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«GROWTH IN A PARISH SAINT LUKE ELTHAM PARK 1904—1940 J.C. Thewlis BA PHD Walter Rowley Herbert Tomkinson MA Walter Langridge MA Frederick Bacheldor ...»

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This event was the first of many that continued to be held long after the church had been built and consecrated. In December 1909 a two-day bazaar had all the usual items on sale and the promise of music, competitions and other amusements each evening —including mysteriously entitled 'phonofiddle selections'. It is obvious from the entrance ticket that the best time to go was on the Thursday afternoon, because that would cost a shilling (5p), whereas on Friday it was sixpence, and both the evenings only threepence. Enterprises like these made a very important contribution to parish finances. Even today £320 profit is not to be sniffed at: the bazaar in 1973 made £414. In 1908 that sort of sum was immense.


A good deal of money would be needed. There had been no guarantee that S.Luke's would ever come out of the mission hall. There seems in fact to have been a lot of heart-searching about building a permanent church at all.

But the new mission priest had made a great impact on the area. His services were renowned for their heartiness. As early as December 1904 there were 250 children in the Sunday School, and the boys' classes in particular were overcrowded. Perhaps the fact that Rowley was a keen cricketer had something to do with it: though we should bear in mind that the Sunday School had already been started by the curate from S.John's some time before. Thirty candidates were confirmed in 1905. S.Luke's seems to be mentioned more in the local press than any other Eltham church. Within a year services in the hall were filled to overflowing.

THE COST If Rowley was building up a viable parish, then he deserved an adequate church. The population was expected to rise to about 4,000. The aim was therefore to build a church that would seat 800 —that was the sort of assumption you could make in 1905. But the authorities thought that it would be prudent to start more modestly. A church that could seat 500 would be guaranteed a grant of at least £350 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

In July 1905 this is what was decided upon.

The total cost was expected to come to about £8,000, in 1905 a daunting amount. A manual worker would be lucky to be getting 30s (£1.50) a week.

A compositor or skilled fitter would be getting 40s (£2). When it was introduced on a very limited scale in 1908, the old-age pension was 5s (25p).

What Vyvyan, Hesketh and their fellow organisers wanted was for the people who actually lived in the parish to feel that they had paid for their own church by 'small and regular subscriptions'. But there could be little real hope of that. Difficulties at the Arsenal had brought unemployment; in many homes there was no money to spare.

So once again it was outsiders who came to the rescue. Sir George Vyvyan gave £100 outright, and Everard Hesketh promised 100 guineas in instalments. Even then, if it had not been for Sir George's contacts through his deputy Mastership of Trinity House, vital grants would not have come through and the church would not have been built at all: even Hesketh was doubtful. By the time the foundation stone was laid, all bar £1,500 of the builder's contract price of £4,315 had been raised. At a public meeting on Saturday 22 January 1910 it was thankfully announced that the total building debt of £5,297 11s (£752 Os 1 Id was for the hall) had been wiped out.

It had taken six years, and about £2,500 had been raised locally. Comparative costs are difficult, but we can probably say that in modem terms the buildings had cost at the very least half a million pounds.

So we can be all the more thankful that the Building Committee was absolutely determined that if the job was worth doing at all it was worth doing well. The foremost church architect of the day, Temple Lushington Moore, was commissioned to draw up plans, and Goddards of Dorking won the tender. Moore's fees came to £275. Looking back after over 80 years, we can see that the parish got excellent value for the money.


The foundation stone was laid on a gloriously fine day, 7 July 1906, by the Bishop of Southwark's brother, MP for the University of Oxford. A year later, on 5 July 1907, the church was dedicated by the Bishop himself. In his address, Dr Talbot reminded his hearers that there was still a great deal to be done. There was, for instance, no organ. Music for the great service was provided by Mrs Rowley at the harmonium and also by the players of the Eltham Park Baptist orchestra —a remarkable piece of ecumenism for 1907.

As yet, the church was dedicated and not consecrated. The distinction lies in the legal status of the building and its curtilage (i.e. the surrounding land).

The patron of the old parish of Eltham was away in China and his consent was needed before consecration could take place. So a second great service was held on 7 July 1908, and everything, apart from the hall and the land in front of and behind it, was solemnly separated in sacros usus. The final legal assignment of the parochial area took place in March 1909, and it is from this date that the marriage registers were kept.



THE church was left open all day for private prayer. It was long and lofty, with sombre walls and plain leaded windows. The north aisle and the nave were much as they are now, though there were originally more chairs.

Though it was always slightly below ground level, it was not Moore's fault that the north aisle is now so dark. When he designed the church the houses nearby had not been built, and the hall was half the size it is today.

There was still no south aisle, though some of the windows now installed there were in the original south wall. The east windows, like the other windows, were plain: the present not very distinguished stained glass was installed in 1958. In fact, so much light came in through them that in 1912 the church officers decided to ask Moore what could be done to reduce the glare.


To get an idea of what Moore intended at S.Luke's, we have to stand at the west doors and look to the east. We have to imagine that there was no screen and no south aisle. Our gaze in 1907 would have travelled past the marching pillars straight up to the fairly plain high altar. If Moore had had his way there would also have been a great cross over the chancel step. The interesting tunnel effect along the windows of north wall was one of Moore's trademarks, as was the elaborate cross on the foundation stone by the font.

With the font on your right and the holy place in the distance, the architect was putting before you the whole of the Christian pilgrimage. You entered the Church by baptism and through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ you were bound for heaven. You went up for the foretaste of heaven in the Blessed Sacrament, and you came back down and out again, strengthened for the business of work in the world. Moore was himself a high churchman —witness the fact that in the north wall of the sanctuary he put a cupboard suitable for an aumbry for the Reserved Sacrament— and S.Luke's reflects the tradition.

