St Luke


The Founding of St Luke’s Church

The Church of St Luke the Evangelist in Shireoaks was a present to the village by the fifth Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme and was dedicated on St Luke’s Day 1863. The Duke was a strong churchman and he was concerned for the spiritual condition of the miners and their families. He commissioned his architect Mr. Thomas Chambers Hind, to build him a church ‘for my colliers, who badly want it’. He instructed Mr. Hine:

I wish the church to be handsome, to contain 500, and to be capable of extension, and I expect that you will find that stone, brick, on the spot, and a railway station within 100 yards, £4000 will suffice, but I do not absolutely limit you to that sum, I can find a little more of ‘my own’ for that purpose.

The Fifth Duke of Newcastle

The Duke lived at Clumber Park, the ancestral home, and it was he who was responsible for the digging of the pit in Shireoaks. In the history of the village and the church he is a very important figure. The following is a brief biography put together by the late John Severn who was assisting us up until his sudden death in 1998 with research into the history of the church.

Henry Pelham Fiennes Pelham-Clinton, Fifth Duke of Newcastle, K.G., B.A. D.C.L. (1811-1864) was an English statesman who first entered parliament in 1832. As Lord Lincoln he served as M.P. for South Nottinghamshire for fourteen years and was First Commissioner of Woods and Forests between 1841 and 1846.

In an article in the “Southwell Review” in the spring of 1957, the then Archdeacon of Newark, the Venerable Francis Horner West, described the history of the church, quoted W.E. Gladstone’s obituary to the late Duke as follows:

The man whom you have lost ‘Mr. Gladstone said’ was no common man. Indeed I am not aware of a single case of an English nobleman or a gentleman whose qualities and whose life have been more fully, perhaps I might say so fully, and so enthusiastically appreciated by his friends, by his neighbours who indeed were all of the friends, and by the community in which we live.

Archdeacon West closes his article on Shireoaks church and its connection with the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Newcastle and Gladstone with the following sentence:

Shireoaks Church may not yet qualify for recognition as an ancient building. But few churches in the country can claim connection direct or indirect with so many people and events of historic importance.

A Brief History

The foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, (at the time only 20) on 18th October 1861 (St Luke’s day) and the church was dedicated on the same day in 1863. The church is smaller than intended or Victorian people were much more amenable to being squashed. Seating in the church will at best accommodate today about 280. The Duke certainly could never have seated 500!

The Foundation Stone Quill used by the
Prince of Wales

The Duke died in 1864, and following this a great deal of work was done in the chancel by the Duke’s family and friends. In 1906 a project was launched to “beautify the chancel” and the roof was boarded over and painted in the manner still visible today to match the decorations in the nave of the church.

The organ was moved in the early 1970s as it was felt that the curtain wall was interfering with the acoustics of the music between the choir and the nave. It does not sit easily in its current position and the changes at the front of the church have never been completed.

About the same time a small statue of St Luke, which stood in a colonnaded niche on the West Wall, was also dismantled as it had become dangerous.

Recently documentation has been examined which reveals that the problems with the spire and damp are not new - the report is dated 1877. This report also perhaps sheds light on the major change to the building since it was built, the removal of the spire.

Plans have also been found for a proposed small chapel to be added in an upper room in the church. It is reckoned that this must be in the former organ loft, but there is no knowledge now of what was proposed to be done with the organ or even if there was one there at the time (about 1880) although as far as can be ascertained most of the fittings are original.

The Removal of the Spire

Pictures of the church with its spire seem to be few and far between, and none as yet located show it in colour. There are numerous stories in the village about the reasons for the removal of the spire. Examination of all the available documentation reveals some interesting facts and the following is no more than an attempt to record our present understanding of the problems under the church.

Drawing of the
Church before the
Removal of the Spire

In 1973 the spire was removed as it was becoming unsafe. This was largely financed by money from the coal board who denied liability but made an ex gratia payment. There was considerable settlement around the tower soon after the church was built and a report of 1877 highlights the problems and reasons for this happening. The church is built on bedrock and this slopes down from the west end of the church to about 5' 6" under the chancel. Water is running over this and affecting the concrete of the footings and the damp is then rising up the walls into the church. This is noted in the report of 1877 and it also raises some questions about what could happen if the area under the church was drained.

It seems likely that in response to this report a ditch was dug that used to exist at the East end of the church. This was just outside the then graveyard wall, the footings of which are still visible. This is known to have been deep and may well have reached to the level of the bedrock. This was filled in when the churchyard was extended in about 1940. It seems clear that what has happened since is the continuation of a process noted as occurring only 15 years after the church was built. The subsidence to the tower and spire and the movements that caused the danger to the church in both 1877 and 1975 may well have origins that were not wholly related to mining but also due to problems much nearer the surface. The report of 1877 also notes that sudden movements have been noticed after prolonged wet weather: 1974 and 1975 were both wet summers. The church continues to suffer from damp and this explains the efflorescence seen on the walls, although all movement of the foundations has ceased at the moment.