No. 263 - St John's at Devonport - '50 Years and 3 Foundation Stones'

While an Anglican church had been established at Torquay (East Devonport) in the 1860’s, Formby (West Devonport) lagged behind and only acquired a ‘permanent church’ in the early 20th century. Although lacking a church; Anglican services in West Devonport were held regularly from the mid 1880’s:

“Several denominations have held divine service in Formby for some time past, the church of England alone being unrepresented till now. Yesterday, (Sunday), the Rev. Mr. Hogg officiated to an overflowing congregation at the school-room in Formby. These supplementary services are to be regularly continued, as they evidently meet a great religious want”. (The Examiner 1885)

By 1886 plans were underway for the construction of a temporary church:

"A growing necessity is felt for the erection of a permanent Church of England, especially as the temporary accommodation afforded is about to terminate. Stronger efforts are being made to attract subscriptions, and to make an announcement of the work. The result of the last meeting was that application for plans for the edifice has been made in Melbourne… the necessary site having been handsomely presented by the family of Mr. B. Thomas…” (The Examiner March 1886)

In April 1886 the Daily Telegraph reported that the “Church of England is about to start building”. A ‘temporary church’ in Rooke Street was completed in May 1887:

“The completion of this structure is now drawing to a close, and the church-going public of Formby will be provided with an edifice, the want of which has been greatly felt. For some time past the schoolroom belonging to Mr Marsden has served the purpose very well… The nice little structure, which faces on Rooke street, is intended to serve the purpose of a Sunday school, as well as a church, and when the time arrives a church will be erected on a much larger scale and the new erection be used entirely as a schoolroom. The structure is 36ft x 20ft, and the walls are plastered and wainscoted 3ft 6in high…. [Mr Beale] has presented a coloured window to the church, which will be at the back of the chancel, for which a low platform has been placed”. (North West Post 12 May 1887)

The Mission Church, as it was called, opened on Sunday 15 May 1887:

“Opening services were conducted at the new Mission Church of England… by the Rev. W. Hogg, at 7 in the evening. A large congregation assembled. The singing part of the service was nicely rendered by the choir, Miss Cowle presiding at the organ…. The Rev W. Hogg read the service, and the choirs of the Mission church and St Paul’s, Torquay, helped in the musical part…”

Although considered a temporary structure, the building served the Anglicans of West Devonport for 20 years. Lack of finance delayed the opening of a permanent structure until 1906 when the foundation stone for ‘St John the Evangelist’ was laid by Bishop Mercer on 27 February. The event was reported in the North West Post:

“The clergy and male members of the choir robed in the Drill Hall, and marched in procession to the new church. As they entered the ground, the choir sang the hymn, “the Church’s One Foundation,” after which the prescribed order of service was commenced. The Bishop stated it was customary, in the erection of public buildings, to lay with solemnity some principal stone, to represent the foundation, or corner stone…. The rector (the Rev. Canon de Coetlogon) stated it was his pleasure and happiness that he presented the Bishop with a silver trowel as a memento of the solemn and important undertaking… The ceremony was then performed by the Bishop, who repeated the words, “in the faith of Christ, and with prayer for the blessing of God, I lay the foundation stone of a church, to be called St. John the Evangelist…”

Due to limited funds, the new brick church was restricted to a nave and baptistery with plans for expansion once debts had been paid. The opening service took place on 30 September 1906, which was reported by the North West Post:

“The formal opening of the new Church of England in Fenton-street took place yesterday, and the services were attended by large congregations, bearing eloquent testimony for the necessity of a larger building than the old mission hall, which has served its purpose for the last 21 years… The nave and baptistery are now finished, but there remains to be added as funds will permit, the chancel, two vestries, porch and tower to complete the design… The building is of Gothic design, with bluestone foundations and stained cement dressings… Spreyton bricks have been used throughout… A Gothic arch and columns adorns the eastern wall, in readiness for the addition of the chancel…”.

The nave was finished and dedicated on Sunday 13 January 1907. The piecemeal approach to completing the church was described as an advantage by Bishop Mercer:

“The Bishop, and the Bishop preceding him, had long fell the necessity for a good and dignified church in the important parish of Devonport, and the congregation should be thankful to God that they have been able to put up this handsome portion of what would  later certainly be a fine and dignified church. He desired to say how thankful he was that the church was being built in sections. If they knew anything about ecclesiastical architecture they would know that most of the great churches had been built in sections combining different styles of architecture at intervals of half a century or more, and it was these varied and distinctive styles that had roused the admiration of the British people at the beauty of their churches. When the debt on the present building had been liquidated there would still be work to do in adding the chancel, the porch and the tower, but the completion may not be in their time or in the time of their rector".

But before further progress was made in completing the church's design, a parish hall was built alongside St John’s in 1908. This building still stands next to the church on the southern side of the building.

On December 4 1913, the foundation stone for a tower was laid by Bishop Mercer:

“Yesterday afternoon marked a new era in the history of the church, and also another step towards the completion of the original design… some six years ago the nave of the church was constructed, and during the intervening period attention has been given to the matter of clearing it from debt. During the past few months, it has been decided to construct the tower and the western porch and a vestry…. The ceremony was an impressive one, and was conducted by the Bishop… His Lordship, in addressing the congregation, said it was customary in the erection of public buildings to lay with solemnity some principal stone, to represent the foundation or corner-stone. In accordance with this custom, they were now assembled to lay the foundation stone of a tower to be dedicated to the special service of God”.

The long saga of the building of St John’s is evident in its multiple memorial foundation stones. Gradually, the design of St John’s was realised and in 1956, fifty years after the church was begun, the final foundation stone was laid by Bishop Cranswick to mark the completion of the grand project that had begun in 1906, if not 1886.

While St John’s remains open for services, its older cousin, St Paul’s at East Devonport is under threat of closure and sale as a consequence of the Anglican Church's redress scheme.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

St John's Parish Hall - Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The church between 1908 and 1912 - source unknown

The parish hall and church c.1910-1912


The Examiner, Saturday 16 May 1885, page 1
The Examiner, Wednesday 3 March 1886, page 3
The Examiner, Saturday 13 March 1886, page 3
The Daily Telegraph, 1 April 1886, page 3
North West Post, Thursday 12 May 1887, page 2
North West Post, Tuesday 17 May 1887, page 2
North West Post, Wednesday 28 February 1906, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 24 September 1906, page 2
North West Post, Monday 1 October 1906, page 4
Examiner, Monday 1 October 1906, page 5
Forth West Post, Monday 14 January 1907, page 3
North West Post, Thursday 28 May 1908, page 3
North West Post, Friday 5 December 1913, page 3


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