Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

St Luke's Church

Upper Villiers Street, Blakenhall

Listing: Grade II*.  1860-1. By G. T. Robinson of Leamington. Roguish Gothic Revival style. A good design making use of polychrome and much use of cast-iron, with some remarkable roguish details.

Pevsner: "[Robinson] could evidently be what Goodhart-Rendel called a rogue architect. The church is furiously unruly. Red brick with yellow and black brick, SW steeple with a highly fanciful spire. Windows with plate tracery. But the clerestory windows are spherical triangles filled with roundels. Polygonal chancel. Inside, the piers are of iron, thin and doubled - longitudinally, not transversely. Who in the name of reason would do that?"

Comment: The church was restored and the exterior cleaned a few years ago, so that it makes a bright and cheerful adornment to an area, still mainly of small factories and small houses, which might otherwise be visually dull. Its setting is now made livelier by the golden domes of the Sikh Temple nearby, so that the whole thing would surprise the critics even more. Good.

The following full account of the church and its history was originally prepared as part of the ABCD Heritage Project and we are grateful to the author for permission to reproduce it here.


St. Luke's Church, Blakenhall

by Martin Rispin


The impressive spire of St. Luke’s (Church of England)  Church has towered over Wolverhampton since 1861.

But it is not only its height, at one hundred and seventy feet, that makes it such a city landmark - the building’s distinctive and unusually colourful Gothic Revival architecture marks it out as being of national architectural importance, meriting a statutory Grade II* listing in 1992 from the Department for Culture Media and Sport/English Heritage.


The church was designed by George Thomas Robinson c.1827-1897, who was described by the famous architectural historian Sir Nikolas Pevsner as a ‘roguish architect’. Pevsner goes on to say of St. Luke’s, in his ‘The Buildings of England’:

“The church is furiously unruly. Red brick with yellow brick and black brick. South west steeple with a highly fanciful spire. Windows with plate tracery. But the clerestory windows are spherical triangles filled with roundels. Polygonal chancel. Inside, the piers of iron, thin and doubled – longitudinally – not transversely. Who in the name of reason would do that?”


The church is laid out in a traditional style on an east-west axis so that the altar points towards the Holy Land. There is a nave, with side aisles to both the north and south, a chancel with an apse and a separate small side chapel at the end of the northern aisle.  There is also a narthex (an entrance lobby) at the western end.

An early painting, in the possession of the church, showing St. Luke's and its schools.

The bell ringing chamber, bell chamber and steeple are accessed by a spiral staircase which opens from a door in the churchyard at the base of the tower, but beyond the bell ringing chamber access is by ladder only. 

Left:  the spire now, with no mini spires but with a clock.

Right:  about 1770s, with mini spires but no clock.

An early painting of St. Luke’s Church, circa 1870s, shows small ‘balconies’ at each corner of the tower just below the level of the clock faces with pillars rising from blocks in front of them, each ending in its own mini spire.With the four mini spires the impression would have perhaps more closely merited its attribution as the work of a ‘roguish architect’.  These mini spires were removed in 1967. 


Externally the church is a riot of polychromatic brick (mosaics of different coloured brickwork) highlighted with stone, all set out in elaborate geometric patterns.  When first built the church would undoubtedly have looked even more colourful than it does today, if not a little garish, before the colours of the bricks had mellowed to their current more muted shades.  The roof originally was also laid in geometric patterns using different colours of slates, now alas, all plain coloured replacement slates.  The cast iron rainwater fall pipes were formerly laid in straight lines across the pitch of the transept roofs and would have added to the strong horizontal and vertical lines of the overall design.

Church Foundation and Dedication

The church’s foundation stone is located at the south west corner of the building and was laid by the Reverend William Dalton on 26th June 1860. 

The bricks were actually made on the site, not least because a brick yard occupied it before the church’s construction.  The church was completed in 1861 and consecrated on 18th July of that year.

Painted plaque inside the church recording the grant of £500 towards the building and the provision of free seats.

Although Blakenhall was a rural backwater in the 1860s (as can be seen in the painting) it quickly developed into the hub of the early British automotive industry; but the wide scale residential developments that the church was expected to serve never really materialised. 

Churchyard and Exterior

The churchyard has never been used as a burial ground, as the church was built after Wolverhampton’s purpose built Merridale Cemetery, and so is laid to grass with tarmac pathways with mature shrub and plant borders.  There is also now a modern parish hall, dating from 1967, within the churchyard which replaces an earlier more elaborate Victorian structure that was demolished in 1964 when it was declared structurally unsafe. 

Notable external features include:

The church yard walls at the south and west and their gate piers, which are decorative and statutorily listed Grade II in their own right, broadly mirroring the exterior of the narthex.
The main vehicular entry gates were dedicated in 1961.

The sculptural panel above the south west doors depicts St. Luke writing his gospel.
The sculpture above the north west door, that leads into the narthex, is of Christ with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The four faced clock was added to the steeple in 1874, donated by local businessman Edward Lisle who also gave the peal of eight bells in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (sixty years on the throne), replacing the single original bell that was cast by G Mears & Company of London and installed in 1861.

There are a number of plaques within the church (not all on display) commemorating various bell ringing events at St. Luke’s Church.  


