At the start of the 1900s, Ilford was increasing in size and with it the growth of religious activity. While many church buildings in Ilford had their origin around this time, over a century before the people of Ilford began to agitate for independence from the parish of Barking. Ilford was changing – environmentally, socially, politically and spiritually. In addition to labourers, professional and non-manual workers were coming into the area and providing new services in the community.
People wanted to worship God in their own locality and not travel long distances to their preferred place of worship. This applied to all Christian denominations. Anglicans in particular were becoming reluctant to go all the way to Barking to the parish church, and so began an agitation that Ilford become a separate parish.
The Anglican Church was well aware that the spiritual needs of people had to be met, and with the proposed housing developments in the Seven Kings area, a church building was needed. It was time for a new parish be established and with it a new church.
The Early Beginnings of
The Rev. H.W.E. Molony is considered to be the founding
father of St. John’s (pictured below).
He was vicar of Ilford’s parish church of St. Mary, Great Ilford (1892-1912). In 1898 Rev. Molony wrote to his parishioners via the parish magazine about attending to the spiritual needs of people on the expanding Downshall estate.
In September that year, land totalling about 25,000 square feet for the new St. John’s Church and Vicarage was purchased. With the approval of the Bishop it was decided that the dedication of the church building should be to ‘St. John the Evangelist’. The site was originally in the north east corner of a field of the Newbury Manor Farm, through which there was a lane ready for the lay out of the Proposed Newbury Park Estate. This road eventually became St. John’s Road.
At this time Revd. Molony was in conversation with Mrs Selina Winter. (Pictured c.1900) The Winter family were the landowners of Seven Kings Farm and when Selina heard that there were plans for a new church in Seven Kings, she wanted to be involved with it. She was to become a large benefactor of the church. Revd. Molony and Selina joined William Ashmole, a resident of Aldborough Road and Churchwarden of St. Mary’s who was appointed as first treasurer of the St John’s Building Fund.
Another supporter of the church building project appeared on 18th December 1898, when Revd. James Henry Peabody came into residence at the St. Mary’s Vicarage as a Deacon. His remit was to commence work among the people of Downshall. Later, he become the first vicar of St. John’s.
Revd. Peabody was appointed as a member of a team that comprised of Vicar and five curates to the Ilford Parish, to care for the parishioners of St. Mary’s, St. Clement’s, the mission church of St. Alban’s, and the developing Downshall and Uphall estates.
By the beginning of 1900 a small committee had been formed and started making plans for a permanent church. An iron building had been erected earlier in Seven Kings opposite the railway station and considered a suitable and temporary venue for Sunday services. An application for hire was made until the new church had been built and ready for use. It was known as the Old Central Hall and was situated down an alley that exists today between shops opposite Seven Kings Station. The first congregation of ‘St. John’s’ first met here on Sunday 27th May 1900.
Revd. Peabody is pictured above, seated first left. He is with clergy of St Mary's, Ilford c.1900 before his move to St John's.
Two local landowners gave a total of £1500 towards the endowment of the future benefice and other money had come in for the building of the church. The Diocesan Bishop and the suffragen Bishop of Colchester gave their approval to the project.
A decisive meeting was held at the Central Hall on 10th February 1901. A proposal, made by Mr C.B. Wood (the church’s first treasurer) and seconded by Samuel Hough (our first Lay Reader) was to move forward with the building of the first section of St. John’s Church. The resolution was unanimously and enthusiastically carried.
The architects J.E.K. & J.P. Cutts drew up plans for a church to accommodate 800 people. They had designed many churches in London including two in Ilford: St. Clement’s built 1889-1896 (demolished 1977) and St. Alban’s in Albert Road, built in 1900. When J.E.K Cutts (pictured May 1909) retired he decided to move with his family to Canada. They planned to sail with all their property in April 1912 aboard the Titanic. For some reason they were unable to book this passage and crossed the Atlantic aboard the Royal Mail Steamer ‘Virginian’ only shortly before the Titanic sank with the loss of over 1,500 lives. The Cutts family settled in Ontario and J.E.K Cutts died on 20th August 1938.
