History

The Church

Built: 1843 - 1895

Architects: J L Pearson, retaining aisles by Ford & Hesketh

 

Listed grade II*

 

The first church here was built, on a prominent site on a spur of the North Downs, to designs by J T Knowles (Senior) in 1843. To this aisles were added to designs by Ford & Hesketh 1867. The great change came in 1889, when J L Pearson was called on to remodel the church. He replaced the original building with a new nave and chancel, retaining the 1867 aisles, and in 1895 he added a new south-west steeple. The Pearson work is faced externally with stock brick with stone dressings, contrasting with the flint facings of the aisles.

Pearson's building is typical of his major churches, and shares characteristic features with such buildings as St Stephen, Bournemouth, All Saints, Hove, St Augustine, Kilburn and St John, Upper Norwood. The nave has five bays with arcades and clerestory. The west entrance is under a stone vaulted gallery and the timber roof is supported on stone transverse arches carried on shafts attached to the older arcade pillars. The three-bay chancel is narrower, the space being occupied by passage aisles for the western two bays, separating the chancel from a chapel on the south and organ chamber on the north. The south-west steeple rises to 185ft. The tower has shallow set-back buttresses and a short octagonal spire with corner spirelets and single lucarnes.

The eight bells, tenor 13cwt, are by Mears & Stainbank, 1895, rehung in 1972 by Whitechapel.

The interior is entirely faced with stone. The windows contain an almost complete series of stained glass installed by Clayton & Bell under Pearson's direction. The handsome triptych reredos, designed by Pearson, 1898, shows small panel paintings in an elaborate gilded frame. There is a fine iron chancel screen of 1910, and the organ is by Willis, 1897, rebuilt by Hill, Norman & Beard in 1968. The marble pulpit and the font, in the form of a kneeling angel, date from 1882. The churchyard wall, of knapped flints, was built in 1867.

It is understood that the vestry was erected by F L Pearson after his father's death, but probably following his plans. It stands alongside the organ chamber, which forms an eastward extension of the North aisle, with a three-light window with Geometrical traces, in the east gable.

The vestry consists of a western section forming the choir vestry, gabled at right-angles to the aisle. with a three-light window in the north gable, and entered by a doorway in the west wall, and a clergy vestry to the east with a flat roof concealed by a straight moulded parapet with an east window of four small equal arched lights. To the west of the vestry is a small extension housing a boiler room.

The church has been equipped with permanent flood lighting, with donations and a contribution from the Churches Floodlighting Trust.

 

The lower portion of the tower has been glazed internally to form a crèche.

 

Taken from report prepared by the Council for the Care of Churches in 1997.

 

You can read the 2011 Quinquennial Inspection Report here, if you like. You will need to know the password and it may take quite a while (a couple of minutes) to download.

The Church in the Early Years

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

The appearance of the first church was very different from that of today, lacking its striking features. A former choirboy whose surname was Rose, reminiscing in the Parish Magazine some 70 years later, gave a bleak account of his church-going in the 1850s: “The ancient (sic) building was as bare and unattractive as it could possibly be. There was a gallery for the children attending Sunday School and for the children who came from the workhouse. The reading desk was on the left-hand side of the apse and on the right a high pulpit. The heating apparatus was very inadequate. There was a fire just inside the west door and another in the aisle. The church was lighted by two candles, with frosted shades, placed on the pulpit, two on the reading desk that were seldom used, and two on the small organ in the gallery.

“The organ was installed in 1850. Prior to that time Mr Dinner, the schoolmaster of St John’s, led the singing of the boys and girls with a tuning fork - not a dinner fork! I have a keen recollection of the length of the services, which were very tedious and sombre, making the Sunday anything but a bright and joyful day. There was never any singing during Lent or Advent, while on the other Sundays only two hymns or portions of psalms were used. There was a celebration of Holy Communion once a month and on the major festivals. The services were at 11 o’clock in the morning and 3 o’clock in the winter and 3.30 in summer.

“The windows of the whole of the church were plain, with leaded lights, and on the south side were long green curtains, for sometimes the sun would shine through these quite brightly. On these occasions Mrs Skilton, the church cleaner, used to go and draw the curtains as blinds to keep out the sun; as they were suspended from an iron rod with heavy brass rings, she made some considerable noise in performing this office, and generally caused the preacher to make a pause in his sermon. She always gave the church a thorough Spring cleaning every Whitsun. Her husband, known as “Old Jimmy”, could make himself heard all over the church. He used to sit just inside the west door, provided with a long stick, and if he heard anyone talking or noticed anyone sleeping, down came that stick on the unfortunate person’s head. It would cause no small commotion among the congregation.

