St Mary’s Church has a rich and long history,
being over 850 years old and has been rebuilt and refurbished constantly over the centuries.
The Church is one of the largest in Bedfordshire and considered a fine example of medieval architecture.
The site of St Mary’s has been the centre of worship for people in the area for over 1,000 years, and a church was built in about 930 AD by King Athelstan as an act of thanksgiving for victory over the Danes. The land here was owned by the king in Saxon and early Norman times and the church was very richly endowed.
The current site of the church itself was built by Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester in 1121 and consecrated in 1137. The original structure of the church was a cruciform without aisles, but with the increases in population, the north and south aisles were added within 40 years of each other around the start of the 13th century.
This was a time of great extension to the church, with a tower being built, transepts being extended, with twin arches opening into the new chapels on their east side. A vaulted sacristy with an upper room was built north of the chancel and a new font was given a unique canopy of richly carved stone in an octagonal shape.
A lot of restoration and rebuilding work was carried out in this time, with Someries chapel being extended, the sacristy being re-built further east and the west tower made taller and having most of the windows renewed. All this work was carried out with the help of Lord John Wenlock, whose family had been connected with the church since 1389. In 1461 the chapel was renamed the Wenlock Chapel, and William Wenlock (father of John) is one of three people interred there. In addition to the Wenlock chapel there is also the Hoo Chapel, the Rotheram family monuments and the Barnard Chantry chapel.
19th and 20th centuries
Again, in this time, restoration work began to help restore the church to its full glory. The distinctive flint and stone chequer was extended to cover most of the church and the tower was restored in 1906 and the Wenlock chapel was also restored in 1914. In the 1960s, offices, halls and vestries were built in the chequered style to provide more space and the Magnificat Window in the south transept was installed in 1979. The church has also installed projection screens, moved the pulpit to its former position and renovated the heating system.
The architecture of St Mary’s is varied as the church has been renovated and rebuilt many times, but the basic layout is that of a cruciform, with north/south aisles and many chapels and extensions in various directions heading off the main church. The total length of the church is 53 m (174 ft), the total width is 17 m (57 ft), and the height is 27 m (90 ft). The outside of the church is clad in a distinctive flint and stone chequer, which makes the church stand out in the town.
Clock of St Mary’s
The clock itself was installed in 1901, and faced west across the town. However, after two overhauls in 1909 and 1949, which included the installation of a new bell, the clock’s mechanism’s seized and gave up in 1979. The bell was not heard for 28 years, until the University of Bedfordshire (formerly of Luton), decided to offer to help restore the clock, ready for the new year and the millennium. The university owned buildings next to the church and decided it was time to restore the clock to its former glory. The clock was officially re-opened on 11 November 1999, Armistice Day.
The future for St Mary’s
The area next to St Mary’s Church (Powercourt) has been due to be redeveloped for years. After being the site of the church vicarage surrounded by fields, it was sold around 1900 and part of the site became a power station. (Hence the name!) in the early 1970s it became a light industrial estate, but since the turn of this century has been largely vacant. After a few years work Luton Town Football Club now have planning permission develop the site with a stadium, apartment blocks, retail and other facilities.
The church have been in conversation with the club since early on in the process and support the plans. While it will mean considerable change to the area, speaking at the planning meeting, the club were clear of their intent: “We resolutely commit to continuing dialogue with St Mary’s throughout the detailed stages of design and of course to continuing the close relationship once the stadium is up and running.” Rev Mike Jones, our Vicar has said: “St Mary’s welcome the plans by 2020 Luton Town Football Club. The development would give us a new stage and new opportunities, and we will seek to step up to them.”
You can read more as plans develop here..
Hire our building?
The Church building is popular with hirers and is sought after for various events from major ones such as University Graduations, public and civic services through to smaller concerts and recitals. St Mary's also has a hall and rooms that are used by a number of local organisations.
If you are interested in hiring St Mary's Church or one of the smaller rooms please contact the church office on 01582 721867. Alternatively, you can fill out the form below and we will contact you as soon as we can.
Luton Parish Church of St. Mary has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant which now enables St. Mary’s to open the doors of the building more frequently to schools. This will allow more children and schools to come through the building and gain historical insight about the church building and town. Please click on the Heritage Lottery Logo for a full copy of the press release.
The Friends of Luton Parish Church exists to support the historic Church of St Mary's by raising money within the town and wider community of Luton, to help in maintaining the fabric of the Church and enhancing its beauty for future generations. The Friends of Luton Parish Church was formed in 1965, and since inception the Charity has given more that £1m to the Parochial Church Council to pay for essential repairs and improvements to the fabric of the church.
ExploreChurches is the perfect place to discover a love for churches and to find out all the information you need to visit them. ExploreChurches is part of The National Churches Trust which is the national, independent, charity dedicated to promoting and supporting church buildings of historic, architectural and community value across the UK. See our page on their website here.
Luton Church Cemetery
The graveyard in the direct vicinity of the church is no longer used, but a cemetery that covers most of St Anne’s hill, the Luton Church Cemetery, is about a mile from the church, heading up to Crawley Green.
(click on image to see the Cemetery webpage)