A Church for Leytonstone
In the early 18th century the only church in the area was St Mary’s, Leyton. For those in the village of Leytonstone who wished to attend church, the only direct way to Leyton was along a path, through fields. That path approximated the route now taken by Grove Green Road, and in bad weather it became impassable. Around 1748 the people of Leytonstone made a request for a chapel to be built in the village.
Reverend Dubordieu, then vicar of Leyton, was visited by a Mr. Dunster and a Mr. Lewis, who laid before him a project for such a building. Afterwards he wrote to Mr. Gansell, his patron, stating that he had told these two gentlemen that he considered "there could be no occasion for such a chapel where the gentry all kept coaches, and where the tradesmen, farmers and servants were none of them more than a mile-and-a-half from the Church, that Walthamstow and West Ham are more populous and yet are contented with the Mother Church".
In spite of this opposition from both Reverend Dubordieu and Mr Gansell, the people of Leytonstone persisted with their request, to eventual success.
No opposition was allowed to deter the carrying out of the project, and Deodatus Staverton agreed (8th June 1748) with David Lewis "to let his interest in a piece of ground, part of the premises held by him of the Poor of Bourne, intended for building a chapel in Layton Stone, at the same rate as the trustees of the said Poor of Bourne shall agree to let the same".
The chapel was built and ready for use by 26th April, 1749, but the Vicar of Leyton still would take no part in holding services in it. Services were briefly held by a Mr Carter. It appears he had no authority to do so and in 1750 the services were stopped. It appears that the chapel was not used for religious services again until 1754, This time with official approval. As far as can be gathered, they were then continued uninterruptedly, and with increased prosperity.
An important meeting of Trustees was held at Leyton Vicarage, 8th December, 1818, when the necessity for the proposed enlargement and permission for administration of the Sacrament. In 1819 the Vicar of Leyton agreed to the proposed alterations and authorisation obtained from the Bishop of London. The chapel was re-opened on 23rd January 1820.
In July 1830, the Vicar of Leyton issued an address on the subject of a new Chapel. He expressed his regret that in consequence of the existing Chapel having been erected on leasehold ground, though licensed by the Bishop for Divine Service, it could not be consecrated. He also felt that the building was inadequate for a population of 1,600 souls.
A proposal was made to erect a new permanent "chapel" and a subscription list opened for it. By the 30th October 1830, nearly £2,500 had been raised. Mr. Cotton of Wallwood House and Mr. Davis of "The Pastures", who were later to become the first Churchwardens of St. John's, were among the most generous subscribers. The site chosen for the building was owned by a Miss Samson, and was bought and presented to H.M. Commissioners for Church building by Mr. Cotton.
The Parish of St John the Baptist
The first stone was laid by the Rev. Laprimaudaye on the 20th July, 1832, and the new Chapel and burial ground were consecrated and dedicated by the Bishop of London, Dr. Blomfield, on the 31st October, 1833.
The accommodation of the new Chapel was about 600 and the income paid to the "Curate-in-Charge" was £126 per annum. Baptisms and burials were performed, but marriages had to go to Leyton. All fees went to the Vicar of Leyton, as the new building was a Chapel of Ease to Leyton until, on the 3rd February, 1845, at the Court of Buckingham Palace, St. John Baptist, Leytonstone, had an ecclesiastical parish assigned. This consisted of "that portion of the Parish of Leyton to the south-east of Walthamstow, to the east of the brook running across the parish and Grove Green Lane, and to the north-east of Union Lane".
From the time the church was built, until St. John's became a parish church in its own right, a number of Clergy from Leyton officiated at Leytonstone. According to W.G. Hammock, Churchwarden from 1896 to 1902, in his book "Leytonstone and its History", these include:
Rev. E. C. Birch
Rev. William Pitt Wigram
Rev. C. J. Laprimaudaye, nephew of the Vicar of Leyton
Rev. N. B. Herring
Rev. John Pardoe, a descendant of the Patron of Leyton
In 1844, Reverend Henry Herbert Evans was appointed to St. John’s and 1845 it became a parish in its own right.
