Church History

altarIntroducing our building

The 1842 Chapel

Early in the 19 century a new settlement grew up alongside the Basingstoke Canal and around Kiln Bridge. The inhabitants were mainly labourers from the local brickworks, and surrounding farms and nurseries and the journey to their parish church, St Peter's (old) Woking was far from convenient.

In 1840 the Vicar of St Peter's, the Reverend Charles Bowles, raised the sum of £1500, chiefly from his own family, to build a "chapel of ease" to serve this small community. He commissioned the famous Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, to design an aisleless chapel in neat, simple architecture, with a nave, chancel, lance -headed windows, and northern porch. This early example of the architect's work was built in Kentish Ragstone with Bathstone facings. A lithograph of the architect's original design hangs on the wall of the lounge.

The mosaic flooring at the end of the chancel was made by women inmates of the former Woking prison which was once in the Inkerman area of the parish. Other black and white mosaic tiles used to line the aisles of the church: examples can still be seen in the music store. The women also made mosaics for St Paul's Cathedral.

The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on 24 June 1842 (the Feast of the Birth of St John the Baptist). A silver plate given on the occasion is kept in the church safe. The church was dedicated to St John the Baptist and gave the name St John's to the community it serves.

Additions to the original building

Revd Bowles built the nearby vicarage (now Langley House) and moved to live there, whilst still Vicar of St Peter's. The present vicarage was built in 1952. As the local population and congregation grew, side aisles and vestries were added between 1879 and 1883, doubling the size of the original chapel.

St John's became a parish in its own right in 1884: a panel in the church lists the Vicars of St John's; their photos are in the clergy vestry.

The Bowles family funded a church school in Church Road, on the site now occupied by Apollo and Scylla Place: the old school bell can still be seen in the eaves of Scylla Place. St John's School moved first to the village centre and then to its current site in Victoria Road. It has recently renewed its links with the parish, being affiliated to the Church. The old school buildings in Church Road were used for Sunday School and Youth activities until the 1970s. Older parishioners remember the hut used for Sunday School and Scouts in the Vicarage garden.

Several structural alterations took place in the church over the years. The original organ was built by Bryceson. There was once a pitch pine balcony, but it was removed in 1904 after being unused for some time. The reredos, Holy Table and oak panelling in the chancel were made by Wippels of Exeter, and installed in 1915. A choir vestry was added in the 1930s, and the organ was rebuilt by Comptons in 1948.

The church hall dates from 1956, and was refitted as a Youth Centre in 1992. We run various clubs for children and young people: with its coffee bar and sports hall, it is the main youth provision for this part of Woking.

In the late 1970's the lounge, narthex, small halls and offices, were added to the church building, providing excellent facilities for various church and community activities. Youth clubs were run in the "Keyhole Club" below the new rooms. The present balcony was built at that time.

A major refurbishment took place in 2002. Works included improving the lighting and heating, replacing the flooring and seating, and adding a baptistry in the chancel.

The stone doorway of the original porch was dismantled and rebuilt further out to make way for an enlarged Welcome Area. These improvements have been well-received, and make the building much more friendly and flexible for the needs of a lively church in the 21 Century.

Over the years St John's expanded and planted other churches: Christ Church in Woking; Holy Trinity in Knaphill; St Saviour's in Brookwood; Emmanuel Church in Mayford, and St Andrew's in Goldsworth Park.

Furnishings and features

The vivid stained glass in the triple lancet east window, made by Zettlers of Munich, was dedicated in 1886 to the memory of Reverend Bowles. The centre section depicts the Crucifixion, and is flanked by portrayals of Jesus blessing the children, and raising the son of the widow of Nain.

There are various named memorials throughout the church, including other stained glass windows, a brass lectern, the pulpit, and tablets round the walls. The communion rail was made at the Mayflower Family Centre in 1966, and are engraved with the name of David Sheppard, England cricketer and later bishop of Liverpool.

The beautifully carved oak pulpit, a gift in 1899, replaced the original which was given to Holy Trinity Church, Knaphill.

The engraved window at the main entrance was installed in 1979. The main theme is the tree of life by the river of living water (Psalm 1) and the root of Jesse from whom Jesus was descended. The great "I ams" of Christ are represented by a field of wheat, a vine, water and light. The seven-branched candlestick, at the foot of the design, represents the Christian church (Revelation 1). The whole engraving is surrounded by the fire of the Holy Spirit with the wind blowing through it.

The oak Font, Communion Table and Lectern were designed for the 2002 refurbishment. Under the chancel tiles is a baptismal pool which allows for baptism by immersion.

The kneelers were hand-made by members of the congregation and community from 1979, and represent local groups, personal interests and special occasions, while others have a spiritual theme. The larger kneelers at the communion rail depict the seven days of creation.

The Churchyard

The earliest readable gravestone, dated October 1843, belongs to the Waterers, a well-known local nursery family. In 1885 the graveyard was extended to the east and south of the church. The two vaults of the Bowles family can be seen there, but many other headstones are now illegible. There are one or two memorials of interest, including the grave of an officer killed in the battle of Isandlwana, South Africa; another tombstone is for someone called David Goliath! The churchyard contains a rare weeping beech.

The new churchyard in Church Road was opened in 1913 and contains the War Memorial. The War Memorial lists the names of about 120 local men who died in the First World War, and carries the inscription Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which generally fell from favour after the horrors of the Great War. The churchyard is now closed for further burials, but cremated remains may be buried in the Garden of Remembrance. A Wall of Remembrance was built in 1996 to commemorate those whose remains are buried in the Garden.

A Place of Worship

We hope you will enjoy exploring our beautiful church building. But its main function is as a place of worship: to appreciate our church at its best, try and join us as we worship God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

You will always be very welcome at any of our Sunday Services or other activities.