Peartree, Derby – St Thomas

Heritage Open Days are being spread over two weekends this year, but there is not a lot happening in Derby. We did some planning, and on Saturday 8 September started with one church that is open – St Thomas, Peartree – SK 353343 – website. This is what I wrote for our magazines …

Saturday 8 September was Heritage Open Day, so Julie and I went for an explore. We visited St Thomas’ church in Peartree. I cannot claim that Peartree is an area of Derby I had ever visited, but I had chatted with Simon their Vicar about the challenge he faces. Only when I walked into the church did I realise the size of that challenge. The building needs a lot of money spending it on it, the plaster is pealing as the water comes in, there is no decent flooring, the loo is a portaloo, music is a CD player – and the community is a very multi-racial one; is there any point in the Church of England being there?

We found a lively church, members of the church welcoming us, coffee and biscuits, children’s activities, a lady talking to us about their stained glass, an art project to brighten the place up. Within a few minutes Julie was being asked about disabled access, what could they do to make the place better for a wheelchair. We knew several people there, and it was good to chat to them – but it was also lovely when they left us to talk to the people they didn’t know, the members of the community who had come in, because they are the most valuable. Yes, there is every point in the Church of England being there.

The church had a large welcome notice, and we negotiated the way in. A rather lovely old poster.

We found a busy church, and were given a welcome leaflet. The church closed in 2011, but Simon was appointed “Community Minister” to help “reimagine this building and inspire the congregation to re-engage with community”. I’m never sure about language like this – come here and be reimagined. They used the building to store food for local projects, but in 2013 a small group of people gathered for weekly prayer – “envisioning [ugh] how to restore the church”. In 2014 they started high level repairs and a project “to enable more people to engage with the church and its heritage” (I can cope with engage). They have now started a second phrase of building works to restore the east window, create new kitchen and toilets, and a new business plan has been written. They have formed a new monastic Community, focussed on international community, patterns of prayer, hospitality and practical engagement in mission – I wonder how we could do something similar in more traditional parishes. They have plans for a new Community Café, a dedicated prayer space, a larger meeting space, with break-out spaces for smaller groups, new offices, and a hot desking suite on the a new first floor.

The leaflet says they want to learn from their founder. The Reverend Canon Alfred Olivier was the great uncle of Laurence Olivier. He was committed to championing the rights of the disadvantaged and this was the first church in Derby not to charge people to sit down. We too want to be a church that looks out for people on the edge and welcomes those who find life difficult.

I purchased the rather posh guidebook – a beautiful piece of work. It has a photo of Chris our Archdeacon in the introduction – I probably shouldn’t comment that the photo is of a younger Archdeacon (bang goes my promotion)! It gives an excellent picture of the parish. We’re in the old village of Litchurch. The area developed to house the railway workers. In 1861 it had a population of 6,562, but only a single pew in St Peter’s church in the town.

The Archdeacon at the time was Thomas Hill. His daughter Mary married Alfred Olivier. Working together, in 1860 a committee was formed to provide a church, schools, parsonage and endowment. School first, then services there, then St James church was built at one end of the parish. Later the foundation stone for this church was laid in March 1881, and the church opened on St Thomas Day, 21 December 1881. (We now celebrate Thomas on 3 July, which is the anniversary of my ordination). By then the population was 17,476. By 1883 there were two Sunday Schools  – each with 250 children and 50 teachers. Perhaps it is not surprising that Canon Olivier retired in 1891 and died the following year, he was only four years older than I am now. Both Archdeacon Hill and Canon Olivier are remembered in their church. You can imagine them both standing in this pulpit.

The pulpit was designed by the architect Joseph Peacock (1821-1893). According to the book he is often referred to as a ‘rogue’ architect – a Victorian architect who had worked in a highly original style and had no pupils or followers. Most of the churches he designed are in London – St Simon Zelotes in Upper Chelsea is his best surviving work. He designed two churches in Derby – St James was the other one, and that’s now a climbing centre. In this church, enjoy the detailing, the wood, the different stones, and perhaps especially the mosaics behind the altar. There is plenty to enjoy – every pillar is different!

There is some lovely glass too. The St Thomas window was installed in 1893 in memory of Canon Olivier. It is believed to have been made by Mayer of Munich. St Martin, by Heaton, Butler and Bayne of Covent Garden, is in memory of the sons of Sir Francis Ley, who founded the Ley Malleable Castings Ironworks. Christopher and Maurice both died in WW1. The East Window, with Christ in Glory, is also Mayer of Munich. The book tells me that this firm goes back to 1827 when King Ludwig I of Bavaria founded the Royal Stained Glass Establishment. This window was installed in 1881. By the turn of the C20 the Company employed up to 600 craftsmen and became the principal provider of stained glass to larger Roman Catholic churches across Europe.

The Annunciation Window us gorgeous – it is by A.J. Davies, in memory of Mary Elizabeth Olivier. Davies had a studio in Bromsgrove. His work is also in Hereford and Worcester Cathedral. The details are lovely. Could I encourage the parish to put some better photos on their website – they have the photos in the guidebook, put them on line.

There are new artworks which cover the builders hoardings – and I am impressed with their vision. I was also chuffed to see one of my photos on the Deanery board (the one of the three clergy). I’m not sure what else I can do to help – but I’ll do whatever I can.





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