By mid 1901 it was proposed to build the Chancel and the first two bays of the Nave to accommodate about 480 people. In January 1902 plans had been approved by all the parties and authorities concerned with it. The building contract with John Bentley of Waltham Abbey was signed on 5th February.
The Foundation Stone for St. John’s was laid on 7th June 1902. The first part of the Service was taken by Rev. Molony and the episcopal part of the ceremony performed by the Bishop of Barking, who also gave the address. The stone was laid by Mrs Selena Winter and a silver trowel presented to her in memory of the ceremony.
By August 1902 the walls of the building had already risen rapidly and the onlooker would have gained some idea of the future appearance of the church. Four of the aisle windows were complete and several of the pillars stood complete to their capitals – made up of alternate bands of red brick and white stone.
By October the six windows of the Chancel were finished, and the stone mullions of the east Window were about to be capped with the upper tracery. The lofty Chancel arch was nearly complete and the timbers of the aisle roof were being placed in position. During the following month, the bell turret was finished and the bell hung in position. The floors were levelled and prepared for the blocks and tiles and the heating chamber was being excavated. By December the church was rapidly nearing completion. The exterior was finished; all the windows glazed; the interior walls plastered and the flooring nearly finished.
In January 1903, the new church building was an impressive sight with no housing around it to obstruct the onlooker. The building, of stock brick with red brick facings, was built in a free rendering of the Perpendicular style of church architecture. The final dimensions were: Nave length – 79 feet; Chancel length – 37 feet; total width - 61 feet. In this first completed portion of the building there were permanent benches in the Nave for 300 people and further accommodation for 200 people on chairs in the Chancel, part of the Lady Chapel and the ‘chamber’ reserved for the pipe organ. Part of the Lady Chapel was used as a temporary Vestry. Electric lighting was also installed. The font, donated by Selena Winter, stood near the north east door that lead out to the Choir Vestry (near the exit door and kitchen hatch of the present building layout) until the Baptistry was completed.
For a number of reasons the Consecration Day was delayed and eventually fixed for Sunday 2nd October 1904. At the special 10.00 am service the Bishop of the Diocese was met at the church door (now the fire exit from the Worship Area onto St. John’s Road) by the Chancellor and Registrar of the Diocese, the Vicar of Ilford and other clergy, and the churchwardens, and presented with the Petition to Consecrate the building. They all processed into the church whilst Psalm 24 was sung.
The Sentence of Consecration was read by the Chancellor and signed by the Bishop. Holy Communion followed with 84 communicants and the Bishop used the following words of Apostle Paul as the basis for his sermon: I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ. (1 Cor.1:4)
On 13th December 1904 the Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Great Ilford, was duly formed by Order in Council and on 25th January 1905 the Diocesan Bishop licensed and admitted Rev. James Henry Peabody as the first vicar of St. John’s Church.
As funds became available the Nave was completed during 1906 at a cost of nearly £2,200 and dedicated by the Bishop of Barking on 17th November that year. The Vicarage consisting of 14 rooms was built in 1907 and cost £1,831. It was obviously built for a large family and many rooms were used and occupied by family members of the incumbents. Over the decades it was used for meetings, to accommodate visitors and the top floor (actually a converted attic) was, in the 1980s, the base for the church youth club! Unfortunately, keeping the vicarage warm in the winter was always a problem and different methods were adopted to solve the problem.
The organ was built in 1908 by Henry Speechly and Sons of Dalston and cost £600. The instrument had 1,400 pipes with at least 6 moving parts between each key and a pipe. It was dedicated by Dr. W.J. Lawrence, Dean of St. Albans on Monday 21st December 1908 at 8.00 pm. The first piece of music played on the instrument was Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F minor (No.1). However, the organ was not complete and over the years there were various additions including an electric blower; a trumpet stop; a bass flute and some stops were toned down.
The organ was cleaned in 1934. In May 1947 the instrument was still incomplete and over the years had cost the church over £1,000 – a great deal of money at that time. The photo opposite show the organ pipes partly hidden by a wooden screen.