The Vicars of St. John's are listed below. More information about them can be found in the timeline at the foot of this section.
1st Vicar - 1844 to 1863 - Rev. H. H. Evans
2nd Vicar - 1863 to 1870 - Rev. W. H. Vernon
3rd Vicar - 1870 to 1874 - Rev. H. Waller
4th Vicar - 1874 to 1905 - Rev. W. J. Bettison
5th Vicar - 1906 to 1939 - Canon W. T. Brown
6th Vicar - 1940 to 1960 - Canon J. A. Stanley
7th Vicar - 1961 to 1970 - Canon E. De'Lande Jones
8th Vicar - 1970 to 1984 - Rev. C. T. Edmondson
9th Vicar - 1985 to 1998 - Rev. R. Field
10th Vicar - 2000 to 2013 - Rev. R. J. Draper
11th Vicar - 2014 to present - Rev. D. Britton
Rev. Henry Herbert Evans was the first Vicar from 1845 to 1863. He appears to have been a Curate-in-Charge from 1844 prior to becoming the first Vicar of St John's in 1845. The same year he married Fanny Charrington, the daughter of Nicholas Charrington a member of the well-known Charrington brewery family who lived at Leyspring House one of the large estates in the area at that time.
As Vicar the Rev Evans would have been responsible for overseeing the early growth of the church and its place in the local community. It is interesting to note that gas was introduced into Leytonstone in 1857 and St John's was the second building in the area to be lit by gas.
Little is known about the second Vicar of St John's. He came from Sutton, where he was first Curate than later Surrogate, before becoming Perpetual Curate of St. John's. He certainly would have seen the gradual growth of the parish and local community.
In 1863 Leytonstone was described as a populous and handsome north-eastern hamlet with about 2300 inhabitants - a handsome village, extending more than a mile along the Stratford and Epping road, to the borders of the Forest, having many large and handsome houses, with sylvan grounds, mostly occupied as suburban villas by gentlemen of London.
Following the Eastern Counties Railway reaching Leytonstone in 1856 this small community would have been gradually expanding and St John's would have also seen a change in its role in the local community.
Horace Waller lived in Leyton with his parents. He started work in 1859 as a stockbroker. In 1861 he went to Africa for three years to work with David Livingstone as a Missionary in Central Africa, being a member of the original pioneer party that went out to Africa as a result of Livingstone's famous appeal at the University of Cambridge. It was an experience that would change his life.
He went out as lay superintendent under Bishop Mackenzie, and was responsible for all the secular affairs as well as acting as surgeon. He is particularly remembered for the fact that when Mackenzie died and Bishop Tozer decided to move the Mission headquarters to Zanzibar, taking only the boys with him, it was Waller who made himself responsible for taking the women and girls, who were all released slaves, to Cape Town for safe habitation.
Horace Waller was friends with many of the East African explorers, including Livingstone and Gordon. He stayed in South Africa for a short time and then returned to England. In 1867 he was ordained. He was Curate of St. John's Chatham from 1868, before he came to St John's Leytonstone as Vicar in 1870. During that time David Livingstone often stayed at the Vicarage (then situated next to the church in Leytonstone High Road on the site of the Matalan store); indeed, he made his last communion at St. John's before he returned to Africa for the last time.
When Livingstone died, Revd. Waller attended his autopsy and was pallbearer at his funeral. He also invited Susi and Chuma, the two Africans who brought back Livingstone's body for burial, to stay with him at the Vicarage. They became members of the choir and attended the National School in the old "Chapel". He also accompanied them to the Royal Geographic Society (of which he was a fellow) Meeting on 22 June 1874 where they were presented with medals.
Rev. Waller's most famous work was started in 1874 during his time in Leytonstone and was completed after he became Rector of Twywell, Northamptonshire. With the help of Livingstone's African companions, Chuma and Susi, he prepared Livingstone's last journals for publication. These journals had a major effect and challenged the people to respond to the needs of Africa and its people.
