Charles Cross and St Luke’s

The Box

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Charles Cross

One of the last Gothic churches to be built before the style disappeared, Charles Cross Church is now a well-known landmark, standing in the centre of the Charles Cross roundabout as a monument to the many Plymouth people who died during World War Two.

In 1634, Robert Trelawney, Mayor of Plymouth, was mainly responsible for petitioning King Charles I, to erect a new church because ‘this Burrough is so populous that the Church here is unable to contayne a multitude of the inhabitants thereof’. The real reason may have been a wish for a church where more Puritan teaching was given.

In 1641, the King gave his permission and an Act of Parliament, dated 21 April, was passed for the parish of St Andrew to be divided in two. A charter was issued to the Mayor and Commonalty. The church was to be built immediately at the expense of the inhabitants of Plymouth.

A site in Coney or Gayer’s Yard in Tin Street was rejected. A site off Green Street was then given by William Warren, a wine merchant. He was later given a seat in the church and a burial plot.

Building started but due to the Siege (Civil War) was delayed until 1646. The church was completed in 1658. The first spire, built in 1707-8, was wooden and lead covered and was replaced by the current one in 1767. There is evidence that services were taking place in the unfinished building from 1643.

The church is often dedicated to Charles the Martyr or St Charles. The Act of 1641 specifically states it should be named in honour of the King – an interesting request in a town that sided with Cromwell and the Parliamentarians during the Civil War.

The first minister was Francis Porter. He served from 1643-1665. Following the restoration of the monarchy, the church was consecrated on 2 September 1665. Francis was inducted by Bishop Seth Ward and continued to serve as vicar until 1673. The church’s most famous incumbent was Robert Hawker who was the vicar for 43 years.

This image shows the original charter. Like most charters it’s made of a high quality parchment called vellum. The wonderful artwork on it shows Charles I, various animals, plants and insects. The wax seal at the bottom is very fine, showing him on his throne and his horse.

St Luke’s Church

Located on Tavistock Place, St Luke’s was built in 1828 as a chapel of ease to Charles Cross Church. Through the following 140 years it was home to a thriving parish and acted as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.

Although it survived the war many residential properties in the surrounding parish did not. As people moved out to new post-war estates, the congregation dwindled. The last regular service was held at the 2,000-seat church on Easter Sunday 1962 with just 54 attendees.

In the years that followed St Luke’s was occupied by Plymouth City Council’s Library Service. It was first used as the Bookbinding Department and later as an annexe for the staff who worked in the former Central Library.

St Luke’s is now part of The Box. It’s undergone a huge restoration over the last three years and has been transformed into a beautiful exhibition and events space.

In the image on the left you can see a view looking down the church to the large east window which was created in 1888 and depicts the Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi. The window was carefully removed in the late 1960s and reinstalled at St Matthias Church on North Hill.

Since then, the window aperture has been unglazed and boarded up, but recently a brand new stained glass window has been installed. Designed by Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes and made in Zurich by a specialist glass studio, it’s been inspired by the end pages from one of the volumes in the city’s nationally important Cottonian Collection.

Detail of Leonor Antunes’ window in St Luke’s Church. Image by Wayne Perry

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