise Tibbatts and the glorious Easter Window was designed by the Vicar himself. The work was started in 1923 and the window depicting sunrise on the first Easter Day was donated in memory of eight parishioners. It was originally painted glass but by 1927 this was fading, so when Mrs. Abrams left £200 to the church it was decided to remake the window and the final dedication took place in May 1928.

The Church really was the centre of social life in the village in the 1920's and 30's. Apart from the uniformed organisations, the Mothers' Union and Girls' Friendly Society met weekly and there was a Ladies Working Party. There was a bowling green behind the church and later tennis courts for the energetic. St. John's football team was very successful as was the Church Lads' Club. The church had a reputation for successful dramatic productions and had both Dramatic and Operatic Societies.

As early as 1942 the vicar warned the parish that it would need to raise £20,000 but the following year there was £2,460 in the fund and £4,500 by 1944. By that time a further £3,000 was required for a Parochial Hall and £2,000 for a Vicarage and population had risen to 6000 so more accommodation was needed, yet in 1946 the Treasurer was so short of funds that Mrs. Eccles had to give the church 30 shillings from Cub funds to pay the Gas Bill! The vicar wanted this to be a Church of Thanksgiving and envelopes were printed for a special Gift Day. By 1946 it was obvious that there was no chance of building the new Church so it was decided to concentrate on the existing building. It certainly needed refurbishing despite all the excellent work of the Rev. Webster. The vicar himself admitted that he disliked the poor furnishing. The Church had not been decorated for 35 years; the West window had been damaged by enemy action when a bomb had fallen in Stourton Road. The vestments and alter frontals were worn out. Parishioners today would not recognise the St. John's of 1946. There was a different pulpit, only a small organ, and no prayer desks for the clergy. Most of the windows were plain glass but the walls were decorated with blue and gold and were very ornate by our standards. There was also a small Lady Chapel on the South side of the chancel. In the next 10 years the interior changed dramatically.

The organ was purchased from Mr. Maddox of Bristol for £1,550 - although as Canon Dixon recalls 'I wonder that I had the nerve or faith to bid £1,550 when we had barely £100 in the organ Fund'.

The organ had belonged to millionaire Henry Wills (tobacco) and was deemed a very good buy as it was probably the finest chamber organ in the West with exceptional tone, and was built by Willis of Liverpool.

The whole thing had to be dismantled to move it and it was too big for St. John's organ chamber so there had to be structural alterations. The total cost was £2.900 and it was finally dedicated on May 25 1949 by Canon Morris, and Alan Kennedy, owner of Ye Olde Tea Shoppe on Liverpool Road gave a Recital, Since then the organ has been overhauled twice and is still giving us good service, although, in view of our accommodation problems the original Lady Chapel might be useful. The windows were gifts to the church.

The first was the War Memorial window designed by Marion Grant. It depicts Christ Triumphant as the Lamb and it figures St. Michael (R.A.F.). St. Nicholas (R.N. & M.N.). St. George (Army), and St. Oswald (C.D.), and records the names of the men who died.

This was dedicated in October 1947 by the Bishop of Liverpool. It was followed by the Good Shepherd Window given by Mrs. Wilson in 1949, and the Ladies' Working Party raised the money for the new West Window in 1951 and for the Christ the King window in 1953 which had been delayed by fire at Powell's works.

The Mothers' Union window was dedicated in 1955. Meanwhile, outside, the porch was built. Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Jackson donated the doors, and the garden was planted with bulbs, so within 10 years the fabric of the church had been transformed.

We celebrated the Centenary of our Parish St. John's Ainsdale (1886-1986). We survey a century of life in the Parish, enjoying our reminiscences, taking pride in our achievements, and give thanks to God. But it is not simply a time for nostalgia; we also looked forward; planning new buildings and developments in our church and asking for God's help as we adapt to the changes in Ainsdale, in society and in the world at large. Ainsdale today is very different from the village of 1886, yet we share many of the feelings, hopes, fears and aspirations of those first parishioners. Like them, we are part of a much longer Christian tradition and we must understand our past in order to have a sense of belonging and to cope with our future. At the close of 2010 we had seen a 3% growth in the average Sunday attendance figures over the year and with that momentum building, and new notice boards announcing our presence to the community we felt we could share our faith with the people of Ainsdale and grow

