Brief History of St. Luke's

The History of St. Luke’s Church Cannock

 

The Early Beginnings of the Church in Cannock

In the 10th century a group of Saxons lived in a small settlement in a clearing in the great oak forest just south of the Watling Street.  This small hamlet close to the Danelaw was called Chenet.  The nearest church was the Collegiate Church of St. Michael in Penkridge which had been founded by King Eadred between 946 and 955. When Domesday Book was drawn up in 1086 in the reign of William the Conqueror there is no mention of a church in Chenet.  A priest was appointed by the Dean of the Collegiate Church in Penkridge to serve the inhabitants of Cannock.  He would have been one of ten priests who would have been sent from Penkridge to the outlying hamlets to take Mass, hear confessions, baptise, conduct marriages, anoint the sick, console the dying and perform the Last Rites.  It is probable that by the 12th century, a small chapel would have been built and founded as a dependency of Penkridge Church. There was a great disagreement between the Dean of Penkridge and the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield over the rights of appointment of a priest in Cannock and this went on for 200 years.   We do not know what this chapel would have looked like.  Perhaps it was built of wood like other Saxon chapels, or did it later have stone walls and a stone altar as William the Conqueror’s Archbishop decreed?  We have no physical evidence of this chapel, but it was the foundation of St. Luke’s Church which we know today. The first existing record of the church is the decree of Pope Celestinus in 1143 donating the church of Cannock to the Bishop of Coventry.   In 1189 the right to nominate the successor to a vacancy for the job as priest in the church in Cannock was sold by Richard 1 to the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.   In 1293   the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield stated that the building was a church and not a chapel.  The earliest masonry surviving from the 12 and13th centuries in the building is near the west end of the north aisle. This suggests that the 13th century church was aisled and of its present width.

 

The Development of St. Luke’s Church

At the beginning of the 14th century the disputes between Penkridge and Lichfield over who had authority over Cannock were still simmering away under the surface, but from now on things seem to have settled down , with Lichfield in control.  In 1330 the churchyard in Cannock was consecrated for burial and the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield planned to start work on the chancel. 

During the 14th century the Church was almost rebuilt.  Most of the internal walling in the western part of the nave near the north door is of this period, and also the 4 western most pillars of the 2 aisles.  The most easterly bay of the north aisle was widened to form a chapel.  Other areas of this date are the basement course, the north doorway and the external buttresses on the north wall.

In the 15th century, around 1460 a partial rebuilding of the tower took place.  The coat of arms of Humphrey de Stafford is to be seen on the outside of the tower wall.  He fell in the battle of Northampton 1460.  

The Reformation to the Restoration

In the 16th century the belfry stage of the tower with its two light windows and the parapet above with its battlements were constructed.  In 1524 the ecclesiastical authorities ordered the priest in Cannock to put the chancel in a ‘competent state of repair.’  This suggests that little had been done in recent years to keep the building in good repair.   The church, by 1548, was endowed with land, tithes, ten cows and £1.6s 8d (£1.32p) per annum for a priest who sang mass daily for the dead at the Lady Altar in the Chantry Chapel. However, the following year 1549 the chantry lands in Cannock, Huntington, Leacroft, and Great Wyrley were sold off and the chantry priest Laurence Peryn was allowed to continue as a schoolmaster after the dissolution of the chantry.  This was the time when Edward VI led the Protestant Reformation; rood screens were torn down, wall paintings were whitewashed over, stone altars broken up and replaced by wooden ones and chantry chapels closed down with the endowments seized by the Crown. It is probable that all this happened in Cannock.

In the seventeenth century a vestry was most likely added and it is probable that a west gallery was built at this time.  The North Door was still the main entrance to the church and the font would have stood close to this door. The turmoil of the previous century continued. The dress and conduct of the priests had altered after the Reformation and changed even further with the extreme Puritanism of this period.  The rich vestments the priests wore for the Mass, now called Communion, were abandoned and many wore a black gown over a cassock and a white cravat type collar.  They had come out of the seclusion of the Chancel to hold services in the Nave – in English instead of Latin – and the sermon became the most important part of the service.  Wooden pews were installed in churches at this time so people could sit during the lengthy sermons.  With the Civil War and Archbishop Laud’s execution on the scaffold in 1645, churches were subject to a wave of vandalism smashing everything that had not been torn down in Edward VI’s reign. Christmas was abolished, and any celebration of Easter and Whitsun was made a criminal offence until Charles 11 came to the throne in 1660. Two well known priests were connected to Cannock in this century.  Lancelot Addison, a priest in Cannock from 1683-1686 left to become Dean of Lichfield and Dr. Sacheverell, who began his first curacy here from 1695-1698, had the political sermons he preached against the Whigs  in later years burnt by public hangman.

