Liverpool’s Ancient Chapel Of Toxteth, Dingle Gaumont Cinema, The Turner Nursing Home & Dingle Overhead Railway Station

Liverpool Toxteth Chapel (small) 100x143.jpgOne of Liverpool’s most significant and fascinating historic areas is barely known even by the city’s own residents; so Monday Women arranged a visit. The area lies in the heart of Toxteth – Dingle, comprising four adjacent sites: the early seventeenth century Ancient Chapel of Toxteth (the original place of worship of astronomer Jeremiah Horrox or Horrocks), the Turner Nursing Home built by Alfred Waterhouse in 1882-5, Dingle Overhead Railway Station, constructed deep underground and opened in 1896, and the Dingle Gaumont Cinema, erected on the site of the old Picturedrome in 1937.
Liverpool Toxteth Chapel inside.jpg
The general perception is that Liverpool has few really serious historic sites. Interesting architecture, Yes, in abundance; ‘old’ buildings, No. On Saturday 16 November 2006 several dozen members, families and friends of Monday Women and CAMPAM set out on a beautifully sunny afternoon to discover why this perception is not always accurate.
The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

Liverpool Toxteth Chapel inscription100x312.jpg

We congregated first in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, opened especially for us by its warden, Annette Butler. She and local historian Christina Clarke (to both of whom we owe enormous thanks) had a remarkable tale to tell about the history of this simple and appealing building, constructed variously at times between 1604 and 1618. The Chapel is now owned, and used, by the Unitarians, but was built and developed by Puritan dissenters from the Church of England.
The site of the Chapel is that of the thirteenth century royal hunting Park in Toxteth, sold late in the sixteenth century to the Earl of Derby. He in turn sold it to Puritan families from around the Lancashire towns of Bolton and Ormskirk who were seeking more freedom of conscience in their religious practices, using a place which had been Crown property and was thus not subject to parish law or to enforcement of regular attendance at the parish church. [See: The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth, Lost Villages of Liverpool: Pt. 1, The Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby 1826-93 and map Toxteth (Old O.)]
Liverpool Toxteth Chapel graveyard 180x225.jpgEven with sunshine outside, the inside of the Chapel feels dark and close (perhaps in part because the winters of the seventeenth century were bitter), the pews being closely placed, but with an appealing and open gallery area above them, and an impressively large pulpit at the centre of the south wall. Over the centuries the building itself has been considerably extended, not least to adapt the previous schoolhouse (built in 1611) into the access point for the organ loft.
In contrast to the closeness of Toxteth Chapel itself, our visit to the graveyard found it calm and airy, with dappled light through the mature trees, as we examined the columned arcade and headstones of such local luminaries as Richard Vaughan Yates , who devised Princes Park, and the cartographer Richard Horwood [A to Z of Regency London]. Many other well-known local family names, including the Mellors, are also to be found there.
Jeremiah Horrox or Horrocks (1618 or 1619 – 1641)

Liverpool Toxteth Chapel Horrox plaque-closeup.jpgAmongst other fascinating plaques inside the Chapel is one commemorating the brief life and momentous work of Jeremiah Horrox (as spelt on this plaque; or Horrocks as often spelt in the reference books). Horrocks was the youthful astronomer who first observed the transit of the planet Venus, on Sunday 4 December – 24 November by reference to the Julian Calendar then in use – 1639. (There is an anecdote, possibly apocryphal, that he calculated this rare occurrence and had to pre-empt much of the Curate’s duties he may have performed in Hoole, Lancashire, that day, in order to observe the transit via a telescope he constructed himself, reflecting the sun’s image onto a piece of card.) [Jeremiah Horrocks,Astonomer (1618? – 1641) and His Times: No.6 (Chorley Civic Society Occasional Papers)]
Dingle’s Gaumont Cinema
Liverpool Toxteth Gaumont Cinema Dingle Lane & Park Lane160x216.jpgToxteth Chapel is on the north-western corner of Park Road (running parallel to the River Mersey) and Dingle Lane (which goes from Princes Park directly towards the river). On the south-western side of this junction is a cinema now unused for its original purpose, the Gaumont, designed by W. E. Trent FRIBA, FSI (Chief Architect of Gaumont-British) specifically to accommodate the large fan-shaped curve of the roads at this corner, and opened on 29 March 1937.

