St John's is the earliest of the Redhill churches and was built in 1843. Before this time the nearest church had been St. Mary's at Reigate. Three sites for the church were considered and the one first selected was where St John's School now stands. The site was later decided to be unsuitable and the church was eventually built across the road on a site called to as the Knob but also known as Flint's Hill, as it was close to a cottage occupied by a Mr Flint.
The designer of the church was Mr James Thomas Knowles of Reigate. The builder was Comber and Briggs. Mr Comber lived at the top of Whitepost Hill where he had his yard and also ran Redhill 's first post office. Who Mr Briggs was is unknown. The final cost, with the additions of internal decorations, fixtures and fittings, came to £3,800. This included the fir fence with oak posts that was erected around the site and remained until it was replaced with the present wall in 1867. The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester, the area then being in the Winchester Diocese, on September 30th, 1843, and he was assisted by the Vicar of Reigate and others
St John's Church as it looked it 1857. There are more trees in its grounds and fewer on the surrounding common land than today and there is washing hanging out on the common by Fountain Road. Flint's Cottage can be seen alongside the church.
What it was like
The Church was originally known as Red Hill District Church and shortly after named St John the Evangelist, although generally known simply as St John's. Its Parish stretched from Gatton to Sidlow , being and included Meadvale (then called Mead Hole), Mill Street and Hooley (now Earlswood).
The church did not originally look quite like it does today and was not as attractive as it might have been, being functional rather than appealing. It was, however, described in 'The Gentleman's Magazine' for May, 1844, as, '...an elegant structure with a beautiful spire...calculated to hold 600 persons, two-thirds of the sittings being free...' Despite this description it was rather bare inside as well as cold (only two open fires) and sometimes dark. Services were long and children who attended the day school also had to go to Sunday school in the morning and afternoon, and to church services in-between. Sundays were described as sombre and arduous.
The first vicar was the Rev. W.Pullen from 1843-46. He was followed by the Rev. Henry Gosse, 1846-82. Around the time the church was built, the Somers Arms coaching Inn at the corner of the Brighton Road and Mill Street lost its custom and subsequently became St. John's parsonage. The Rev. Henry Gosse years, continued to live there for many years after resigning as vicar due to deafness, but he would give help to the new vicar whenever asked. He died in 1903 and the Angel font was installed to commemorate his 36 years as vicar.
A new church at Redhill
When Warwick Town (later to become Redhill) grew up the Rev. Gosse, in 1848, had the temporary iron church, St Matthew's Chapel-of-Ease, built there and his curate, the Rev. William Kelk, placed in charge. This temporary chapel was to become the St Matthew's Church we know today. The Rev. William Kelk died in 1862 and in 1867, when St Matthew's gained its own parish, the wooden fence around St John's Church was replaced with the present wall in his memory. A plaque in the wall at the top of Fountain Road bears his name.
The design of St John's church was not too well thought of and it seems that its size was also inadequate, for only 24 years after the it was built there was a public meeting, at which the Bishop of Winchester presided, to consider its enlargement. The church is described as narrow and between high walls, and a design for adding aisles for increased sittings of 536 was submitted by local man Mr Hesketh, who lived at 'The Mount' on Red Hill Common. The estimated cost was £33,000. The aisles were added to the nave of the church in 1869, an addition that did not satisfy requirements for long, for in 1889 the church was largely rebuilt to the design of Mr John Pearson RA, the designer of Truro Cathedral. The rebuilding took six years, with the new spire being erected in 1895. St John's Church now looked just as it does today.
In the 1960s there was concern about movement of the spire when the bells were rung. Not only was there movement but cracks had begun to appear. In 1972 the bells were lowered by twenty feet to improve weight distribution.