St John’s, like most of our old churches, has gradually evolved over the centuries as people of different periods, different tastes and different traditions have altered, enlarged and ‘improved’ it and have left their mark upon it, each generation (including our own) enabling it to serve God, its Church Family and its community. The church guidebook will point you to its many features of interest to be enjoyed here. It is amazing that people have worshipped on this spot above the town for maybe 1,000 years and today this building is still in regular use for Christian worship and witness – the purpose for which it was built and for which it has had unbroken use over its long history.
A long history indeed! It existed (and was therefore probably well-established) when the Domesday Survey was compiled in 1086, although its south doorway of the 1000s was removed in 1873. Work of the 1200s may be seen in the chancel and around 1300 the south chapel and the south aisle were added, also maybe the tower, although some masonry in its lower part may be earlier. The 1400s saw the heightening of the nave and the construction of its beautiful roof, whilst the south clerestory was beautified in the early 1500s.
The kaleidoscope of colour and carving which provided a host of visual-aids for mediaeval worshippers was swept away by the Reformers in the 1540s and in the following years, when the interior was transformed to meet the needs of the Church of England ‘by Law Established’, with its services and scriptures in English and its emphasis upon the preaching of the Word. Further destruction was wrought by the Puritans in 1643-4, probably mostly by the worried parishioners because when William Dowsing came to inspect on 26th January 1644, all he could find to comment was ‘We took up two superstitious inscriptions in brass’.
All the foregoing history we piece together mainly by what we can ‘read’ in the structure of the building itself, and by what tiny snippets of documentary evidence are available. From 1800 onwards however, the wonderful resources in the County Record Office and elsewhere can enable us, if we know where to look, to build up an accurate picture of how the building has developed and changed over the last 200 or so years. I have had a fascinating time doing just this – and this little book is the result!
Roy Tricker (Licensed Reader and emeritus Lay Canon) 2017.