Reverend Bettison was born in Boulogne, France and was Vicar of Harwich before coming to St. John's. It was during his incumbency that daughter churches were built. The growth of the parish was most rapid during these years.
He instigated the parish magazine during his time at St John's, which may have been inspired by his love of writing. He also formed a Church Council years before Parochial Church Councils became formalised.
The Rev. also wrote a number of books, some of which were published by SPCK. Many of the books were written for children. He also worked with the composer, John Henry Maunder, to produce the Lenten Cantata "Penitence, Pardon and Peace".
St John's, under the guidance of the Rev. Bettison was now the Parish Church of a thriving and fast growing community.
The Rev. W. T. Brown as he then was, came to St. John's from St. Barnabas', Walthamstow, where as Vicar he had seen the building of that Church.
One of the first tasks at St John's of the fifth Vicar was to oversee the enlargement of the church with a South Aisle as the original building was no longer large enough to meet the needs of a growing congregation and community. Throughout the years between 1906 and 1910 the people of the church and parish worked tirelessly to raise the necessary funds and on March 18th 1910 the Dedication Service took place. During the building work it was decided to substitute electric lighting in place of gas for the whole church.
Canon Brown was Vicar during the First World War, a time when the community would have looked to St John's for support and comfort.He was one of the first Canons to be appointed to Chelmsford Cathedral when the diocese was formed in 1914.
He served more than once as Mayor's Chaplain, having taken part in the ceremony when the Charter was presented to the Borough at the Highstone in 1926. He also acted as Chaplain to the Bishop of Barking, to the Rotarians and a Lodge of Masons, and was on both the Boys' and Girls' Higher Education Committees, being Chairman of the former for a number of years.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, and on the death of Canon Brown, the Rev. J. Stanley came to St. John's from Barking, where he had been in charge of St. Paul's, under the Parish Church. The war years were a time when the congregation and local community looked to St John's and its clergy.
Together with the usual services and activities, services were held in the Underground tunnel on the as yet unopened Hainault Line (often these were led by the Curates of St John's and included Christmas services attended by several hundred people from the local area). He oversaw the 100th anniversary of the parish of St John's in February 1944 and the 125th anniversary of the church building in 1958.
The continued growth of the congregation and the Young People's organisations in particular during the twenty years of Canon Stanley's incumbency was largely due to his inspired leadership. He was subsequently made a Canon and was Rural Dean of Leyton. He moved to Prittlewell in 1960, where he unfortunately died soon after.
Rev Eric. De'Lande Jones came to St. John's from Cranham, Essex. St John's continued to flourish during this period.
Rev. Jones and his wife were responsible for the expansion of many of the churches social organisations. The membership of the Mothers' Union groups grew and the Young Wives and Women's Fellowship groups were formed. The Women's Fellowship (having at that time a regular attendance of over 100 at each meeting) was started for both members of St John's and for ladies who did not come to the church. This group, along with the other organisations, was very successful and contributed much to the outreach of St John's into the local community.
He became assistant Rural Dean of Waltham Forest, when the local Deaneries were reorganised in the 1960s to conform to the area of this London Borough.
Rev. C. T. Edmondson came to St. John's, after a curacy at St. John's, Buckhurst Hill.
He was best known for his ministry and work in the local community as well as within St John's. He was involved in the Scouts annual St George's Day Service at St John's. He wrote: "This is not just a fine building with a 'holy' private club inside. The Church is people, and we want to try and follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ who cared too. We do not always want to go it alone, but to give our resources in supporting other caring efforts so that caring may be more effectually carried out. We are here too because we are concerned and want to help our community in Leytonstone. We are here to serve this community of Leytonstone... we would welcome your help, as you are always warmly welcome in your Parish Church".
