St John the Baptist, Hove - History
St John the Baptist Church was built on land donated by Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, a local landowner. The building itself was completed in 1854 and was consecrated on the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist, the 24th June that year. Originally a chapel of ease to St Andrews Old Church, the original parish Church, subsequently St John’s became a chapel of All Saints, the more recent Hove parish Church, before being granted its own parish in 1966.
Built in the decorated gothic style using local flint and Bath stone, the building was designed in a cruciform shape and originally had a large nave, with north and south aisles and north and south transepts.
Originally built without a tower or spire, these were added in 1872 and the tower clock in 1875. At the west end of the Church a narthex was added in 1911 and classrooms for the Sunday school were built on the south side of the building.
In recent years St John’s has been radically transformed and reordered. In 1982 the south aisle and Church hall were separated from the main Church and deconsecrated to form the St John’s Centre and café for the over 60’s. At the same time the north aisle was converted into a new hall with toilets and a kitchen.
In 1989 a new project between the church, the council and the local community deconsecrated most of the remainder of the nave and the north aisle into the Cornerstone community centre, which is now open 6 days a week. (http://www.cornerstone-hove.org.uk/)
The establishment of both the St John’s centre and the Cornerstone Community Centre meant that the sacred space of St Johns needed to be re-ordered and now accommodates around 150 people. The altar was moved to its present, central position with a corona overhead and the remaining pews moved so that the congregation now worship on 3 sides. A new, compact vicar’s vestry was created in the south transept and the now redundant choir vestry turned into a meeting room. In 2010 the chancel, which was largely unused, was reordered to provide a more appropriate space for worship and prayer.
The organ was built and installed in the church in 1902. It is quite a large instrument for a Parish church and JW Walker, the organ builder, was one of 3 or 4 of Britain's best organ builders of the day; thus reflecting the importance of St John's at the time. Since 1902, apart from 2 small additions in 1918 (which were probably anticipated in the 1902 design), there have been no changes to it, which makes it quite important historically since many such organs have been rebuilt and modified over the years.
The design of the organ was somewhat restricted by the architecture of the church and the need to accompany the choir located int he Sanctuary area. This necessitated the organ being placed in the lower levels of the tower, with a large part of it projecting out into the north transept, with the console in the chancel. This made the internal layout of the pipework and mechanisms complicated. This led, in turn, to the adoption by Walker's of a pneumatic action,an area of work in which they were experts, and they arguably produced some of the best and most responsive actions of the time.