The aisles, porches, choir stalls and chapel side screens were completed by 1913 and dedicated by Rt. Revd. Dr. R. H. Whitcombe, the Bishop of Colchester on 5th April. The rood screen was erected in 1914 and cost over £340. (When the church was developed in 1989, the Rood- Screen was removed and transported to Germany. The crucifix was retained and can be seen fixed to the glass partition in the church lounge.)
On 17th April 1915 the Foundation Stone for the Large Hall and Fellowship Room was laid by the vicar’s wife, Daisy Peabody. This stone can be seen today standing in the church garden close to the main entrance. The competed hall was declared open by the Marchioness of Salisbury and dedicated by the first Bishop of Chelmsford.
The Church Development of 1989
In the early 1960s, there was increasing concern at the rising costs of maintaining the church premises. Many meetings were held at which various plans were put forward to decide the future of the whole complex. An almost successful attempt in 1965 to change the building was a great disappointment. Fifteen years later, there were still no solutions to the mounting problems of repair work!
In 1985 Rev. Roger Sainsbury, Archdeacon of West Ham, was concerned with the heavy financial burdens of keeping the buildings as they were and prompted the small St. John’s Building Committee to consider a viable scheme.
At that time Ken Start, Director of the Springboard housing association was involved with our discussions. Everyone was unsure how to progress with plans until the architect, Gerald Barratt, made a radical suggestion of turning the church around so that the Communion Table was under the East Window instead of the west. Suddenly, our plans fell into place! It was now possible to make two new halls, a meeting room, a vestry, an office, a store and a kitchen and a spacious Worship Area. Although we were now excited with this vision for our new Church Centre, the preliminary work needed to make it a reality was painfully slow and fraught with all kinds of problems.
It was hoped to dismantle the organ and move the pipes to a purpose-built location above the Lounge (now the Upper Room). The console would have stood where the present electric organ is now positioned. It was discovered that the dismantling, removal, re-siting and assembly of the pipe-organ was an extremely expensive enterprise. Furthermore, the weight of the pipes - around 10 tons –would have meant extensive reinforcement of the ceiling above the Lounge, adding even more expense. Sadly, the project had to be abandoned.
To help finance the Development it was necessary to sell the land on which the halls and vicarage stood. Money also came from the sale of the curatage in Lansdowne Road; investments; grants; fund raising initiatives; interest-free loans and gift days. The total amount spent on church development along with major repairs during 1988-90 was £764,000.
Eventually the difficulties were overcome and the ‘development programme’ of St. John's Church began in the summer of 1989. Before the building contractors could move onto the site it was necessary to empty the building of its contents. The last Service of Worship in the old building was on Sunday evening 16th July.
During the complete transformation of the interior of the church building all Services of Worship and other activities continued in the halls. Later, these halls, along with the vicarage, were demolished and the site sold to the Springboard housing association – a Christian based charity that provides suitable accommodation for people who require special housing. Our neighbouring accommodation, is called Trillo Court. A new St. John’s vicarage was built on the housing estate in Farnham Green.
During the church alterations the choir stalls were removed and the Lady Chapel emptied of its furnishings. From here, only a few items were retained that included the Communion rails that are in current use in the Worship Area. On Monday 24th July the organ pipes were dismantled and the complete organ removed and put into storage by Friday afternoon in Blackmore End. (Much later the instrument was sold.)
When the building work began the inside of the church was completely emptied. A new entrance was made (now forming the main doors) to allow for the removal of the organ, rood-screen (which was transported to Germany), the raised wooden pulpit and many other items and structures. Bulldozers were employed to remove the solid elevated floor of the chancel and sanctuary! Two new walls were built to ‘box in’ the Lady Chapel, to form the new Chapel Room. On the opposite side of the former Chancel, another wall was constructed, and this made space for the kitchen and store room. A new staircase was built to lead to the Upper Room. The work on the new Church Centre was completed in the summer of 1990. The pews were relocated in the new Worship Area and other stored items were given new locations to make the building available for use.
