St. John's Church
St. John's Church restoration
By Brett Birks
In July 2008, we published this story on the decline of St. John's Church in Dudley. It has now been announced that restoration work will begin!
View from the road
St. John's, located on Kates Hill, was abandoned in 2002 and the building, along with the surrounding land, had been left to decline. The area had also become a haven for anti-social activity.
On Thursday 11th September 2008, St. John's Church Preservation Group announced that they will now be able to start some restoration work following negotiations between the church council and BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers).
A schedule for initial grounds clearance work has begun.
Deb Brownlee, founding member for the St. John's Church Preservation Group, said:
"We are delighted to be starting work at last. The works will cost £260 for each day on site. This covers BTCV tools, supervision and expertise, and they bring along their own project team of about 8 volunteers.
"However, we need loads of extra community volunteers as many hands make light work and a reduction in the number of days needed brings down the cost. We also very urgently need cash donations to help us pay for the clearance, and for people to come forward with fundraising ideas. We would particularly like to hear from local entertainers who would like to offer their services for fundraising shows."
The local Kates Hill Community Police have already offered to help, and will be turning up 'in their scruff' to work alongside the community volunteers.
Helpers can come along to St John's Church for 10.15am on Wednesday 17th September, Thursday 18th September, Wednesday 24th September, Thursday 25th September or Sunday 28th September. Young volunteers aged 10- 15 years are welcome with a parent and from aged 16 can come alone.
The group also need relations to come along and clear family graves as they are exposed as the clearance agreement only covers up to grave lines, not the graves themselves. If any relation cannot clear a grave themselves it has been agreed with the Senior Churchwarden that they can give written permission for the Preservation Group to undertake the clearance on their behalf.
Below is the original story, published here in July 2008, about the decline of St. John's Church, Dudley.
St John's Church, on Kates Hill in Dudley, was built in 1840.
For more than 160 years generations of Black Country folk have used the church and its grounds as a place of worship and recreation.
In 2002, the Church Of England closed St. John's, claiming that the building was unsafe and beyond repair.
Over the last six years the church and its surrounding land have been left to decline further. However a group of locals are determined to restore the building to its former glory.
They are the St. John's Church Preservation Group and Deb Brownlee is a founding member.
"The actual church has been locked since 2002 so we can't get in," she says.
A steel fence surrounds the building in an attempt to keep out potential intruders.
View from the road
"Those windows there are smashed," she says. "Well that isn't because someone was tying to get in; rather trying to get out. You can see where they've forced their way in through the roof above, then broken the windows from the inside to escape."
Looking around the immediate area, litter and debris have been swept up into corners by volunteers. Damaged gravestones are everywhere, some wrecked by human hands, others due to out-of-control plant life bursting through the slabs.
Several acres of land slope down behind St. John's but it's difficult so see many of the hundreds of headstones that rest here. The area is overgrown, beyond recognition in some parts.
Drugs and litter
More worryingly, a passer-by - who asked not to be named - stops for a chat. He says the site has become a haven for anti-social activity:
"I saw a drug deal at 8.30pm yesterday evening by the front arch. There are teenagers here all the time, just hanging around.
"I'm a local resident and I can tell you that this area is a problem for the whole community. You have to be careful around here. I don't want to give you my name because I have children and, well, they come first."
Evidence of such behaviour is rife; used condoms can be found in the undergrowth, empty bottles of alcohol and crushed beer cans have been chucked in the hedges and an open syringe packet has been discarded on the path.
The far corners of the church site are practically impassable thanks to overgrown plant-life and vegetation. The remains of graves are everywhere but their condition seems to be even worse than those closer to the church.
"A homeless man made this his refuge," Deb explains, pointing to a grave enclosed by trees and bushes (pictured right). "You see where the slab on the top of the grave has been shifted? That was full of human excrement that had to be scraped out. He'd been using the grave as a toilet for weeks. Imagine if it had been your Grandad buried there?"
The church in itself is a true piece of Black country heritage. Famed architect William Bourne designed the building, the same man responsible for the original blueprints of the old Dudley Guest hospital.
'The Tipton Slasher' William Perry - the celebrated Black Country prizefighter who went on to be champion of England from 1850 to 1857- is buried at St. John's. As is Mary Ann Mason, murdered by 1858 by Joseph Meadows, the penultimate man to be hanged in Worcester Gaol.
"Grave used as a toilet"
Eleven commonwealth graves from the First World War are dotted around the grounds as well as those of several other significant figures from the Black Country's past. The problem, as Deb explains, is that in places the area is too overgrown to find them:
"We don't know where they are. You'll see the odd space here and there has been cleared by relatives but the rest of it speaks for itself. The council does trim the grass closer to the church so that part looks ok but they won't do any more."
St. John's Church Preservation Group
In an effort to do so, Deb helped set up the St. John's Church Preservation Group in the summer of 2007, in response to community desire for improvements to be made to the church and its land.
"Last year a ten year old local boy made some posters entitled 'Save St. John's Church' and pinned one up in a local newsagent," she explains. "This petition got 795 signatures in two weeks – without any press or publicity.
"We decided to act and had our first public meeting in the July and set up our website in the August. In November 2007 we set up a committee and became an official body. There are now 950 members in total.
Plants destroying graves
"I have a strong personal interest in helping St. John's. My parents married here in 1956 and my father went to school next door to the church. This building and site are part of Black Country heritage.
"We have people now part of the group who are from several faiths, races and backgrounds. They may not worship under the Church Of England but they recognise how important the area is a piece of local heritage and how it must be preserved.
"The Church Of England had a survey done which came back saying that the inside of the church is ok and not subsiding. It just needs restoration.
"We want to restore St. John's Church to make it safe and usable again. We want to make it a listed building and to ensure that it never again is closed. Dealing with the Church Of England and the relevant church authorities takes so long.
"We have now offered to buy the church or even lease it on a long term basis to ensure its survival. Obviously this will take time, time that we don't have. Another winter is coming up.
"What we need now is people to come forward with fund-raising ideas. The repair rates are increasing at a staggering rate. We need to act now."
For more information on The St. John's Church Preservation Group, visit: www.savestjohnschurch.zoomshare.com
last updated: 19/09/2008 at 10:33