“St. John's School, built in 1845, being the only school in the district, was attended by children far beyond its immediate circle - even from Nutfield and Sidlow. It was one of the unwritten laws that the children who attended Day School must attend Sunday School. Sunday to the children was a hard and laborious day. School commenced at 9.30 am, and we were expected to be word perfect in the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for the day. At 10.45 we were marched from the school to the church, usually leaving to be home for 1 o’clock dinner. Then at 2 o’clock Sunday School again. From school to church at 2.45 and we were dismissed at 4.45. Sometimes it was quite dark when we came out of church, and we were frightened of going home in the dark. The church was decorated with heavy evergreens for Christmas - it would have been considered a sin to decorate the church with flowers, but happily today a better atmosphere prevails.”

In 1860 the side aisles were added, the architect being Mr Robert Hesketh of Earlswood Mount.

Rebuilding the Church

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

John Loughborough Pearson, a most eminent architect and the founder of modem Gothic architecture in England, was appointed to restore the church in 1889. He had been charged with the care of many of our ancient cathedrals and had designed Truro Cathedral in 1879 (with which there are many similarities). This appointment was then said to have coupled him with Sir Christopher Wren as the only architects of English cathedrals consecrated since the Middle Ages. Pearson did more than restore St John’s - he transformed it. The chancel was completely rebuilt, the nave was radically altered and the roof was raised. An entire new west front was built, followed in 1895 by the tower, complete with its most distinctive feature, the spire (185 feet high).

Main Features of the Church

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

Surrounding the churchyard is a fine wall of knapped flintstones which was constructed in memory of the curate, Rev W Kelk in 1867. Once inside the church, one of the most striking features is the triptych behind the altar. It was designed by John Loughborough Pearson himself, towards the end of his life, and given to the church by the Rev. John More Gordon in memory of his mother in April 1898. Newly restored and regilded, the three hinged and beautifully illustrated solid mahogany panels rest on a base of red Numidian marble. The gold and rich colours now look resplendent in their original glory. The skilled restoration was carried out by Judith Weatherall, a member of the congregation, who is a professional restorer, assisted by Rita Radovanovich and Fiona Hunter Craig.

 

The central panel represents the crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John, with the Agony on one side and the Entombment on the other. Beyond these come four small figures, two on each side, representing four of those “who saw His glory and spake of Him” - Abraham, David, Isaiah and St John the Baptist. The large panels at the extremities of the wings contain, on one side the Nativity, and on the other side the Resurrection. Above these come the four Evangelists, two on each side. Further above these stand the four ‘doctors’ of the Western Church – Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory. The carved figures which crown the whole represent Our Lord, with Moses on his right and Elijah on His left hand. Outside these are two angels on each side.

At the back of the church stands the distinctive white marble Angel Font, which was installed in 1882 on the retirement of the Rev. Henry Gosse, in recognition of his 36 years in office as Vicar of St. John’s. A shell-shaped bowl is held in the outstretched arms of a kneeling angel, who gazes protectively down.

Further long and faithful service is remembered by the tablet near the font which is dedicated to Elizabeth Brigden, who followed her father as verger in an epic partnership that lasted from 1883 to 1944. Above this area is an unusual gallery which has provided additional seating, and which affords a fine panoramic view of the nave and chancel below. The marble pulpit was commissioned in 1882 to commemorate Eliza Paine. The sculpture that adorns its front depicts the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In similar fashion to the font, a praying angel overlooks this scene.

The splendid Eagle Lectern to the left of the chancel was donated in 1891 in memory of Elizabeth Cumming. A replica of the brass eagle design in Southwell Minster, it rests on the same Numidian red marble as the triptych. The bird stands on a ball which represents the world. The Bible on the eagle’s back symbolises the Gospel being carried on its wings to the far reaches of the earth.

The church contains two attractive and unusual wrought iron screens. The Chancel screen, erected in memory of Alfred Machin in 1910, contains a decorative roundel in the centre with the inscription “IHS”, the Latin abbreviation for Jesus. The beautifully worked screen between the chancel and the Lady Chapel was presented a year later by Julia Rennie, in memory of her husband, George B Rennie and their daughter Gwyn Lily.

The Stained Glass

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

Stained glass is essentially a Christian art which had no existence before the Christian era. It is unique amongst the arts of the world because of the relationship between glass and light and its mystical association with goodness and beauty. Most of the stained glass in St John’s was installed either during or immediately following the rebuilding of the church by JL Pearson, and some of the windows were designed by Pearson himself.

