For this church:
The broad history of St Luke’s can be divided into two well-defined periods. Firstly, the four decades from its inception in 1951 and, secondly, the time from 1 August 1990 when it was established as a separate parish. Within this framework are sub-divisions based on the physical size of the church and the building material used: what might be termed the ages of the huts, the wooden church and the brick church. They reflect the growth in congregation numbers and increasing financial stability stemming from the urban expansion of West Bridgford to the south and east since the mid-20th century.
Known locally as the ‘Huts’ the first church was a single structure made from three huts joined together – a temporary response to the problem of providing a place of worship and meeting centre for an expanding population.
In the mid-1940s West Bridgford Urban District Council was planning a large housing development (later known as the Alford Road or Valley Road Estate) west of Gamston Brook and south of the then built-up area which finished at Alford Road/Leahurst Road. At the time, the Rector of St Giles’, the Revd Canon R F Wilkinson, and the PCC had close links with the Council. Both bodies expressed an interest in establishing some form of church presence in the area. The PCC took the view that provision, in effect a daughter church, had to be made not only for what was expected to be a large influx of young families but also for the existing church-goers living on the periphery of the parish over a mile from St Giles’ – a considerable, and sometimes daunting, distance in the days of low car ownership and poor public transport. The District Council was supportive, not least because a church building would provide a community facility without charge to the public purse.
The Site and Church
Responsibility for developing the new church was given to the Revd Vivian Symons, a curate at St Giles’. In early 1950 he launched a fund-raising campaign as the opportunity had arisen to purchase a site from the Council – a rectangular plot some 44 yards wide and stretching 80 yards eastwards along the south side of Leahurst Road from its junction with Alford Road. At the time the location could not have been bettered – between the old and the future housing and adjacent to the main access road. Though the area of ¾ acre was greatly in excess of the church’s needs it was, wisely, bought for a below-valuation £550.
A start was also made on acquiring a temporary structure to house the Sunday services (then being held either in the changing hut on Alford Road playing fields or in the open air) and social activities. Building was still strictly regulated and materials scarce. A wooden structure was the only possibility. Tenders for a new building were unproductive so three ex-Army huts, each 30ft long and of a type familiar to more than a few members of the congregation, were bought through the church architects. These structures, not in the best of condition, were joined along their sides.
The interior walls, as they appeared, were then removed to create a large hut 30ft by 45ft. A shallow bay for the altar was built out from the east wall with a donated stained glass window providing light. Rather basic kitchen and toilet facilities were constructed adjacent to the entrance at the west end. A simple wooden cross was mounted over the porch and a single bell (from the Peatfield Mission) hung above the roof.
The Rector decided the building should be placed in what was possibly the least prominent position – at the eastern end of the plot. Rumour had it that he wished to maximise the distance between his new church and proposed public conveniences at the nearby Alford Road bus terminus. Whatever the reason the provision of utility services at this location largely determined the siting of the next church.
The total cost of land, huts and building work was £2700 which, given the state of the huts, was distinctly high. It was financed by cash-in-hand, a Church Commission loan of £600 and the proceeds of events and lettings. There were many donations of fixtures and fittings both before and after the consecration of the building on 21 August 1951. Of particular importance were an altar cross and silver communion plate.
Ultimate responsibility for the Alford Road Mission Hall, as it was then known, rested with the Churchwardens and PCC of St Giles’. More direct oversight was through a lay committee of four (in effect, a sub-committee of the PCC) in conjunction with a curate, the Rector’s representative, who also organised the Sunday services though, given his other duties, much reliance was placed on (Lay) Readers.
A core of some 30 regular worshippers for the Family Service and Evensong soon emerged but the real early success was the Sunday School. PCC Minutes record 16 teachers and over 300 registered children. (Clearly not all parents attended services!) Organising and accommodating such numbers was not easy, a situation made more difficult by the problem of clearing up after the very popular Saturday night dances. These raised much-needed money as did the Spring and Autumn bazaars. A further source of funds was the letting of the hall to some of the community groups. In the first 3 years up to 12 different organisations, many without a church connection, were using the premises during the week. They included County Council Clinics, Scouts and Guide Movement groups and social gatherings for the young and not-so-young.
