02 June 2024

Saint George’s Church
was the first parish
church built in Leicester
since the Reformation

Saint George’s Church is a 200-year-old church that gives its name to the Saint George’s Cultural Quarter in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The churchyard of Saint George’s Church is a green island in the centre of Leicester, between Colton Street and Queen Street. Saint George’s Church is a 200-year-old church that gives its name to the Saint George’s Cultural Quarter. It was built in 1823 and 1827 as a Church of England parish church, and was once one of the largest churches in Leicester. Today it is the parish church of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Leicester.

Saint George's was the first Church of England church to be built in Leicester since the Reformation. It was built under the Church Building Act of 1818, set up to mark the victory at Waterloo by providing churches in places where they were most needed.

With the Industrial Revolution and rising populations in rapidly expanding towns and cities, new parishes had to be formed. In Leicester, Saint George’s parish was formed for part of the ever-growing Saint Margaret’s parish.

Commissioners’ Churches represent the largest church building initiative in England since the Reformation, and constitute the greatest state-funded wave of church building ever seen in England. Commissioners’ Churches were built with the aid of parliamentary grants administered by the Church Building Commissioners between 1818 and 1856. The first Church Building Act passed in 1818 granted £1 million, and a second act, passed in 1824, granted a further £500,000.

The churches were built in areas with expanding populations where the largely medieval churches provided inadequately for new congregations. The new churches were intended to be spacious and economical with a substantial proportion of free seats for the poor.

Saint George’s Church was the first Church of England parish church built in Leicester since the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint George’s was the first Church of England parish church built in Leicester since the Reformation. It was built in 1823-1827 with a grant of £16,600 from the Church Building Commissioners. This was a substantial amount, given that nationally the average cost of a new church between 1800 and 1830 was £6,000, and it was the largest sum spent on any church in Leicestershire and Rutland in the 19th century.

Saint George’s is predominantly in the Decorated style and was built in 1823-1827 to designs by the County Surveyor, William Parsons (1796-1857), a leading local architect with eight listed buildings to his name. Parsons was also responsible for Leicester Gaol, Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum, now the Fielding Johnson Building at Leicester University, and six Midland Railway stations in Leicestershire, including Brooksby Station.

Saint George’s originally accommodated 801 people in pews and 999 in free seats. A drawing of the church interior ca 1827 shows two raised pulpits at the east end of the nave, box pews, and galleries in the aisles that had plastered ceilings. A contemporary account suggests that the nave may have been vaulted.

Saint George’s was rebuilt and restored in 1912-1914 by William Douglas Caröe, a major figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint George’s is an especially elaborate example of a Commissioners’ Church in the Gothic style which has impressively proportioned elevations enriched with a multitude of stone-carved embellishments. One of the most notable features of the church is the use of cast iron for the window tracery, an important surviving feature of a rare architectural detail.

After a severe lightning strike, Parsons rebuilt the tower to a slightly higher design in 1846.

The pulpit, tower screen and font are finely carved, highly decorated examples of fittings of their kind. The font and cover by H Goddard & Son, an important Leicester-based architectural practice was installed in 1865. The west gallery was removed in 1879, and the small sanctuary was replaced by a large chancel with a side chapel and vestry to the designs of Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-1899). He was a prominent Gothic revival architect whose works include the Royal College of Music, London, Selwyn College, Cambridge, Saint Barnabas Church, Jericho, Oxford, and Saint Luke’s Chapel, Oxford, and he rebuilt the nave of Southwark Cathedral.

A fire broke out at the neighbouring spinning factory of R Rowley & Co in 1911 and burning material landed on the roof of Saint George’s, destroying much of the nave and damaging the chancel and tower.

Saint George’s was rebuilt and restored in 1912-1914 by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938), who had been appointed Senior Architect to the Church Commissioners in 1895. He was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement and a pioneer of building conservation, restoring many churches as well as designing domestic and commercial buildings.

Caröe’s finely detailed design for the nave ceiling and the lofty piers, unusually embellished with sculpted figures in niches, contributes significantly to the architectural distinction of the church. His drawings show that only the external walls and windows of the nave survived the fire. He rebuilt the arcade and the roof to a different design, and removed the damaged galleries. The tower was restored and a timber screen costing £400 was inserted but the spire was removed. The seating was replaced and a memorial pulpit costing £110 was installed.

Caröe also designed the war memorial in the churchyard, commemorating the dead of World War I.

William Douglas Caröe designed the war memorial in the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

After slum clearance in the surrounding area in the mid-20th century, the congregation dwindled and Saint George’s was closed for Anglican worship in the early 1970s. The Serbian Orthodox Church began holding services in the church in 1973 and it was formally transferred to the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1983.

However, the building suffered from dry rot and water ingress throughout the second half of the 20th century, leading to much of the chancel roof and ceiling being replaced in the 1960s. The south slope of the nave roof was re-covered in Welsh slate in 1987. Further roof repairs are being carried out to the nave.

The church gives its name to Saint George’s Cultural Quarter, a 26-acre area on the east side of Leicester City Centre. It was established in 1989, and transformed the former textile and shoe manufacturing hub into a thriving area for artists, designers and craftspeople.

Once the industrial hub of the city, the area fuses together elements of the city’s more historic architecture with sensitive and award winning regeneration projects, creating an exciting, cosmopolitan and creative place.

Saint George’s has been the Serbian Orthodox parish church in Leicester since 1973 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint George’s is a solid building and some people say it looks like a mediaeval castle with its elegant, tall towers. Its green yard is an oasis of tranquillity in the busy heart of Leicester.

