Home » Spiritual Life » Farewell to the old St Luke’s Church, Millwall

Farewell to the old St Luke’s Church, Millwall

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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.

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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.

st lukes 1870

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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15 Comments

  1. Laurinda says:

    I didn’t think of the demolition of the church with much sentimentality until I read your article. Being a parishioner of St Luke’s and Christ Church, I think we got caught up in the fight to get planning permission and everything that goes with it, that we forgot about the history.

    Great piece and much appreciated.

    • Hi Laurinda,

      There was no doubt the building had to go, but a lot of people would have had happy memories of the church in all its guises. I believe the first world war and other plaques will have places of honour in the new church.

  2. margaret stock says:

    Sorry to see any church demolished, especially this one as my maternal grandparents were married there.

    • Hi Margaret,

      Thanks for the comment, unfortunately it was in a bit of a state. But lots of people would have memories of family occasions taking place there, so agree a bit sad. However the good news is there will still be a church on the site carrying on a long tradition.

  3. sue willis says:

    I was sorry to see th demolition photos too. Mum was an islander, she married my dad at the church on 31st August 1940. Being at the height of the Battle of Britain she said there was a short dogfight as everyone was coming out of the church after the ceremony but they didn’t have to go to the andy.
    She left Millwall in 1941 but I think to the end of her life (in 2006) she always regarded herself as an islander & had many happy stories to tell about her time there.

    • Hi Sue,

      Thanks for the comment and the memories of your mother. It was not a normal reception that you receive when you come out of church was it ?
      Unfortunately a large number of Islanders had to leave the Island in the war due to evacuation and lack of housing. Many did not return but had a strong sense of community for the place.
      Once again many thanks

  4. Gillian Stone says:

    I grew up on Strafford Street and went to St. Lukes School. I remember the church, I was born in 1947 so only saw it after it was damaged. We used to play in the grounds. I can still remember going to the jumble sales and looking through the clothes and miscellaneous items for treasures. I left the Island in 1971 and have lived in British Columbia Canada since then but still have a special place in my heart for the place and the people we grew up with. My siblings live in England and my nephew still lives on the Island. I plan to visit when I come over in September this year.

    • Hi Gillian,

      Thanks for the comments and the memories, unfortunately nothing left now of the old church, but a new one will be built soon.
      Nice to hear you are coming over in September to visit.

    • sue willis says:

      Hi Gillian
      My cousins, Geoffrey, Bernard & Rosemarie Sillence lived in St Aubyn House on Janet Street. They emigrated to Canada (Edmonton, Alberta) around the same time as yourself (their father, my mum’s brother Herbert & his wife Nellie) followed in 1972. I remember visiting them on the Island before they left when the docks were still very active.
      Rosemarie (now Hayday) was also born in 1947 & on remarrying in June will be moving to…. Kelowna BC. Might you have remembered the Sillence family?

      • Gillian Stone says:

        I remember the name, did Rosemarie go to St.Lukes school? My sister Jennifer who is three years older than me remembers Bernard.

  5. sue willis says:

    Hi Gillian
    Thankyou for your reply. I think Rosemarie & her brothers did go to St Lukes school. (so did my mum she lived on the island from 1918-1941 on Mellish street & Alpha grove. She was adopted by her aunt & uncle as a baby & her surname then became Bircham).
    I wasn’t born til 1960 so regrettably had no opportunity to play with my cousins when they lived there.
    My brother & I met Rosemarie for only the first time when she visited England in 2009 it was a very happy occasion & we have stayed in touch ever since. She updates us regularly about our family in Canada & like us, is very interested in the history of the island.
    Pete & I visited the docklands settlement building in 2011 to learn more about the Island History Trust but they’ve now even knocked that down!
    We are hoping to meet Rosemarie again on her next visit it would be nice if one or both of her brothers could come, too (Pete & Bernard would have lots to talk about as they both ride BMW motorbikes!)

  6. Andrew HIckley says:

    This contribution was prompted by Con Maloney’s Youtube film of the church being demolished: thank you Con.

    I wasn’t born locally, coming all the way from Woolwich (via Yorkshire). My father, Michael Hickley, was vicar of St Lukes from about 1967 to 1970 when we moved to South Hackney.

    I went to Severn Mills Primary School and I think my first teacher was called Miss John, but it’s a very long time ago and I have only vague memories. They include being taken as a school to John McDougal Gardens (?) beside the river to cheer as Robin Knox-Johnson sailed past after his round-the-world solo trip: he waved at us!

    I also remember crossing the docks on the Glengall bridge to go to the doctors somewhere in Glengall Grove or Glengall Gardens. Our favourite playground was the bombsite where St Lukes church had stood during the war, plus one or two other bombsites behind the flats in Alpha Grove. I also have vivid memories of how boring it was waiting in the laundarette next to (or in?) the leisure centre in Tiller Road.

    Our favourite treats both involved the 277 bus. One was to Island Gardens then through the foot-tunnel to Greenwich Park, which was like paradise. The other was 277 to Mile End then tube to Tower Hill and a short walk to the beach beside Tower Bridge, where we happily excavated for farthings which I think had just gone out of circulation.

    Another memory was the flood warning system (pre-Thames Barrier). I was too young to understand really, but I remember my parents telling me that, in the event of a flood, a policeman would cycle the streets blowing his whistle, and I think we were meant to go up the towerblocks (named after masts) near West Ferry Road. Annoyingly (for a small boy at least) the whistling copper never showed. Another memory now long gone was the local rag and bone man with a horse and cart whose call sounded very much like “Kidney Why Are”… No, I have no idea either 🙂

    Anyway, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to post the magnificent selection of local history. Very much appreciated.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for your contribution, I love the idea of the whistling policeman as a flood warning.

    • Derek Catlin says:

      Hi Andrew , the local rag and bone man that you refer to was in fact a fruit ‘n veg seller named Harry Stoneman who used to tour the streets on the Island with his trusty steed pulling the cart , called Tom . How do i know this because I worked as a kid along with my pals for Harry and I immediately recognised the call for custom “kidney bye art” as if it was yesterday. Regards , Derek.

  7. Derek Catlin says:

    Hi Gillian , I lived at 49 , Alpha Grove ( 1954-1964 ) and wondered if you can recall me . I attended St Luke’s Primary school – Miss Coates was the headmistress- and at present I’m writing a book about my early years on the ‘Island’ and would love to hear from you about your experiences, mutual friends and acquaintances we may share . I am of mixed-race and as there were no people ‘of colour to my recollection I’m hoping you may remember me but whatever it would be nice to hear from you . Regards , Derek .

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