SOME EXTRAS The plans show that what is now the organ chamber was meant to be the 'north chancel aisle' with seating for 43. The pattern of tile and floorboard can still be seen there, though one suspects that it was simply a device to increase the seating and so guarantee grants from outside bodies. The organ was meant to be in a gallery, or perhaps even in what is now an upstairs storeroom.

Moore was a precise as well as an imaginative man. The pulpit was at first intended to be on the south side, but at a late stage was switched to the north because then there would be marginally fewer seats out of the preacher's sight. A shaded drawing survives to show the care with which Moore worked this out.

But there are one or two puzzles. Moore provided for a tower at the southeast corner of the church. Just why he should have put a tiny inaccessible gallery above the west door is a mystery. One strikingly modem note is his intention to make room for an electric ventilation fan in the roof, but nothing ever came of it and we have no indication why. And the story behind the curious shields on the ends of the beams is itself curious. At the last moment Moore apparently told his clerk of works that he wanted some ecclesiastical designs. Somewhat nonplussed, the clerk of works turned to the local estate agent, D.R. Cole, who was also a member of the Building Committee.

The result is what we can see: and they still look like an afterthought.

Obviously there had to be more than just bare walls. Once again, outsiders came to the rescue. Sir George and Lady Vyvyan gave the choir stalls and their panelling. Mr Lindemans of North Park gave the pulpit; Mr Powell the altar; Mr and Mrs Cuff the sanctuary rails; and Mr and Mrs Hesketh the altar curtains, frontal and furnishings. The designs are those of the architect and the quality of the wood excellent. We are fortunate that they form a stylistic whole.

THE SCREEN The first big addition to the interior was a departure from what Moore had wanted, and it has been a source of controversy ever since. Screens were fashionable furniture, and it was not long before S.Luke's wanted one.

Moore's design had provided for a simple open screen with a cross or crucifix. But this was not to the taste of the Church Completion committee who asked him in 1913 to provide them with something more elaborate. He never did, and the design finally chosen in July 1914 was by Hedley and Douglas Pollock and executed by Dart and Francis. It added two extra endpanels to Moore's choir stalls, six uprights and a crossbeam. The tracery was later added by Weatherley, who also provided the war memorial, and it was installed in memory of Mrs Rowley in 1921. Though it is a fine piece of craftsmanship the same cannot honestly be said of the design. It was about this time and possibly through this disagreement that Moore parted company with S.Luke's, to our very great loss.


The first organ was bought in 1907 from S.Barnabas Rotherhithe for the princely sum of £35: we can imagine its range and quality. An electric lighting system was installed, and it did duty for another 70 years. Heating was by means of a coke boiler and hot-water radiators and pipes.

The first of the embellishments came in 1910 when the Misses Carter anonymously donated the copy of Caravaggio's Ecce Homo. Their father had come across the young artist many years before and had been impressed by his work. It is a large picture and not easy to display —hence, one suspects, its donation! It started in the chancel, on the west side of the pillar by the organ. For many years it hung on the pillar on the north side of the nave.

Then it was removed to the middle of the south wall. At present [1992] it is on the south wall of the Lady Chapel. Where it really belongs is not easy to say.

THE WORSHIP S.Luke's very quickly got the reputation of hearty services with music that was bright and congregational. Mrs Rowley was organist for the first four years, and no doubt that helped. All services of course came from the Book of Common Prayer, though there was a Children's Service on the second and fourth Sundays at 3.30. Rowley did not wear vestments (for his generation a sign of very 'advanced' views) but he did wear a stole.

The best-attended services were Matins at 11 and Evensong at 6.30. But Rowley was always exhorting his flock to make the Eucharist the centre of their spiritual lives. 'Give me, my dear people, this reward,' he once wrote, 'more than I know I deserve, the reward of feeling that I have in some small way helped you to a deeper and truer love and recognition of the Church's worship.' As well as the Eucharist every Sunday at 8, on the first and third Sundays there was a 'second celebration' at 12.15 after Matins. From June 1909 on the third Sunday the Eucharist was choral. The Litany was said publicly every Wednesday and Friday at 11, and on Wednesday evenings at 8 there was Evensong and address. On saints’ days throughout the year, and on Thursdays in Advent and Lent, the Vicar was careful to offer the Eucharist at 7 in the morning.

When Rowley went on sick leave for six months late in 1913, his locum

was the Reverend H.Sutherland Gill. The choice may have been significant:

both his sermon topics and his later career as Vicar of S.John Upper Norwood show Gill to have been even more openly in the high church tradition.

His work at S.Luke's was very much appreciated, and he was given a handsome presentation when he left in May 1914.


With no public houses on the Corbett Estate and cinemas only in their infancy, Eltham's churches and chapels were the chief focuses of social life in the years leading up to the Great War. This was especially the case for the children and young people of the parish, and it goes a long way to explain why choir and Sunday School were so popular.

Though the hall seems only to have been used for church functions, this was how S.Luke's felt it was serving the needs of the area. Church allegiance was not too much to ask. Between 30 and 40 children were baptised each year, pro rata perhaps twice as many as in the 1980's.

We therefore read of a Christmas Tree entertainment for 250 children and their parents in January 1905, at which six trees were decorated and lit in the hall. In December 1905 it was the turn of the children themselves to perform a musical comedy Bluebell to raise £6 7s 3d for the building fund.

There were separate Bible classes for boys and girls on Sunday afternoons at 3, the boys meeting at 28 Beech Hill and the girls at 37 High Street. For a time, from autumn 1909, there was a morning Sunday School at 10 as well as the one at 3. A communicants' guild met monthly on the Saturday evening before the first Sunday in the month.

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