The Gaumont Cinema, an art deco building erected on the site of the old Dingle Picturedrome (photo in Edwardian A-Z and Directory of Liverpool and Bootle: South Liverpool Part 3; demolished 1931), must have been very impressive in its hey day – there are many features reminiscent of the famous Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Hope Street. It has (or had?) an orchestra pit and Wurlitzer organ console (again, the Phil has a fine organ, almost unique in rising from the stage). The cinema seated 1,500 people, 615 of them in the balcony.
It is said that the projection room was the first in Britain to have the Gaumont ‘projectomatic’ system which automatically changed the reels during projection of films, as well as controlling the houselights and stage curtains. There was also a Western Electric Mirrorphonic sound system.
Sadly, the Gaumont lost its originally intended function in September 1966, to become a Top Rank Bingo Club which opened in January 1967. We were not therefore able to go into the building to see more as we passed on to the south-eastern corner of this ‘site visit’ and the next venue of our Monday Women trip in November.
The Turner Nursing (or Memorial) Home

Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Turner Nursing Home 140x211.jpgThe story behind the Turner Nursing Home is very sad, but the outcome is a testament to the positive thinking of Mrs Charles Turner, wife of the Liverpool Member of Parliament who was also first Chairman of the Liverpool Docks and Harbour Board – the tale of which Board we shall continue at the next and final stop of our Dingle-Toxteth ‘tour’. The entire Turner Memorial Home project commemorates Anne Turner’s husband Charles Turner MP (13 June 1803 – 15 October 1875) and their son Charles William (16 October 1845 – 13 September 1880), who died tragically.
Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Turner Nursing Home sculpture 40x100.jpgIn memory of her husband and son Mrs Turner commissioned the architect Alfred Whitehouse to build a strikingly asymmetric and strangely attractive ‘home’ for retired and ‘distressed’ gentlemen – a function which it still has. In the entrance lobby there is a lovely marble statue of the two male Turners, father and son, created for the opening of the Home in 1885 by the London-based sculptor Sir William Hamo Thorneycroft R.A. (1850 – 1925). This sculpture seemed to fascinate our younger companions on this visit, perhaps because it is actually so sympathetic and life-like.
Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Turner Nursing Home chapel 140x281.jpgLiverpool Dingle Toxteth Turner Nursing Home turret 140x53.jpgThe red ashlar, turreted Home has a chapel, almost church-sized, with an arcade of octagonal columns and stained glass windows (by Heaton, Butler and Bayne); and beyond the spacious communal living areas we saw wide lawns sweeping down towards the River Mersey. This is a gracious reminder of times gone by, still of great value to the community, which shows us just how elegant Dingle and Toxteth must have been a century or more ago.
Dingle Overhead Railway Station

Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Railway Station (looking down)160x168.jpg Finally on this special afternoon, as the light drew in, we retraced our steps to Kedlestone Street, the road opposite the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, and to what appeared to be a short side-alley leading to a mechanics’ garage. Few of us had any idea what would come next…. As we approached, the owner, Nigel, opened the doors and we were led down an alarmingly steep slope to another world – the world of the legendary Liverpool Overhead Railway designed by leading engineers of the time, Sir Douglas Fox and James Henry Greathead…. a return to the time of the ‘Dockers’ Umbrella’ and Liverpool’s great era of engineering and transport.
Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Station group 160x217.jpgThis was the site of Dingle Station, the final stop of the Overhead Railway route from Southport, Seaforth, Litherland and Aintree, via the city centre and the frantically busy docks, to the south end of the city. Interestingly, especially in the light of current-day debates elsewhere in Liverpool, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had on a number of occasions from 1852 onwards had travel route proposals rejected or returned for modification in the light of the increasing demands for public transport to and from the city centre.
Liverpool 'The Dockers' Umbrella' book by Paul Bolger 160x181.jpgEventually however, in 1888, a group of prominent businessmen formed the Liverpool Overheard Railway Company and obtained the powers of the Dock Board by an Act of Transfer. Work on the elevated railway therefore began in October 1889. [See: Seventeen Stations to Dingle: Liverpool Overhead Railway Remembered; Liverpool Overhead Railway.]

