Eastbourne – St John, Meads

Though the C19 church was bombed in 1942 and only its tower survives, its development should be summarised, for like some other Eastbourne churches it is not straightforward.  Started in 1867 and completed two years later, the architect was H E Rumble (B 25 (15 June 1867) p ii).  Elleray’s illustration (pl 86) (c1870) shows an aisled nave, a chancel and a north west tower.  The detail is hard to discern, but the bar tracery of the west window looks ill proportioned.  The interior, according to Brown, was faced in brick with arcades of C13 style and there were wider but low transept arches, which were inserted later.  The tower is unchanged, except for the loss of a broach spire, with an excess of blank arcading, over-elaborate tracery and heavy turrets and pinnacles.

The first change was a south transept of 1895 by W G Scott (CDG 21 p142); this included new vestries, one polygonal in plan.  A north transept, which is likely to date from the same time, is shown on A R G Fennings plan of 1903.  In that year Fenning designed a new, larger east end (ESRO Par 317/4/3/1), but an actual increase in seating had to wait until the addition of a north chapel in 1905 (CDG 134 p20).  In 1910-11 Fenning extended the nave by two bays (ESRO Par 317/4/3/2) and doubled the aisles in width.  The tower was rebuilt on a different site, though still at the north west corner.  As at Holy Trinity, Trinity Trees, but with even less reason, Fenning followed the original.  A baptistery and reredos by Sir A W Blomfield are also mentioned.   If these were older there is no other record; if dating from 1911, they were by Blomfield’s sons as he had died in 1899.  Finally, Fenning in 1930 extended the north chapel (CDG May 1930 p78) and all that survived intact of Rumble’s church were the three eastern bays of the nave.

After the bombing, the first intention was to rebuild a simplified version of the original, for much old work survived, especially the nave (Brown).  The architect was A E Matthew, who by this date headed the practice earlier associated with W E Seth-Smith (said to have been an associate of Fenning (ibid)) and W E Monro (ESRO Par 317/4/3/7).  It was subsequently decided to follow an almost entirely new design by the same practice, retaining only the tower, less its spire, linked to the new church.  Rebuilding took from 1955 to 1957.  The new church is flint-faced with low aisles and square windows.  The sides of the west window curve and those of the clerestory have mannered subdivisions like crosses.  The slightly narrower chancel has no east window.

The junction between chancel and nave is marked by a broad, high arch which barely interrupts the panelled roof, making the interior spacious.  The roof is remarkable because distributed across it are 40 brightly coloured round plaster plaques of religious scenes such as the Nativity.  Behind a wooden screen is a small south chapel and off the west end a lower baptistery, added in 1962 (Brown).  The church is conventionally arranged and the fittings cohere, though the restless diagonal bands on the pulpit are distracting.

According to a notice in the church, it was refurbished in 2007 when the work included restoring the ceiling plaques, though the glass in the baptistery was not reinstated.


Font: Dating from the post-war rebuilding and ovoid in form.
1. The pre-war church contained much glass by J Powell and Sons (Hadley list), none of which survived the bombing.
2. (Baptistery) K New, c1962.  Abstract and brightly coloured.
3. One window by A Hollaway c1962.
Both the latter have been in storage since 2003 (www.stainedglassrecords.org retrieved on 11/2/2013).
Statue: (East wall outside) St John by J Skelton (BE(E) p336).

My thanks to Nick Wiseman for the photographs

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