Thousands of people pass by the church every day but few ever get to see inside it. It is largely closed because of the constant struggle to find the money needed for repairs and the threat of anti-social behaviour in the surrounding area. Many people say the immediate area is gloomy, unsafe and used by drug addicts.

Leicester City Council wants to revamp the area around the church with a £900,000 scheme for the churchyard, which it says will prevent water run-off from leaves and branches damaging the Grade II* listed church and open out the area.

The plans also included remodelling Saint George’s churchyard to create a ‘garden gateway’ connecting the rail station to the area around Curve. However, a proposal to fell 21 mature lime trees was opposed by environmental campaigners and by the Serbian Orthodox church which owns the land.

Leicester City Council wants to revamp the area around Saint George’s Church with a £900,000 scheme for the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
25, 2 June 2024, Trinity I

The symbol of the Holy Trinity in the outer circle of the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is the First Sunday after Trinity (2 June 2024), and Trinity Sunday was celebrated last Sunday (26 May 2024). However, the Feast of Corpus Christi was last Thursday (30 May 2024), and its celebration has been transferred to today in many parishes, including Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

In the week after Trinity Sunday, I illustrated my prayers and reflections with images and memories of six churches, chapels and monasteries in Greece I know that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity. I am continuing that theme this week with images from churches, chapels or cathedral in England that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

StonyLive!, a celebration of the cultural talent in and around Stony Stratford, began yesterday and continues until next Sunday (9 June). There is a variety of cultural activities in venues around Stony Stratford this weekend, with drama, music, comedy, art, dance and spoken word, and a Classic Car Show today.

Later this morning, I hope to sing with the choir in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, at the Corpus Christi Mass and procession. This morning’s anthem is Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

A symbol of the Holy Trinity on the noticeboard in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, reflecting the image in the East Window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 2: 23-28, 3: 1-6 (NRSVUE):

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food, 26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions?” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath, 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They were watching him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

The East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton:

Trinity Sunday last Sunday was the Patronal Festival of Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton. This is a Grade II* listed church, incorporating Saxon and mediaeval elements, and it was rebuilt in 1809-1815. This is the original parish church of the Saxon settlement of Wolverton, on a prominent site overlooking the valley of the River Ouse, close to the mound of a Norman motte and bailey castle first built by Manno the Breton.

The mediaeval church in Old Wolverton was replaced in the early 19th century. The new church incorporates the 14th-century central tower of the old church, although this was re-cased in new masonry as a west tower.

Holy Trinity Church now consists of a chancel, nave, transepts and west tower. The tower dates from the 14th century and the rest of the building from 1815, when the church was rebuilt and the tower encased, the work being carried out in the Norman style.

An important scheme of decoration began in the church in 1870. This was designed by Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), an eminent Victorian and Edwardian architect in Stony Stratford. His aim was to give the interior a more full-blooded character, inspired by mediaeval church interiors. This included brightly coloured woodwork, vivid stained glass windows, and wall paintings, combined with stencilled decoration by the firm of Bell and Almond.

Inside, the church is dominated by the great round East Window, with Portland stone tracery of eight lobes round a large central circle. The stained glass in this East Window, dating from 1888, was designed by Nathaniel Westlake – who also designed the Swinfen Harris windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford – and was made by Lavers and Westlake.

Holy Trinity lost its patron and benefactor in 1970 when the Radcliffe Trust sold the Wolverton estate to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The Parks Trust established by Milton Keynes Development Corporation looks after the parkland setting of church, and the earthworks of the larger village which the church used to serve in the Middle Ages, in the field to the west.

Worship at Holy Trinity Church ranges from traditional liturgies, including sung Book of Common Prayer liturgies, as well as contemporary services, Taizé-style services and some fresh expressions styles of worship.

The team ministry with Saint George’s began in 1973. Holy Trinity is grouped with Saint George the Martyr in Wolverton, the rector is the Revd Gill Barrow-Jones, and the other clergy are the Revd Francesca Vernon and the Revd Chibuzor Okpala.

The East Window by Nathaniel Westlake (1888) dominates the chancel and Holy Trinity Church in Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 2 June 2024, Trinity I):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Volunteers Week.’ This theme is introduced today by Carol Miller, Church Engagement Manager, USPG:

Read Matthew 25: 34-40 and reflect on good deeds

Volunteers’ Week is a national celebration of the amazing contributions volunteers make to communities across the UK. This year celebrations run from 3-9 June. Find out more and how you can get involved at www.uspg.org.uk

Acts of kindness are so often hidden, such as picking up a lost toy on the pavement and placing it on the fence nearby in hopes that the owner will find it. Or offering to get that just-out-of-reach item from the top shelf at the supermarket for a petite shopper.

In this passage, Jesus tells us that kind acts align with Kingdom values and are seen by the King Himself. God knows that in those moments when we are moved to act out of compassion, empathy or gentleness, we are demonstrating our salvation. We act from a position of redemption.

Jesus came to show us how to live and share his love. When we do good to those around us and offer our time and talents for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, we partner with God.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (2 June 2024, Trinity I) invites us to pray:

Father in Heaven,
We thank you for those in self-supporting ministry
such as chaplains, parish ministers, and others.
They give their time, without pay,
to bring the gospel to those in their communities.

The Collect:

O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts:
may our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love
and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life
in Jesus Christ your Son.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, is the original parish church of the Saxon settlement of Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The new edition of the USPG Prayer Diary ‘Pray With the World Church’ covers the period from 2 June 2024 to 30 November 2024