Whoever named your house Alverna was evidently a devotee of St Francis of Assisi, as this one page I’ve downloaded from the web seems to indicate.

Macaulay in his ‘horatius’ refers to Mount Alvernus, but it would seem to be the same place as Alverna.


You evidently have a house to be proud of. According to my old friend Ted Hurst, who farmed Parr Hall and Stanley Bank with his father, the houses were built for Miss Betsy Banks, landlady of the Ship Inn at Blackbrook, who lived in one of them. (The pub was still ‘Betsy Banks’s’s’ many years after her death.) They were built, he said, by Mr Henshaw (? Mercer?) of Haydock, known as the finest bricklayers both St.Helens and for miles around. The striking red-brick C. of E. church of St Thomas in Westfield Street and the brick bridge over Blackbrook canal are other examples of his work. The musical Topping family lived for a time in your house. One son became Dom. Christopher Topping, O.S.B. They were followed by Miss Amie Ellis and her brother Jimmy, and then by Miss Kath Lloyd. The freehold will belong to the archdiocese, the sole beneficiary of the Orrell estate, which included Parr Hall.

The hall had belonged to the Parr family, who gave their name to one of the four townships from which St.Helens developed. Sometime before 1570, Sir John Byrom bought it from his stepson, William Parr. There was insanity in the Byrom family, and the estate finally descended to the profligate Samuel Byrom, known as ‘beau Byrom’, who gambled his inheritance away and died a debtor at York 1741.

The estate was then bought by Liverpool businessman William Clayton, who left it to his daughter Sarah, herself an astute businesswoman. She built Clayton Square and lived there in splendour. Sarah developed the Parr coalfields in the main supplier of coal to Liverpool. Her affairs went awry, however, when a business partner, Thomas Case, who has interests in the triangular slave trade, got into difficulties through the American war of independence, so both he and Sarah were bankrupted in 1778, thus in 1781 the astute local coal-owner and glass-bottle manufacturer James Orrell was able to buy Parr Hall estate and its coal.

James Grandfather, Humphrey Orrell, a wealthy yeoman and tanner, had come to Blackbrook Hall in 1674. The family became even richer when coal was found on their land, just as the Industrial Revolution was rapidly increasing demand, so James owned several pits. Either he or his son Charles was able to build the grander Blackbrook House, now run by Nugent care, to replace the old Hall. Although seven of James children survived to adulthood, none of them married. In 1845 his three remaining daughters built St Mary’s Church, which was consecrated immediately, as it was free of debt. Miss Winifred, the last of three, died in 1866. It’s her ghost that several believes has been seen many times both in and around the church, once on a Christmas evening by the three sisters of mercy, who panicked and retreated to the convent when she glided towards them in her long grey dress through the closed door of the presbytery.

Winifred had made Fr James Abraham P.P. of Blackbrook, her sole trustee, and through him she left her lands and money to the then diocese of Liverpool. Shrewd investment made possible the building of other churches and schools. Parr Hall, by the way was demolished in 1955, when Wimpey began building the present housing estate. You’ll find its site on the local A-Z bounded by Parbold Avenue, Singleton Avenue and Blackstone Avenue. That’s as much local history as seems relevant.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Henegan

(Local Historian)

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