History of St John’s
St John’s was built as a Mission Church in open fields, in anticipation of new houses being built alongside the railway line to the west of the City centre. St Margaret’s Church provided land and funds, as well as the initiative, for the building; St John’s has had a link with St Margaret’s ever since. The building was blessed at a service of dedication on 8th April 1896 by The Rt Revd Daniel Sandford (formerly Bishop of Tasmania); though it may have been in use prior to this, as it appears on maps published two years earlier.
St John’s was built with growth in mind: not just growth of the local neighbourhood, but growth of the Church within it. For this reason, the original rectangular building included provision for arches to be knocked through at either end, should more space be required. This was done at the east end in 1907-8 when the Chancel and vestry were built (in memory of The Revd G. Ellam, a former Curate who had died in a motorcycle accident nearby). Expansion to the west took place in 1994, at the time of the Church’s centenary, with the building of the Church Centre to provide office space, meeting and activity rooms, toilets and other facilities. (The Church Centre remains a popular venue for hire). In 2007 (100 years on from the building of the Chancel) the east end of the Church was comprehensively reordered and the whole church refurbished, re-carpeted and redecorated, to the glory of God.
Art and architecture
The Church has a pleasing simplicity, appropriate to its origins as a plain and simple Mission Church. It shows something of an ‘Arts & Crafts’ influence: the beauty of hand-crafted, practical design at all levels.
Large clear windows give the Nave a light and spacious feel, while the Chancel is dominated by a bold stained glass window showing Christ crucified with the world at the foot of the Cross.
Among the principal features of the Church are its 1930s ‘mouseman’ wooden pews by Thompson of Kilburn (very much of the ‘Arts & Crafts’ school). Also by Thompson, and of the same vintage, is the wooden screen which spans the west end of the Nave (formerly it stood at the Chancel arch).
When the Church was reordered in 2007, the aim was to stay faithful to the straightforward beauty of the original building. New furnishings – altar, font and lectern – were commissioned: designed by our church architect, Ian Ness, and hand-crafted in oak (with white holly inserts) by Tyneside Joinery. Our hope of creating a usable work of art as part of the project was realized by the creation of a brightly coloured glass font bowl by Janet Rogers: an expression of what baptism signifies: the joy, depth and richness of faith in God.
Music was and is an important aspect of life and worship at St John’s. The Church organ, by internationally-renowned local firm Harrison & Harrison, dates from 1912, and is described as being “in perfect condition, sparklingly clean inside and out, and a beautiful example of British organ building at its best. The crisp mechanical action is a delight to play, and the whole instrument a delight.” Full description and specification is available on the Pipe Organs of Durham website.
Architecturally, the 1990s extension to the west blends well with the original building, whilst holding its own as a distinctive piece of modern design. On completion it was given a Civic Trust Award.
St John’s Church Centre
The Church Centre has rooms for Church activities which are also available for hire. The downstairs Tearoom can comfortably accommodate around 20 people, and the Upper Room (the main space upstairs) has room for up to 40. The kitchen (which adjoins the tearoom) was comprehensively renewed and upgraded in 2013. For further information and booking enquiries please contact the Parish Office.
Church grounds and surroundings
The Church grounds contain some fine mature trees: a pair of oaks in front of the church, and others (including an elm) alongside. A significant part of the land in front of the church was given on condition that it be maintained as a green space, to enhance the local area.
The War Memorial for the parish of Neville’s Cross stands prominently in front of the Church, in memory of those who died in two world wars. Its design (a standing cross) is deliberately reminiscent of the nearby medieval landmark that gave the community of Neville’s Cross its name. For more information see the North East War Memorials database. Wreaths are laid every year on Remembrance Sunday, following an annual all-age service of Remembrance attended by local uniformed organisations.
Behind the Church is a large field, used for various activities throughout the year. The annual Neville’s Cross Eco-Festival (founded and run by St John’s) takes place here and all round the Church grounds. In one corner of the field, fruit tree saplings are planted, which (after a few years’ growth) are given to local communities – part of the Fruitful Durham initiative.
Since the 1920s, a Scout Hut has occupied land in the grounds of the Church. Several Scouting and Guiding groups meet here through the week, with whom the Church has active links. See their website for more details. St John’s Brownies look after the flowerbed next to the main entrance to the Church.
St John’s has never had a Churchyard, for burials; however a small area in the Church grounds is set aside for the Burial of Ashes of parishioners who have died. More information about Funerals and Burial of Ashes is available from the Parish Office; these services are open to any parish resident, but statutory fees are payable.