St John Baptist - Coventry, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Superted
N 52° 24.500 W 001° 30.924
30U E 600985 N 5807492
Quick Description: The history of this chuch dates back to 1344. It is associated with the phrase 'Sent to Coventry'
Location: United Kingdom
Date Posted: 8/15/2008 6:32:56 AM
Waymark Code: WM4F19
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Jyrki&Sari
Views: 68

Long Description:
St. John's Church owes its existence to the desire of the medieval religious guild of St. John the Baptist to have its own place of worship, rather than a small chapel in either Holy Trinity or St. Michael's, the two parish churches of Coventry at that time. In the City Archives at St. Mary's Hall, there is a document which is dated May 1344. In it Queen Isabella, widow of King Edward II, granted an area of land, called 'Babbelak', to the Guild of St. John the Baptist, to be used for building a chapel, in honour of St. John the Baptist. The chapel was dedicated on the 2nd of May 1350. In the years between 1375 and the end of the 14th century, the tower and the north side were constructed. The picture below, left shows the tower, while the photograph to the right shows one of the stone carved, gothic-style statues, which feature in abundance on the exterior of the church.

The guild of St. John was later joined by the guilds of St. Catherine and The Holy Trinity, and the chapel became a collegiate church with up to 10 secular priests, 12 singing men and a warden. At the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the church was closed and given to the Mayor and Corporation of Coventry. During the Commonwealth, the Church was loaned to an Independent Minister, Samuel Basnett. The Church was used to imprison Scottish Royalist soldiers after the Battle of Preston in 1648, during the Civil War. The saying 'sent to Coventry', stems from the hostile reception given to the soldiers by the local people, meaning that someone is being treated coldly or ignored. Following the restoration in 1660 of the monarchy, the building fell into a state of neglect and a local textile manufacturer is said to have used it as a 'Stretch Yard'. On 24th June (St. John the Baptist's Day) 1734, the Church became a Parish Church, with Spon Ward as its Parish. The Church was no longer a Guild Chapel, but officially styled 'St. John the Baptist'. The name 'Bablake Church' was also used until recently. The first Rector was the Reverend Edward Jackson, who remained there for 24 years. He was also the headmaster of Bablake School, founded by Thomas Wheatley, the original building of which can be seen in the quadrangle behind the church and the Bond's Hospital almshouses. Due to the danger of flooding, the floor level was raised, which resulted in the lower parts of the windows being blocked out and hiding the bases of the columns. Galleries and pews were subsequently installed, with a huge canopied pulpit adjoining the north-west nave arch, but no altar.

Restoration work was done between 1858 and 1861 by George Gilbert Scott, but it had to be halted due to high poverty in the City. Restoration resumed in 1875 and continued until 1877. Since there had been no flooding for a considerable time, the floor level was lowered. Despite these restoration efforts, the exterior of the church is today, showing very bad corrosion as a result of air born pollutants. The photograph below, left shows the church at around 1890 whereas that to the right shows it as it currently stands.

The building of the church is most unusual in design and layout. It was built upon oak pillars, driven into the old lake bed (sunk to a depth of 14ft 6ins) on which it stands. On the 31st December 1900, due to a rapid thaw of heavy snow , the River Sherbourne overflowed and the lake reappeared. The Church was flooded to a depth of 5ft 6inches. During the air-raid on the 14th November 1940, the glass of the East Window was blown out, resulting in the organ pipes been visible from Hill Street. During the raid which took place between the 8th and 9th April 1941, the West Window was set on fire. The furnishings of St. John's Chapel in the South Aisle were damaged. The Church lost all of its windows with the exception of three. Whilst windows were still boarded from war damage, a fire in 1945, thought to have originated from the organ, destroyed much of the Sanctuary and Lady Chapel. Restoration was carried out over a number of years at a cost of around £25,000. In 1969, the implementation of the Ring Road and Subways, separated the Church from the bulk of the Parish population and consequently, its future was uncertain, but happily, this is no longer the case.

During the early 70's, much of the property belonging to the Parish Church was sold. The money raised was invested and a new parish room was built as an extension on the North Side in 1977. The extension is shown in the picture. The Parish rooms now have disabled access and are used regularly by many outside organisations. In addition, every Saturday morning the hall is open from 10 am - 12 pm, providing light refreshments to shoppers and visitors to the church, staffed by church volunteers. Guided tours on an informal basis are given by church members. In July 1999 the church purchased a new nave altar (below, left) from proceeds of Saturday coffee mornings. This replaces the previous altar (below, right) which has become rickety and unsafe over the years.

The new altar was blessed and dedicated on Friday 18th July 1999 by the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Colin Bennetts.

More on the church can be found at:-
Building Materials: Stone

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Superted visited St John Baptist - Coventry, UK 1/5/2014 Superted visited it