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The 1950s

In the mid-1950s, Warden Hill was a rich agricultural area. Of the road network that we know today, only Farmfield Road existed, and only as a country lane. Building began with the Woodlands estate, this being followed by the adjacent Warden Hill estate with the roads taking the names of our cathedral cities.

Highbury Congregational Church conducted a survey that revealed sufficient demand for a Free Church to be built in the area. Steps were taken to obtain the necessary finance (£4000), one source being the eventual sale of Providence Chapel in the Reddings (the building still stands today as a creche). Other sources included offerings from church members, some of whom took out deeds of covenant (for example, one member gave 5 shillings a week, equivalent to £250 a year in today's money).

St Christopher's Sanctuary Window

The sanctuary window.

Meanwhile, in 1959, the Reverend Ettrick Eynon (later Canon), the new Vicar of St Philip's and St James', Leckhampton, was given a mandate from the Bishop of Gloucester to create a Church of England church in the newly built estate of Warden Hill. With enthusiasm and drive, he set up a committee of local people to steer the plans, create publicity and raise funds. A leading light in the Reverend Eynon's committee was Margaret (Peggy) Oliver, the local chemist who worked from her front room dispensary at 80 Salisbury Avenue, on the corner of Oxford Way, and acted as Treasurer and leaflet distributor. Sadly, she died prematurely at the age of 38 years and did not live to see the Church completed. The sanctuary window was given in her memory and designed with the main building, vestments and altar frontals by Comper and Son.

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The 1960s


The URC in July 2010.

The foundation stone of the Warden Hill Congregational Church was laid on Friday 10th September 1960 by the late Mr Walter Ansell using a trowel that is on view in the church vestibule. The architect was one of the members, Mr Gordon Hipkiss. Construction was rapid: the opening following three months later at Christmas. The first name in the visitors' book was that of the Reverend Elsie Chamberlain, a member of the BBC Religious Broadcast Services.

The first Minister was shared with Brockworth: the remarkable Scot, the Reverend John McMinn, the finishing touches to whose sermons being seen to on his way to church. The organist chose the hymns, which John found tended to fall in with the theme of the service. There was no pulpit; rather, the sermon was delivered from behind (or rather around) the Communion Table - of which John would make several circuits, particularly if he wished to emphasise a point. John left in 1963.

The site of St Christopher's before building work began

Site of St Christopher's Church
in August 1959.

The Reverend Eynon's committee had not been idle. From the first meeting in St Philip's and St James' side chapel, to the completion of the first phase of St Christopher's took less than three years. At that time the population of the area was more mobile and less settled than it is perhaps now, and as it was seen as a travelling, moving Parish, St Christopher (as the patron saint of travellers) was therefore a very natural choice.

The original concept was for quite a grandiose gothic church, in the style of St Philip's and St James', with a spire. However the plans were modified to provide a dual-purpose building of Church and Hall, the sanctuary being screened off by bringing down a large roller shutter when the Hall was used for other events.

Messrs J A Pye built Warden Hill estate, and their stores and equipment for the whole project were on the St Christopher's church site. When they moved their equipment to 'Pye's yard' (now Hampton Close, off Chelmsford Avenue) they gave the site for the building of St Christopher's. Messrs Collins and Godfrey put up the bricks and mortar. John Bucknall was involved with the stained glass. Louis Gross Ltd provided Comper with chasubles and frontals in white and green.

St Christopher's today

The same view in July 2010.

St Christopher's was a daughter church in the Parish of SS Philip & James, Leckhampton with St James, Cheltenham. An outside service was held on the site, with the choir processing from St Philip's and St James all the way along the Shurdington Road, and down Woodlands Road and Salisbury Avenue. A loudspeaker was organised via electricity from the first house in Wells Close. St Christopher's was dedicated by the Bishop of Gloucester on 15th July 1961.

The estate was new with many young families. At the Congregatoinal Church, it was necessary to have four classes for the children: two shared the parlour, the infants in the vestry, and the older pupils in the diminutive kitchen. The solution was an extension, which is now the present church, at a cost of £4,000. The extension was opened in 1968 by the Reverend Lawrence Squires, formerly the minister of Highbury and later of Portscatho in Cornwall. The architect was again Gordon Hipkiss. Another member of the church, Fred Clarke (who had been concerned with the building of the estate), gave valuable advice to Reverend John Haile (the Minister from 1966 to 1972) who did much of the stone work in the construction - John had been a farmer and could turn his hand to anything; he went on to build a new church at Brockworth. Yet another member, Tom Nancarrow, provided expertise in electrical and constructional matters.

