For this church:
Features and Fittings
The builder working to Salvin’s design was George Smith and Company of London, who worked alongside local craftsmen to produce a church full of countryside themes, as a celebration of Sherwood Forest and to God’s creativity.
Whilst the pulpit and screen designs are outlined on Salvin’s drawings, the pews and other furniture are not. This could indicate that local craftsmen, perhaps Estate workers, were involved in the manufacture. However, owing to the large volume and quality of the carving work, masters of their trade must have been employed, but their names are at this time elusive, as no direct accounts appear to have survived.
One local family, the Woodhead’s were joiners and wheelwrights to Thoresby Estate as far back as the 1750's, and may have been involved in the carpentry work. However another suitably skilled family were the Tudsbury’s. (Click here for further information about the Tudsbury connection.)
When the church was being built some machine carving and the full use of some labour-saving devices in furniture production were in use generally, however following careful inspection of the furniture and detail work, within St John’s Church no machine carving has yet been revealed. However, mechanical saws have been used for cutting the long lengths of flat timber and the circular stretchers on the Sanctuary and Bishop’s chairs have been turned on a lathe.
The use of a mechanical saw is no surprise. When Leonard Jacks reflected in 1881 on the [Thoresby] Estate in his book The Great Houses of Nottinghamshire and the County Families, he observed:
“..... the machine shops contain the best inventions in the way of machinery, and the works regularly employ a number of hands. There were circular saws and handsaws, and upon the floor are piles of oak and ash, which will be drilled and grooved for all manner of purposes on the estate. The most skilled workmen were employed here; joiners, sawyers, and machinists, and if one did not know that the whole of Lord Manvers’ large estates were supplied from these workshops, one would be at a loss to know what was done with all this woodwork which keeps a powerful engine perpetually on the move.”
All this rich provision of woodcarvings, is part of this celebration of Sherwood Forest, and is of great interest. A careful operation of sympathetic cleaning, restoration and conservation work was undertaken in 2001-2.
The carved church pew ends are particularly fine examples of craftsmanship and the skills of the time in which they were created.
It should be noted that the pews to the west of the cross aisle are darker in colour owing to artificial staining, and the details on the pew ends less ornate and distinct than those on the central eastern side of the Nave. A darker colour also exists on some of the northern pews adjacent to the north aisle and the finish is the same as the western pews mentioned above, however the finish appears to have been correctly applied in this instance, as distinct to those west of the cross aisle. The additional pews to the west, from a photograph dated 28th September 1905, appears to indicate they were of a similar finish to the original, when fitted, and the ‘stain’ was applied, sometime afterwards.
On the north side of the Chancel step is a hexagonal pulpit. The styling and general concept design is depicted quite clearly on the Architect’s drawings. Its hoarding is of oak, ornately carved with Gothic style arches and adorned with foliage. The background timbers with their repetitively carved pattern would have been an ideal subject for machine carving, however, each element of the visible pattern can be raced and is unique. We can deduce that even this endeavour has been completely hand carved.
The timberwork stands on a Caen stone dais engraved with matching foliage all supported on seven pillars of red and green marble with a plinth of Caen stone.
The oak choir stalls in the Chancel are adorned with heraldic figures and mythological monsters; there are lions, griffins and wolverine creatures with and without wings, all with a fierce glare and gnashing teeth. More than enough to stir the heart of any chorister who cares to dwell in the area!
The High Altar, in oak like most of the rest of the furnishings in the church, is adorned with delicate carvings of various cereal crops, a bird, and other foliage.
From an architectural point of view one cannot but be impressed by the great oak west door, which forms the traditional ceremonial entrance into the church and gives a view through the trees, down the footpath, towards the bridge over the River Meden, and onwards to Thoresby Hall.
This stands adjacent to the chancel step and is a much later addition. It was acquired from Budby Chapel, when it was demolished, in 1968.
Carved Stone Items
The reredos is the work of Forsythe of London and is of Steetley stone. The central panel depicts the Good Shepherd, but this is suffering some erosion. The four niches on either side hold statues of the four Evangelists, each standing in front of the symbolic creature traditionally assigned to him; St Matthew, an angel; St Mark, a lion; St Luke, an ox; and St John, an eagle. These are carved from the more resilient Caen Stone.