Indeed, we were faced with more challenges when ………

At a meeting of the Trustees of St John’s Church on the 8 November 2011 a decision was made to close the Church for public worship with all services being held in the Parish Hall adjacent to the Church building. This was necessary as our Church Insurers had withdrawn cover in respect of any claims arising out of problems related to the unsatisfactory condition of the Church roof; in all other respects the Insurance Company continued to provide full cover for the Church building. This action had followed from a fall of plaster that occurred in July 2011. The PCC made preventative repairs to the roof and the ceiling, and sought advice from our Quinqennial Architect. This resulted in onsite inspections taking place and the architect advising that there is a high risk of further plaster falls within the Church due to the ingress of water through the roof caused by the rotting of the slate nails. The issue can only be solved by re-roofing of the Church. In consultation with the Diocese the trustees advised our insurers of the state of the roof and the insurance policy was endorsed to remove cover in respect of any losses or damage arising as a result of the poor condition of the roof. The Trustees looked at a number of possible solutions and agreed to put four options to an Open Meeting of the fellowship in early 2012, the options discussed ranging from a re-roof of the existing Church, extending the Church, building a new Church or extending the Hall complex to create a Church in front of the existing Hall. The strong feeling from this meeting was to either extend the Church or have a new Church building. The Trustees sought the views of the fellowship in order to discern a way forward. The written responses were made available to all members of the PCC and after extensive discussion and taking due consideration of all the views expressed in the responses the PCC reached the following unanimous decision at a meeting on the 28 February 2012: “The church should be reroofed, extended and reordered as a phased development, but with planning approval and all relevant permission in place before the first stage. The first stage will include reroofing and reordering followed by a second stage extension to the west end of the church. No phase to be started until finance for that phase is in place.”

In 2012, the PCC’s Fundraising and Publicity Committee, now operating under the name ‘Roof-Raisers’, continued to progress with advertising our presence and our Mission aims in particular by a presence at the Ainsdale Show. The Development Fund received a big boost in September 2012 with the sale of St John’s House (the property we had owned and had been a Curate’s House). It was the realisation that we had sufficient detail on our proposed Development and its costs to give a comprehensive presentation to the fellowship at the November 2012 Open Church Meeting that prompted a full launch of formal Fundraising for our Development Fund among the fellowship and wider community of Ainsdale, even though we had not fully met our desire to meet our underlying operating costs from regular giving. The PCC recognised that we cannot approach Grant Making bodies until we have fully overcome our day to day shortfall in giving and have our accounts back at least in balance. Once that is achieved and is sustainable we will start to address approaches to such bodies.

2013 - It is wonderful to see that our finances have again enabled us to return a small surplus on the year and this will help us a great deal as we apply for grants and look for large donations from outside organisations.

As we are now beginning the process of starting some of the work on the Church building we must be very careful that we do not transfer money from our regular giving in-order to increase our giving to the Development Fund, as we have to ensure that we continue to stay ‘in the black’ in the coming year. The budget for the coming year shows that we will need to continue to increase our regular giving to the general fund if we are not to find ourselves in the position of having to take money from our Church reserves to cover our day-to-day expenditure.

We also have to ensure we continue to implement more of our Vision and Mission document, thereby increasing our ministry to those in the Parish who do not currently attend worship. The main reason for the development of the Church building is to make it ‘more accessible’ for those who live in the Parish. In this last year we have already seen an increase in the number of community groups using our Church Hall and we have to ensure that our commitment to completing all of ‘Stage 1’ of the Church’s Development Plan remains strong, as there is obviously a great need in our Parish for us to provide more resources for the community in general and to increase our opportunities for mission amongst them. The progress that has been made with Fundraising has made possible the consideration of making a start during 2014 on the reroofing of the Church. After consultation with the Diocesan Building Adviser the PCC took the decision to start the process by applying for a faculty to carry out the reroofing of the Church with proportionate measures being taken to protect, or remove to storage, Church furniture. Further separate faculty applications will then need to be made for items such as, new lighting, audio visual equipment, level floor, re-ordering, updated heating etc. The necessary early stages on making that happen are being taken. In order to meet Diocesan requirements a ‘Statement of Significance’ has been produced and approved by the Trustees. This document is an important tool in helping everyone understand the significance of the Church buildings and its fabric and fittings. Also to meet Diocesan requirements a ‘Statement of Need’ has been produced specifically for the new roof. This document has to explain, justify and rationalize the proposal to all interested parties. These two documents are important as they enable the PCC to focus and agree on what it wants to achieve in its Vision and Mission of the Church. They are also vital in providing information to the Diocese as they assess the work the PCC wish to carry out on the Church buildings prior to the submission of a faculty.

Development Fund 2013

This fund is to provide for the development of our mission and the reroofing, reordering and extending of our Church as a phased development. The Development Fund at 31 December 2013 had reached a total of £287,418 against a target of £500,000 for the expected cost of Phase 1 of our Development. Subsequent progress with fund raising has made it possible to consider making a start on re-roofing the church followed by the re-ordering of the internal space. After consultation with the Diocesan Building Advisor the PCC took the decision in January 2014 to start the re-roofing process by requesting the Vicar to instruct the Architect to prepare tender documents for re-roofing. Following a successful tendering process a contractor was selected. In November the PCC began the Faculty process for the re-roofing work and the removal of the pews. The latter is to enable internal repairs to be carried out and provide flexibility for the subsequent re-ordering of the internal space.