Most notable of these is the magnificent East window, which dates from 1889 and in a sequence of twenty one panels describes the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord. It may be compared with the East window in Truro Cathedral which was also the work of JL Pearson.

The East window is flanked on the North side of the chancel by three windows depicting the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, and on the South side by three others with representations of the New Testament saints. These windows were installed at various times in the early years of this century by the London firm of Clayton and Bell, who were also responsible for the East window.

The West window, also their work, was given by the family of Henry Gosse as a memorial to that great benefactor of St John’s. It dates from 1904 and represents primarily the visit of the Magi.

At the end of each ambulatory there is a small window given in memory of Emma Gosse by the congregation; each is a fine example of delicate Victorian glass painting. So too are the small windows in the porch which depict Nathaniel and Cornelius on the East side and St John and St Paul on the West.

 

The windows in the South aisle represent the Resurrection and subsequent events, and those under the Tower the Evangelists and the four patron saints of the British Isles. The first of the windows on the North side of the nave is lovely. It is a memorial to Field Marshall Earl Kitchener. The traditional concept of scale is retained with the base, figure and the canopy which is also used to create the border. The painting is sympathetic though very detailed. This window may be contrasted with the one in the Lady Chapel, a memorial to Harriet Hesketh, where the romanticised treatment of the clouds rather detracts from the main image.

Two other memorials complete the North side windows; they are to Murray Leveson and to Jesse Steele Elliot-Pyle, the founder of Dunottar School. The latter window was executed by the East London firm of Goddard and Gibbs and bears their distinctive logo - GG. This is a modern practice and contrasts with the traditional anonymity of earlier stained glass craftsmen.

St John’s thus has a rich heritage of fine stained glass reminding us not only of timeless craft and artistry, but also of the great generosity and devotion to their church of our predecessors.

The Father Willis Organ

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

The organ was built by Henry Willis (Father Willis) in 1897 in the organ chamber on the north side of the chancel. The instrument had three manuals of 58 notes each, a thirty note pedal board and a 'trigger' swell pedal. The console was a standard attached draw stop console of the period, the action being pneumatic with a mechanical stop mechanism. The wind was provided by two hand blowers. There were twenty four manual stops, four pedal stops and some 1600 pipes.

In the early twentieth century (around 1912), the blowing mechanism was converted to an hydraulic mechanism and during the 1930s the blowing mechanism was electrified. Apart from minor repairs and regular tuning, the organ remained untouched until 1968 when it was rebuilt by Hill & Son and Norman & Beard Ltd.

In 1968 a new detached draw stop console was provided, situated at the south side of the chancel and incorporating the original Willis ivory keys and stop knobs. A balanced swell pedal was linked to the organ by a cable running under the chancel floor and electro-pneumatic action provided on 24 volts. The original wind chests were renovated and re-used. One or two minor modifications were made to the tonal specification but the pitch, although being low, was not raised.

There are now eight stops on the Great Organ, nine stops on the Swell Organ, six stops on the Choir Organ and six stops on the Pedal Organ. There are ten couplers making a total of thirty three registers. The usual toe and thumb pistons are provided and there are two general thumb pistons. Between 1989 and 1994, the organ was thoroughly cleaned by Keith Scudamore and some electrical parts were replaced. Underactions were refurbished, the pedal-board was overhauled, new stopknob solenoids were provided and a new rectifier unit installed to provide increased power for the console ancillary function. The Great Flue wind pressure was raised to 4" so that the concussion bellows were properly inflated. It is still considered to be one of the finest organs in the area.

 

More recently maintenance has passed back to the hands of Messrs Willis & Sons, and it continues to be regarded as one of the finest organs in the area.

The Tower and Bells

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

The eight bells at St John’s are hung for full circle ringing. They were installed in 1895 by Mears & Stainbank as a gift from the Rev Henry Gosse in memory of his late wife, Bertha.

Concern during the 1960s about the stability of the tower led to the bells being re-hung in 1972 on a modern frame. The work was carried out by the Whitechapel Foundry, the successors of Mears & Stainbank. The bells were quarter turned, fitted with cast iron headstocks and retuned. They now hang some twenty feet lower in the tower than originally. The largest bell is the tenor and weighs thirteen and a quarter hundredweight.

The peal is generally acknowledged to be one of the easiest going in Surrey. In 1994, most of the Ringers at St John’s were members of the Surrey Association of Church Bell Ringers. In 1993 a peal of 5040 Grandsire Triples was rung in 3hours and 5mins to celebrate St John’s 150th Anniversary.