Georgian Cannock

In the early eighteenth century the population of Cannock must have been increasing as it was thought necessary to increase the seating by erecting the south gallery which ran the whole length of the south aisle in 1720.  Later in the century the southern part of the nave was rebuilt and the South doorway { demolished in 1957 ) with Tuscan pilasters and a pediment  carrying the date 1752 was constructed .There is a tradition that the three south windows and the south doorway were brought from Leacroft Old Hall, but this cannot be verified.  The South Door now became the principal entrance to the church and the North Porch was probably demolished at this date.

St. Luke’s in Victorian Times

In the nineteenth century the population of Cannock was growing rapidly, largely as a result of the development of the mining industry in the area and the growth of other industries around Cannock. The population of the parish increased from 1,000 in 1851 to 2,913 in 1861 and by 1881 the parish population had increased to 17,123.  In the middle of the century the need to provide more seats for the congregation led to plans for an increase in seating from 551 to 615.  This was achieved by 1849 and drawings of this period show the nave filled with tall box pews together with a three decker pulpit at the east end.  In 1876 the question of increased seating was again raised and a fund was set up to raise money for an extension to the church. Between 1878 and 1882 extensive alterations took place.  The nave was extended eastwards by two bays and widened on the south side to match the section widened for the chapel on the north side.  The style of the building was exactly copied from that of the 14th century.  A new chancel was built with a combined vestry and organ chamber on the north side.  The architect for the work was N.Joyce of Stafford and the contract for this was £2,430 which was placed with a London builder Mr. T. Williams.  A new organ was fitted in the organ chamber replacing, it was said, the organ which was carried across the road from the Rising Sun public house each Sunday morning for the services and returned after Evensong to provide music in the bar for the rest of the week.

 

TheTwentieth Century

At the beginning of the century a new imposing stained glass window was installed in the east end of the chancel in memory of Samuel Loxton who died in 1895.  Gas lighting was installed, first of as flares, then later fitted with mantels and gas globes. In 1914 a new larger organ was installed by Norman and Beard of Norwich at a cost of £1000.  After the 1914-18 war the St. Michael’s window was erected in the South Transept in memory of Ernest Adshead Dudley Loxton and the men of Cannock who died fighting for their country.  A brass tablet below the window records their names.  The other stained glass window in the South Transept depicts a communion scene on the field of battle and commemorates Charles Edward Loxton who was killed in action in 1915.

By the 1920’s the north and south galleries were no longer used and were becoming unsafe.  They were removed in 1925.

In 1949 the memorial chapel was built on the south side of the chancel to commemorate the fallen of Cannock of both World Wars. The architect was James Swan of Birmingham and it was built by F & E V Linford of Cannock.  In the same year the graveyard which had been closed to new burials since 1878, was levelled and grassed over.  The headstones and vaults were removed and laid flat around the perimeter of the church and churchyard.

Major changes took place in the interior of the church in 1950. The west gallery was removed and it was replaced by a new organ loft to accommodate the organ which was moved from the clergy vestry. Painted wooden tablets that record the charities dispensed by the church wardens, which were formerly on the front of the old west gallery were taken down and fixed to the walls of the clock chamber in the tower. The new organ loft is a steel framed platform supported by oak encased steel stanchions surmounted with carved oak corbels, one of an ox and the other of a pelican.  A baptistry was formed in the north-west corner of the nave by the North Door and the restored font was moved there.

In 1957 another major alteration was carried out to the church, when a porch was added to the main south entrance.  The old doorway was demolished and a new porch of Hollington stone with Staffordshire oak doors.  The winged ox of St. Luke can be seen over the doorway and above that the old sundial was left in position.  The porch was given by Fred and Dorothy Linford.

 

Recent Times

In 1972 a platform extension to the chancel was made into the nave to take a central altar to make  the actions of the priest in the communion service more visible to the congregation.  In 1983 new choir stalls, made of English oak, were installed in memory of F. Linford.  A Heritage Appeal raised over £90,000 in the 1980s and the remains of the old box pews and the old floor were replaced.  The pews which were fitted to replace the old ones were sponsored by many people, and their names are recorded on the pew ends.  

In 1995 a new appeal was launched.  This time it was to raise money for augmenting the existing peal of eight bells to ten.  Four bells were kept and six new bells were cast at Taylor’s foundry in Loughborough.  The new peal was dedicated on 30th March 1996.

 

Looking Forward in the Twenty First Century  

In recent years the front pews in the north and south aisles have been removed to make a space for a children’s play and activity area and a music group area respectively.  As services change and developments in audio visual technology grow the church will continue to adapt to new ways of worshipping God and the challenges it entails. St. Luke’s Church, built over 800 years ago stands as a testimony to the faith of the people of Cannock, past, present and future.

Gill Winter  24.03.2014

With acknowledgements to:-

A Brief History of Church and Parish – Fred Linford - 1976

The Story of Cannock Town Centre Through The Ages –St. Luke’s Church – Gerald Lane and Gill Winter - 2004

A History of Penkridge Church – John Linney – 2013

Information also obtained from Staffordshire Records Office, The William Salt Library, and articles from past copies of the Cannock Advertiser kept in the Reference section of Cannock Library.