“An immense Georgian preaching box”

Gillian Darley wrote for Apollo magazine of 14 JULY 2018:

“…this was 1818. To celebrate the recent end of the Napoleonic Wars, parliament passed the Act for Building New Churches, allocating £1 million for the task; the buildings that resulted were often known as the Waterloo churches. At the time, the church was in crisis, a situation brought about by changing demographics and altering religious affiliations: the surge of the working-class population in major cities, especially in the north, and the drift to nonconformity. The Church Building Commission (the predecessors of the Church Commissioners) turned to the government Board of Works, and its three advisory (and executive) architects, to set guidelines and advise on practicalities. Soon each was commissioned to design several churches.

John Nash (1752–1835), John Soane (1753–1837), and their junior, Robert Smirke (1780–1867) made uncomfortable colleagues – with very different approaches to expenditure, design, and even the established church. Smirke, who had not been happy working in Soane’s office, was now viewed by him as a professional adversary. The contrast in attitude between Smirke and Nash was caught in James Planché’s ditty of 1846: ‘Go to work, rival Smirke / Make a dash, à la Nash.’

But a previous programme, the churches built under Queen Anne’s Act of 1711, had set a high architectural precedent. By 1824 the budget had been increased, suggesting that the Commission’s ambitions were found wanting when tested against reality.

The Hon. and Revd Gerald Valerian Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington and rector at Chelsea, had been quick off the mark; with Chelsea Old Church too small for parish needs, he announced plans for a new church, St Luke’s, at a public meeting in 1818. James Savage designed an immense Georgian preaching box, and dressed it in gothic. It was fairly typical of what was to follow…”

From Wikipedia:

“The Parish Church of St Luke, Chelsea, is an Anglican church, on Sydney Street, Chelsea, London SW3, just off the King’s Road. Ecclesiastically it is in the Deanery of Chelsea, part of the Diocese of London. It was designed by James Savage in 1819 and is of architectural significance as one of the earliest Gothic Revival churches in London, perhaps the earliest to be a complete new construction. St Luke’s is one of the first group of Commissioners’ churches, having received a grant of £8,333 towards its construction with money voted by Parliament as a result of the Church Building Act of 1818. With Sir John Soane’s Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone Road, it was the most expensive Commissioner’s church in terms of its total cost.

Charles Dickens was married at St Luke’s to Catherine Hogarth, who lived in Chelsea, on 2 April 1836, two days after the publication of the first part of the Pickwick Papers, his first great success.

The parents of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, were married on 10 March 1846, for the third time in the case of his father Baden Powell, a distinguished mathematician and theologian.

The father of the authors Charles Kingsley and Henry Kingsley became the rector in 1836, when his sons were 18 and 6 respectively.

The position of organist and choirmaster has been held by several notable musicians, often as a stepping-stone to cathedral positions. Two organists were composers who also wrote the tunes for hymns: Sir John Goss who wrote Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven and the carol See, Amid the Winter Snow, and John Ireland.

The Earls Cadogan, who owned the land around the church, have always been the patrons of the church…”

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