St Christopher


The parish of St Christopher, Sneinton was created from the eastern part of the large parish of St Stephen, Sneinton in 1910. St Stephen’s had already founded two other daughter churches, St Matthias’ and St Alban’s in the 1880s. St Christopher’s was designated a district at the same period 1885, but continued to be served by curates from St Stephen’s. The first of these curates being the Rev George Perry (from 1890 he was known as Rev George Perry-Gore) who started his work in January 1885.

The district comprised mainly open land at that time, with green fields and gardens. The Nottingham canal enclosed the southern border, which was divided more or less in half east to west by the six tracks of the GNR and the L&NWR companies. Several of these tracks crossed the parish on raised earthwork viaducts, with bridges over the streets. Two gated level crossings also divided the land. A large warehouse was located on the bank of the River Trent which formed the natural eastern boundary of the district.

An area of land known as ‘the hook’ located on the opposite side of the river (now part of West Bridgford parish) was also included in the district. It was directly accessible only by a small rowed ferry boat from the bottom of Trent Lane near the warehouses, or a considerable road journey via the Trent Bridge. The ferryboat continued to operate on bank holidays and summer weekends until the later 1950s. This area of land was owned by Earl Manvers, which could possibly be the reason for it being part of St Stephens’s parish. Earl Manvers was patron of the church.

Most of the male parishioners were employed by the railway companies, the local coal mines, or worked in the fellmongering and leather works based near the river and canal. There was also work in the lace and textile trades in the Lace Market area of Nottingham, only a few minutes walk away, where many women were employed.

A Sunday School for boys was opened on Ashling Street near the canal, and one for girls on Meadow Lane. Both venues soon became over crowded, prompting the vicar of St Stephen’s to promote the building of a Mission Chapel in the south-eastern corner of the district. Earl Manvers leased a piece of land close to the river, near its junction with the canal, and Messrs Kent and Company of London supplied and erected a corrugated iron building on the site for the sum of £400, which was raised by a bank loan.

The new chapel could accommodate 200 worshipers. It was licensed on 24 August 1885, followed by dedication on the 26 September by Bishop George Riddings, first Bishop of Southwell. At the dedication service the sum of £11 12s 2d was raised and donated towards the cost of the new building. In only nine months the bank loan was repaid. The Rev George Perry commissioned and paid a local craftsman to make an oak altar for the mission.

The new building soon became too small. In 1886 the vicar of Sneinton wrote in the parish magazine that only 150 people could sit and kneel comfortable at St Christopher’s Mission. A further sum of £420 was needed to provide more space. His appeal succeeded for in September 1886 Messrs Kent and Co added transepts and lengthened the nave, giving seats for an additional 170 parishioners.

In 1898 Nottingham architects W R and T Booker were asked to provide plans to remove the iron church buildings to a new site nearer the centre of the district on Colwick Road. These plans were not activated due to lack of funding.

In 1901 the Earl Manvers died, and his son who had inherited the estate gave a piece of land on Colwick Road for the site of a new church. This is the site of the present church. The new Lord Manvers also paid the entire cost of the new buildings. Mr A R Culvert, an architect, was commissioned to produce the plans for a corrugated iron and wooden mission church, with a parish room of similar construction set alongside. The font and the organ were transferred from the old mission. It is recorded that the font was originally from Thurgarton Priory, and was ‘a replica of the Priory font destroyed by the Anabaptists’ The new building had seating for a congregation of 350, with the adjacent parish room housing a further 200 Sunday school scholars. The Bishop of Southwell consecrated the new St Christopher’s on the 7 February 1902. Meantime, the mission church closed without ceremony sometime in 1901/2, after which the building was used for many years for commercial purposes before finally being demolished.

The Meadow Lane part of the district was not forgotten. A new mission room was built on the corner of Moorland Street and Meadow Lane. It was destroyed in the 1941 air raid.

