Donald Insall Associates has restored the shell and tower of St Luke’s, Liverpool’s landmark ‘Bombed Out Church’
The ruined but grade 2*-listed St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, whose tower faces the top of Bold Street, has been used since 2003 for community and public arts projects, including Chinese New Year celebrations and art installations during the Liverpool Biennial, as well as a small number of weddings. Its interior suffered catastrophic bomb damage at the hands of the Luftwaffe who blitzed Liverpool in 1941 leaving only the external masonry walls capable of salvage. These survive to their full extent including the crenellated parapet and pinnacles as well as the splendid west tower. Although earmarked for demolition in the 1950s and 60s, the building came to be regarded as a war memorial to the civilian casualties sustained in Liverpool during the Second World War.
St Luke’s was constructed in 1811 under the supervision of Corporation Surveyor and Architect John Foster Senior. It is of outstanding architectural value: its refined gothic revival style is predominantly in the perpendicular fashion, but with forays into the decorated style, such as the tracery to the tower belfry openings. Such authenticity is unprecedented for its date, certainly for a public place of worship in England. The Fosters pre-empted the more archaeologically precise gothic architecture of Pugin and followers of the ecclesiological movements of the 1830. In addition to being a parish church, the building was also intended to be used as a venue for ceremonial worship by the Corporation, and as a concert hall.
Donald Insall Associates was appointed by Liverpool City Council to lead emergency repairs to the high level masonry which was becoming a danger to users of the building, which resulted in the building being added to the Historic England’s Building at Risk Register in 2003.
The works were solely concerned with the stabilisation of the existing fabric. New interventions are limited to a minimum and where included are necessary to provide protection to the existing fabric. The architect was subsequently appointed to lead the installation of an architectural lighting system, which was unveiled at the church in the presence of the Mayor of Liverpool on 27 October 2017 to mark its removal from the Heritage at Risk Register.
In all the work carried out at St Luke’s by Donald Insall Associates there was a desire to retain the ruinous quality has become part of the building’s identity. The architect also took care to undo insensitive and inappropriate repairs made in the past that had materially harmed condition of the church. When introducing new details the design team ensured that these would be distinguishable from the original building and improve the weathering and overall condition of the nave and chancel.
The main interventions were: the reinstatement of a permanent, traditionally constructed roof to the tower principally to protect the cast iron bell-frame thought to be the first ever all metal bell frame in the world; the bell frame – approximately six tonnes of cast iron – was unsupported for decades and merely wedged in position, and Donald Insall Associates have reinstated the massive timber support structure in the original configuration; the replacement/repair of the clock mechanism floor; the adaptation of the steel supporting structure and delicate repair of the tracery of the tower windows; the introduction of discreet bird netting to the windows of the tower and a safe access system from the belfry onto the tower roof; a temporary roof to the south vestry to protect the best remaining example of original plasterwork; urgent pinning and masonry repairs to the tracery of the nave and chancel windows; the removal of vegetation and rebuilding of the wall tops of the nave and chancel with the introduction of a slate weathering to solve the most evident danger, prior to the repairs of falling masonry.
Donald Insall Associated
HL Structural Engineers
T Sumner Smith
Duggan and Parr