Church History

Drawing of the church

This is what our church used to look like when it was built in 1848. Much is still the same, but instead of the spire being made out of stone it is now clad in copper. Over time the coppper has turned light green and you can see it from miles around.

The church was designed by Edward Charles Hakewill. It is a Grade II* listed building and was built in what's called the 'Early English' Gothic revival style.

The first Rector was Henry Handley Norris (1771-1850). Norris was a significant figure in the founding of the National Society which continues to this day to support and resource Church of England schools in England and Wales. The present-day church was Norris's last great project and was completed when he was 77 year old, just two years before his death.

The first St John of Jerusalem – a smaller classical building - was built in 1810. The churchyard can still be seen beside St Thomas's Place on the north side of Well Street. It was demolished in 1848.

The church's dedication, to St John of Jerusalem, is unusual. There was an old connection between the neighbourhood and the Order of St John of Jerusalem. One of the many manors that supported the work of the Order was located in Hackney, close to where Forsyth House now stands on the Frampton Park Estate. It's one of many fascinating aspects of both the church and the parish's rich history.

For further information see A Parish in Perspective: A history of the church and parish of St John of Jerusalem South Hackney (2002), by Geoff Taylor, which is on sale in the church. See below for new information discovered since the publication of this book in 2002.

Drawing of the church

For people doing family history

If you are trying to find old parish registers it might be helpful for you to know that the only registers kept in the church are those that are currently in use. All our old registers (marriages, burials etc) are kept at:

The London Metropolitan Archive
40 Northampton Road
Clerkenwell
EC1R 0HB
(Tel - 020 7332 3820)

For further information please see: http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Leisure_and_culture/Records_and_archives/Visitor_information/

The graveyard at St John of Jerusalem was closed for burials in 1868. During the 1960s the large majority of gravestones were removed from the churchyard. Very sadly no records were kept of the position of these graves. Consequently only a small number of the largest gravestones are in their original position.

A PARISH IN PERSPECTIVE: AN UPDATE, 2012, by Geoff Taylor

Ten years ago, I said in the Author's Note to A Parish in Perspective[1] that I hoped that new information about the history of St John of Jerusalem South Hackney would continue to come to light. It has, and as there won't be a second edition of the book which could include this interesting new information, here it is.

Page 13: At least one parishioner was bold enough to visit Norris's home, unbidden. In 1818, his servants Thomas Butler and Thomas Rawbone caught 24 year-old James Evans stealing from the outhouses property worth 10/6. There was a violent struggle involving Butler's pistol, but Evans was overpowered and handed over to John Garver, constable of Hackney. Evans was sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years transportation. (Source: Old Bailey records, ref: t18181028-97) (Butler and Thomas Rawbone's presumed relative Ann are mentioned on page 22.)

Pages 31-32: The architect E C Hakewill was a keen student of Gothic architecture, as his design for St John of Jerusalem church shows. Further impressive evidence of his enthusiasm is provided by his wonderfully detailed painted wood-and-cardboard model of the west front of Rheims Cathedral, made in 1840, a few years before he designed the church. It is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's not on public view but can be seen on the V&A website. (Source: www.vam.ac.uk and search on 'rheims, hakewill')

Page 54: Correction: It was Edward Hakewill not his brother who designed St Augustine's church in Victoria Park in 1867. He also designed the original church of St Michael and All Angels, London Fields, so it's not entirely true to say that '[E C] Hakewill was never again to have the green field site and generous budget given to him by Norris in South Hackney' (p 27). (Private information from Bob Hakewill)

Pages 47-52: Rector Lockwood was clearly a man who wanted to make an impression. He was granted a coat of arms in 1845, the year he arrived in South Hackney as curate. The arms appear on his memorial in the north transept.

