St. John's - Pevensey Road

The History of St John's

A brief history of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist

The current building is the fourth on this site.St. John's church exterior

    The 1st one blew down…
    The 2nd one burned down…
    The 3rd one was bombed down…

The 4th one, thankfully, is still here.

Originally a daughter church of Christchurch St. Leonard's, following the rapid rise in population in this area, in April 1865 – at a personal expense of £2,000 – the priest in charge, Fr. Vaughan, bought a site on the land of the old Gensing Farm and had erected on the site an iron building known as the ‘Round Church’. 

Sadly the roof of this building barely lasted the year out, collapsing in October 1866; Fr. Vaughan and his co-workers therefore proceeded with the building of a permanent Church. And so, following completion in July, on Transfiguration Sunday, 6th August 1867, the clergy, choir and officers from Christchurch and St. John's walked in procession from the ruined building to the new Church singing ‘Christ is made our sure Foundation’. Off to a good start, the spiritual life of St. John's prospered in its first building until…

…on the eve of Advent Sunday, 30th November 1878 …the Church burned down. A temporary heat source left burning overnight was thought to be the culprit.

The next attempt lasted somewhat longer. The architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield designed a beautiful Gothic brick building. High and spacious, its red bricks made it warm and welcoming and its high tower made it a landmark in the local area. With the building works completed by May 1884, the life of St. John's developed further in 1896 when a choir school of about 20-25 boys was started and the Church soon gained a reputation for its high standards of music in its oratorio, organ recitals and daily sung Evensong. 

The First World War affected St. John's as it did many parishes; social change resulted in the closure by 1927 of the choir school.

The Second World War had a much more dramatic effect on St. John's. In September 1940, according to local historian Victoria Seymour, the wedding service of Elsie Ball & William Coussens was disrupted by an air raid. At 10:15 on 9th February 1943 there was more than disruption when a 1000 pound bomb pierced the wooden spire (without damaging the essential structure) …but detonated in the central aisle.

Thankfully the building contained the blast; no-one was injured and the Sacred Vessels and Vestments were undamaged. Ironically, the clock struck 11 a.m. punctually!

Inside church during a Sunday serviceIn March 1949 a new parish hall was consecrated for public worship and became known as Little St. John's. The rebuilding of the 4th St. John's began in 1950. Its architect, Mr Goodhart-Rendel, was a leading authority on Victorian Gothic architecture and it is to his credit that since 1998 this beautiful building has had Grade II listed status. The brightness of the interior is enhanced by the flanking white-glass windows, the lightness of the walls and the soft colour scheme. Key points of interest include the stone-paved chancel, the double chancel arch and the dividing gallery originally intended for the organ and the choir.

The Foundation Stone was laid by The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh on 18th May 1951. The Nave was dedicated in September of the following year and the Chancel was dedicated in September 1957; additions such as the vestry and lower chapel continued into the 1960s.

The laying of the foundation stone by Princess Elizabeth features in a Pathé News reel which can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here 


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