Dingle Station opened for passengers on 21 December 1896 and closed to the public fifty years ago, on 30 December 1956. The station platform (a full 170 feet by 28 feet) has now been demolished, but the tunnel and entrance subway remain in use as a car repair business, Roscoe Engineering. There is also an astonishing extension to the station – a kilometer long passage from this point to an opening on the Herculaneum Dock ‘down by the river’, and thence to the docks via the factory site of the Herculaneum Pottery which, though the company closed in1840, must have triggered a lot of local industry.
Some of us, hugely curious, then made our wary unlit way down to the Herculaneum tunnel entrance and Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Station Tunnel to Herculaneum Dock 160x232.jpgback, and others, less nimble, used the time to learn more from our host Nigel about the remaining features of the station (the red buffer Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Station buffer 100x98.jpg hidden behind mechanics’ equipment; the sturdy hooks and notices…). And finally we returned to Park Road as the day ended, much enlighted by our visit and debating energetically how future generations would see the places we had visited – places which (as evidenced by the enormously ambitious commissions in Toxteth – Dingle a century or so ago, engaging the most prestigious architects, designers and engineers the nation had to offer) had in times past witnessed great wealth and opportunity and then, nearer to the present day, distressing poverty and huge challenges.
‘Which way now?’ was the question on everyone’s lips as we hit the road for home.

See also: History of Liverpool
Sudley House: Victorian Home Of A Mayor Of Liverpool
Read the discussion of this article which follows the book ‘E-store’…..

Posted on January 12, 2007, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Liverpool And Merseyside, Monday Women, People And Places, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. As a spotty 17yr old in 1985 I had a job to clear up the cemetery of the ancient chapel (it took 8 lads 3mnts) as part of the Community Industry scheme (there wasn’t any real jobs for me back then or now!).
    The path those people are on in the picture above didn’t exist until we revealed it to it’s full glory you could tell nobody had been there for decades.
    As we started to clear the graves I got more interested in the people who were laid their, I remember some names like HOLT & ROSCOE all big time industrialists from yesteryear in fact I dont remember seeing any graves of common people which tells me this was a very exclusive cemetery for the ultra rich back in the day.
    The warden in 1985 was a bloke called Pat he told us he was 75yrs old back then, we’d get him to tells us about his war escapades in Italy just so we could dodge work 🙂 I still have a strong connection with the chapel as its the oldest place I know, as I pass daily on the 82 bus I still keep an eye on the up-keep of the cemetery.
    It’s funny how nobody really notices this chapel, even me as a school kid on my way to shorefields school never knew it’s significance, now I tell everyone who will listen.

  2. i was brought up and still live in the dingle,when i married we lived with my wifes family on dingle lane facing kinaird street, i have been in the turner home on many occasions (my job as an ambulance driver) and was invited to see the chapel by the then matron and asked if i would take photos.
    a group of us visited the dingle station and walked most of the way towards the exit with a variety of lights but gave up before we reached the end. i have very many memories of the station, particularly the smell and as a child it was always a puzzle as to where the trains went after we alighted, the vanished up the tunnel only to reappear again on the other side of the platform. i have never visited the ancient chapel although it must be of really serious interest , i understand it goes back to the days of king john when toxteth park was all part of his hunting ground. many lads in my day also used park road as a hunting ground but not for deer or such. i have found this page extremely interesting and really appreciated reading other peoples experiences of the area. i also used to the “posh pictures” in park road and saturday matinees at the park palace in mill street, up stairs didnt have seats, just large wooden steps and very often i came kicked to whotsit from kids behind getting all excited at flash gorden and the westerns roy rogers gene autry and such. i would like to add my thanks to hilary for her contribution.

  3. Hi! I would appreciate contacting Warden Annette Butler and/or Historian Christina Clarke regarding the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth.
    As Vice-President of the Indian Mound Cemetery, one of our benefactors, Richard Mather, also has a financial interest in the Chapel, but has been unable to communicate with anyone connected with the Chapel.
    Your reply is appreciated.
    Frank S. Foti

  4. I enjoyed reading about places in the Dingle – my child hood home. It brought back memories to me.
    I am currently trying to find out if the story of two US Confederate ships (commissioned from Cammel Laird’s were chased up the Mersey by our Royal Navy, where they surrendered is true.
    Does anyone know?