Page 68: One of the main reasons for the expansion of the choir and the rebuilding of the organ in the 1870s was that Henry Bonavia Hunt (1847-1917) became choirmaster in 1872. He gathered the support of leading organists and choirmasters in London and set up an independent institution to provide better training for (male and Anglican) church musicians, which in 1875 became Trinity College, London. It is now Trinity College of Music. Hunt was its warden from 1872 to 1892. He wrote a frequently reprinted brief history of music. He was eventually ordained and became vicar of St James, Piccadilly. It is appropriate that links between the church and the college have recently been revived. (The 'Bonavia' part of Hunt's name indicates his Maltese-Italian ancestry.) (Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Hunt, Henry George Bonavia)

Page 75: The deaconesses outbid the previous tenant of what was to become All Saints House, the poet and educational administrator Edmund Beale Sargant (1855-1938). He had been running (and personally subsidising) a school called School Field in the building. His aim had been to demonstrate the educational ineffectiveness of basing school funding on the outcome of exams on the main academic subjects. The school had to close, but its point had by then been successfully made. (Sources: Taylor, Geoff: “School Field: an educational experiment" in Hackney History vol.10 2004, p. 28; Gardner, Philip, (2004) '"There and not seen": EB Sargant and educational reform 1884-1905'. History of Education 33 (6). 609-35.)

Page 84: Further evidence of the social position of some of the clergy of the period is provided by Vicar Egan of Christ Church; he owned 250 hectares (617 acres) in County Galway. And the trade in livings wasn't always quite as mercenary as Southgate supposed (p.61): Rector Lennard exchanged livings with his successor in South Hackney, Rector Dodd, who preceded him as rector of Lower Heyford, Oxfordshire.

Page 89: The battle between the parochial charities and the emerging secular local authority for control of resources came before the courts in 1864. The management of the properties which funded the charities of the ancient parish of St John, Hackney, had been given by the Charity Commissioners to the rectors and churchwardens of the three new parishes of Hackney, West Hackney and South Hackney acting together as the forerunners of what became the St John Hackney Joint Estate Charities. Two rate-paying residents, in reality acting on behalf of the Vestry of Hackney, which now dealt with many secular matters for the whole of the ancient parish, claimed that this should not have been done in the case of some of the properties, and that the vestry should have their management and the resulting funds. The matter came before the Master of the Rolls and eventually the Appeal Court. It was found in 1865 that the Charity Commissioners had had the right to act as they had done. The properties concerned included the Buttfield, now the site of Butfield House, near St Luke's church, South Hackney. (Source: The Law Times Law Reports, volume XI n.s. pp35-38, 758-759)

Page 98: The war memorial was dedicated in 1921in the presence of a large number of dignitaries, a choir of 160 voices and detachments of various uniformed organisations as well as the general public. Something of the flavour of the occasion, and indeed of the period, is caught in the words of Lt-Gen. Sir Francis Lloyd, who in addressing the crowd is reported as saying that

It was very right and meet that they should raise those bright and beautiful memorials … because they were memorials of the greatest of great deeds when the Imperial families of the great nations that went to make up the great British Empire sent their sons and their best to fight for the right. They went forward, and they went over the top with their hearts full of the brightest of deeds to die for liberty and Christianity, but they would say, “Where is the touch of the vanished hand?" There was a sadness in it, but to die like that and to die for the best and the greatest was a panacea [sic] at least; and they could but remember what they died for. They died that we might live, and remember, in living the life that was assured for us by the great war which we won, what would have happened had we been beaten. That was the measure of what they did in dying. We had to remember that measure and not go away saying that that beautiful memorial was enough, but see that those who remained behind lived the better life that they would have lived. In the cauldron of the world at this moment there was bubble and trouble and it seemed impossible to say that things could be put right, but let them not despair in their hearts.

(Source: The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 24 October 1921; located by Paul Higgins)

Page 101: Queen Mary visited South Hackney in August 1916, in the midst of the First World War. The visit seems to have been organised by Rector Batty, who, with his two curates, was in the car leading the small royal motorcade. The queen visited some street shrines, which had been invented by South Hackney Parish; on one of the houses in each of nine working class streets the church had put up lists of the names of the men who had gone to war, and the local people decorated them with flowers, flags and symbols of martial glory. One of the shrines was in Palace Road, on the site of what is now Frampton Park Estate, where from the 70 houses 111 men had already gone to war. The Bishop of London was encouraging other parishes to take up the South Hackney idea. The queen went on to visit the church, where she saw the list of men who had been killed and the reredos made in their memory by parishioners. (Source: The Times, 11 August 1916)

Page 101: As a souvenir of her visit in 1916 Queen Mary sent Rector Batty a framed print of the painting The Great Sacrifice by James Clark (1858-1943). It showed a young soldier, instantly and (one is meant to assume) painlessly killed by a neat bullet in the head, with his hand on the foot of a vision of the crucified Christ. It was already a very popular image and had given much comfort to bereaved families. The accompanying letter from the queen's secretary said that she had bought the original and suggested that the print be placed beside the roll of honour in the side-chapel of the church. It was no doubt an acknowledgement of the part being played by Rector Batty in the war effort. (Source: Harrington, Peter, "The Great Sacrifice. From war souvenir to inspirational icon," Print Quarterly, XXVII, 2010, 2, p 146.)

