CHANGES AT ST JOHN’S IN LATE VICTORIAN TIMES
Although the new church had been built at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, it had little, except in its tower and its window tracery, of the Victorian Gothic style of church architecture which later came into favour. By the 1880’s the Rector, the Rev. Arthur Perfect, and the Churchwardens decided that improvements were necessary, “the chancel being inadequate and devoid of architectural character”.
Under Philip Currey as architect, an apse was built on to the chancel. Three stained glass windows by the celebrated artist Henry Holiday were installed there. He was a friend of Burne-Jones, and his firm was one of the pioneers in the recovery of medieval methods of stained glass manufacture. At the same time, the south gallery was taken down, and the organ which had stood there was moved to a new organ chamber in the chancel. The box pews were replaced by open benches.
Various other changes took place during the forty-two years (until 1910) of the incumbency of Mr Perfect, described as “evidently a model parish priest” working in “the largest and also the poorest parish in Lewes” One of three stained glass windows in the nave, by Walter Tower of the famous firm of Kempe & Co., was given in Arthur Perfect’s memory. The brass lectern was given in the 1880’s, and one of the three bells was replaced in 1886. A new more ornamental font was installed in 1892, and the medieval font was moved to the porch; it was later brought back to stand opposite the Victorian one. In 1903 the old flat ceiling, which had become unsafe, was replaced by the present barrel-shaped ceiling of pine and plaster.
St John’s responded quickly to the passing of the 1870 Education Act, setting up St John’s School (later closed) in St John’s Street in 1871. Twenty-five years later Pells School (later moved to Landport Road) opened in Talbot Terrace.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Further changes to the building took place after the First World War. A wrought iron chancel screen was erected in 1921 as a War Memorial, along with a tablet recording the names of the dead, with further names being added after the Second World War. New clergy stalls were installed 1923, and new choir stalls and a new pulpit in 1932. In 1927 the organ was rebuilt, at a cost of £1135. New wrought iron gates, made at the now defunct Phoenix Ironworks in the town, were set up outside in 1929. Oak panelling in the sanctuary was given in memory of Arthur Uridge who died in 1940.
Major structural repairs were carried out at the time of the 150th Anniversary of the present church, but in spite of that the condition of the building deteriorated badly. By the beginning of the twenty-first century it was in a very serious condition. At the same time, the congregation was growing older, and had become insufficient in number to maintain what was much the largest church building in Lewes. Because of the numbers, in 2010 the parish was joined up with St Michael’s, South Malling, but that gave the one vicar an impossible task. It began to seem that there was no future for St John’s.
The story of St John’s is continued in the post A New Church for the Twenty-first Century
Click The Story of St John sub Castro Church to see the complete story in one post, together with Sources, Bibliographical notes and List of Rectors.