Though the overall financial position became encouraging (outstanding debts were largely cleared by 1955) the physical strain on the small building increased over the years with concomitant rising costs of necessary maintenance and improvements. By 1954 pressure for a new church began to emerge together with the feeling that a priest-in-charge was justified; or, if not that, at least direct representation on the PCC. This was granted in 1955. The following year the congregation again expressed unhappiness about the Church Hall. It was seen as a decaying hut incapable of adequate repair. A new permanent dual-purpose building was needed. Concern was also voiced about neglect by the clergy – sentiments repeated sporadically in the pre-parish period. Canon Wilkinson pointed out that in his parish of 20,000 the ordained clergy were himself and one, or sometimes two, curates. He did, however, recognise the problems of the building and in 1957 tenders were invited, through the church architects, for a building ‘to be used as a Church and for suitable dignified other purposes’ at an estimated cost of £6000. This, together with a continuing national shortage of building materials, ruled out a brick structure.
The contract for a ‘flat-pack’ timber building was awarded to A C Kingston of Hull. The church arrived on the back of a lorry. Once the four portal frames were erected two men completed the construction. To mark this they left a commemorative note in a bottle which was discovered nearly 40 years later. It read ‘G.L. Sawyer of Hull and Lorry Hall of Bridlington built this church 1957 for Kingston (A.C.) Ltd’. Despite its condition the old hut was retained for additional space and used solely as a social hall after removal of the altar and the stained glass window. A passageway provided a connection to the new church immediately to the west.
The new church, designated The Church of St Luke, was dedicated on 13 December 1957 by the Bishop of Southwell. Of about the same dimensions as the old hut and of similar seating capacity (80-100) the building offered greater comfort, although the absence of insulation under the pantile roof and between the interior plasterboard and exterior timber cladding of the walls was regretted during the winter.
The body of the church had improved lighting through ranges of windows in the north and south walls while the sanctuary at the eastern end was lit by the transferred window behind the altar. Entrance to the church was by way of a western doorway and porch. The initial bareness of the church was gradually alleviated by donations of furniture, carpets, curtains and other items, particularly from the Ladies Fellowship.
The final cost of the building and associated works was £5,919, financed mainly through the consolidated building fund and two loans arranged by St Giles’– £1000 from the Diocese and £3000 from the Church Commissioners. Repayment was to be over 20 years. Initially the congregations at the three Sunday services were higher than anticipated and generous in their giving but the major money-raising events were, as previously, the May Fairs and Autumn Bazaars and the letting of the hut for social activities. Even so, servicing the loans in the early days was sometimes difficult and the deteriorating state of the hut was a continual drain on resources.
The history of the next two decades was one of stuttering congregational progress – a mix of advance (sometimes slow) and occasional regression – and financial consolidation. So much so that the debts were repaid in 10 years and a surplus accumulated to pay for future projects. Relations with St Giles’ were not always harmonious. Perceived neglect by the clergy and the need for greater autonomy were still particular issues. There were, in addition, worries about lack of local interest and near-apathy. Strenuous efforts were made to overcome this and by mid-1962 the church appeared somewhat revived, and the Revd Alan Taylor was appointed as the first curate with special responsibility for St Luke’s, a task he undertook for three years. The encouraging financial situation, together with assistance from St Giles’, made possible the purchase of a clergy house for him on Stamford Road. This, in turn, brought about closer links between clergy and the local residents, not infrequently expressed in greater monetary contributions to the church.
Further funding improvement came in 1968 when the District Council asked to buy the undeveloped western half of the site for which, at that time, there was no apparent future need. This plot of some 1650 sq. yards at the corner of Alford Road and Leahurst Road was needed for St Luke’s Close warden-aided housing. This was the first of such developments in the vicinity of the church in the 1970s and 1990s. The price was £2000 and the money solved the problem of the old hut, the continued use of which had belied the fears of the mid-1950s but had deteriorated over nearly two decades to a dangerous state. So, in 1969, the bell was removed (it is now in store and used on ceremonial occasions), the hut demolished and a replacement flat-topped pre-fabricated building put up by Vic Hallam of Langley Mill. With an inter-connecting passageway to the church and of about the same floor area (1200 square feet). It was much used and assumed the same critical financial importance as its predecessor.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s there was little demographic change in St Luke’s catchment area, other than ageing and limited migration. Continued daughter church status seemed inevitable with curates coming and going, basically static congregations and age-related activities slowly altering. Nevertheless, the (then unrealistic) wish for separate parish status was not dormant. When it was raised with the Rector, the Revd F E Worwood (Canon Wilkinson having retired in 1960), he was not encouraging: the size of church building and small congregation could not justify such a step. Even after the building of the largely private Costain Homes Abbey Park Estate of 430 properties north of Stamford Road in the mid- to late-1970s, the congregations showed little increase. Despite more than 1000 new people coming into the area the 1979 electoral roll was only 74. Though the PCC advocated a more outward-looking and dynamic approach the improvement was limited - the 1982 electoral roll numbered 76 - and the overall outlook of relative quiescence remained.
