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St John the Divine



Regular readers will note that this description is a little more personalised and lengthy than others on the site. Please forgive this indulgence as this is the church I grew up with and where my mother attended for nearly 50 years, until she passed away suddenly on 4th October 2000.

This page is now dedicated to the memory of Bettie Draper 19/06/1918 - 04/10/2000 - I miss you Mum!.


The first church


Interior of the first church

Although many of us remember The Old Hall, few surely must remember the first St John's church in use as such. This church of wood and corrugated iron - known as a "tin church" - was purchased in 1894 by the Chester Park mission which had been licensed in 1887 from St Mary, Fishponds. It was in fact older than that, being erected in 1874 at Peasedown St John, Somerset and enlarged in 1876. It served as the church for 17 years, and then served as the church hall until 1930 when a new building was provided to the west of the church. The church, or Old Hall, was then rented out to the Education committee as "a feeding centre for children." During the war years it became a "British Restaurant" and then continued post-war as both a school restauarant and classrooms up to 1957. Sunday Schools and Cubs/ continued to use the building for many years (I can remember many exciting games of British Bulldog, tying knots etc.) but it was eventually demolished c1970 and the space became a car park for the church and vicarage. At what stage in the building's life the fanciful flèche was removed from the roof, I do not know.


From Lodge Causeway


From the site of the old tin church

The plans for a permanent church were drawn up by E.H.Lingen Barker and the foundation stone was laid on September 17th 1910. From the outset the church was planned to have a temporary chancel and sanctuary, with the intention to complete the church at a later stage by building over the site of the old church. Oh what folly! Exposed today since the demolition of the old church are the rendered walls of this temporary chancel and organ chamber, in stark contrast to the pennant stone faced permanent walls of the incomplete nave and aisles. The church was consecrated on 25th May 1911, Ascension Day.

The energy for erecting a permanent church had come from the Rev. H.W.Hand, but although aged 32 he did not live to see the church completed dying on 13th March 1911; his funeral has the distinction of being first service to be held in the then incomplete church. It was an odd time as the two parishes carved out of St Mary Fishponds, All Saints and St John, both lost their young energetic clergymen in the same hour, the Rev M.C.Griffiths being only 30 years old. They were interred in the same grave at Ridgeway Cemetery close to Eastville Park and have a memorial plaque in St Mary's.


Interior East


Interior West

The church is rather plain and compares to another of the architects's churches in Cinderford, Glos. The nave has never been painted since it was built. The church seems lofty and spacious although architecturally run-of-the-mill. I do not have in my mind the view to the east but that from the chancel to the west, as I served for several years in the choir here. Given the unfinished nature of the east end, and the fact that there was never to be a tower, the architect did create an interesting west end. Outside there are the two windows and bellcote placed high over the baptistry, and inside this has been given a tall and wide arch.


Where your's truly was dunked


Site of those boring bits

The fittings of the church are unexceptional, but the font is -as fonts go - a monster. I wonder if I cried when I appeared here in the 1950s! And how about that twisty ironwork cover? By here too is the bell-rope which I got into trouble for ringing (just how did I think I would get away with it?). The pulpit was something I found difficult to see from where I sat on the north side of the chancel. I tried to look interested - honest!


An abrupt end


Not as I remember it

The arcades collide with the chancel arch, and you already know the reasons for this. On my first visit to the church for many years (21st August 2000) I discovered that things had changed and Mum has not kept me up-to-date! The organ chamber to the north of the chancel is now empty, the pipe organ gone and an electric organ in its place. The altar is now on the chancel steps I remember but the two steps in front are new and the communion rails have moved. The choir stalls are arranged differently too and two now actually face the congregation behind the altar against the dorsal. The elegant brass lectern (given by the parents of Rev. Hand) is also promoted up the steps.


1935 Good Shepherd


1949 War Memorial Window

When a church has so little stained glass, what it has sticks in the memory. So here for you is the entire collection. I always fantasized about installing stained glass in the east window, which as a kid I believed should have been where the first picture window should have been put. Today I appreciate the economics involved and why the south east window of the south aisle and the centre light of the baptistry were glazed first!

Eagle-eyed viewers in May 2003 would have seen this church appear in BBC1's Casualty where the brothers Tony and Jack gathered for the funeral of their father.

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page updated 18th May 2003