The south wall, within the Sanctuary, incorporates an unusual dual sedilia. (It is far more common to have one or three seats). This was traditionally occupied by the deacon and the sub-deacon during the eucharist.
The octagonal font stands on the side aisle in the southwest area of the Nave, and has a circular, lined interior with a central plug at the bottom. The font is of Caen stone and supported on eight marble pillars with a central column of stone.
A handsome oak cover is provided with iron stiffeners and a wrought lifting eye.
The marble statue of a child holding a cross, whilst sadly damaged, appears to have been made in 1867, and is marked ‘EW Wyon, SC’, and mounted on a red pseudo-marble coloured column.
The statue may have been one of the artefacts brought down to Thoresby in 1949, from Cliffe Castle, formally Cliffe Hall, by the Countess Manvers, the grand-daughter of Henry Isaac Butterfield, when the Countess sold the castle to Sir Bracewell Smith enabling a trust to be set up. In July 1950, Cliffe Castle was officially handed over to the Borough of Keighley, to be used as a museum and art gallery.
It is a matter of note that the Countess Manvers, Marie-Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont, née Butterfield, wife of the 6th Earl Manvers, was born at Cliffe Castle.
The archway preceding the west door from the Nave has an inscription above, which reads:
(This church was built to the glory of God by Sydney William Herbert third Earl Manvers It was consecrated A.D. 11 Kal Dec 1876)
The interior stone carving in the church is detailed and intricate. The faces on the pillars within the Nave represent Christ’s twelve Apostles. John, the beardless one and patron saint of the church, is clearly positioned over the pulpit. Carved stone foliage capitals on some of the columns are also of great interest.
The encaustic floor tiles below the tower have the simplest in design and are fairly plain. The nave tile pattern becomes a little better to become the very fine pattern, on the tile within the Chancel. The most elaborate being within the Sanctuary area itself.
The outside of the Church has a number of different faces carved into the stonework; it is said that one of them represents Robin Hood!!
Gargoyles, or gurgoyles are Gothic features of church architecture that are often distinctive, even amusing, but always out of reach at the top of the church walls, where they perform the useful function of decorative rain-water spouts. Because they lend themselves to the form of a face with an open mouth, the stone masons were tempted to put a little satire into their work. Several examples exist around the church at St John’s.
At the South-eastern corner of the nave, above the gargoyle mounted on the corner but below the roof tile level a carved freeze extends horizontally and is repeated on the tower below the parapet level.
The tower parapet stands some seventy feet from the ground, giving extensive views of the surrounding area. It is surmounted by four pinnacles and the spire - 128 feet in all. Spectacular overhanging ‘Hound’ gargoyles eject any rainwater away from the top of the tower walkway. Sadly, the erosion of the stone is increasing and repairs have to continue on much of the detailed masonry.
The crested roof tiles over the Nave and Chancel are of interest expanding the proportions of the building and its fine detail. Similarly the pinnacles on the tower parapet and above the buttresses on the Chancel.
Other Items of Interest
A board is fitted adjacent to the Children’s corner in the south-east part of the church and lists the various Clergy serving in the St John the Evangelist Church since the Act of Parliament, in 1836.
Within the tower is the bier on which members of the Estate pulled the Countess Manvers on her last journey to St John’s Church in 1984.
The bier itself bears the hallmark of the types of craftsmen involved in the workshops on the Estate. The wheels made by the wheelwright, shackles and brackets by the blacksmith, and the other woodwork by the joiners. It is again documented that all the carts, drays and hayricks used on the Estate were made in the workshops. The framework over the wheeled section is called a herse (or as the later dictionaries a hearse) which is set over the coffin, and covered with a pall.
There is a curious picture mounted on the south wall of the chancel. Three diferent pictures can be seen in it, depended on the aspect from which it is observed.
Remnants of Earlier Features
The holes in the pillars and pattern stain above, are where ornamental swan neck gasoliers, which once lit the church were fitted. The supply came from the estate gas works close by, at the wood yard. Here there were two gasometers, retorts, and all the requisite appliances for making sufficient gas to supply the hall, church, and other places.
Chancel Step Celebration Board
If you look at the arch above the Chancel step you can see holes in the stone. These held boards giving a suitable text for any general church season.
“The Earth is the Lord’s and the goodness thereof”
“Prepare ye the Way of the Lord”
These were put up at the requisite time, and taken down by the Estate workmen, when the season was over.