  5. I was extremely interested in hearing from GEORGE LUND
    LIVERPOOL ARTIST- my name is PAUL LEE but my question to george concerns a aunt of mine who is named DORIS LUND [ NEE SIMON], she was married to my uncle HAROLD LUND A REAL DIAMOND OF A MAN. they lived at harrington street l8 untill recently. my uncle HAROLD PASSED ON SEVERAL YEARS AGO, sadly, and my aunt still lives near ST. PATS. L8
    yours sinc.
    paul lee

    Opening date: Sunday 29th June 2008
    Two superb private gardens previously unseen by the public, plus ninety city allotments, will open their gates to for the first time as part of the celebration of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year 2008.
    The garden of the University of Liverpool’s Vice-Chancellor, Drummond Bone, has previously only been seen by the select few at Graduation garden parties. The large garden in the Toxteth area of Liverpool boasts a rare collection of old shrub roses, a grand formal terrace, grape vine and mature shrub borders. Contact Vivian Bone: 0151 728 8375
    Nearby is the new and developing garden of one of Liverpool’s old merchant houses, Park Mount, overlooking Sefton Park. Here gardener Jeremy Nicholls has been creating a glorious garden using vibrant colours and adventurous planting combinations, with some surprises and many rare plants.
    Contact: Jeremy Nicholls 0151 733 8205 / 07802 676242
    The ninety allotments in Sefton Park will show how well a city plots can provide fruit and vegetables of the highest quality, offering inspiration to other city gardeners. The site includes many interesting community facilities and a plot adapted for disabled gardeners. The site has featured in national TV and film productions – see the ‘Bread’ shed where Lilo Lil held her trysts on plot 89. Contact: Giulia Harding 0151 727 4877
    All the above will open their gates for charity on Sunday June 29th 2008, under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme.
    Sefton Park Palm House will be at the centre of the celebrations with rare and unusual plants for sale, musical entertainment and afternoon tea, and demonstrations from the National Association of Flower Arrangers. Contact: Rosemary on 0151 726 9304.
    Admission is £4.00 with tickets available at all four venues on the day.
    Contact Information:
    Christine Ruth, Press Officer, National Garden Scheme, Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. 0151 727 4877 / 07740 438994

  7. Dear Hilary,
    Pleased to meet you. My name is George Lund artist from the Dingle Toxteth Liverpool.
    Have just been appointed Local Community Historian/Fund Raiser for the Toxteth Park area on behalf of helping the restoration of the Florence Institute.
    Would be good to communicate for information on Toxteth Park and the Florence.
    Thank you regards
    George Lund

  8. James Handley

    Whilst browsing the web for a debating society,i came across your website.As a child of ten years old my family lived just two hundred yards from the overhead railway,and the gaumont cinema.
    As children we used to go to the gaumont every saturday morning,we would watch roy rogers and hopalong cassiday westerns,we would go once a month with my parents during the week because it was more expensive than the BERESFORD cinema,which was at the top of park road,and was known as the “flea pit”.
    The gaumont was known as the “posh place”.As kids we were always on the overhead railway,seven miles of docks,and packed full of dockers,you could see ships from all over the world,wonderful times.
    Your web site brought back many happy memories,thank you……james..
    [Thank you, too, James! Hilary]

  9. Marjorie Hayes

    With reference to the building of the Gaumont cinema, my father had a private hire business on this site, next to the old Dingle Picturedrome. The cinema took up the corner of Kedleston Street, whilst the garage swept round the corner into Dingle Lane.
    He did Weddings and Private Hire, known as ‘South End Motor Co’ (my father (proprieter) E. Garfield Jones) When the Gaumont was built he moved the business to 369 Park Road, one of the large houses (now demolished) on the same side as Toxteth Chapel.
    I have a photograph of my father alongside one of his cars, taken outside the garage, although it shows only the picturedrome in the background, advertising ‘Pola Negri in ‘Woman from Moscow’.
    Regards M.H.

  10. Dingle station is actually owned by Roscoe Engineering Ltd., a limited company the directors of which are Allan Spencer, Nigel Browne & Terry Robinson.
    We wonder whether you know of the 6 ghosts reputed to be around since the fatal fire of 1896? Or perhaps nobody mentioned these to you prior to your visit!!
    Regards T.R.

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