Canon John Tallon 1879-1941

RC3/834

Canon John Tallon

Canon John Tallon was a minister at Our Lady’s Church in Price Street Birkenhead having first arrived in the parish in 1929; he was born in Prescott in 1879. In the early days of the town the only Catholic Church was St Werburgh’s but as the town grew, in the main due to the influx of Irish labour, the need for other catholic places of worship became increasingly urgent.

The Diocese of Shrewsbury did initially consider moving its centre to Birkenhead with the new church proposed as the cathedral. However, Rome refused to change the diocesan name from Shrewsbury and the plans thus went ahead to create another place of worship rather than a cathedral.

The first mass was celebrated in the new parish in December 1857 and in December 1860 the foundation was finally laid for what was once proposed as Birkenhead Cathedral. The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, to give it its full name, was opened in May 1862 when the Bishop of Shrewsbury Bishop Brown said Pontifical High Mass.

The church became established as a major part of the town and was accepted as a masterpiece of church architecture; indeed today it is a most beautiful church, admired by so many people irrespective of their religion.

Being situated close to and overlooking the Birkenhead docks, the church has always stood out and clearly when World War Two began, its location made it somewhat vulnerable. And so it was that during the early part of 1941 up to the time of the notorious May blitz, Merseyside was subjected to many hours of enemy bombardment along the waterfront.

It is recorded that on 12th March there was a keen east wind during a raid and Birkenhead was hit repeatedly by parachute bombs which although meant for the Liverpool docks, drifted across to Wirral. In total it was estimated that Birkenhead was hit that night by over 180 bombs.

Canon Tallon had been ministering the last rights to people caught up in and fatally injured during the raid and just as he returned to the Presbytery, it received a direct hit. The Canon, along with his housekeeper Catherine Ryan and housemaid Kathleen Creehan were reported missing once the raid was over.

The church itself also suffered serious damage and it was some days later that the bodies of all three victims were discovered by recovery workers labouring to clear the area. It was reported that when his body was found Canon Tallon’s rosary beads were still in his hand.

The church remained in a derelict state for some time and was not reopened until October 1951, services being held in the interim period in the parish hall in Park Road North. A new Presbytery was also built but although the date over the entrance indicates that in was repaired in 1952, it was in fact 1957 before Canon Quinn was able to take up residence.