ALTERATIONS TO THE CHURCH Part 1
Well into the nineteenth century, the only means of communication (other than private coaches) between Leytonstone and London, was a 2/- coach, which ran twice daily from the "Green Man" to Aldgate. There was a single letterbox in one of the shops, with two daily deliveries. The High Road was a country road, unpaved and ill-lighted, and other roads scarcely existed.
Then in 1853 the Great Eastern Railway came to Leytonstone. Slowly, at first, a change began. There was a gradual exodus of the older families, and the large houses were either pulled down to make room for smaller shops, or put to other uses. With the building of smaller houses, an immensely increased population necessitated the enlarging of the church.
After many difficulties had been overcome, not least of which was the raising of the necessary money, since most of the wealthy donors had left the district, the plan was carried out.
Prior to the extensions being made to the church, one incident occurred which deserves record. In August 1881, a pinnacle from the tower was blown through the roof, and crashed through pews and floor doing much damage. Fortunately no one was hurt; mourners at a funeral service had just previously occupied the very pews destroyed. Over £500 was contributed to a Repair Fund, and by February 1882, the pinnacle had been replaced by one of solid stone, instead of having a brick base.
The first great change in the church as a building was completed in 1893. A chancel was built, affording room for clergy stalls, choir and organ, all of which had formerly occupied space in the body of the Church. Greatly enlarged arches at the east end of the church were also added, and a Choir Vestry built. At the same time new pews replaced the old "high-backed" type, and a stone pulpit was given to supersede the wooden one. There was also undertaken the entire redecoration of the church, and the addition of new gas lighting and heating apparatus. Gas was first introduced into Leytonstone in 1857; the church was the second building in the village to be so lighted, the "Red Lion" being the first. Dr. Blomfield, Bishop of Colchester consecrated all the new additions to the church, on 30th September 1893.
(It is an interesting coincidence that this Bishop Blomfield was the son of the Bishop of London who first dedicated the church in 1833).
The original church organ was of the barrel type, and at first there were only two barrels with eleven tunes on each. Eventually there were six barrels with a total of sixty-six tunes. The organist was a gardener who had decidedly hazy ideas of time, but his zeal was unquestionable. It is said he ground out the tunes so vigorously that often he had started on the second verse before the congregation had struggled to the end of the first one. This continued in use for 36 years until a small organ with keys and a few stops was substituted.
When the enlargement of the church took place it was felt that an organ worthy of the church should be purchased. Largely through the exertions of the organist, Mr. E. C. Nunn (who became organist in 1889) about £600 was raised and part of the intended organ was installed by the 4th January 1894. When the rest of the money had been raised, the additional stops were added, and the completed organ was re-opened on the 23rd November 1902. The organ was further enlarged and entirely rebuilt by Spurden Rutt, out of the Centenary Fund raised to commemorate the hundred years of the present Church of St. John's which was celebrated on the 31st October, 1933. In recent years, in fact on Palm Sunday, 29th March 1953, two new stops were added in memory of:
W. Douglas Wilson-Organist-1914-41
St John the Baptist
Serving God and the Community of Leytonstone for 180 years