676/8/370 LOWER ROAD
CHURCH OF ST JOHN
1859-61, by T.H. Wyatt. Restored 1896 by C.E. Ponting.
Materials: Local limestone ashlar and greensand stones, with some brown ironstone used for banded voussoirs. Red tiled roofs with some fishscale bands.
Plan: Four bay nave, lean-to north aisle, two-bay south aisle (later arranged as a chapel) with porch to its west. Deep chancel with tower on its north side, its base serving as a vestry.
Exterior: The church is quite large, and built in the style of the C13. The tower is not especially high, but is quite powerfully designed and rises behind the roofline as seen from the road to the south. Its parapet has blank trefoil arcading, and the flat top only broken by a large pinnacle over the north-west stair turret. There is one Geometrical bell opening to each face, of four lights (i.e. two sub-arches), with a foiled rose in bar tracery. The angle buttresses finish with coped gables just below the bell stage. The east window has five lancets on ringed shafts, the centre one rising much higher than the rest which are of equal height. The rest of the windows are a varied mix of single lights with cusped trefoil heads, and double lights in plate tracery. The south chapel is roofed under two transverse gables, with the attached porch to its west forming an even third gable. In the valleys between the gable roofs are the first two lights of the four-bay clerestory, formed of alternate trefoils and cusped spheric triangles. The west gable has a central buttress, and two equal windows of two lights each. Above the buttress is a small foiled oculus in a deep moulded frame.
Interior: Floors are of white marble with black patterned inlay in the sanctuary, encaustic tiles in the chancel, and of plain stone (possibly blue lias) in the nave. The walls are ashlar-faced throughout, of an oolitic limestone (possibly Bath stone). A four-bay arcade of two-centred moulded arches leads into the north aisle; the piers are circular with rich foliate capitals, all different, and carved by William Howlitt. A similar arcade of two arches opens into the south chapel. The nave roof is of dark stained timber with arch-braced scissor trusses, while the chancel has a panelled wagon vault. Detached brown marble shafts with shaft-rings stand each side of the chancel arch. Its outer mouldings continue uninterrupted, and the capitals apply only to the inner mouldings. There is a low breast wall at the chancel step.
Principal Fixtures: Good oak reredos of 1896, with tall centre topped by a segmental pediment, and lower rectangular wings. The frame holds gesso and gilded mosaic panels designed and made by Eleanor (Nellie) Warre, the rector's daughter. Below the reredos, the wall behind the altar is completely covered by a wide mural of glass mosaic and gesso, depicting a Calvary in a landscape with apple trees, also by Nellie Warre, 1896. The stone pulpit is of 1861, with panelled sides, foliate frieze and a figure in a niche. The handsome lectern was presented by the Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone; it has a brass gabled book rest and shaft, on a turned oak base. The font has an octagonal bowl with densely carved relief panels, and a central stem surrounded by eight marble legs. Part of the old font from St. Andrew was reputedly incorporated, although there is no visibly older stonework. The east window, dated 1860, is in the typically bright palette of O`Connor of London. It is partly obscured by the reredos. Also in the chancel, three grisaille windows by Lavers & Barraud, 1861. The north aisle first from east is an early window by C.E. Kempe, 1878, the right-hand light mostly lost to vandalism. The south chapel east window is signed by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1902, depicting Faith, Hope and Charity. The matching pair of west windows have glass by Hardman of Birmingham, 1864. The organ case is of oak, probably of 1925 in a vaguely classical style, with broad round arches (the organ mechanism of 1925 was rebuilt in 1965 and 1996). It is canted off the north chancel wall on big rather coarse brackets. The simply detailed bench pews are undoubtedly original, of red-stained pine on deal platforms; the bench ends have canted tops and a little sunk trefoil with the pew number. On the west wall is a brass plaque recording the dedication of the church in memory of Herbert, 1861.
Subsidiary Features: The church sits in a broad grassy churchyard with low walls, and an oak lych gate, a First World War memorial. A small Gothic National School and master's house (c. 1869, also T.H. Wyatt) sit opposite, south.
History: St John was built as a completely new parish church to replace the little church of St Andrew, Bemerton, which was too small. It was paid for by the Herberts of Wilton House. The foundation stone of the church of St John the Evangelist, 200 yards from St Andrew, was laid on April 9, 1859 by Elizabeth, wife of Sidney, 1st Lord Herbert of Lea. Much of the finance came from the 12th Earl of Pembroke, and from American enthusiasts for George Herbert's works. The opening was reported in The Builder for April 20, 1861. The church was a memorial to their relation, George Herbert, the 17th century poet who was rector of Bemerton.
The architect Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) was a member of an architecturally prolific family. Born in Ireland, he was a pupil of Philip Hardwick who had a large and important practice in both classical and Gothic architecture. Wyatt became district surveyor for Hackney in 1832 and was in partnership with David Brandon 1838-51. They developed a successful practice designing mansions, churches, schools and parsonages as well as restoring numerous churches. Wyatt was honorary architect to the Salisbury Diocesan Church Building Society, which brought him many commissions. He built or rebuilt at least 16 churches in Wiltshire and restored some 30 more: in Dorset he built four new churches and restored at least 18. He was elected president of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1870 and three years later was awarded its Royal Gold Medal. His most famous church is Wilton, Wilts. (1841-5) built at a cost of £20,000, also for the Earls of Pembroke.
Sources: Incorporated Church Buildings Society archive (www.churchplansonline.org) file 05342.
Victoria County Histories, A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6 (1962), pp. 37-50.
Pevsner & Cherry, Buildings of England: Wiltshire, (1975), p. 107.
Reasons for Designation: The church of St John, Bemerton is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* A big and quite lavishly designed Gothic Revival church by T.H. Wyatt
* Associated with the Earls of Pembroke of nearby Wilton House, and a memorial to their 17th century ancestor, George Herbert
* Impressive though less decorative interior architecture, with few structural changes, and most of its original fittings intact
* Good glass by O'Connor and Hardman, with later additions by Kempe and Heaton, Butler & Bayne
* Unusual oak, gesso and mosaic reredos by Nellie Warre, the rector's daughter, 1896, in the best spirit of Arts and Crafts amateurism
This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 26 October 2017.