Page 101: Five card panels bearing the calligraphed names of about (it's hard to be sure because of probable but unexplained duplications) 180 men and one woman have been discovered in the church. Most of the names are in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database as the names of people killed in the First World War; presumably the names not in the database have been omitted in error. The service personnel whose addresses have been traced were not all resident in the parish, and there were parishioners who were killed whose names do not appear, so it would seem that the names recorded were those of people who were either connected with the church or whom church goers has asked to be remembered in this way, whether or not they themselves were connected to the church or lived in the parish. The panels seem to have been pinned up in the church, perhaps near The Great Sacrifice print. It's hard to imagine why the list of names was not given a permanent form, as was so often the case, for example at neighbouring St Luke's church, unless perhaps it was the difficulty of deciding exactly whose names to record – those who had lived within the parish boundaries, or those who had had some contact with the church, or those whom local people or churchgoers particularly wanted to be remembered in this way. (Panels found by Rector Andrew Wilson)

Page 102: Update: A new plaque remembering people from the parish who have been killed in wars since 1918 was added to the war memorial in 2006. It bears the words: 'Sorrow Gratitude Penitence.'

Page 116: The painting that mysteriously turned out to be worth so much more than anyone at the church imagined is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was painted in about 1624 by the Dutch master Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629) and shows the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John. The treatment of the subject is deliberately old-fashioned which together with its size (1m by 1.5m) suggests it was a replacement for a damaged part of a late medieval altarpiece, possibly painted for a clandestine Roman Catholic group. It can be viewed on the MMA website. Liedtke (page 118) relays Nigel Foxell's account of the sale: the church sold the painting to him for £75, and he then 'placed the picture in the Sotheby's sale, and gave the net proceeds, less ten percent, to the Diocese of London.' A slightly different account appeared in the Times, according to which Foxell bought the painting for £100 from a furniture shop. Nigel Foxell was Vicar Lambert Foxell's son and became a novelist. (Sources: Liedtke, Walter Dutch paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, 2007; The Times 29 November 1956, p12; Lopez, Jonathan “Protestant Virtues" in Apollo Magazine, January 2008. See also www.metmuseum.org and search on 'ter brugghen')

Page 132: In 2010-11, English Heritage funded further work, on the tower. Much of the stonework had to be replaced. Just below the parapet around the base of the spire two new corbels have been given contemporary faces. One, on the south side, shows Richard Harbud, a long-standing member of the congregation and an ex-churchwarden. The other, above the ridge of the nave roof, represents the 2007/8 financial crisis in the UK - in the form of a City banker; his features repay study with binoculars. On the south side of the Tower, just beside the top of the narrow lancet window, easily visible from ground level, the face of Mavis Bucchan was later carved. Mavis was a much loved and longstanding member of the congregation and choir, and for many years did remarkable volunteer visiting at Holloway prison.

Page 142: I should have pointed out that Neil Hughes the lay reader and councillor is the Neil Hughes whose life has been fascinatingly chronicled in the long-running television series 7 Up.

Pages 145 and 146: I'm afraid these pages were somehow printed in the wrong order - sorry.

Page 161: Update: Rector Funnell was made a prebendary of St Paul's in 2005 and retired in 2008. In 2009, a new Rector was appointed: Andrew Marcus William Wilson, MA Oxford, Cambridge and King's College London.

I am grateful as always to those who have brought this new information to my attention. Keep it coming![2]

Geoff Taylor

August 2012



[1] Taylor, Geoff A Parish in Perspective South Hackney 2002 ISBN: 0-9544019-0-5

[2] Please send any further information to me c/o The Rectory, 9 Church Crescent, London, E9 7DH. It's an address that won't change as quickly as email addresses tend to!