The History Of St Johns Church
Our Parish Church.
The first plan for a church on the present site of St.John’s, Oakfield, were produced in 1841. Building commenced the following year, on land given by Sir John Simeon, Bart. of Swainston House and St,John’s. The original church was a good deal smaller than today’s; generally cruciform in structure, it consisted only of a main nave (without the side aisles), very short North and South transepts, quite a small chancel and no Lady Chapel. The North door and main entrance porch (on the Appley road) was placed further to the East than it now is, approximately mid-way along the nave.
The Church was consecrated in the name of Saint John the Baptist on the 18th July 1843 by the Bishop of Winchester, in whose diocese the Island, and indeed most of the present diocese of Portsmouth then was. St.John’s itself then formed a Chapelry of the Parish of St.Helen’s, and the living of St.John’s was under the patronage of the Vicar of that parish until the year of 1979, when the Synod decreed that all patronages revert to the Diocesan Patronage Board. In the 1840s the inhabitants of the district of St. John’s were centred on the small village of Oakfield, forming a community with strong agricultural interests. The Elmfield and St.John’s Park communities did not come into existence until the residential developments of the 1870s. The fields lying to the South and South-West of St.John’s farm, extending down to the Smallbrook, which formed the boundary with Ryde, bore the curious name of ‘Troublefield Acres’. We are at a loss to explain the origin of this sinister name; we prefer to let it become lost in the archives of the past.
Two or three of the farms and cottages still stand as relics of the earlier days of the Church of St.John’s. These are: St.John’s farm itself, and a little farther down the Brading Road, Hope Cottage; beyond that it was a clear run through the fields and woods all the way to Brading. The fields and copses were studded with Oak and Elm, perpetuated by the fact that both these typically English trees jointly contributed to the making of our processional cross at St.John’s. The Elms alas, have now disappeared under the ravages of disease.
The new church of St.John’s fulfilled a real need for the district of Oakfield and the growing communities of Eastern Ryde. Our neighbours at Holy Trinity were also at this time building their Parish Church, utilising the services of the local architect Thomas Hellyer of Ryde, who had also drawn up the plans for the new Church of St.John’s. The Church of Holy Trinity was consecrated in 1845. The only other church in Ryde at this time was St.Thomas’, a private family (Brigstock) church that has now fallen into disuse. The Parish Church of All Saints was not built until the early 1870s. These were the years of population increase and new development as, with the advent of steam ferries and railway extensions, the importance of Ryde commercially, as a port of transit and as a residential centre increased enormously. So, as time passed, it was rapidly becoming evident that the newly built Church of St.John’s was no longer adequate for the worshipping population of the district.
Plans were therefore produced to extend St.John’s Church. The first additions were in the building of a side aisle on the South side of the naïve and a gallery over the West end, with a small semi-spiral access stairway housed in a specially built turret in the West wall. This turret now houses an electric clock with illuminated dial. The new gallery, whish was primarily intended for seating children only, plus the South Aisle provided additional seating for 160.
An organ (15 stops) was built in the gallery, and a vestry was built adjoining the chancel, in the place where the Lady Chapel now stands. Previously to this there had been a small robing room only, where the porch entrance to the South transept now stands. But in the mid-sixties, it had again become evident that further extensions to the Church were necessary to accommodate the increasing numbers of worshippers. So the North Aisle was built, matching exactly the South Aisle, except for the main entrance, which was sited where it now stands. A new font was built in the position where it is now.
The gallery was now removed, since traditional seating was now provided in the North Aisle and by extension of the transepts; at the same time the organ was removed from the gallery and rebuilt in an organ chamber, roughly where it now stands. To appreciate the work entailed in adding the North and South Aisles, it should be noted that the entire weight of the naïve roof had now to be supported in a different manner, in order to give proper access to the side Aisles. This, of course, had to be done by building the ‘arcades’, that is to say, a series of stone pillars on each side of the naïve, supporting the pointed arches which, in their turn, carrying the roof structure. At the same time, in order to try to improve the lighting by day, and the ventilation(?), two pairs of ‘dormer’ windows were constructed on each side of the naïve roof. The walls of the side aisles, although rather low, were pierced with four double sets each of stained glass windows, depicting various biblical scenes.
The consecration of the enlarged Church, in consequence of the increase of population and the numbers of people attending Divine Service, (as the instrumental deed puts it), took place on December 3rd 1870, and the New Parish of St.John the Baptist, Oakfield, was declared to be a fact ‘for ever’.