Inside the church worshippers and visitors get an immediate sense of both height and light with surprisingly little mirroring of the ‘furiously unruly’ exterior although some of the same types of design are to be found but somewhat scaled down.  However, a lost feature that would have been controversial if still in situ was a Minton tiled floor along the central aisle of the nave, which may have also extended to the chancel; this was a tiled mosaic design in the same tones as the exterior patterned brickwork but set out in swastika patterns (these of course having none of the 1930s fascist associations when fitted in the 1860s).  This has been replaced with a terrazzo floor surface now covered with carpet tiles but the central aisle can clearly be seen in a painting kept in the vestry. Commemorative plaques show that the chancel had been re-laid in marble by the late 1920s.


The narthex, formerly semi-open but now with the tracery arches glazed and part partitioned off for other uses, contains a commemorative plaque detailing a donation of £500 to the building of the church to provide free seats for poorer inhabitants of the parish (at the time of building pews were still rented by wealthier parishioners for their own exclusive use). The central pillar on the narthex side of the west door is painted to look like wood but is in fact cast iron like all the other pillars in the church. 


The nave has six bays again supported on cast iron columns, like the chancel’s, with trumpet shaped capitals which form the springboard for polychrome brick arches (not perhaps as colourful as the outside brickwork) with plastered brick infill between, pierced by three rounded triangular windows to each side and with two west windows and a roundel above. 

The roof has a very deep arch-braced scissor truss, all now painted, which adds to the lightness. 

The nave also bears two painted bible verses at high level (John 4v24 & John 14v6) which characterise the ministry and worship at St. Luke’s. 

The nave and side aisles are occupied by original pews to match the architecture, although the rear five rows were removed during the millennium to allow a more flexible space for the congregation to meet before and after services and to allow for the construction of enclosed crèche and kitchen facilities. 

Contained within the nave are the lectern, the pulpit and the font.

The brass lectern was presented in 1907 by the congregation in memory of the long ministry of the vicar William Thomas Milligan who was to continue for another six years.

(In this postcard of the lectern, from about 1907, can also b seen the paintings which were once on the walls each side of the altar)

The pulpit is in memory of the first vicar John Parry whose ministry at St. Luke’s was from 1861 to 1882 although it was presented by his widow in 1909 and was originally located at the rear of the nave. It is supported on three stone shafts and bears panels on each of its four sides depicting the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 

The font is in front of the side chapel, octagonal in form, supported on one large and four smaller shafts of stone.
On the walls of both aisles are commemorative plaques for different people but all of the same design.  Ceramic plaques such as this are not unusual in Wolverhampton churches but these may not be ceramic and may be unique to this locality. 


At the eastern end of the church is the three bayed chancel which contains the Communion Table and choir and clergy stalls (the carved oak table, with eight winged angels, was donated in 1929 and stalls and communion rail donated in 1918).  The original plainer Communion Table is now to be found at the rear of the Nave.

The bays of the chancel are supported on paired cast iron columns (arranged transversely and not longitudinally) atop stone piers and the tracery screen within each bay is now glazed;


Above there is a panelled scissor truss roof supported on twelve carved stone brackets in the form of heads representing the twelve Apostles.


The Communion Table is surmounted by rich arcading and the reredos behind it has a deeply carved relief of The Last Supper, presumably by the same sculptor as the panels above the external doors. The east window above the altar, like the others in the chancel is in stained glass.

The War Memorial Chapel & Organ 

Between the chancel and nave is a tripartite, or triple formed, arch; to the north of this is a side chapel, created in 1920, divided from the side aisle by twin arches and to the south the 1923 organ also divided from the side aisle by twin arches. An impression of the church’s original gothic revival decorative scheme can be gained by looking at the painted organ pipes above the organ’s keyboard; those fronting the nave have been repainted plain silver. The side chapel, as it is known, is dedicated to the memory of one hundred and eleven parishioners who fell in both World Wars.  It also contains a stained glass window that was erected in memory of William Thomas Milligan who was vicar from 1889 to 1913.  Below the side chapel is the boiler room (originally coal-fired).


The Vestry is not open to the public but houses an interesting collection of framed portraits of former vicars from 1861 to the present day as well as oil paintings depicting the church interior as it originally was, including the swastika design tiled floor, and another showing the exterior in its original rural setting complete with patterned roof and ‘minarets’. There is also an old sepia photograph (pre-1909) which shows other lost features, including paintings at either side of the altar, decorated finishes around arches and windows (see the organ pipes above the key board for an impression of the style and colours of this decoration), large brass gasoliers, gilding on roof trusses but the cast iron pillars apparently either unpainted or dark coloured. 

This postcard, posted in 1911, also shows the decorations around the arches and, almost in line with the pillars, the brass standard gasoliers.

St. Luke’s School and Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club

A postcard of about 1920 showing typical houses of the area, the school and the church.

The original St. Luke’s School was designed by architect Edward Banks who flourished 1842-1874.

This was in a broadly similar style to the church and was located within the churchyard fronting Lower Villiers Street behind the low undecorated boundary wall (a small disused gate can still be seen behind within the hedge).

But this building had been demolished by the 1970s and is now relocated further back within the site, although this replacement is in turn possibly to be re-used as the school is relocating in 2009 to a site nearby.

Pupils and staff from the original school, notably Headmaster Harry Barcroft and pupils John Baynton and Jack Brodie, were involved in the establishment of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club in 1877 although the club was originally known as St. Luke’s Football Club. 

Wolves went on to become one of the twelve founder members of the English Football League in 1888 and to win the Football Association Cup on four occasions in 1893, 1908, 1949 and 1960.

This details from the painting shown above, shows haymakers on the field where St. Luke's (or Wolves) are supposed to have practised; and where later Villiers and Sunbeam factories stood.