A Re-dedication Service of the church members and Church Centre was held on 9th September, 1990 at 3.00 pm. The Service was attended by The Rt. Revd. James Roxburgh, Bishop of Barking; The Venerable Roger Sainsbury, Archdeacon of West Ham and The Revd. Trevor Shannon, Rural Dean of Redbridge. Although the major alterations were finished, there was still much work to be done in various areas. The Fellowship Room, for example, required decoration and in the autumn of l992 it was fitted with a new heating system.
Church Furniture, Fixings and Fabric
During its 100 year history, St. John’s has purchased many items for temporary or permanent use. These objects have helped to beautify the building; aided services of worship; equipped the halls or used for work with the children. Some purchases and donated items have been described earlier, and while is impossible to mention them all, the following are just a selection. Some are still is use.
The St. John’s War Memorial (1914-18) is located either side of the present sanctuary, and flanked the Baptistry before 1990. The proposed design for this Memorial, remembering those of our parish who had died in the Great War, was described in our church magazine in November 1919. The estimate for the two panels, made in oak, for the two niches was around £300.
The Memorial, with 44 names, was unveiled on 7th November 1920. These men were known by families and friends who worshipped at this church, and some were members of the St. John’s Football Club. We have a photo of the team c.1911.
A few years ago, our War Memorial became the focus of attention in the media. One of our church youngsters, Sara James, together with two school friends, won first prize out of 1000 students who had entered a TV competition in Channel 4’s Lost Generation season. Entries were open to students aged 11-16, working in groups of three or five to create a short project about World War One.
One of the documentaries in the TV series was ‘The Somme’ and ‘Not Forgotten’ presented by Ian Hislop. Competition entrants were encouraged to think of the Great War from the point of view of the young people who had left to join the war effort and never returned. The students could either ‘Adopt a Tommy’ or ‘Adopt a Memorial’ and uncover the story behind the name(s) of the lost lives.
Sara, with her friends Rebecca Smith and Zeenat Pelaria, decided to adopt our War Memorial dedicated to the lost lives at St. John’s. The three 14 year olds represented the Chadwell Heath Foundation School and were up against GCSE students from the best private and grammar schools from all over England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
After obtaining some information from our church archives they used internet sites such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Western Front Association. Their competition entry, along with all the others, were judged by a panel of historians, writers, teachers and others involved in Channel 4’s history programmes.
They won a ClipBank History Library worth £700 for their school’s history department enabling them to obtain further wide-ranging historical materials about the two World Wars. Sara’s class also went on a VIP trip, along with some humanities teachers, to the Imperial War Museum in London.
Following the research undertaken by these youngsters we know more about the names on our Memorial. Furthermore, a few years later, someone had seen this information on our website and contacted us about two other men of this parish who had died in the First World War. Their names were added to our Book of Remembrance.
The original pews in the former church building could seat over 800 people. The present Worship Area can seat about 200 people and with extra seating provided in the lounge and hall about 300 more can be accommodated.
Plans for a new cupboard on the North wall of the choir vestry, for cassocks and surplices, were made in March 1932. The cupboard extended the length of the wall and curtains were used instead of doors. Today, this wall is an empty area in the Fellowship room.
In 1941, on the site of the present church kitchen, a Children’s Corner was furnished and decorated. Fourteen years later the Children’s Corner was moved to occupy the area where the Vestry is presently located. It was furnished with chairs, a table, curtains, pictures, books and writing utensils with the view that the children could regard this area as their own. Besides the ‘Sunday School Banner’ the only remnant from the Children’s Corner is the statue of a child, which can be viewed next to the font.
In November 1959 a set of new hymn and psalm boards were presented to St. John’s to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Scouts. The boards were made of Japanese oak, and the carving incorporated the Scout emblem, with the dates 1909 & 1959. They were in use for 30 years until church development in 1990.
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Girl Guides (2nd Seven Kings) the company gave to St. John’s a new carpet to cover the entire Sanctuary. The Guides Jubilee Reunion Service and Dedication of the carpet took place on Saturday 14th October 1967 at 4.30 pm.
