History of St John’s Church

A brief history of St John’s Church

The former church of St John the Evangelist was completed in 1891 and consecrated on 15 April of the same year.

Rowland Winn was the first Lord St Oswald.  He gave the land to the town.  The church cost £20,000 to be built.

Built of Frodingham ironstone, it comprised a nave with five bays and a clerestory, a chancel, north and south aisles, two porches and a tower.  It had room for up to 500 worshippers.  The organ cost £1,000 and was built in London.

JS Crowther designed the church in the perpendicular style.  William Potts and Sons of the Guilford Clock Works, Bankfield Terrace, Leeds installed the original striking clock in 1890.  In 1897, they added the quarter chimes.  The peal of eight bells were hung in memory of the first Lord St Oswald In 1893.

The final service at the church was held on 29 April 1984.


From church to art centre

For 16 years St John’s Church remained derelict.  Then, in 2000 work began to convert the former church into an arts centre.

Architects Allen Tod designed a single storey extension. A glass corridor linked this to the south side of the church.

Builders levelled out the church floor and installed under floor heating. They also added exhibition quality lighting. Most of the former church’s features remain intact.
The vestry was converted to an activity area with six sinks.

Artist John Creed designed and made the modern wrought iron gates enclosing the sculpture courtyard. John Creed trained as a silversmith and became a blacksmith in 1988.

The inspiration for his gates came from an idea started by the First Lord St Oswald, Rowland Winn. Jane Hogg (nee Bratton) who was born in 1820 in Winteringham had a lock-up selling snuff and tobacco to miners and furnace men. Winn wanted to pay tribute to local characters and, as she was well known in the area, she was selected to have her image carved in stone. Her likeness can be seen on the exterior of the building by the west entrance.

Continuing the theme of paying tribute to local people, John Creed asked an artist to draw caricatures of local people. He then used these drawings as the inspiration for the decorative ironwork across the tops of the railings and gates. If you look carefully you can make out the faces, complete with eyebrows, moustaches and earrings!

A striking reception desk, shop showcases and shelving were made from ‘Plyboo’ (bamboo veneer) and were designed by VK & C. They also created the lighting.

On 19 May 2001, the 20-21 Visual Arts Centre opened to the public. This was after four years of research and development and 15 months of construction work. Funding for the project came from the Single Regeneration Budget (£450,000), The Arts Council’s Capital Lottery Programme (£984,000) and the European Regional Development Fund (£97,500).

In 2014, 20-21 received a Small Capital Grant of nearly £500,000 to improve the visitor facilities in the building including the toilets, café, kitchen, shop, meeting space and sculpture garden. The grant enabled the centre to become more sustainable, more energy efficient, safer and has increased the storage space available for the popular touring exhibitions service. The project was completed in May 2016.


Why is the centre called 20-21?

’20-21′ refers to the project starting in the 20th Century (1998) and being completed in the 21st Century (May 2001).



History of the church (PDF, 33KB)

Leaflet (PDF 330KB)  – Can be folded to a pocket size guide