IHBC Yearbook 2023

30 YEARBOOK 2023 CIRCUS ERUPTION AND THE CONVERSION OF A SWANSEA CHURCH KAREN CHALK and ALFIE STROUD REDUNDANT PLACES of worship are relatively common in urban areas, partly because so many churches and chapels were built by competing denominations in the Victorian period when the industrial towns and cities were expanding rapidly. Since then these urban areas have seen many demographic changes as they have evolved, often separating places of worship from their potential congregations. Furthermore, congregations have been in steady decline for decades. The small Glamorganshire port of Swansea alone had over 50 churches and chapels by the end of the 19th century, often within a hundred metres of each other. In urban areas like this, with such a high density of places of worship, it is simply not possible to keep all of these buildings in their original use. However, finding new uses without subdividing their large spacious interiors can be challenging, but many have been adapted in ways that allow their original character to be appreciated. These new uses range from public houses, restaurants and shops, to theatres, music venues, indoor climbing centres and, in the case of the former St Luke’s in Cwmbwrla, Swansea, a permanent base for a youth inclusion charity using circus skills. From a sustainability perspective, finding a new use such as these avoids the carbon cost of demolishing an existing building, recycling its materials and constructing a new one. From a heritage perspective, this saves an old and often beautifully decorated building which is significant both for its tangible and intangible heritage, including its associations with those who built it, those who worshipped there, and those who are commemorated in its memorials. St Luke’s was an Anglican church which was built in 1889 in Cwmbwrla, an industrial, predominantly nonconformist corner of north Swansea. On the elevated and steeply sloping site they acquired, the growing Anglican congregation first built a mission hall in brick and stone, later extended to serve as their school room, which still stands tight up against retaining walls at the excavated back of the plot. Funds for the construction of the church itself followed once its mission hall had opened, and work commenced on a fairly plain four-bay hall church in Early English Gothic style, to the designs of the Cardiff church architect E Bruce Vaughan, using the ubiquitous local pennant sandstone for the snecked rubble walls. Proud at its west end and conspicuous from the passing Carmarthen Road, stands a distinctive tower, with paired lancets to the belfry, a plain parapet and a large pyramidal slated spire. Today its physical surroundings Circus Eruption brings people facing all kinds of challenges together to learn circus skills in a supportive, fun environment (Photo: Circus Eruption)