St. John's Church
Living stones, loving God, serving others
Higham has origins which are much older than first appear from the surrounding houses and Victorian church. Records exist of a grant of land to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the King of Mercia in 774 AD. So a church in what is now known as Lower Higham would have existed in Saxon times.
The medieval church of S.Mary's, near the edge of the marshes bordering the river Thames, has evidence of Saxon work, although most of the fabric dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. S.Mary's is now 'retired' from active service (and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust) but remains open daily and is well worth a visit. It contains some sine 15th century woodwork (the main door, the pulpit and the screen) Charles Dickens lived in the parish and his daughter was married there; the artist Holman Hunt was best man, still remembered for his famous painting of Christ, lantern in hand, knocking at a door and entitles "The Light of the World"
As the population almost doubled between 1821 - 1861 the hamlet around S.Mary's ceased to be the centre of Higham which had gradually moved to the area around our present church of S.John's, known as Mid-Higham. The Reverend Joseph Hindle, vicar of Higham from 1829 - 1874 was a wealthy man and had S.John's and a new vicarage built at his own expense in 1861. The church was designed by E. Stephens of Lambeth and cost £2,674. It was lit by gaslight until 1957
Statement of significance - March 2014
St John’s Church was
consecrated in 1862, having been built to accommodate the needs of a
growing village whose centre had moved 2 miles south from the
‘hamlet’ surrounding St Mary’s Church, on Higham Marshes, to an
area near the Gravesend to Rochester Road. The move of the village
centre continued over the years, with the result that, in the early
1980s the ancient parish church of St Mary’s was declared
superfluous to the worshipping needs of the parish, and was taken
into the care of what is now the Churches Conservation Trust. At this
point St John's officially became the parish church of Higham,
serving the spiritual and sacramental needs of a population of over
4,000 people. The village is surrounded mainly by agricultural land,
with a small commercial estate in Lower Higham. Although most of the
working population of the village is employed elsewhere, Higham is a
thriving community. St John’s Church provides a focal point for the
village, both visually and in the use of the building.
The church was designed by
Mr E Stephens of Messrs. Myers of Lambeth, at a cost of £2,624,
which was borne by the vicar of the time, the Revd. Joseph Hindle
The church is built in the
Victorian Gothic style and is one of the better examples of Victorian
architecture. It is made of Kentish ragstone with Bath stone details.
Like the church, the churchyard wall is made of Kentish ragstone but
the stone of the wall comes from the old Rochester Bridge. Both
church and curteillage wall are Grade II listed. In 2003 the church
roof was re-slated with new Welsh slates, and the interior was
repainted. In 2007-08 the curteillage wall was partly re-pointed and
the main entrance gates refurbished.
St John’s is a spacious
structure and well balanced. It consists of nave, chancel and north
and south aisles, with octagonal pillars in the arcades. The main
entrance porch is on the west end of the south side, sited under a
bell tower and spire. The belfry had five bells originally, made by
the firm of John Warner and Sons of the Crescent Foundry,
Spitalfields. The treble bell was given in 1914 in memory of
Catherine Stunt. The tower also houses a clock with faces on the
south and west sides. The carved stone font is sited just inside the
interior door of the entrance porch.
The south aisle houses the
Lady Chapel originally created in 1962 to commemorate the centenary
of St John’s Church. This was re-ordered in the 1990s.
On the south and north
sides of the chancel arch respectively are a brass eagle lectern and
carved stone pulpit, which were installed in 1887. The chancel was
re-ordered in 1968, combining the sanctuary and the choir area,
making the altar the focal point. Further re-ordering was carried
out in the 1990s.
In 2014, to mark the 150thanniversary of the dedication of the church in 2012, the original
Victorian tiled floor of the chancel/sanctuary was refurbished.
Complementary modern tiling was added to mark the areas where the
choir stalls and high altar originally stood. A tiled platform was
formed, extending the platform under the chancel arch and
incorporating a black, anniversary memorial slate, with the eagle
emblem of St John, carved by Paul Wehrle. A new, English oak dais,
made by Martin Shurmer, was also installed behind the altar. Both
the dais and the slate are dedicated to the memory of the
Revd. David Barnes.
In the north-eastern
corner of the church is the entrance to the sacristy, which was
enlarged in 1887/88, and the organ moved into it. There is another
entrance on the east wall of the sacristy, which is currently unused.
There is a third entrance
at the western end of the north aisle, again, currently unused.
At the western end of the
north aisle is the entrance to the extension housing the church
office and vestry hall, which was built in 1973.
Of special significance are the stained glass windows and the west and east ends, particularly the modern stained glass in the sanctuary and Lady Chapel. On July 1 1944, blast from a flying bomb destroyed the east window and shattered much of the other glass. Only the west window retains its original glazing. This is a fine example of Victorian stained glass, which is dedicated to the memory of Dr William Spicer Wood, a former incumbent. This window was refurbished and releaded in 2007. The replaced glass in the east window depicts the Annunciation, and the two side windows in the chancel represent Our Lord meeting St Mary Magdalene and Our Lord walking on the water. All these windows are by Moira Forsyth. The memorial window to John Welham in the Lady Chapel represents Our Lady’s joys and sorrows, and was designed by Frederick Cole.
The church building is
surrounded by a churchyard of approx. half an acre, which is mainly
laid to grass, planted with shrubs and trees. Of particular note are
two fine specimen sequoia trees and a pine tree, which are believed
to be contemporaneous with the church building and a yew tree by the
main gate. At the east end of the churchyard is a memorial garden for
the burial of ashes, which can be accessed either via the main
churchyard, or through a small entrance gate and pathway of its own.
Although the ancient
parish church of St. Mary is now in retirement, it is still used by
the parish for up to four public services every year. The graveyard
remains open and is in the care and control of the Vicar and
Parochial Church Council of Higham with Merston. Both Grade
I-listed church and graveyard are situated in a conservation area,
and have Dickensian connections. There are many old and interesting
tombstones in the churchyard, and four trees that are the subject of
preservation orders. The main access to the churchyard is halfway
along the eastern side of the curteillage wall, via a lychgate, tiled
with Kentish peg tiles, which is itself a memorial to village
servicemen killed in the 1914-18 War. There is a further double gate
in the north-eastern corner of the churchyard, which gives access to
the churchyard for burials.