Long-term prospects were greatly improved when, in 1983, the County Council sought outline planning consent from Rushcliffe Borough Council (into which authority the District Council had been subsumed in 1974) for the development of 200 acres of agricultural land at Gamston. The land had been bought by the County Council in the 1920s to provide small-holdings and farms for ex-soldiers.
The County Strategic Development Plan called for more housing in West Bridgford in the 1980s and beyond. Building at Gamston was a partial answer. It was a prime and well-defined triangular site with Meadow Covert at the southern apex. The A52 (the northern boundary), and the new Gamston-Lings Bar Relief Road (the eastern), provided good transport links. The Gamston Brook / Grantham Canal defined the boundary to the west and also allowed separation from the existing built-up area where most of St Luke’s congregation lived.
Outline approval was given and the land sold to the developers, Bovis Homes. The initial proposal was to provide housing and support for up to 4500 people though this figure was later scaled back to a target population of 3000-3250. 1220 properties (predominantly for owner-occupation) were ultimately constructed, together with a supermarket, primary school and a range of community facilities. The project, which was much larger than the Valley Road and Abbey Park estates combined, lay wholly in St Giles’ parish. It was one with which St Luke’s, the nearest church, had to engage in order to meet the spiritual needs of what would be a substantial new population. It also meant that the case for separate parish status became much stronger.
A New Site and Church?
The church's interests were vested in the Revd John Wood, appointed St Luke’s curate in 1982. The major practical question was the size and location of a suitable church building. As the detailed planning process moved slowly the matter was not addressed seriously until late 1986. At a meeting with the Archdeacon in January 1987 John Wood advocated a new, larger, church on a new site. The Archdeacon demurred, believing that the current site and church would, with some expansion, be adequate for parish work with a shared building in the new area. However, he would not stop St Luke’s engaging in exploratory discussions with the developer and the planning authority. The Archdeacon also said that St Luke’s was now seen as a separate parish. Action had already started to formalise this and submission to the Privy Council would be made in due course.
Tri-partite discussions about a new site began in February. A locational change with respect to the new development would only make sense if it was, given the plans of the time, to the zone designated on the Outline Plan as the District Centre at the main access point from the Lings Bar road. The Borough Council concurred but Bovis, perhaps mindful of shareholders and land values, was not accommodating and held out no prospect of a site being made available there. Other possible locations, therefore, had to be examined.
There were two. The first, near the Willow Tree public house was quickly dismissed. The second, a site peripheral to the new estate and just a few hundred yards from the existing church, was on land that Bovis was willing to sell. The plot was across the brook at the end of Leahurst Road and adjacent to the path linking the old and new areas. It was low-lying, wet, small and only suitable for building after considerable, and expensive, remedial work. Despite being a site without apparent merit the church, for some reason, continued to express interest and was still holding discussions about it with Bovis and the Council in mid-1990.
Agreement could not be reached and it was finally decided to keep to the existing site and expand the building – as advocated by the Archdeacon nearly four years earlier. So, whilst St Luke’s was not to have a direct physical presence in the new estate there would be an indirect one through links with the future Church of England primary school.
A New Parish
To set against these ultimately abortive negotiations was the achievement of Parish status. On 24 July 1990 the Queen-in-Council confirmed the ‘Parish of Gamston and Bridgford’ in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham and Deanery of West Bingham, the measure being effective from 1 August. The Living was vested in the Southwell Diocesan Board of Patronage, the first incumbent being John Wood. His new parish of nearly 1 square mile incorporated the whole of the Gamston, Abbey Park and Valley Estates together with the 1930s housing north of Valley Road, and east of Trevor Road, and involved the revision of seven neighbouring parish boundaries. In all, there would be approximately 3500 households in the parish when development was complete – a population of approximately 10,000.
To assist him in his greatly enlarged duties the Vicar had three lay readers and an additional (NSM) member of the clergy, Blanche Clancey, who joined in late 1990 and ministered until 1997. These five, and the PCC, oversaw considerable changes within St Luke’s.
In the mid-1980s the two Sunday services were modernised with new hymns and emphasis on music and drama, though not to universal approval. 1986 saw the end of the tradition of dual use which dated back to 1951. Henceforth the church building was to be used exclusively for worship. Income-generating activities were, in consequence, restricted to the church hall. As before they largely comprised commercial lettings to disparate groups many of which had, as in the past, no direct involvement with the church. These revenues and congregational contributions improved the financial situation at a time when there were growing fears that the 1957 pre-fabricated church was too small and lacking in dignity to meet the additional responsibilities of a new parish. Preparations were soon put in hand to replace it.
