Architectural character

St Luke’s as it stands today consists of two-thirds of J.T. Lee’s original design. He had intended two further bays of the nave, making four in all, plus a south-west porch leading into a narrow narthex the full width of the west end. From the centre of the narthex a low apsidal baptistery was to project. Though no drawing has survived showing the elevation of Lee’s west front, it is likely that, for the Eardley Road site, he had intended the west end to make the main architectural statement. It is thus not surprising that the exterior of Lee’s church as built is somewhat unimpressive. Furthermore the building was always intended as a chapel of ease. Thus a tower, to house a peal of bells, was out of the question. A single bell was hung, at Lee’s recommendation, at the south-east angle of the chancel.

The architect was working to an overall budget of £5000, yet was asked to provide seating for 400-450; so he conceived the church from the outset in simple terms. Though economies were later forced on him, they did not affect the essential character of the design; and there is evidence that at a late stage he was allowed to enhance it in one or two significant ways. From the outset the church was to be of brick. In the early years of the 20th century that would have defined it as a town church, in the tradition stemming back over fifty years to the model church of the Ecclesiological Society, All Saints, Margaret Street, off Upper Regent Street in central London. Brick also strongly contrasted the new church from the stone-built, rough- textured St Mary, Kippington, which was an estate church in a semi-rural setting.

Lee softened the impact of the brickwork with the occasional broad band of stone, and there are generous stone dressings to the windows and doorways; internally the circular piers and arches are all of stone. Lee used his stonework economically, yet it gives character and variety. Of mouldings there are very few, just on the caps and bases of the columns, and on the internal heads of the windows. Otherwise everything is square-cut or facetted. The way the stonework meets brick externally and plastered walling internally is also consistent and deliberate: arched forms are smoothly outlined in stone, but vertical features are formed of irregular stones which give a sense of naturalness and informality. The influence of the ideas of the famous mid-19th century theorist of art and architecture, John Ruskin, can be sensed here. It was he who had proclaimed that buildings should be designed in emulation of the forms of nature, rocks, the plumage of birds or the structure of plants. The architect had intended a certain amount of stone carving. Only the canopy finials over credence and sedile were carved, at his special request. Otherwise several square blocks of stone, especially on the north side of the chancel, show where carving was never carried out. The most memorable qualities of Lee’s church are spatial. When one enters one is surprised at its height, and its brightness. Lee certainly intended these effects; for example he persuaded the building committee to let him redesign the north wall of the chancel ‘to obtain greater height and more light’. The broad, square-ended chancel, lit from high side windows, and with full-width steps rising gently but impressively to the sanctuary, is typical of late Victorian church planning. The view from the nave into the chancel is unimpeded, for there is no chancel arch. Only the roof-construction, hammer-beam trusses in the chancel, tie-beams in the nave, distinguishes the two parts. A double truss marks thetransition from chancel to nave and is also a reminder of the two phases of construction.