ST. JOHN'S IN THE SQUARE

by

Peter Hickman


Restoration Work

Photo by Derek Thom.

The task of restoring the fabric was now becoming an urgent matter. Between 1854 and 1881 renovation was carried out continuously. The major restoration was in 1869 by Drayton Wyatt, a pupil of Gilbert Scott.  Being a Neo-Gothic man, Wyatt said in his report: 'The church is designed in a style, which though prevalent a century ago, forms now an exception rather than the rule in Church Architecture'. He added that it was regretted that externally the stonework had to such a degree perished. No doubt the atmosphere created by local industry helped this process! In several places dry rot was apparent due to poor sub-floor ventilation. 

The report finishes: 'It is not proposed, I believe, to interfere at all with either the Chancel, the Galleries, the entrance lobbies, or vestry. But it is manifestly desirable that the present PULPIT AND DESK should be superceded by others more fitly and conveniently designed. The design of the former admits of much improvement, and it should stand on the North side of the Church as shown in the plan.'

The pews were rebuilt using some of the panels from the old box pews. The lower parts of the piers were encased with wood framing and this had to be removed and a base moulding added to cover the brickwork. Tiles replaced the flagstone floor in the body of the Church. The West doors were modified. To give more efficient lighting, the church was lit by gas appliances in the nave with standards or brackets under the galleries. (Pendant electric light fittings replaced these gas fittings in 1905). The pulpit (installed on the South) was replaced, as was the font, and new communion rails were set in place. This work was carried out by G & F Higham of Castle Street.

This work on the interior, pews, font and pulpit  can he seen today. The cost was something like £2000.

This photograph, from about 1900, shows the distribution of the Deakin Dole.  This charity was worth £9 per annum and was distributed in bread after the morning service. But note the condition of the stonework of the church.

More recently the ravages of time necessitated urgent action on the fabric of St John's. Urgent repair work to the ceiling and roof of the church was carried out in the 1930s. An entirely new electric lighting system was installed. Plans to continue with the restoration had to be abandoned due to the outbreak of war.

Immediately the war was over appeals were made to finance the restoration of the stonework and the organ.

A full-scale restoration of the fabric began in 1964 under the direction of A. B. Chatwin, FRIBA, the architect of St Phillip's Cathedral, Birmingham. 

The stone for the ashlar cladding was quarried at the Hollington quarry near Uttoxeter. The contracting masons were Oldham & Co. Work on the spire and supporting octagon was completed in 1965-66.

 The generosity of the chief benefactors, Mr and Mrs Charles Hayward, is acknowledged on the plaque in the west porch.

 Charles Hayward was born in Church Street and worshipped as a chorister at St John's and was also married here. 

In his early days he produced the first sidecar body for John Marston's Sunbeam motor cycle. Later, as head of Firth Cleveland Group, he founded the Charles Hayward Foundation. This charity has funded many local causes in recent years.

 Through the generosity of the Hayward Trust, and with many private gifts of considerable worth, the church restoration of the exterior ashlar stonework was continued in stages to completion in 1979.


The memorial to members of the Hayward family.

In 1987 the interior was partially re-ordered. Pews were removed at the front and rear of the church to provide more free space. The acoustics of the church are superb, and it is frequently used for public concerts and musical events.

At the suggestion of a lifetime member, Mr. Len Turvey, the name of the church was changed to St John's in the Square. This was felt to be more appropriate and avoids confusion with other churches with the name, St John, in the town .

The scene at the west front.

The inside of the church was repainted in 1997 to a scheme devised by English Heritage.

 In that year a grant was obtained to carry out a restoration of the south facing windows, to renew all the badly worn stone paving around the church and to replace the stone paving of the western cross path. 

The north windows were restored by a generous gift from one of the members of the church.

The spire, which was struck by lightning in 1999, sustained a certain amount of damage, and this had to be repaired.

Two exciting things happened in 2000. A grant from European Development fund enabled both west vestries to be converted into much needed toilet and refreshment accommodation; and a new Minister's vestry to be established in the North Chapel. This has greatly improved the use of the church for large events, both spiritual and secular.

The church will also be externally illuminated by a scheme devised by David Ward as part of the Wolverhampton Millennium Project, "Out Of Darkness".

Today the completely restored exterior, with its black painted doors, gives us an opportunity of seeing the church in its original condition. As a town centre church it is ideally situated as an action centre for expressing, through its congregation and priest, the outreach of "Faith in the City".


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