The History of St John’s Church

The Church in the Early Years

From “A History of the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist Redhill” by Rosalie Thomas, 1994

The appearance of the first church was very different from that of today, lacking its striking features. A former choirboy whose surname was Rose, reminiscing in the Parish Magazine some 70 years later, gave a bleak account of his church-going in the 1850s: “The ancient (sic) building was as bare and unattractive as it could possibly be. There was a gallery for the children attending Sunday School and for the children who came from the workhouse. The reading desk was on the left-hand side of the apse and on the right a high pulpit. The heating apparatus was very inadequate. There was a fire just inside the west door and another in the aisle. The church was lighted by two candles, with frosted shades, placed on the pulpit, two on the reading desk that were seldom used, and two on the small organ in the gallery.

“The organ was installed in 1850. Prior to that time Mr Dinner, the schoolmaster of St John’s, led the singing of the boys and girls with a tuning fork - not a dinner fork! I have a keen recollection of the length of the services, which were very tedious and sombre, making the Sunday anything but a bright and joyful day. There was never any singing during Lent or Advent, while on the other Sundays only two hymns or portions of psalms were used. There was a celebration of Holy Communion once a month and on the major festivals. The services were at 11 o’clock in the morning and 3 o’clock in the winter and 3.30 in summer.

“The windows of the whole of the church were plain, with leaded lights, and on the south side were long green curtains, for sometimes the sun would shine through these quite brightly. On these occasions Mrs Skilton, the church cleaner, used to go and draw the curtains as blinds to keep out the sun; as they were suspended from an iron rod with heavy brass rings, she made some considerable noise in performing this office, and generally caused the preacher to make a pause in his sermon. She always gave the church a thorough Spring cleaning every Whitsun. Her husband, known as “Old Jimmy”, could make himself heard all over the church. He used to sit just inside the west door, provided with a long stick, and if he heard anyone talking or noticed anyone sleeping, down came that stick on the unfortunate person’s head. It would cause no small commotion among the congregation.

“St. John's School, built in 1845, being the only school in the district, was attended by children far beyond its immediate circle - even from Nutfield and Sidlow. It was one of the unwritten laws that the children who attended Day School must attend Sunday School. Sunday to the children was a hard and laborious day. School commenced at 9.30 am, and we were expected to be word perfect in the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for the day. At 10.45 we were marched from the school to the church, usually leaving to be home for 1 o’clock dinner. Then at 2 o’clock Sunday School again. From school to church at 2.45 and we were dismissed at 4.45. Sometimes it was quite dark when we came out of church, and we were frightened of going home in the dark. The church was decorated with heavy evergreens for Christmas - it would have been considered a sin to decorate the church with flowers, but happily today a better atmosphere prevails.”

In 1860 the side aisles were added, the architect being Mr Robert Hesketh of Earlswood Mount.

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