During the first decade of the 20th Century the open fields around St Christopher’s were rapidly turned into neat cobbled streets lined with solid redbrick terraced houses. Many of the houses had their front entrance doors set back producing small porches often decorated with Minton quarry-tiled floors and ornate Minton glazed tiles on each of the side walls. With a growing demand for church space, and movement to form the District into a new parish, Mr Frank E Littler, an architect living in the village of Lowdham, was asked to submit plans for the construction of a new building of brick and stone.

Littler was not a well known church architect. He is attributed with church restorations at Old Basford, Nottingham, and the building of the new Colwick Church not far from St Christopher’s and at some time works for the Duke of Newcastle on his Clumber Estate. It is also known that Littler was an active church member and lay reader, while his brother was an ordained priest and the Rector of Weston, Nottinghamshire, in 1901.

Before building could begin it was decided to relocate both the existing wood and iron buildings to the rear of the site without dismantling them. This was achieved over a period of several days by laying down 5" cast iron gas pipes to form a track. The buildings were raised with jacks and then, using only manual labour, eased across the site and onto their new foundations. Naturally this unusual event caused much local excitement and was recorded in the local newspapers in great detail. The vicar confirmed that nothing had been removed from the buildings prior to the move, even the billiard table had been left inside the Parish Room. He is quoted as saying that ‘not even a gas mantle was broken’.

The Foundation Stone
on the south wall of
the chancel

With the site cleared the foundations were excavated and constructed, allowing Earl Manvers to lay the foundation stone on the 3 March 1910. It was originally estimated that the new building would cost £7000, later revised to £8000. To raise money for the new building, a bazaar was held on 25 November 1909. Countess Manvers conducted the opening ceremony with the vicar explaining the need for a larger church. He said that the existing building, although only a few years old, could only hold 300 of his parishioners, and cited the situation on the last Catechism Sunday when he had to accommodate 700 children in the building. Donations were received from the Nottingham Church Extension and Spiritual Aid Society, and Mr William Player. An anonymous donor also gave £2000, making a total of £5000 raised before the foundation stone was laid.

Completion of the building was rapid, and on 1 December 1910 St Christopher’s was dedicated by the Bishop of Southwell, Edwyn Hoskins. From foundation stone to completion had taken only six months. The work was undertaken by Messrs William Crane Ltd of Nottingham.

All the local papers reported the dedication ceremony, which was attended by many local dignitaries. One newspaper even printed the bishop’s sermon in full. Surprisingly, few of the newspapers included any details of the building or the architect. The description was limited to “a Decorated Gothic building of red brick with stone dressings and interior fittings of oak, seating 690".

Externally, St Christopher’s in 1910 looked much as it does today, but without the clock. Internally however, the seating was in the form of linked chairs, the font was located under the west window of the church and the organ was not in the chancel. We do not know if the walls were decorated in any way.

1910 was also the year in which St Christopher’s was designated a parish in its own right, finally separating from St Stephen’s. The first vicar of the parish was the Rev John Henry Taylor, who had held the post of Priest-in-Charge throughout the rebuilding period. He remained in post until 1932. The patronage of the church remained in the hands of the Manvers family until 1921.

Some time after the First World War the glass in the east window was replaced as a memorial to the men of the parish who did not return from the war. By this time the area was well populated, so it is likely that a considerable number of parishioners were casualties. Research to date has failed to locate a Roll of Honour or other details except that the memorial window is said to have included the regimental insignia of every serviceman killed.

The vicar writing in the Parish Magazine some years later in 1938 shows just how much growth the parish had sustained, and the level of activity at St Christopher’s. He recorded that he had 12,000 parishioners, living in 2595 dwellings on 50 streets. The church was certainly busy dealing with, 2083 Communicants, 84 Baptisms, 39 Confirmations, 57 Weddings, 62 Funerals. (Presumably the first figure is the total number of communicants during the year.) A choir of 18 men and 20 boys, 560 Sunday School Scholars were recorded along with 100 members of the Mothers’ Union, Other active groups at the church were: a Brotherhood Group, Rover Scouts, Cubs, Girls’ Club, Youth Fellowship, Brownies, a Badminton Club and a Drama Group known as St Christopher’s Players.