It was decided in September 1985 to dispose of the old hassocks owing to moth infestation. To replace these a needlecraft group had made 14 new tapestry kneelers and 19 others were being prepared. In February 1988, 50 had been finished. By December 2002 around 150 kneelers had been made and were in use in the Worship Area. The photo opposite shows a selection of these kneelers. Some depict a Christian symbol e.g. a dove, while others are in memory of church members or commemorate an anniversary.
The church banner with a pattern of white lilies on a blue background can be seen in the Worship Area on the wall by the choir stalls (see photo in Artwork). This was made by Brenda Pitkin and paid for by Majorie Loftus (1922- 96) in memory of Desmond Loftus. During the 1990s and into the Millennium the Needlework / Banner- making Group produced a number of banners. These included two for Christmas: Jesus - Light of the World and Jesus – Born to be King. The Good Shepherd banner was made at the beginning of 2003.
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) first published in 1662 containing the orders of most public services held in the Church along with a summary of its doctrines was used at St. John’s from its formation. In 1980 a modern service book, (first published in 1980) called the Alternative Service Book (ASB) was adopted and also used with the BCP. The ASB was replaced by Common Worship from January 2001.
In June 1979, 50 Good News Bibles were placed at the end of the pews and replaced the New English Bibles. The revised 1950 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern were first used at St. John’s in July 1964.
In November 1977 the PCC agreed to purchase 75 congregational books and 25 choir editions of 100 Hymns for Today which introduced the church to new worship songs. This marked the beginning of a number of new contemporary praise songs used in services at St. John’s alongside the more traditional hymns. In May 1993 the church purchased a set of Songs of Fellowship books that contained both modern worship songs and traditional hymns. Another similar set of hymnbooks Hymns Old and New (New Anglican Edition) replaced Hymns Ancient and Modern and were used for the first time in June 1996. The 200 books (words only) and 20 music copies were purchased for £1,300 and a bequest covered the cost. From the 1990s other modern worship songs resources have been utilised, particularly from the Spring Harvest songbook, and their words were regularly displayed on an overhead projector.
During the 1980s a small Worship Group was formed with instrumentalists playing guitars along with piano accompaniment to lead contemporary worship songs. A grand piano was in situ in front of the Rood Screen. A trumpet also played at some services. In the 1990s, flute, oboe, bongos, cornet, trumpet, euphonium, and drums were played at the monthly All-age Worship Services to leading contemporary praise songs. A new Copeman Hart, three-manual electronic organ was installed into our new Worship Area in July 1990. Our electric (Digital) piano was donated at Easter 1993.
In the former building the St. John’s Church Bookstall was first inaugurated in 1964 and was located on a wall by a side aisle. A new Library for the loan of Christian books was established in 1974 and maintained until the late 1980s. This was transferred into the new church lounge from 1990 and still used today. An audio and video library was introduced in October 1986. By July 2003 this library had provided 57 videos, 327 audio tapes and 757 books. By 2010 technology had progressed to CDs and DVDs, so the audio and video library was discontinued.
During the development of the church, our services were held in the large hall next to the church building.
Revd. James Peabody 1905 - 1916
Revd. James Telford 1917 - 1931
Revd. Hamish Gray 1931 - 1939
Revd. Charles Challen 1939 - 1950
Revd. John Stone 1950 - 1956
Revd. Basil Cornish 1957 - 1962
Revd. Alan Bradbury 1963 - 1968
Revd. James Maughan 1968 - 1974
Revd. Samuel Tyler 1974 - 1992
Revd. Gordon Tarry 1993 - 2006
Revd. Jonathan Evens 2006 - 2015
Revd. Calvert Prentis 2015 - 2018 (Priest-in-charge)
Revd. Kate Lovesey 2018 - 2019 (Interim Minister)
Revd. Kate Lovesey 2019 - 21 (Priest-in charge)
Revd. Kate Lovesey 2019 - to present (Rector of the Aldborough Benefice)
A temporary display of photos in our large hall showing previous vicars who have served at St. John's Church.