The Vicars and their Faithful Service

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

Vicars used to serve for a lifetime in one parish, unlike in the late 20th century when they tend to move to another parish after a few years. The spirit and vision of the early vicars at St John’s helped to build up the church.

The first vicar was the Rev W. Pullen. His vicarage was the Regency house in Brighton Road, known as ‘The Firs’, which had been a coaching inn called ‘The Somers Arms’ before the coming of the railway.

The second vicar, the Rev Henry Gosse served for 36 years. On his retirement, the unusual Angel Font was installed in 1882 in recognition of his work. He was followed by the Rev John Gordon whose epitaph on the sanctuary wall says that he was “A ripe scholar, a preacher of rare power and knowledge of human character”. It is remarkable to note that the second and third vicars between them served for 66 years, from 1846 to 1912.

Past vicars include two outstanding Biblical scholars: Canons L G Mannering (1926-32) and J B Phillips (1945-55). Canon L G Mannering went on from St John’s to found the Bible Reading Fellowship. Canon J B Phillips’ translations and writings earned him world wide renown. Letters to Young Churches and The Gospels in Modern English were both published during his time here. He was a lively, stimulating preacher and is particularly remembered for the teaching he gave in Lenten courses and study groups. He dedicated his version of the Acts of the Apostles (completed just after he left St John’s) “To the Men’s Study Group of St John’s, Redhill, whose uninhibited comments greatly helped me to translate this remarkable book”. During JBP’s incumbency, services were broadcast from the church and some years later a service of Matins was shown on television.

Under the care and nurture of its vicars and curates, the church thrived and continues to do so to the present day.

 

VICARS

Names with Date of Appointment:

1938   Rev W A R Ball

1945   Rev J B Phillips

1955   Rev S C G Dyer

1970   Rev J Tinsley

1981   Rev M J Goss

1989   Rev T G A Wooderson

1997   Rev N J Calver

2015   Rev J S Kronenberg

1843   Rev W Pullen

1846   Rev H Gosse

1882   Rev J M Gordon

1912   Rev B B Slater

1924   Rev C E Clarke

1926   Rev L G Mannering

1932   Rev S G Cooper

1936   Rev J R MacVicar

St. John's Church School

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

The school was built in 1845 and maintained a high reputation throughout the generations.

In 1952, when JB Phillips was vicar of St John’s and Mr RG Bennett the “exceptionally good” Headmaster, the building was condemned as being too old to be adapted to modern standards. The church was told that a new school would have to be built. After months of discussion and argument at the County Hall, a search was made to find a site for a brand new modern school. No site could be found within the parish boundaries, for all the open space still not built upon was common land. Finally it was decided by Surrey County Council that a new site should be built on, about a mile and a half away, in the parish of St Luke’s, Reigate. Very reluctantly, St John’s had to bow to the inevitable. Under the arrangements then in force, church members had to find half the cost of the new building (less what the sale of the old property would fetch) and the state would pay the other half. St John’s, as usual, responded valiantly and raised the sum required with all kinds of special efforts and generous individual donations. The fine new building duly opened under the headmastership of Mr F Boddington, another very gifted teacher, but distance snapped the close links between the church and school. The school became known as the new St John’s School, then later S Luke’s and today is known as Sandcross.

 

JB Phillips commented in his autobiography The Price of Success, “…that the most infuriating part of the whole bureaucratic method is that after the new school was built, the county authorities refurbished the obsolete buildings (a thing which they had assured us was impossible) and … re-opened it as a state school!” - which it is to this day.

The Church Halls

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

A hall in Meadvale was bought in 1886 and used for a time as a church school for infants. Later, it became a greatly valued church hall used for services and Sunday School, as well as providing for many secular needs of the village.

The Hooley mission hall site was bought in 1907 and the hall built in 1910 by Mr G Martin. The Hall was opened in January 1911 when the first service was held and has been similarly used for church purposes, services and Sunday School.

The Woodlands Road Parish Room (known as the ‘Iron Room’ or ‘Tin Chapel’) was purchased in 1900 for £287.10.0d and sold in 1938. It remains standing today.

 

The Parochial Hall was built in 1924 and opened in 1925. Originally, it was the intention to extend it at a later date and hence it presents a rather incomplete appearance. The room at the rear of the hall, now known as the James Judd room, was renovated in 1959 and again in 1982 when it was dedicated to James in memory of the part he had played in the life of St John’s.

World Wars

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

A War Memorial with, strangely, no names inscribed upon it, was placed in the churchyard near the lych-gate in 1920. A Roll of Honour inside the church commemorates the 195 men and one woman who, in the first World War of 1914-18, left their homes in the parish to go to war and did not return.

