The Church of St John the Baptist, has been a centre for prayer and worship in Wimbledon for over 140 years. It was built to serve the growing population of the area, and consecrated on All Souls’ Day, 1875 by the Bishop of London.
In the mid-19th century the arrival of the railway and the consequent expansion of housing south of the Ridgway created a demand for a new church. The land for the Church was acquired for £20 in 1867 and architects submitted their plans, which were to cost no more than £6000. However, insufficient funds were raised and a temporary ‘iron Church’ was purchased from St John’s, Battersea for £1,200. Made of corrugated iron on brick foundations, and seating 500, it came complete with altar and font, “illuminated texts all over the windows and two seraphs to each entrance”.
In 1873 the architect Thomas Jackson was appointed, and he oversaw the construction of the present building in Victorian High Gothic style. The foundation of the new Church was laid on St John the Baptist’s day, 24th June, in 1873. The site presented several difficulties because of underground streams and required extensive drainage. The tower and spire designed by Thomas Jackson were never added as the site was deemed too dangerous and the building work too expensive. Today the Church is a Grade II listed building.
St John’s was consecrated on All Souls’ Day, 2nd November 1875, by the Bishop of London. Unusually, the Church grounds were excluded from the consecration as the original conveyance of the land specified that the land be used neither for burials nor for schools.
The Church is normally entered through the north door, and conforms to the tradition for churches dedicated to St John the Baptist where one descends into the nave via steps, symbolising descent into the waters of Baptism.
The impressive north porch, with its tracery of cut brickwork and sculpture of the Baptism of Our Lord, was donated by the daughter of General Sir Henry Murray, who led the charge of the Hussars at the conclusion of the Battle of Waterloo.
The impression received on entering the Church is one of space and light. The tall central nave has a slightly curved roof, which contributes to the wonderful acoustic of the building. The elevated chancel and sanctuary are divided from the nave by a delicate wooden screen, surmounted by a cross. At the four corners of the high altar are tall pillars topped by angels holding candlesticks.
On the north side of the nave a wide aisle holds the Lady Chapel, which has a fine wooden reredos designed by Martin Travers. It was donated by the Bloxham family in 1921 as a World War 1 memorial to their son. Wall tiles in the Sanctuary and Chancel, now painted over, and foliate designs on the Chancel roof, reflect the influence of William Morris.
In 1904 a new organ was installed, built by the celebrated Hill, Norman and Beard Company. Originally a two-manual instrument, it was enlarged in 1926 when a choir manual was added. It is a magnificent example of a heritage organ.
There are many fine stained glass windows, including one in the North Aisle which came from the famous William Morris works at Merton. It depicts the Death of Lazarus. The figure of Martha in the left light is from a design by Edward Burne-Jones for a window in St Giles, Edinburgh, where it represents Jephtha’s Daughter. The figure of Christ addressing Martha is by Henry Dearle, leading designer at the William Morris works.
The Church has a crypt room (the Peter Dixon Room) used for meetings, and a Church Hall which is hired out regularly as a nursery, for Brownies and Guides, and a host of other community activities. The Church itself is in great demand as a centre for concerts, particularly of choral and chamber music, because of its attractive ambience and fine acoustic.
Visitors to the Church of St John the Baptist tell us of the immediate impression that they gain of this building’s past and present role as a house of prayer. We are proud of our history and architecture, but we are also committed to making this building a vibrant centre for the worship of God in this corner of Wimbledon here and now.