Rev. R Field came to St. John's from St. Ann's, Tottenham. During this time he continued with the policy of welcoming many visits from the local schools and performing outreach to various members of the community.
It was during this period that St John's welcomed the first of four female curates to the parish. Towards the end of his time at St John's the Chancel and Sanctuary were redecorated.
Rev. R. J. Draper came from Wickersly, in Yorkshire.
At the start of a new Millennium the Rev. Draper began to build stronger links with the local community. The new ramp was completed in 2003 giving greater access to the church and in 2004 the local business forum was started and held in St John's. The local history society which meets at St John's was launched in 2005.
In September 2006 the old churchyard was filled with St John's congregation and local residents when the new Churchyard Trail was opened - this has provided a much needed oasis in the heart of Leytonstone and, along with visits to the church itself, has been the source of numerous school and group visits.
The regular concerts held in St John's have also given St John's contact with many people from the local area and beyond.
The village Leytonstone grew steadily throughout the 19th century, helped in no small matter by the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway in 1856. Leytonstone station was only a hundred yards away, where the Central Line station now stands.
St John’s had been regarded as a daughter church of St Mary’s, Leyton, and as Leytonstone grew the need for more churches to support the growing population. From the parish of St John’s, a number of daughter churches were spawned.
Holy Trinity, Harrow Green, was the first of these to be built. Through the initiative of the Rev. W. Bettison, Vicar of St. John's, and the Rector of Wanstead, Rev. G. S. Fitzgerald, an iron temporary church was erected in 1874. The permanent church was dedicated by Dr. Claughton, Bishop of St. Alban's, on 9th July, 1878.
St. Andrew's, Colworth Road, was dedicated by Bishop Claughton in 1887.
St. Margaret’s, was built in Woodhouse Road and was consecrated by the Bishop of St. Alban's on 28th January 1893.
During this time open-air services were held on Sunday evenings in the Mayville Road district, and steps were taken to erect the small mission church of St. Augustine's which was dedicated in August 1889. This was so successful that a much larger permanent church was built adjoining the other and was dedicated by the Bishop of Barking on 23rd January 1902.
Changes to the Building
The building of St John’s itself was also extended at this time. 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.
At the beginning of the 20th century it became evident that the church was not large enough for the regular congregation, and plans were made for the building of a south aisle, and the raising of the necessary money. This started during the time of Reverend W. J. Bettison and was completed in the time of Reverend W. T. Brown.
The enlargement was completed and consecrated by the Bishop of St. Alban's on the 19th March 1910. It was agreed to change over from gas lighting to electric, while this work was going on, and it is recorded that throughout the work of enlargement and renovation it was never necessary to close the church for a single Sunday. The total cost of this enlargement was nearly £4,000, which is around £430,000 in today's money.
The furnishing of the Side-Chapel was undertaken in 1929, the cost being defrayed by subscriptions from members of the congregation. To add to the beauty of the chapel a pane of stained glass East Windows were given by Mr. & Mrs. Anstead, and in 1952 a very colourful cross and candlesticks were dedicated in memory of Sir James Slade, and placed on the chapel altar.
A further generous gift to the church was the lighting by floodlights, thus doing away with the pendants ' and giving a clear view of the whole church. This was first used August 19th, 1934.
The new East Windows in the chancel were given in 1935 as a Memorial to Mrs. Tooley, the money for this having been left in his Will by Mr. Tooley. More information about the East Window can be found in the East Window gallery on this website.
Another important addition to the Church is the beautiful wooden pulpit, dedicated in memory of Canon William Tom Brown.
Towards the end of the 20th century Reverend Richard Field organised the redecorating of the Chancel and shortly after his arrival at St John’s Reverend Raymond draper instigated a renovation and redecoration project, which was to last until 2012. A great deal of work was carried out during that time, including an access ramp to the church, the south vestry and kitchen renovated, disabled facilities provided, major work on the roof and tower, and the church redecorated. Two scrolls in the Baptistry list the people and organisations who helped to make the renovation and redecoration possible.