Monday, 30 May 2016

The Parish Church of St John – Part 2

Here is part two of the forgotten piece by G.R. Balleine on the history of the Church, transcribed below. Balleine had a wonderful grasp of how to make historical narrative interesting, and peppers his history with interesting anecdotes.

The Parish Church of St John – Part 2
By G.R. Balleine

Missing Records

The main source of information about all our old Churches is the Act Book of the Assemblee Ecclesiastique. Here every alteration and addition of the Church is recorded. But at St John's these books have gone astray. They were in the Constable's safe in Mr Falla's time, for they appear on the list of the contents of the safe that he drew up. But since then someone must have borrowed them and forgotten to return them. If anyone can throw any light on their present whereabouts, the Constable or Rector or indeed myself will be grateful for the information.

However here are a few miscellaneous facts that have been unearthed. From the Reformation till 1939 the new South Aisle, which Thomas Lempriere built was used as the main part of the Church, the old Nave and the old Chancel becoming rather neglected.

The date of a Chancel being added to this aisle is uncertain but it must have been long before 1799, for in that year it was reported to be in danger of collapsing and the Parish ordered it to be rebuilt and reroofed. It was then not used for Services, but for the Day School and Parish Meetings, and a stone staircase from the churchyard led into an upper room.

On December 16th 1733, the spire was partially destroyed by lightning during the Morning Service. In 1753 there was trouble over the theft of a silver ewer used for baptisms. In 1774 a weathercock was placed on the top of the spire. In 1777 a gallery was built at the west end of the church, and the tresor had to pay for several dinners, which the Principaux of the Parish consumed while discussing this proposal. In 1791 a new three-decker pulpit with sounding board was provided. This was cut down to its present size in 1921 and is still in use. In 1796 the steeple started to give trouble, and 700 livres tournois were spent on its repair. These, however, were unsuccessful, and in 1804 it had to be pulled down and rebuilt from its foundations. What a pity no one showed the builder what a beautiful thing a steeple can be!

XIXth Century

In 1801 permission was given to Mr Dumaresq whose family had outgrown its pew, to build a small gallery above it to provide additional seats. In 1831 a big restoration of the church took place. The north door, where the Vestry now is, was walled up to keep out the draught; the aisles were paved; the South-East Chapel was turned into a regular Chancel, and a communion table placed at the east end; the singers' gallery (wherever that was; it was not the west gallery, for we hear of that later) and Mr Dallain's gallery were pulled down; and all the pews were made a uniform four :feet in height and painted the same colour.

We now come to the great pillar controversy. The people in the south aisle could not see the pulpit because of a huge pillar that blocked the view. In 1828 the Civil Assembly passed an Act instructing the Rector to apply to the Ecclesiastical Court for permission to remove this pillar. But he hesitated, fearing that its removal might bring down the roof. In 1831 the Assembly renewed its Act, adding that it would be responsible for any damage done. But the Ecclesiastical Court refused permission.

When a new Rector, Samuel White, was appointed in 1849, the antipillarites returned to the attack. But it seemed to him too that their proposal was too dangerous a piece of surgery to attempt on an an old building. But Jerseymen never own themselves beaten. One summer Mr White went for a holiday to France. On his return he found the pillar standing in the Rectory garden, where it can still be seen; and the roof had not collapsed.

From a technical point of view the broad arch that was left behind, when two arches were thrown into one, may be an architectural monstrosity, but from a practical point of view it was a great improvement. Now the preacher can see the congregation, and the congregation the preacher.

Later Renovations

In 1858 the church certainly had an organ, for in that year the tresor paid to have it tuned. But by 1880 this was worn out, for a report says that it was beyond repair; the woodwork was worm-eaten, the leather perished, and the pipes only fit to be sold as scrap metal.

Its place was taken for the next half-century by a wheezy harmonium. In the following year the steeple was given its hideous coat of cement. A note in 1888 shows that the singers then sat in a gallery over the present altar.

More Recent Times

In 1920 a move was made again to restore the Church. This led to tremendous controversies. The first plan was rejected "because it would involve expense beyond the resources of the parish". Mr Charles de Gruchy was then appointed architect. His plans, were accepted by the Assembly, but ten days later a number of parishioners demanded a new Assembly, which rejected his plans, and appointed a fresh committee. The committee's Report was thrown overboard by the next Assembly; and the following meeting formally recsinded the whole proposal for restoration.

Nevertheless the churchwardens persevered and in 1924 at last a plan was produced that was approved by the parish. The west and east galleries were pulled down, and the whole building was thoroughly repaired. Several painted glass windows were then presented.

Meanwhile the steeple proved to have been so badly built, that a bush rooted itself in a crack half-way up, and appears in many picture post-cards of the period. A steeplejack's report on the condition of the spire in 1926 said, "The projection where the bush is lets the rain percolate into the interior of the tower", and the estimate included, "Cut out the bush and its roots".

In 1934 Mr Hornby came to the parish, and under his care the church assumed its present appearance. First the vestry was built and electric light introduced. Then the Rector hoped to strip all the plaster off the walls, and leave the granite bare as at St Brelade's. A beginning was made at the east end; but the parish did not like it, and the Assembly put its foot down and stopped the work. It agreed, however, to restore the north chapel to its old position as the chancel, and place a new altar and choir stalls there.

An electric Hammond organ was also bought. as it was thought that this would be less affected by the dampness of the building than an organ of the older type. This proved to be true for it is still in use. The dampness is caused by the high water table. The disused boiler-room under the chance] is always under water, as a spring runs under the building, and the churchyard cannot be used because water is reached only a few feet below the surface of the ground.

When Mr Hornby became Rector in 1938, after helping Mr Nicolle during the last years of his life, a bitter controversy raged about the renovation of the Rectory, built in 1819. Finally it was razed to the ground and the present Rectory was built on the old site immediately prior to the war.

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