The Architecture of St Johnís Church
From “Notes on the Architecture of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Granville Partridge, 1989
The original church was built in 1842 in the Gothic Revival style to the design of J Knowles. It was of no great architectural merit, somewhat barn-like in appearance with a spire placed symmetrically at the west end above the main entrance. The north and south walls were divided externally into five bays by buttresses, with four windows to each side placed between the buttresses. A five sided chancel completed the east front.
In 1867, because of the increase in population within the parish, the church was enlarged by the addition of aisles to the north and south sides. The architect for these additions was Giles Hesketh who lived at “The Mount”, a large house opposite the existing General Hospital. Hesketh replaced the buttresses with columns then removed the north and south walls, which enabled the aisles to be built with a clerestory to the nave. A side chapel was incorporated in the south aisle, the east window of which Hesketh later donated as a memorial to his wife. Although these additions must have considerably improved the appearance of the church, particularly from the interior aspect they were transitional in that further work was intended to be completed later. However, owing to the need for extensions and repairs to the school no more was done to the church until the enlargement by John Pearson in 1889.
The Parish Magazine of June 1888 records the following:- ‘Mr Pearson, the great architect, has sent down plans which are highly approved by all who have seen them. Besides the new chancel he has sent designs for the nave and for a new west front. It will probably be necessary to raise £2,000 to £3,000, a large sum to get together, but as Mr Gosse (Vicar) is going to do so much (Mr Gosse has offered the church £2,000 towards the new chancel as a memorial to Miss Emma Gosse) we feel we must strain every nerve to make the rest of the church worthy of the beautiful chancel”.
John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97) was indeed an eminent architect in the Victorian Gothic style, and John Betjeman in his Guide to English Parish Churches ranks him with the great George Butterfield (1814-1900) and George Edmond Street RA (1824-81). Pearson's most well known work, but not necessarily his best, is the Cathedral at Truro.
The new chancel was completed in 1889 followed by the enlargement of the nave, extensions to the aisles, the entrance porch to the south west corner and the beautiful west front. There followed the installation of a new central heating system. At the same time and on Pearson’s suggestion foundations were laid for a new spire to be built when sufficient money could be raised.
During this time services were held in St John’s School. The Bishop re-opened the church on 7 September 1889, and on Christmas Day the offering was put towards the fund for the new spire. Following the completion of the extensions it was felt that the existing furnishings were unworthy of the building and a number of gifts were made sufficient for Pearson to design the wrought iron chancel screen, the splendid tryptich, new choir stalls, communion rail of brass, the lectern, which, on Pearson’s suggestion was a replica of the brass eagle design in Southwell Minster, the stone pulpit, the stained glass window below the gallery, adjacent to the west doors, all of which were completed and installed during 1891-1892.
The highly Victorian angel font situated (then) under the gallery is not by Pearson. The font, in white marble, is a memorial to the Revd Henry Gosse, who was thirty six years Vicar to the parish, and who obviously did so much towards making St John’s the lovely church that it is today.
In May 1884 Pearson approved an estimate for the new spire, and it was hoped that the work would be completed by Christmas but, because of various difficulties in the early stages of the work and the effort of raising a further considerable sum, the spire was not completed until 25 June 1895, eight years after Pearson’s alterations had begun.
Pearson’s final work was the addition of the Clergy and Choir vestries with toilet facilities which abut the organ chamber and east end of the north aisles; completed most probably in 1900.