The Brick Church : 1995 - Present
Work started on Phase 1 of a new brick-built church in September 1994. Plans had been prepared by the local architectural practice of Severn Stewart for a two-phase development of the site but financial stringencies, brought about by unwise investments by the Church Commissioners, restricted the builders (Woodhead of Bilsthorpe) to the first stage. This mainly involved demolition of the porch together with the western and northern exterior walls. The structural portal frames of the 1957 church were retained (so determining the width of the worship hall) and two extensions constructed – to the west, so far as site constrictions would allow, towards St Luke’s Close and on the north side along the whole length of the church. The first was really the creation of a new sanctuary with the altar moved to the west end. The second comprised a new vestry, offices, a meeting room and toilets. Building work finished in March 1995 with dedication by the Bishop of Southwell on 25 May. In the same year John Wood moved on but had seen, in his 13 years, his charge emerge as a separate parish with an electoral roll of 91, an enlarged church building and a new vicarage on the Gamston estate. His successor, the Revd Stephen Silvester was inducted on 13 June 1996.
Initially, attendances did not match up to the enlarged premises. The average Sunday morning congregation was about 50. The evening service attracted half that number. Overall there was a dearth of young people, young families and men but the figures began to improve as a result of works stimulated by the new Vicar. These included Alpha courses which began in 1997. By 1998 the main service was attracting upwards of a hundred and growth in pastoral work was evident, particularly amongst the elderly. An important element in the outreach work was the delivery (which still continues) of a free tri-annual newsletter to all homes in the parish. To meet these increasing commitments the first curate, the Rev Carol Tainton, was appointed in July 1999.
The church was outgrowing its space and the hall faced increasing pressure. The PCC decided, therefore, to proceed with a revised Phase 2 of the scheme. This was based on demolishing the hall and utilising the land so freed plus half the car park to augment the church building with a kitchen, upstairs prayer room, lounge and offices, new entrance area and hall with full immersion sunken baptistry. Great emphasis was placed on flexibility of use, environmental responsibility and incorporation of the latest technologies. Newton Construction and Management were awarded the contract. The total cost was to be about £500,000 and almost all would be raised by the congregation. Work started in January 2000 but stopped in mid-March when Newton's went into receivership. After some delay the contract was passed to Allenbuild and thereafter work proceeded smoothly. The new building was dedicated by George Cassidy, Bishop of Southwell, on 5 November 2000. A later substantial legacy, together with other gifts, allowed the re-ordering and improvement of the sanctuary in 2005 for a further £97,000. This was done to ensure more flexibility in arranging the church for different services and events.
By 2006 all outstanding loans had been repaid. Sunday morning attendance had risen to over 200 and as the church could only seat 160, a further morning service was introduced, making three Sunday services in all. To meet the demands of the growing church the Vicar was assisted by the curate, 2 Associate Priests, 4 Readers and a paid staff of 4. By 2007 the electoral roll had risen to 187 and the pattern of worship changed to a morning, late afternoon and evening service led by multi-instrumental music groups and utilising the enhanced audio-visual aids. Out-services were also held on a monthly basis at the local sheltered-housing complexes and care home.
2007 also saw the departure of the Rev Steven Silvester to St Nicholas’ Church in Nottingham. His replacement, the Rev Mark Fraser, was installed as Priest-in-Charge on 14th September 2008. Four years later the electoral roll had 185 names (of whom two-thirds were women) at 133 addresses. 93% of the electorate lived within a 3 mile radius of the church and of these 102 were resident in the parish: 27 on the Gamston estate, 14 in Abbey Park and the majority (61) in the pre-1960 developments, predominantly on the western side.
The two Sunday services now attract around 150 worshippers in the morning and about 30 in the evening. A weekly Communion is held and Morning Prayer said on four days a week. In addition, the church facilities have been much used by other congregations which lack buildings of their own. The Ruddington Baptist Church, New Life Baptist Church and The Rock Church have baptised new members in the baptistry pool and the Prayer Room is often booked externally. Indeed, just as in the early days the building is well used throughout the week by church and local community groups serving people of all ages. There is particular emphasis on links with local schools in addition to the formal ties with Pierrepont Gamston Church of England Primary School.
The strength of the church is also reflected in the finances. It has come a long way since the days some 60 years ago when a contribution to St Giles’ Diocesan Quota was a strain. Recent St Luke’s accounts point to a positive balance and, indeed, the annual Parish Share is now many times the cost of the wooden church.