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The 1970s

The font at St Christopher's

The font.

In 1971, the Warden Hill Congregational Church chose to join the United Reformed Church consisting of former (but not all) Congregational and Presbyterian Churches. At this time, Warden Hill URC was paired with Brockworth. Reverend Peter Loveitt was Minister from 1973 to 1976, and Reverend Ian Alexander was minister from 1976 to 1981.

Back over the road, it was all change in 1974: the small hall was added to St Christopher's, then the large hall, and the font came from St James', Suffolk Square, when it closed and became part of Ss Philip and James, Leckhampton (who received the alter reredos).

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The 1980s

Between 1985 and 1995, 10 stained glass windows were installed in St Christophers', more details about which may be found on the Windows page. St Christopher's was re-ordered in 1988.

Reverend Cecil Jones was Minister at the URC between 1982 and 1986.

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The 1990s

In 1991, the United Reformed Church in Cheltenham was formed, and the three Cheltenham URCs (St Andrew's Prestbury and Warden Hill) joined forces, and were served by two Ministers: Reverend Joan Winterbottom (until 2005) and Reverend Glyn Jenkins (until 2006).

In 1998, in order to celebrate the Millennium and the church's 40th birthday, plans were put in place to make St Christopher's look more like a church. A fleche/mini spire would be added to the roof and this would include a clock and bell 'sound'.

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The 2000s

In 2001, the Millennium Project at St Christopher's was completed: a new entrance room, spire and upper room extension.

One of the St Christopher's bells

In early February 2001, St Christopher's started to research into the possibilities of changing the bell 'sound' into a ring of bells. Research into mini rings indicated that they might not gain church or diocesan approval. During a conversation with Matthew Higby , we discovered that he had a light ring of six bells (tenor 63lbs) which he had purchased some time before as a demonstration ring, but never installed. He thought that these would fit in the available space and it was hoped that they would gain the approval of the Church Council.

Matthew was asked to make a presentation to some of the council members and other interested people at the beginning of March. He brought the four largest with him and discussed the feasibility of hanging them in the roof space below the fleche. Three days later an order was placed for the bells.

The bells were hung on 12th-13th July 2001 and rung for the first time at 5pm on 13th July 2001 by:

  • David Bagley
  • Geoff Carter
  • David Godwin
  • Ruth Halling
  • Matthew Higby
  • Isabel Hitchings
  • Reg Hitchings
The St Christopher's bell arrangement

Our bell arrangement

They were rung before and after the 40th anniversary service on the 15th of July 2001. At the service the Rt. Revd. David Bentley, Bishop of Gloucester, dedicated the bells. In the following ringing a past vicar, Rev'd. Graham Minors, declared that 'he could die happy and contented. It was just what St. Christopher's wanted!'

The bells consititute the lightest church bells in the world, all of which were produced by John Taylor of Loughborough in 1998 and carry the inscription '19T98' around their crowns.

  • 0-0-24
  • 0-1-5
  • 0-1-10
  • 0-1-12
  • 0-2-3
  • 0-2-7
  • in C (Hum = 523Hz)

For many years there had been little communication between the two churches even though both drew the majority of their congregations from the estate. In the early years of the 21st century, more communication started and, led by the respective ministers, the idea that some sharing might be possible with those 'across the road'. A working party, to become know as the 'Partners', was formed to discuss what could be done, social opportunitites, fund raising and local awareness. Since January 2006, much more coming together became evident with a formal engagement between the two churches, with a 'Declaration of Intent' for an initial period of 2 years. Service times were harmonised and there were two joint services every month.

In 2007, Reverend Maz Allen and Revend Jon Morgan took over joint ministry at the Unitited Reformed Church in Cheltenham.

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The 2010s

The Sundial

Analametic sundial, installed in St Christopher's garden in 2010

On January 1st 2010 St Christopher's was granted Parish Church status. On that day the South Cheltenham Churches Benefice also came into existence. On 16 January 2010 Warden Hill URC and St Christopher's entered into a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP). Both churches have worked closely together for many years and both congregations support working together even more closely.

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