The Olive Tree Branch is a large prominent building at a roundabout on the top of a hill in Luton, which includes an impressive stained glass window in the south wall of the church above the central aisle, within the church’s calm, tranquil setting.
The site of St Mary’s has been the centre of worship for people in the area for over 1000 years, and a church was built in about 930AD by King Athelstan as an act of thanksgiving for victory over the Danes. The land here was owned by the king in Saxon and early Norman times and the church was very richly endowed.
The current site of the church was built by Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester in 1121 and consecrated in 1137. The original structure of the church was a cruciform without aisles. Due to increased population, the north and south aisles were added within 40 years of each other around the start of the 13th century. The 14th century was a time of great extension to the church, with a tower being built, transepts being extended, with twin arches opening into the new chapels on their east side. A vaulted sacristy with an upper room was built north of the chancel and a new font was given a unique canopy of richly carved stone in an octagonal shape.
A lot of restoration and rebuilding work was carried out in the 15th century, with Someries chapel being extended, the sacristy being rebuilt further east and the west tower made taller and having most of the windows renewed. This work was carried out with the help of Lord John Wenlock, whose family had been connected with the church since 1389. In 1461 the chapel was renamed the Wenlock Chapel, and William Wenlock (father of John) is one of three people interred there.
In addition to the Wenlock chapel there is also the Hoo Chapel, the Rotheram family monuments and the Barnard Chantry chapel. The distinctive flint and stone chequer was extended to cover most of the church and the tower was restored in 1906 and the Wenlock chapel was restored in 1914.
In the 1960s, offices, halls and vestries were built in the chequered style and the Magnificat Window in the south transept was installed in 1979. The church has also installed projection screens, moved the pulpit to its former position and renovated the heating system.