The site of the church was purchased from the Holland Estate in with the intention of building a daughter church in the parish of St Barnabas, Addison Road. A stipulation of the purchase was that the church was to be of stone. Even in the Cth the cost of building a stone church was many times that of a comparable brick church and then, as now, the costs of building and running a church were entirely the responsibility of the congregation. Pending raising the necessary funds for a stone church a substantial woodframed corrugated iron church was in use by . The stone church was begun in the mids the chancel being completed by . Construction continued westward for a further twentyfive years and ended with the completion of the west front in . The uneven floor is a legacy of this incremental construction.
Reredos of with painted panels representing the Heavenly Jerusalem of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues standing before the lamb. This was rebuilt and enlarged with the flanking arcading by Adkins in . The figure on the crucifix is Cth Spanish. Other fittings include marble pavement , altar rails , high altar and the Bishops throne by Adkins of .
Brooks original conception at St Johns owed much to the great English Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire more directly St Johns is a scaled down version of Brooks unsuccessful competition entry for Liverpool Cathedral. The interior space was to be uncluttered by screens, statuary, ironwork etc. with decoration being confined to architectural mouldings and the pale limestone interior well lit by the clearglazed lancet windows. However the fundraising capabilities of the congregation and a vision of a liturgical ceremonial somewhat more elaborate than that voured by the Cistercians ensured that the original conception of simplicity never materialised.
Reredos by Adkins . The female personification of the Church to the right holds a model of St Johns under her arm. A Mr Clarke who was responsible for the pulpit figures too carved this. The altar of contains a neomediaeval leau by Grosse and Sons. The subject matter is the history of the Church preIncarnation to the left and post to the right. The present day church is represented by the bishop on the extreme right modelled on the then Bishop of London.
The vaulting in the crossing was originally to be a complex hexagonal lantern surmounted by a flche on the roof. The church has an ambo for both the Gospel and the Epistle; an arrangement based on early Christian exemplars in Italy. The paschal candlestick is particularly fine in golden marble with onyx banding and inlaid crosses of Egyptian porphyry Adkins . The pulpit was built in to the designs of Brooks after his death with the canopy being added in to the designs of Adkins. The stone screens built across the north and south aisles and chancel form a single iconographic programme illustrating the spread of the Catholic Church throughout the World and were constructed between and , sculpture in Corsham stone by J.E. Taylerson. The rose window in the west end is by Percy Bacon Bros and depicts the Virgin Mary with the Christ child surrounded by Biblical figures. It was paid for by a single benection. A window of this and quality would cost of the order of a quarter of a million pounds today.
The vicars daughter, Miss Spencer, carved the very fine choir stalls.
To most visitors the splendour of St Johns will come as something of a surprise hemmed in, as it is by shabby stucco Victorian housing in trafficchoked Holland Road. For the architectural cognoscenti too St Johns might also come as a revelation as it has long been considered an other work by James Brooks rather than one of his masterpieces which it surely deserves to be. The reason for this is . Brooks reputation lay in his mastery of an ecclesiastical architecture of simplicity based on line, proportion and space rather than elaboration and decoration. Brooks did not necessarily need a big budget to achieve success and this is epitomised by the austere grandeur of his better known East End brick cathedrals such as St Columbas in the Kingsland Road of .
It is a matter of regret that the exterior is so difficult to see but it is worth crossing the road to admire the flying buttresses and the west front. There were several schemes for the west front. The original intention was for a tower and spire but the ground proved too soft for this. Brooks died in and his associate J.S. Adkins completed the west front in . The church was built of Acaster rag rubble with Bath stone copings. The interior is in dressed Bath stone.
by Adkins for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament now reserved on the high altar. The Aumbrey door depicting the risen Christ is mediaeval.
This was built to Adkins designs in and incorporates Brooks Devon marble of paid for by the children of the parish. Very fine statues of the wise and foolish virgins carved by J.E. Taylerson in flank the impressive arch into the main body of the church.
Shrine of the Calvary. All the shrines in St Johns are either of carved oak or teak no cheap plaster!. This one is in oak and dates from c. The mosaic Stations of the Cross are by Adkins and cost each. The pews are of oak too the decorative roundels being turned by the churchs scout troop in the s. All the stained glass is of top quality much by Clayton Bell there is a Kempe window in the south aisle. As with all the ry in the church the stained glass follows a carefully devised iconographic programme.
The wooden doors on either side of the baptistery led to porches cum function rooms. These were subsequently converted into chapels with the Chapel of SS Michael George being furnished as a First World War memorial. The wooden reredos is a copy of the rood on the stone chancel screen. The other chapel was dedicated to St Saviour and served as the parishs scout troop room. It has now reverted to being used as a function room.
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Altar by Brooks with teak figures. The altar rails are a quirky example of s neomedievalism. To the left is access to the vestries etc.