St Luke’s Chapel: new life breathed into old chapel

A little known Victorian gem has been given a new lease of life following a careful two year conservation project. Closed for a decade, St Luke’s Chapel has been rejuvenated to provide the University’s first shared teaching space.

Completed in 1865, it was the former chapel to the old Radcliffe Infirmary and sits on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) site on Oxford’s Woodstock Road.

The Grade II listed building was designed by the architect of the Bank of England, Sir Arthur Blomfield, who was also responsible for St Barnabas Church in nearby Jericho. Blomfield championed the Gothic Revival movement and specialised in ecclesiastical new builds and restoration.

St Luke’s is designed in the gothic style and has some notable stained glass, particularly in the east window, which is attributed to Henry Holiday, a well-known painter and designer of stained glass windows. Holiday was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement and was friends with Lewis Carroll whose ‘Hunting of the Snark’ he illustrated.

Works

The first works to be carried out as part of the conservation of St Luke’s were to clean and repair the outside of the building, which revealed that the original bellcote (a small framework and shelter for one or more bells) on the south side was in need of repair. The bell tower was then removed and put into storage. It was badly damaged and structurally unsound so a decision was taken to make a replacement from locally-sourced Clipsham stone. The Chapel roof tiles were also removed and later reinstated so that insulation could be installed.

The interior of the chapel has a vaulted wooden ceiling which was cleaned, revealing a number of painted inscriptions. The gold and coloured stars that were barely noticeable on the timbers are now bright and clearly visible.

Statues

During the recent refurbishment of the old maternity hospital building on the same site, three Art Deco style sculptures, which were hung on the exterior of the building, were removed and taken to a specialist stone conservator for treatment.

The statues represent Hygieia/Prudence, Asclepius/Hippocrates, and Orpheus who in classical mythology all have links to medicine. They have now been hung inside St Luke’s Chapel so that they remain within the context of the old infirmary site.

The three sculptures, created in 1935, are by the artist Laurence Bradshaw whose most famous work was the Karl Marx memorial in Highgate cemetery, which he made in 1956. 

New use

The chapel was always intended to be plain inside and its original pews are long since gone. The open space lent itself to a number of uses and has been designed to remain as flexible as possible in order to offer a range of functions for the University.

The upper area of the sanctuary was retained to be used as a stage for lectures and performances and the rest of the space can now be configured in a number of layouts. An AV system has been installed together with three toilets and a kitchenette. Storage for chairs is provided behind an oak screen.

Paul Goffin, Director of Estates, said: ‘After ten years of lying disused, St Luke’s has now been brought back to life. Work on the chapel illustrates a sensitive and respectful approach to restoration and means that the University has gained some valuable additional teaching space.’

Published April 2016