Development Fund 2014

This fund is to provide for the development of our mission and the reroofing, reordering and extending of our Church as a phased development. The Development Fund at 31 December 2014 had reached a total of £350,253 against a target of £500,000 for the expected cost of Stage 1 of our Development. 4 years had passed since leaving our church building due to the problems with the roof; we were greatly encouraged when work began on the church in April of this year. We knew that we still had a long way to go, both in terms of fundraising and planning, before we would be able to complete the task and move back into the Church building. Although we still had to find the funds for the internal works (including a new floor/heating system/reordering etc.) it was really encouraging for people to see some ‘visible’ signs that our plans were progressing to repair and develop the Church building. Along with these positive feelings, however, were more negative ones, as the PCC had to consider how best to deal with the unforeseen problems with the completion of the first phase of the works. The substantial additional costs that we have had to find, just to keep the project moving forward, have greatly affected the commencement of the planned second phase.

Development Fund 2015

This fund is to provide for the development of our mission and the reroofing, reordering and extending of our Church as a phased development. The Development Fund at 31 December 2015 stands at £86,153 after the significant expenditure in the year to cover:

  • Roof costs and Fees £302,178
  • Consultancy Fees – Roof and Ceiling £9,480
  • Re-ordering Phase 2 - £7,800

General fundraising continues across many areas with fantastic support from the church community.

At this point we had already raised a tremendous amount of money which had enabled us to complete the re-roofing and the major repairs required on the building and given us a substantial amount of what we required towards the modernisation and reordering costs of the interior of the Church building. Despite the incredible amount of money that the fellowship had raised so far, however, we were still at least £250,000 short of what was required and challenged the fellowship to have a ‘final push’ towards raising the remaining money required. In a little over 6 weeks we were able to raise more than an additional £100,000 through the sacrificial giving of the fellowship and this put us in the position to be able to consider applying for a loan from the Charity Bank to help make up the shortfall. We cannot over emphasise just how much of an encouragement this was to everyone who had been heavily involved in the fundraising project, as it not only showed an amazing determination for us to raise the money but also showed that people were fully committed to fulfilling our calling to be a Church at the centre of our community. A key part of our Mission & Vision strategy for St John’s was to work towards establishing a nursery firmly grounded in Christian values in the existing Church Hall. As well as providing a wonderful link to new families in our community, the income generated from the proposed nursery would provide the extra income needed for the Church to be able to cover the repayments on the Charity Bank loan, enabling us to begin the reordering works much sooner.

As I am writing this introduction, I am pleased to state that the PCC have indeed been offered the loan required from the Charity Bank and we are now pressing-on with the reordering project with the aim of having this completed by the end of 2017! What an amazing achievement that will be for the fellowship and a sure sign that God will be with us as we move into a new and exciting time for St John’s!

During 2016 the PCC has been planning the re-ordering phase for the internal space in the church building and also considering options to finance the work. To support our Mission it was decided that we should convert the hall and rear rooms of the hall building into a facility suitable for use as a nursery/pre-school. This activity was one of the objectives set for 2016.

Plans and costings for the interior of the church building were drawn up by our architect Maggie Mullan and her team working alongside trustees. Maggie, a diocesan architect, was appointed in 2015 following an open competition. Early in 2016 the original architect for the external work resigned. The conditions of the contract, in existence at that time, required the trustees to appoint a replacement. After consideration the trustees appointed Maggie to fulfil a dual role – the re-ordering project and separately, to manage the remaining aspects of the external work and relevant contract provisions. The Diocese also approved Maggie Mullan as St John’s quinquennial architect.

The PCC has focussed on modernising the available accommodation in the church building in order to help implement the mission and purpose of St John’s in the Ainsdale community. The aim is to have a modern, flexible but reverent environment, with excellent sound and lighting capabilities that provides opportunities for holding activities serving our congregation, school family, youth organisations and the wider community.

Last year’s report included details of residual problems concerning the external remedial work. The trustees under the guidance and supervision of our architect are addressing some outstanding matters. At this time it is not anticipated that these issues will affect our plans and timing for the development and occupation of our church building and the planned modifications to the hall.

During 2017 work on re-ordering the church building was undertaken alongside the work required to change the hall and its rear rooms into a facility suitable as a nursery and pre-school. In addition, the PCC decided to restyle the hall foyer to provide a nursery office and café style public area. As a cost saving measure the hall work was managed and supervised by the senior church warden.

The nursery was able to open as planned in September and the church reopened in mid-November 2017.

The re-ordering exercise was accomplished through the combined efforts of a small liaison team of trustees. The group liaised with the architect and contractors throughout the project and also with the furniture and equipment suppliers. Work in the church and the hall was monitored through a detailed project management plan which was reviewed at every PCC meeting. The information it provided greatly assisted the trustees to prioritise and make timely decisions.

The school assisted in achieving our objectives by allowing the church and hirers to use its facilities. The successful development outcomes reflected the dedication and hard work of the core team and our treasurer on behalf of the PCC and the church.

After 6 long years of hard work, planning, fundraising and preparation, we now have a fully accessible church that we can all be proud of:

New flexible seating to cater for services, events and group hire.

A modern and user friendly kitchen to help us cater for those special events, such as:

A wide range of concerts and social events

The latest technology to enable us to show The Royal Wedding

A creative play space

And….for those football fans

And …..for the more energetic………

Welcome one and all to the new look St John’s church, Ainsdale

Come and join us at one of our services or special events – you are most welcome.

Please see other links on our website for further information on dates and times.

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