Church History

Through each of the three Christian Millennia, the churches called St. Hilary have been here on the top looking out towards Wales, the Dee Estuary, Liverpool Bay and the horizon. Each was built for the people of their day. Over the years they were replaced or altered  to be a place of worship for another generation. As is right and proper to due. The church is always for the people of the present time, for our God is not only the Lord in history but the Lord of our today.

So therefore St. Hilary’s is more than a building, it is more than the succession of buildings that have been called by that name. It is the people of God who come to thank God and to be with him. It is the people who then go out to be the church and the people of God in whatever parts of the world or in our daily lives, we find ourselves.

Nevertheless this building and the sacred space of the whole St. Hilary’s site, draws people by just being here. Here is somewhere we find God encountered, talked to and talked about. So we welcome you here to this site and in the steps of so many saints and searches for God, who over the years, have walked on St. Hilary’s very ground.

The dedication

Early history is largely a matter of guesswork: the popular story is that dedication can be attributed to St Germanus on one of his two visits to Britain in the fifth century. St. Germanus became the bishop of, not far from Poitiers, fifty years after Hilary’s death. His claim to fame rests largely on his work fighting heresy, the Pelagian Heresy, which claimed that man did not need the Grace of God but, could reach a state of perfection through his own efforts. At the invitation of the bishops of the early English Church, he came to Britain twice and there is a strong tradition that the places he visited are marked by churches dedicated either to him or to St. Hilary, whose memory as a champion of orthodoxy he must have held in high regard.  There are several dedications both to him and St. Hilary in different parts of Wales, one to him in and one to St. Hilary in Lincolnshire and one to St. Hilary in Cornwall. All the dedications except the one in Lincolnshire are in Celtic areas.

However, modern historical research has established close ties and considerable travel between Christians in Gaul and the Celtic Christians; they shared traditions and exchanged saints. It is possible that our dedication may have come from one of these exchanges.

The first Church

The first church of which any actual evidence to be found, was built by Robert d’Avranches or Robert de Rodelent (Rhuddlan), one of William the Conqueror’s barons. He held ten parishes in Wirral and others in North Wales. After the Conquest, the Wirral peninsula was garrisoned until 1128,when, during the reign of Henry 1, the troops were withdrawn. It seems likely that the church was destroyed about this time, perhaps by fire or perhaps destroyed by the Welsh who invaded the district after the troops had left.

The second Church

Seventy or eighty years later, during the reign of King John, one William de Waley was the local baron and appointed Thomas de Waley as Parish priest. Thomas was Wallasey’s first recorded parish priest and it seems a not unreasonable guess that with that name he was a relative of Baron William. Nepotism in the Church was rife in those days, as indeed it continued to be right up to the late nineteenth century. If Thomas was parish priest there must have been a church on this site for him to celebrate Mass in and when the ruins of the church were examined after the fire in 1857, evidence came to light of a rebuilding at about this time. It was probably Baron William who did the rebuilding.

The Third Church

Other evidence found at the time suggests that the church was again rebuilt with a tower and spire in the time of Edward 1 or 11 but no details have come down to us.

The Fourth Church

A forth church was built in 1530, during the reign of Henry VIII. We know this because the old Tudor Tower is still standing in the former churchyard formed in part of it and the date is carved on a stone above the door. A very small drawing of this church is shown on a map dated 1665, a copy of which is in Wallasey Central Library. It shows a church with a double-pitched roof and a tower. A seating plan has survived but this is all we know about the Tudor Church.

The Fifth Church

The old church was burnt down in February 1857. The present church was designed by Hay Bros, built and consecrated in1859: the clock was added in 1893. The organ was one of Henry Willis’s. The Churches 150th anniversary was celebrated in 2009 and has recently undergone a full renovation.