The project to build a church for the spiritual welfare of the residents of South Leamington first occurred to Mrs. Matthew Wise of Shrubland Hall in 1874 whilst she was making alterations to her will. She donated £1,000 for the purpose. A Committee, including Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh, and Canon Young, Rector of Whitnash, was formed and a meeting was held in the Crown Hotel on 5th September 1875. In less than two months £2,700 had been collected from more than 200 subscribers. Mrs. Sarah Hitchman gave land adjoining her Arboretum [later the Royal Midland Counties Home] for the site of the church along with a donation of £500.The Rev. T. E Franklyn, formerly on the staff of All Saints Church, was appointed by the Bishop as Incumbent of the District and as soon as the church had been built and consecrated, (on 14th February 1878) he became the Vicar of the Parish of South Leamington. St. John the Baptist Church was built in Tachbrook Street at a reported cost of £6,000 and is capable of seating 700 people. All of the seats were free which indicates that the main congregation didn’t come from the wealthier parts of Leamington. The architect was local man John Cundall who also designed Leamington Town Hall, St. Paul’s Church, the now demolished St. Alban’s Church and Warwick School. The church is in the English style in red brick with stone dressings. A number of people including the local architect and historian Lyndon F (Toby )Cave consider St. John’s to be Cundall’s best work. The committee decided to erect the church in stages, between 1876 and 1889. The nave was erected by Mr. John Fell of Leamington. Mr. Franklyn, in the church magazine of May 1877, wrote: “On the day we turned the first sod, the 28th of last August, the rain hindered us from carrying out the order of the Service which had been arranged.” The foundation stone was laid on 3rd April 1877 with full Masonic honours by Lord Leigh, the Provincial Grand Master. The nave and aisles were consecrated by the Bishop of Worcester on St. Valentine’s Day, 14th February 1878. Although the nave had been consecrated and was being used for public worship there still remained a great deal to be done before the Church was completed. The vicarage was built on a site given by Mrs. Hitchman and was completed ready for the Vicar to move into during December 1880. The building of the chancel was commenced in the summer of 1881, with Thomas Mills of Leamington as contractor. The chancel was consecrated by the Bishop of Worcester on St. John the Baptist Day in 1882. At the same time the pulpit was dedicated and the first person to preach in it was the Rev. Canon Young, Rector of Whitnash. Builder G. F. Smith of Milverton commenced work on the tower and spire in the summer of 1888, reportedly at cost of £1,595. The opening service was held on 1st January 1889. The church clock with 3 cast iron faces was installed 60 feet up in 1891. The clock mechanism is marked J. Smith & Sons, Midland Steam Clock Works, Derby. Originally the clock was hand wound but in recent years this has operated electronically. Emergency repairs had to be carried out in August 2010 as there was significant wear and tear and a distinct possibility of the mechaism crashing to the floor, not least because of wood deteriorating around the bolts holding the three dials in place. They were removed, repaired and reinstated. The church and its congregation have had a number of celebrations including the Golden Jubilee in 1928 and the Diamond Jubilee in 1938.
This particular photo shows the clergy and the servers in the 1920s. In 1941 during the Second World War a public Air Raid Shelter was installed in the grounds of the church. The Vicar described the site as, “A grass plot comprising the southern portion of the churchyard and lying between the south wall of the church and the north boundary of the grounds of the vicarage”. Formal notice that the Council had given up possession of the land on which the air raid shelter had been built was given on 26th April 1946. The shelter was removed later in the year but was still causing the vicar problems in November 1947 when the Borough Engineer wrote to inform him that he regretted that the reinstatement of the site had not yet been completed – he went on to say that he had asked the Parks and Gardens Engineer to proceed with the work as soon as possible.In 2008 Chris Pickford from the ‘Ringing World’ magazine wrote about a visit he made to the church in 1971: “Fully expecting to find a rather standard bell from one of the major foundries of the time I made what I thought would be a routine visit back in 1971. Very much to my surprise, I found two old bells – hung with ringing fittings [although probably not ringable] in a tall wooden framework ¬ and a Smith & Derby clock of 1891.”