A Meadvale man, Sergeant Arthur George Knight, who had emigrated to Canada, returned with the Canadian forces and was awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of supreme gallantry. He was later killed in action.

There appears to be no similar record of the dead of World War 2. Among the anecdotes recalled by St John's parishioners are the following.

 

A member of the congregation (then a small girl) vividly remembers the scene on Sunday 3 September 1939 when, during the morning service, the Vicar's daughter advanced up the aisle holding a piece of paper which she gave to her father, the Rev Ball. He read out Neville Chamberlain's heartbroken announcement that our country was again at war with Germany. Instantaneously the Second World War took off with the wailing of air-raid sirens, whereupon the entire congregation filed out of the church, presumably to seek shelter elsewhere. Mercifully for them, this warning was a false alarm!

A story was told to the Curate in 1986, by a former young soldier, of the time he returned from Dunkirk and was anxious to reassure his mother in Redhill of his well-being. Although his train did not stop at Redhill, it slowed down sufficiently for him to throw a quickly written message on an empty cigarette packet out onto the platform. It was picked up by the Vicar of St John's who was helping the WVS ladies with tea for the soldiers. He took the note to the man's mother, who lived in the parish. She feared the worst at seeing a clergyman at her gate, but once she had received the news, her mood was rapidly transformed into one of joy.

 

It is noteworthy that, although the aerial dog-fights between aeroplanes in the Battle of Britain raged overhead and bombs fell around in the course of the ensuing terrible years, St John's received no damage. Could it have been that the lofty spire was too good a landmark of the route to London for enemy raiders to destroy, in the early pre-radar days?

During the war years, a blackout was imposed nationally and no external lighting was allowed, nor was it allowed to shine from the inside of homes and all other buildings. After years of darkness, the exterior of St John's was first floodlit on VE night, 8 May 1945, to celebrate victory in Europe. At that time there were laburnum trees in full bloom around the churchyard; the floodlights turned them into a blaze of yellow. When the illumination was repeated on VJ night in the following August to mark the end of hostilities in the Far Fast, the church was reported to have been seen from nearly forty miles away. In 1984, Sidney Charles Elphick, a former resident in the parish, left a bequest for the exterior of the church to be floodlit from his father's birthday, on 16 December, to his own on 5 January, each year.

Storm Damage

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

Spared from damage during the World Wars, the church has suffered considerable damage from the elements due to its exposed position.

It was struck by lightning in the spring of 1945 resulting in havoc to the interior of the church. When the lightning conductor was subsequently repaired, the weather-cock was re-gilded at the same time, no one having ventured to the top of the spire since it was built. The steeplejack discovered the weather-cock to be sizeable.

In March and October 1987, severe storms caused extensive damage to the roof, which had to be repaired. The lime trees along the eastern approach were also destroyed and replaced by the Reigate Society.

In January 1990, storms again damaged the roof, ripping off hundreds of slates and causing damage to other property. It was found that a new slate roof was needed and, under the direction of Mrs Audrey Lyon, who later became a Churchwarden, the magnificent sum of £117,000 was raised for the work, which was completed in 1992. The original slates came from Belgium and, to match their colour as closely as possible, slate blocks were imported from the United States and cut at Camborne in Cornwall. When the new roof was completed, a truly grateful congregation was once again able to worship in the whole church, without having to avoid an unusual collection of buckets strategically placed to collect the water, which dripped through the temporary blue plastic roof when it rained. Graham and Granville Partridge have acted as consultants and advised on these and other repairs and improvements over many years to the present time. Granville has also written an informative booklet on the Architecture and History of the Church.

Stewardship and Outreach

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

In 1971 St. John's became a Christian Stewardship Church. Stewardship relates to the use of our time, talents or skills and money, both within and without the church, amongst each other and elsewhere. It fundamentally affects the way we live, love and care for each other.

After the end of the Second World War, a large housing estate was built on the farmland between Meadvale and Woodhatch, presenting St John's with a great challenge. The clergy responded by visiting every house as soon as a family moved in and the Sunday School was enlarged to the full capacity of Meadvale Hall, having a register of over a hundred children. For many years the hall was a great centre of church activity, aiming always to pass the children and their families on to their mother church.

From 1992, services in East Surrey Hospital supported by St John's have been broadcast from Radio Redhill. In 1993, at the end of a year of celebrations to mark its 150th anniversary, the Christmas Broadcast for the BBC World Service was recorded at St John's under the firm guidance of the then Organist and Choirmaster Paul Stevens.

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