On the night of 8/9 May 1941, a force of 95 German aircraft arrived over the eastern approaches to Nottingham, and several bombs were dropped in Sneinton causing death and destruction. St Christopher’s was hit by an oil-filled bomb which burst through the roof, before exploding and spraying its contents throughout the building, ensuring a sticky accelerant provided fuel for the subsequent fire. By the morning of 9 May St Christopher’s was a smouldering roofless shell of a building. All that remained intact was the bell-cote, with its bell hanging silently over the west-gable. Inside the tiled aisles remained usable, but all the wooden floors under the nave seating were no more. Only pits filled with charred floor boards, fittings, furniture, roof-timbers and broken roof tiles remained.

The blast and fire also destroyed all the glass in the building, and the intense heat caused the plaster to come off the wall, but the building remained structurally sound with the pillars and arcades still in place, albeit damaged.

Only ten days after the bomb Mr Fred and Mrs Marion Smith walked down the central aisle to be married in the roofless ruin, with the congregation crowded rather precariously on the outer aisles. The service was regarded as an indication that St Christopher’s would rise again. Shortly after the bombing a parishioner nailed a hand written sign above the door. It said ‘Resurgam‘ meaning ‘I shall rise again’. Resurgam became the post-war title of the Parish Magazine.

Although the building remained in its burnt-out state for several years, the parish work continued. Regular services were transferred to St Philip’s, and as soon as building materials became available in 1948 Mr Powell, a local builder and church member, re-roofed the vestry enabling services to be held on the site. Fund raising to repair the war damage was started also immediately, but it was not until the spring of 1950 that the restoration could begin. Building materials were difficult to obtain even when the funding became available. The estimated cost of the work was set at £35,000, which was largely met by the War Damage Commission, and a substantial donation from local tobacco company John Player and Sons, said to have been £24,500. Records of payments suggest that the eventual cost was somewhat higher.

Looking up at the roof,
showing the structure

Nottingham architect T C Howitt was commissioned to carry out the rebuilding, and another local company William Woodsend was the main contractor. A feature of the work was the ceiling and roof which were constructed of concrete cast in situ, and supported by steel reinforcing rods attached to a steel girder frame. The joints were concealed by ribs also in concrete with bosses of the same material at their intersections. The roof is said to have cost £4,500. Externally it was covered with flat roofing tiles much like the original roof. Replacement of the windows cost £1,550. Only a limited numbers of stained glass windows were included, but they were designed and manufactured by Pope and Parr of Nottingham. They include several small windows depicting clothing styles from the 1950s, making them unique in stained glass design. The east window is a traditional design portraying the healing, teaching and ministry of Christ.

The furniture and fittings were also made locally by a shop-fitting company More and Haynes. In other records the firm of L F Makinsis stated as the maker, but the former name appears on the final settlement of accounts. Light oak was used throughout. The new font of cast terrazzo at only £23 appears to have been a bargain.

Wrought iron gates

A low brick wall, surmounted by stone coping and heavy decorative wrought iron work enclosed the site. Gates were set in front of the main entrance to the church at the south-west corner and close to the vestry.

The site subsequently accommodated a brick church hall, built in 1958.

The church was rededicated on 6 December 1952 by the Bishop of Southwell, Dr F R Barry. The event was well attended with considerable coverage by most of the local newspapers, and several of the nationals. However, one local paper had little to say about St Christopher’s, allocating it only a few lines next to a considerable editorial about a reduction in the bank rate from 5% to 4.75%. On the day after the dedication, the Rev and Mrs Loughlin’s six-week-old son became the first child to be christened in the new font.

By 1953 the parish accommodated 15,000 people. The only other church actually in the parish was a Methodist Chapel, though other parish churches were close by. This number of parishioners was reduced during the housing clearances of the 1960s to about 12,000. In 1963 the slum clearances in St Philip’s parish led to that church being closed and amalgamated with St Christopher’s. The new title was St Christopher with St Philip, and the parish covered a much larger geographical area.

In 2006 work began to install new kitchen and toilet facilities in the north-west corner of the church. Regular services were then held at the church, and each Sunday afternoon a service was conducted in Urdu, especially for local Asian Christians.