History of St. Luke's

Extracts from 'St Luke's Battersea - a Short History of the Church and Parish' by Gordon Huelin

The Parish in the 18th and 19th Centuries

A traveller along Nightingale Lane in the early nineteenth century would have been presented with a very rural scene. Where St. Luke's Church now stands was a large imposing mansion known as Old Park House. The period saw the rise of other large and well-built residences, some of which were in existence until recent times. One of these houses, "Broomwood", was the home of William Wilberforce during the time that he conducted his anti-slavery campaign in Parliament.

The Clapham directory of 1890 shows West Side as possessing only sixteen residences. "Hightrees" has left its name to a block of modern flats at the corner of Nightingale Lane. "Brox Ash", the home of Robert Cooke, whose sister gave the sounding board to the Church, is remembered by Broxash Road.

Building of the Church

Webbs Road, previously know as "Mud Lane", is on the site of an estate owned by Mr. Webb, a city merchant, while Ashness Road stands on the grounds of a large house of that name. All through these long centuries, the parish was served by the ancient Church of St. Mary, "Our Lady of Batersey". John Erskine Clarke, first Vicar of St. Luke's, reflected that with the growth of London's dormitory suburbs, a district situated between two commons and within easy reach of town would soon be developed. He was right. There was to emerge in the space of half a century a large and closely packed South London parish of twenty thousand souls.

In the year 1874, Canon Clarke purchased the site of the present Church of St. Luke, which then formed part of the grounds of Old Park House, at that time in possession of the Simpson family. Before he could erect a Church, however, he had to ask permission of the neighbouring resident. That same year the little iron Church was moved from St. Mark's Battersea Rise, and did valiant service for nine years. With the steady increase in the number of houses and population it became more and more apparent that a new and more spacious edifice was required.

In 1881, therefore, Canon Clarke addressed a meeting to promote the building of a brick Church; answering the charge of Dr. Thorold, Bishop of Rochester: "A fine red-brick Basilica is the one thing of all others I wish to see. Who will build us one?" The architect appointed was Mr F. W. Hunt of Upper Baker Street, the builders being Messrs. W. Johnson and Co. of Wandsworth Common. In 1883 the Chancel was built as far as the centre of the first arch, and in the Magazine of the old Parish Church the following year appeared this notice: " St. Luke's, Nightingale Lane. The chancel and south transept of the Basilican Church will be dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Rochester on Saturday November 15th, at 3pm. This portion of the Church will contain 288 chairs - so that with the iron Church annexed there will be room for about 600 worshippers with ample choir arrangements."

In the year 1888 the brick nave was completed, and the temporary iron structure, which had proved so useful, was finally removed. In 1889 the children of the district joined together to make a special gift of the font. The basin is hollowed out of a solid block of alabaster, supported by columns of St. Ambrozio Verona marble.

Gifts now began to pour in. In June 1889, the white marble Cross above the High Altar was presented by Mrs. Clifford Brookes. It is a copy of some ancient copies in Rome and is said to represent one of the earliest forms of Christian art. The following year certain ladies undertook the cost of the carving of the capitals of the pillars, and in April the fine pulpit given by Mr J. S. Jarvis was dedicated by the Bishop of the diocese, who was also the first to preach from it. The year 1891 saw the addition of new rooms to the Parish Hall and to the Church of the beautiful mosaic panel by Salviati of Venice, representing the symbolical winged bull of St. Luke. The tall north-west tower with its open bell-chamber, and pyramidal copper room similar to that of the mother-church, is a landmark for miles around, and was built in 1892 at a cost of £1,200. On All Saints' Day that year the finished Church was consecrated by Dr. Randal Davidson, Bishop of Rochester, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury.

The handsome chancel screen was placed in position in time for the Patronal Festival, 1894, and is made of alabaster from Tutbury in Derbyshire. As to the marble pillars which support its arches the red came from St. Ambrozio near Verona and the pale yellow from Siena in Italy; the pale red from Turkey; and the green from the island of Tenos in the Greek Archipelago. The balls surmounting the screen are of Indian agate, and were added later by Mr. J. H. Bartlett. The sedilia in the sanctuary, a finely-carved piece of oak, were given in 1896 by friends of Mr. Robert Cooke and his sister, former benefactors of the Church and residents of "Brox Ash". In the following year the Choir stalls and Bishop's throne were added.

St Lukes' Church and Parish in the 20th Century

The twentieth century has witnessed still further changes in the district around St. Luke's Church. In its opening years the remaining mansion-residences in the neighbourhood of West Side were one by one removed, and new roads and houses formed upon their sites. One of the larger houses to be built was St. Luke's Vicarage, completed in the year 1902. The Parish has been the home of several literary men, notably Mark Rogers of Grandison Road, author of "Down Thames Street", a book on old London; Walter Johnson of Berber Road, who has written several works on archaeology; Henry Proctor of Mallinson Road, and Edward Thomas of Rusham Road. With regard to the Church itself many of the interior adornments date from this century. The year 1901 saw the addition of the beautiful lecturn - an angel in white alabaster, the gift of Mr. Clifford Brookes.

Two years later the Church received a unique Christmas present from Mr. J. H. Bartlett in the installation of electric light. The electroliers in the nave were designed from a pendant jewel by Bevenuto Cellini in the Pitti Palace, Florence; while those in the chancel are after paintings by Fra Angelico. The bronze candelabra in the sanctuary, standing upon green Florentine marble, are cast from an original by Giovanni da Bologna. The electric lamp in the Lady Chapel is a reproduction of one hanging before the shrine of St. Charles Borromea in the crypt of Milan Cathedral.

The organ, built by T. C. Lewis, dates from 1905. In the following year, the mosaics round the apse were given by Mr. Clifford Brookes in memory of his daughter. The fine war memorial testifies to those who, during the dark years 1914-1918, went out from the Parish and made the supreme sacrifice.

During the short but brilliant incumbency of the Rev. W. T. Havard, extensive alterations were made to the Lady Chapel under the direction of the well-known architect Mr. Martin Travers. The tryptich forming the reredos, the silvered candlesticks (now on the high altar) and crucifix, and the screen at the entrance were all given in memory of "a Mother and her three sons". In 1927 the window with its curious stained-glass figure of King David playing upon a harp was added, and this has added to the brightness of the Chapel. The finely carved pews were given in memory of former members of the congregation and bear their initials.

So began a new chapter in the history of St. Lukes' Battersea which was to be continued under the Rev. Douglas Bartles-Smith, who became Vicar in 1975 and who helped in bringing the Church and Parish to the notice of a wider audience through ventures such as "Christianity '78", and the biennial "St. Lukes' Festival" on the first occasion of which London Weekend Television screened the opening service throughout the British Isles.