A Brief History of the Church
The first church was built on this site in about 1130. It was Norman in style, the same length as the present building, but only the width of the chancel. The only distinctive feature of this original Norman church remaining today is one rounded window arch, which can be seen in the chancel. The tower was added in c.1270.
The growth in the population of the town created a need for a larger church, and gradually the nave was remodelled to its present size. William Hutton, a coal merchant, paid for the north aisle in c.1350. When this was complete, the south aisle was built, the north transept was added, and the north aisle widened and extended to enclose the tower.
In about 1450 a wealthy merchant, Robert Rhodes, paid for the raising of the nave walls with clerestory windows, and a higher roof. The south aisle was rebuilt, the south transept was built, and the tower was vaulted. Thus by the second half of the fifteenth century, the church was substantially as it is today.
A number of important local historic figures have been associated with St John’s, including 18th century composer Charles Avison (1709-1858), 19th century medical pioneer John Snow (1813-1858), neo-classical builder Richard Grainger (1797-1861) and renowned engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).
The fine Harrison and Harrison organ was built in 1909, the same year that the high altar, designed by Charles Nicholson, was installed. In 1970 a major re-ordering of the church introduced the nave altar and chancel screen.
Did you Know?
St John’s church contains the earliest known representation of the city’s coat of arms – three silver castles on a red shield – in a window on the north side of the chancel. The glass dates from about 1400.
The castle motif goes back to earliest times. Originally the town took its name from the “New Castle” built by order of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, in 1080 and a castle was depicted on the twelfth century common seal.
Spirit in Stone – The Lindisfarne Legacy
St John’s was a Hub Church for the Spirit in Stone Project, set up by Inspired North East to raise awareness of the Christian Heritage of the Northeast, and encourage more people to enjoy and appreciate the churches of the region. See the Spirit in Stone website to explore and learn about our ecclesiastical heritage.