“The bells are as follows: 1. Francis Mole [palmettes] [an ornamental border] Thomas [palmettes] Harris [palmettes] C W 1676 / [arabesque border all round]. 2. Joseph Clark & John Bushell CH: Wardens A [bell] R 1745 [scroll border].” “The smaller is 27⅛ inches in diameter, note D sharp and weighs about 4½ cwt. The larger is 29⅜ inches, C sharp and about 5½ cwt. The treble was cast by John Martin II of Worcester in 1676 and the tenor by Abel Rudhall of Gloucester in 1745.”“So where did they come from? With a little research it proved easy to both find the answer and also to explain how they came to be here. In 1876 the old church at North Piddle in Worcestershire ¬ then in the same diocese – was rebuilt. The new church was built with a small bellcote for which a new bell was provided. When H. T. Tilley visited the parish in 1877 he was shown the two old bells that were then kept in separate houses in the village. Evidently the architect made no provision for the two large bells which had previously hung in the enclosed wooden turret in the old church, with the result that they were made available soon afterwards for the new church at Leamington.” “As the bells are mentioned in a report of the consecration of St. John’s in February 1878 it seems likely that they were originally hung in a temporary belfry where they remained until the tower and spire were completed in 1889. The wooden framework in which they now hang has the look of a wooden structure that could well have stood in the churchyard for 10 years or so before being hoisted into the belfry when the tower was ready.”
List of Vicars of the Parish
14th February 1878 - June 1882, Rev. T. E. Franklyn
July 1882 - July 1902 Rev. William George Wise
October 1902 – February 1912 Rev. Canon T. J. Cartwright
February 1912 - April 1919 Rev. H. Johnson Barker
May 1919 Canon H. O. Hubble
1929 Canon E. B. Condor
1936 - June 1949 Rev. John. R. Simpson
1949 - 1961 Rev. James W. Crank
1962 Rev. Canon John F. A. Ellis
5 th March 1966 Rev. Robin A. Noise
9 th February 1982 Ian Campbell, Vicar of All Saints, Leamington was licensed as Priest-in-
20th July 1983 – 1993 Canon Tom Mander
1993 - October 2015 Father David Lawson
Many thanks to fellow Leamington history group member Frank James for providing the information and photographs from St. John’s Church. Also thanks to fellow members Tessa Whitehouse, Alan Griffin and Jeff Clarke.
Allan Jennings October 2015
“Parish of St. John the Baptist Past & Present” Printed and Published by W. Manton. [Circa 1920s].
The Parish of St. John the Baptist Simon Kershaw June 1983.
Bell Ringing Magazine, ‘The Ringing World’ by Chris Pickford 29th August 2008.
Warwickshire County Record Office Reference DR/836/58/1281
- Tachbrook Street 1910 courtesy of St John’s Church
- 3 rd April 1877 Stonelaying Ceremony by the Rt. Hon. Lord Leigh
- 1877 stone © Allan Jennings 15th November 2015
- Brick [G. F. Smith Builder 1888] © Allan Jennings 15th November 2015
- Circa 1910 Postcard
- Church Clock Mechanism © Allan Jennings 15th November 2015
- Church Clock being removed on 9th August 2010 courtesy of St. John’s Church
- Church Clock © Allan Jennings 12th September 2012
- St. John’s Clergy and Servers circa 1920 courtesy of St. John’s Church
- St. John’s Church copied from ‘Parish of St. John Past & Present Booklet’ Circa 1920s
- St. John’s Church Bell © Allan Jennings 15th November 2015
- St. John’s Church Bells © Allan Jennings 15th November 2015
- 1960s photograph of St. John’s Church and Wise Hall donated to the church by Joyce Heath, former church warden