The History of St John's Church in Hedge End

The Clock Tower

The Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, complete with bell tower and spire, was built in 1874.  It consists of a nave, south transept and apsidal chancel, with an organ chamber within it, the lower part of the tower forming a vestry. A clock with two dials was added in 1889 as a result of the, "Jubilee Clock Fund" that was set up to celebrate Queen Victoria's fifty years on the throne. A new five hundredweight bell was added at the same time.

The nave seats 175 adults and the choir stalls 16.  There is a carpeted space between the nave and the choir stalls and the old choir vestry has been opened up to provide a place for private prayer. This area is also used in services for keyboard and music making. The Church is in a very good state of repair and a new boiler has recently been fitted to serve both the Church and the Underhill Centre.   An up to date sound system also serves both buildings.  The churchyard is now closed and a Wildlife Haven with a Peace Garden has been created to the rear beyond the large car park.   

In 1997 the old St. John's Room's (situated 100 yards away on the opposite side of the road) was sold and the proceeds put towards the cost of the new Underhill Centre. This opened for use in the autumn of 2002 and the last payment for the loan was made in December 2008! It is now making a small commercial profit. The Underhill Centre is linked to the Church through double glass engraved doors at the rear of the Church and also has a separate main entrance. The ground floor can accommodate 110 persons in the meeting area and also has a Parish Office, kitchen, Vicar's Vestry, Choir Vestry and toilets including a disabled toilet. The first floor, which also has a disabled toilet, can accommodate 165 persons in the main area which can also be divided into three separate sections, if needed. The first floor is served by two sets of stairs and a lift. There is also an undercroft which has extensive storage facilities. The building is in excellent condition and newly decorated. 

A few snippets from, The History of St. John's by Dennis White.

The origins of the Underhill Centre - 1974 May   In a letter to the Spire, Mervyn Spenser Underhill wrote, "I must admit that it is a pipe dream of mine that someone will give St. John's a sum of money that will settle all her financial problems – just enough to re-point the spire, build a nice Church Hall next to the Church in the paddock and make the rest of it into a car park".   Well it took nearly 30 years but the Underhill Centre is the fulfilment of that dream.

The Role of Women in the Church - Servers  In 1969 the then Vicar, Mervyn, decided that it was time for girls to be trained as Servers. There were four initially and they started at Easter 1970. They were called "serviettes" in those days but the term was later dropped especially as "Server" has no gender.

Sidespersons    So, women were appointed to the Sanctuary before they were allowed to become "Sidesmen".  This was agreed at the A.G.M. in 1974 and four women were appointed at that meeting, Marion Filbee, Marian Peck, Eileen Smith and Hilda Wills.  It took many years for the word Sidesperson to replace Sidesman and my computer spellcheck still doesn't recognise it. I think we have invented a new word!  The Oxford Dictionary defines a Sidesman as one who stands next to the Churchwardens and helps with their duties. 

Marguerite Ackroyd, founder of Sunbeams, with the Reverend Mervyn Spenser-Underhill

Baby Fellowship (now Sunbeams) was started in November 1973 by Marguerite Ackroyd. It was for mothers and carers with babies and pre school children and was held in St. John's Rooms on a Wednesday afternoon. It was very much Christian based with stories, songs, prayers and actions.  Chris White, who had been with Marguerite from the beginning took over in 1991. The name was subsequently changed to Sunbeams. On Chris' retirement it was led by Barbara Cobley.  One of the original helpers was Joan Angell, who played the piano for them for nearly 20 years until she retired in 1993. Sadly Joan, who was a firm favourite with the children, died in April 2006 after some years in a care home.  One of the other helpers who was there from the beginning and continued to help well into her 90s until her 'retirement' to the Isle of Wight was Muriel Pardoe. 

Girls In The Choir The  Girls Choir was formed in 1979. The AGM of 1980 reported that the Girls Choir had been fitted out beautifully by the Guild and trained by Kathy Barfoot and Kate McClurg. A jumble sale in March 1981 raised enough money to equip the girls with blue capes.

As early as 1983 the PCC had discussed the possibility of a mixed Choir. A letter to the editor of the Spire dated 4th Sept. 1983 from Ann Beckett started, "Dear Vicar, I was saddened to hear the chauvinist views you expressed in church today on women singing in the Choir"…  In his reply the Vicar stated, "I still think that to admit girls into the church choir is a confession of failure…. By the way Ann, if one admitted women to the choir where would you draw the line?" Well!    

The move was of course opposed by the Vicar and some of the men of the Choir as well as some members of the PCC.  There were other letters from parishioners all supporting the view of a mixed choir. The one letter supporting the Vicar's view had to be recruited from Brambridge!  

So things lay dormant for nearly ten years until a very forthright letter from the Vicar in the July 1992 Spire brought the subject of girls and women in the Choir to a head…  

You'll have to buy a copy to read what comes next!  

The History of St. John's is much more than just the story of our Church, it is a social history of the period as the follow extract from 1912 shows.    

Reverend Richard Payne 1912The Vicar, during a debate on Divorce, at a Men's Club meeting, stated that the legal marriage age of fourteen for lads and twelve for girls, should be raised to twenty-one and eighteen. Comments on this statement were not recorded. The following extract from the Parish Magazine, demonstrates how people not only talked about current problems, but tried to the best of their ability to make their views felt. "The Vicar preached on the Opium Traffic between India and China, on 23rd October, and at the next Men's Meeting resolutions were unanimously passed, urging that China should be released from treaty obligations to admit opium, and that the connection of the Indian Government with the opium export trade should be brought to an end. These resolutions were forwarded to the Prime Minister, Sir E. Grey, Lord Morley, Lord Crewe and our own MP"    

So, just a hundred years ago the British Government was actively encouraging the trade in drugs. How times change! 

The History of St. John's is now on sale, price £7.  The original history by Joyce Blyth, The First Hundred Years, 1874-1974, is included in its original form together with an account for the years 1974-2009 by me, Dennis White.   If you would like a copy please the Parish Office.