So now the Parish was to become a separate entity and it is well, at this stage, to mention the name of he man who held the incumbency at this very important period in the history of the Parish. This was the Revd. Henry Ewbank, whose portrait can be seen in the vestry. It appears that in the early days of St.John’s Church, right up to 1924 in fact, the incumbent had to find his own place of residence. So it was with Henry Ewbank; he owned and lived in the ‘Parsonage’, which is next to the Church on the Appley Road side. He died there in 1901. But it was not until the year 1924 that the Parish was able to have its permanent Vicarage. This was due to a later incumbent, the Revd. C.L.Blake, who, during his ministry at St.John’s, occupied the house in High Park Road, adjacent to the Church and which at his death in 1924 he bequeathed to the Parish. This was to become the Vicarage and remained so until 1983, when the Diocesan Parsonage Board sold the property and acquired a house in Victoria Crescent, which is now ‘St.John’s Vicarage’. The old Vicarage and the adjoining Waxham House have now been converted into homes for elderly people.
On returning now to the Church, we enter through the North door and approach the font. This is as it should be for all Christians who, not only by custom, but also by the very nature of their Faith, are first of all admitted to membership of the Church by way of Baptism. The font is of stone, lead-lined as is customary, octagonal in shape, with a polished oak cover, with a brass lifting ring and other embellishments. It dates from 1893.
Beyond the Font, at the West end of the South Aisle is the Children’s Corner, now known as the Children’s Library. This was created during the incumbency of the Revd. Henry William Pearce (instituted in 1912). Mrs. Wilson Pearce gave of her considerable artistic talent in adorning this place where the very young could come together and find their own particular way of expressing their thoughts in prayer, worship and pictorial display. The aspect and furnishings of the Children’s Corner have now been modified along more modern lines, but the underlying concept still remains.
A special children’s door was originally provided, so that little ones could come and go without in any way disturbing the main worship of the Church. But changes invariably occur and, with the progress of time and the introduction of the Parish Communion, which is essentially a family occasion, the children now form an integral part of the whole worshipping community, and we are glad to have it so. Furthermore, the building of a new Church Hall in 1970, during the incumbency of the Revd. Roger Whitehead, has been instrumental in bringing about a renewed sense of fellowship at St.John’s. The Junior Church, as it is now called, is in full partnership with the adult congregation; the closeness of this link has been much enhanced by the installation (in 1977) of the microphone and amplifier system which enables the service of Holy Communion to be relayed to the Church Hall, where the Junior Church is gathered for their teaching activities. Thus, when the appropriate moment arrives just before the Offertory, the children and their leaders file into the Church and take their places amongst the congregation, ready to go to the Communion rail and receive the Sacrament (if confirmed) or a Blessing by the Celebrant.
Before leaving the Baptistery, on turning round to face the West end wall, we see the beautiful ‘batik’ screen, which covers the entire wall up to the level of the windowsills. The scene depicts the Baptism of Jesus, but there is a whole range of ancillary figures, which bring the whole scene into contemporary family life of today. In one corner of the screen Mother Teresa can be seen ministering to the sick and poor children of Calcutta. Irene Ogden executed this beautiful work, and there is a separate leaflet where batik and the screens are described in detail.
Proceeding now up the naïve, we see on the right, against the rearmost support of the arcade, a framed oil-painting of ‘The Madonna and Child Jesus with John the Baptist’; this is a copy of the original picture painted by Raphael (1483-1520), which hangs in the gallery of the Pitti Palace in Florence and is considered as being by far their most precious possession.
The seating in the Church consists entirely of pitch-pine pews, and the number of people that can be accommodated at present is about 350.
In the years 1979-1980, during the incumbency of the Revd. Edward Fox, a definite change was made in the pattern of worship at St.John’s, particularly in the style of presentation of Holy Eucharist. This was marked by the establishment of a central Nave Altar, situated at the point where the axis of the Nave meets that part of the transepts. After much consideration and deliberation a plan was approved, whereby the pulpit was moved from its traditional position and a new altar of ample proportions was acquired and erected on a wooden dais at the central position (indicated above). The dais was built around it. The central aisle was also carpeted right up to the font.
The new Altar was entirely covered with a new cloth of a coloured design, which was suitable for all seasons of the liturgical year; our friends, the Sisters of the Abbey of St. Cecilia, at Appley, worked this.
The whole concept meant that some of the front pews in the nave and the transepts had to be removed. At the same time a good deal of basic construction work had to be done, and for this there were many able and willing hands on offer.
The result obtained was that the central worship of the Church, i.e. the Holy Eucharist, could now be presented from amidst the congregation.
In January 2014 we joined with the Benefice of Holy Trinity Church when it sadly closed to become ‘St John The Baptist, Oakfield and Holy Trinity, Ryde.