e-mail: simon@suffolkchurches.co.uk

St John, Lowestoft

  St John was one of the four great urban churches erected in Suffolk during the course of the 19th century. The others were Ipswich St Mary le Tower, Felixstowe St John the Baptist and Bury St John. Interestingly, all four were built of different materials in slightly different styles, and the choice of Kentish Rag and Caen stone for this church may not have been wise, considering its proximity to the winter storms of the North Sea.

St John from the dock bridge in 1860.

 

Inside, looking east. St John was designed in the Anglo-catholic tradition, with a magnificent reredos, furninshings and glasswork. All of this was destroyed.

 
  A structural survey in 1964 found considerable weather damage, and when, in 1973, the time came for two of the Lowestoft town centre churches to be declared redundant, this one was easy prey, despite it being much grander and a more significant part of the townscape than Christ Church or St Peter.  
  Much of the damage was caused by the great east coast floods of 1953, the salt water eating high into the interior superstructure.

As is always the case, it was hoped that an alternative use could be found. But Victorian architecture was deeply unfashionable in the 1970s, and redundancy legislation said that, if a church wasn't important for historical or architectural reasons, a new use had to be found within three years.

This didn't happen, and by 1978 the church was a ruin. Full-scale demolition followed soon after, and a block of flats called Levington House was built on the site.

If St John were declared redundant today, there is no doubt that it would be considered important enough to be saved. Not only was it architecturally significant, but its place in the Lowestoft townscape was central. Comparing the two photographs above and to the right, you can see how the area urbanised in the 30 years between them. There is a sense in which Lowestoft grew around St John, and its loss has left a hole.

One of the former parishioners here was the composer Benjamin Britten; as a child, he accompanied his mother from their home at Kirkley, a mile or so off. She was the organist, and it seems likely that he played it himself. After the closure of St John, the parish was subsumed into that of neighbouring Kirkley.

 

St John at the end of the 19th century. Note the addition of a clock since the photo above.

 
 

St John in 1978, during demolition. Photograph from Jack Rose's Changing Lowestoft (copyright 1994 Rushmere Publishing)

 

The cockerel from the weather vane removed prior to demolition of the spire. Bits of the church were sold off to interested spectators and collectors. (photograph copyright Eastern Daily Press).

 
  The architect was J.L. Clemence, who shoe-horned this North London-style Anglo-catholic cruciform church on to the site.

The tower fitted neatly on the east side of the north transept, and the top of its spire was the tallest point in Lowestoft. The interior must have been splendid; the windows were filled with glass from many of the major 19th century workshops.

Almost all of this was destroyed in the period between redundancy and demolition.

The church had cost 6000 in 1853, about one and a half million pounds in today's money. And this didn't include the spire, which was added in the 1860s.

 

The interior gutted by fire in 1977, shortly before demolition. (photograph copyright Eastern Daily Press).

 
  Hardly a single trace of this church survives today; only the organ was rescued and restored. It was installed in 1979 at St Andrew, Gorleston, a few miles over the Norfolk border. Basil Rollason tells me that it is a particularly fine one.

Levington House, the sheltered flats which stand on the site today. This photograph was taken from the same position as the external photographs at the top of the page.

St John, Lowestoft, has been demolished. It formerly stood at the junction of London Road South and Belvedere Road, at the south end of the bridge.

Some of these photo's are from Eastern Daily Press archive publications, and are not my copyright. Thanks to Phil Draper for the postcards. I'd be really interested in adding a colour photo of the church if anyone has one.