Buildings being demolished is not an unusual site on the Isle of Dogs, however walking down Alpha Grove I was surprised by the sight of a demolition squad knocking down the remains of St Luke’s Church Millwall.
The building had become very run down in recent years and plans are in hand for a new church and community centre on the site. When this church is built it will carry on the tradition of church buildings on the site since 1868.
The first church was built in 1868 on land donated by Lady Margaret Charteris and Lord Stafford, it was considered quite a grand church for the area seating 700. The architect was E. L. Blackburne who had earlier restored Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate.
A mission hall was built on to the south side of the church in 1883. It was converted into a chapel when new parish rooms were built in 1912. There was also a Gothic-style vicarage built on the site in 1873.
The church became an important part of the local community and as the following 1937 newspaper report states the scene of an occasional drama.
Pretty 25-year-old Gladys Kite, dressmaker, of Havannah street, Millwall, sobbed as she told how for the third time her marriage had been postponed.
She was to have married Mr Ernest Jolly, aged 22, of Wanlip-road, West Ham under-manager in a Dagenham refrigerator factory.
‘We were to have been married in June,” said Miss Kite. “Later we made arrangements for a wedding in September. ”
Then Ernest fell out of work, so waited until to-day.
“We had rented a flat at Ilford and had been paying for it for five weeks. We had been friends for eight years.
“When I saw Ernest last night I laughingly told him I would keep the ring in case he forgot to bring it to the church.”
For two hours she waited for him at her home, dressed in a bridal gown and carrying a bouquet of white lilies,her blonde hair specially waved, she waited to hand him the ring before she left for St, Luke’s Church.
“My uncle Stephen arrived at 1.5o p.m., “and told me Ernest had disappeared,” she added.
“We waited two hours before some one went round to the church to tell the guests there would be no wedding.
“Ernest had been living with my parents for the” last month.” but it was arranged that he should spend last night with my uncle.
“He kissed me good-night, and left” Stephen Kite, the uncle, of North-street, Barking, said “Ernest went shopping, returned, told me the friend who was to have brought his wedding suit had not arrived, and said he had better go and see about it.”
No one had seen him since.
It was not to be third time lucky for poor Gladys , and within a few years the church itself was unlucky when it was badly damaged in the Second World War.
By 1960 the decision was made to demolish the church, however a chapel with stained-glass windows was made at the east end of the parish rooms and consecrated for worship.
St Luke’s Church Interior 1960
This chapel and the parish rooms was only ever intended to be a temporary solution but was used for the next 54 years.
The design for the new church with community centre are in keeping with the church at the centre of the local community, however the destruction of the last remnant of the old church will be viewed with some sadness by a few islanders as a loss of a connection with the past.