St John The Baptist Church
Large parish church. Of two dates, the first part built in 1843 by Gordon Alexander of blue brick and a sizeable addition of 1890-94 by Julius Chatwin in red sandstone, which caused the demolition of much of the earlier building but the retention of the steeple and the re-use of several parts internally. Romanesque to the earlier parts and free-style Gothic to the parts of the 1890s, including elements of French Flamboyant style and English Decorated and Perpendicular styles. Built of very fine red sandstone in finely jointed ashlar, stone tracery; tiled roof; unusual blue-brick SW tower and spire with buff stone dressings. Unusual plan of nave and chancel, south nave and lady chapel, south aisle transept and porch, north aisle and organ transept incorporating vestries. Windows have mostly Geometric tracery of varying designs. South elevation has crenellated parapet to clerestory; clerestory windows are of Perpendicular proportions with 3 cusped lights with continuous hoodmould and separated by pilasters. Aisle windows under a straight parapet are more steeply pointed in Decorated proportions, of two lights, set in pairs separated by stepped buttresses; string courses across both storeys, plinth and hoodmoulds to all windows. Very deep South porch with crenellated parapet and blind canopy-work beneath the gable; deeply moulded pointed-arched doorway with heavy cusping to the inner order; metal gates. At SE the stepped effect of the building sequence is clearly visible: porch, south transept, south aisle, Lady Chapel apse and sanctuary apse. The Lady Chapel apse has lancet-shaped windows with trefoil-tracery but no external mouldings, the angles reinforced by buttresses with offsets. The soaring and lofty E end has long 3 light windows with trefoil tracery to each face of the 5-sided apse, the angles again reinforced by tall buttresses with offsets only at upper levels and with low plinth; again no outer mouldings to windows. All designed to emphasize verticality and height. The north elevation is different from the S. No parapet to aisle or clerestory so the steep pitch of the roofs is more visible. Clerestory windows are a long range of plain lancets; aisle windows are similar to S side. Vestry block at NE has a round window in gable. W elevation to the nave has a stepped group of 5 very narrow lancets with narrow hoodmoulds at upper level and unadorned level lancets below, separated by string courses; polygonal corner turrets with pepperpot finials. At SW corner, attached to SW wall of nave and W wall of S nave is the tower with spire in completely different material, style and scale. Tower has 4 storeys with clasping buttresses with offsets; all openings are round-arched in Romanesque style with slender stone colonettes and round-arched stone mouldings: Belfry has double louvred lights, narrow clock storey below; tower chamber below; ground floor W entrance doorway, the original entrance to the church. Set behind the corbelled tower parapet with small corner turrets is the narrow octagonal spire with tall lucarnes to the principal faces.
Interior is striking in its height and the quality of much of its workmanship. Most of the nave is faced with yellow and red polychrome brickwork. Bare sandstone ashlar, buff with red banding, to sanctuary and plain red sandstone ashlar to the Lady Chapel. Moulded steeply pointed-arched arcades to N and S; the main nave has piers quatrefoil in plan with ring- moulded capitals, slender clustered shafts rising from corbels in the spandrels to the vault. Fine timber roofs to both naves: decoratively carved arch-braces, in S nave crenellated and rising from deep stone corbels; wind-braces, two tiers to centre and single tier to S nave; boarded ceilings. Fine high ribbed and boarded vault to chancel. Extremely high chancel arch with multiple mouldings which dies into deep tiered decoratively carved stone corbels incorporating face-stops at the level of the nave capitals. Adjacent at SE nave a stone pulpit with Romanesque arches and vaulted crocketed canopy is set within the end pier under the capital. Adjacent and near the S entrance is a square stone font with free-standing corner columns and central stem. Nave floors are fine quality narrow glazed tiles. Sanctuary has a complete pattern of yellow, red and black encaustic tiles on two levels. Lady Chapel at E end of S nave has encaustic tiles at 3 levels. It is dominated by a fine stone, marble and alabaster Romanesque-style arcade around the apse, the arches with deep and heavy zig-zag and billet moulding, polished black marble shafts and finely wrought pierced patterned alabaster to the recesses; the taller and wider central arch incorporating a relief sculpture of the Last Supper. These Romanesque fittings appear to have been incorporated from the earlier building. Chapel and adjacent E end of S aisle are divided from the S transept by a fine wooden screen of 1931 in late medieval style with linenfold panelling to wainscot, muntins, delicate tracery, frieze and cresting. Adjacent an Incorporated Church Building Society panel of 1842 indicating seating for 1255 of which 858 seats were free, from the first church. Good figurative stained glass especially to 3 windows of chancel (2 dated 1914), Lady Chapel, E end of S aisle, and W end of nave at lower level (dated 1928); decorative glass to clerestory. Good quality woodwork to chancel stalls of 1907; aumbry on N side of sanctuary; fine eagle lectern; unusual canopied 'churchwarden's seats' in rear nave. Organ originally in N chancel now on W gallery has case erected to commemorate 50 years as organist of William Wadely 1877-1927.
1970s blockings of S and N aisle and W end have detracted from the appearance of the interior and some of the polychrome brickwork inside the partitions has been painted, but there has been no serious loss of historic fabric.
The church stands within a large and long walled rectangular churchyard with blue brick walling of the 1840s and a round-arched entrance gateway from the main road, Bewdley Road. The church is an important building in the townscape.
Listed as a very fine late-Victorian church with furnishings and workmanship of very high quality which incorporates parts from an earlier church of the 1840s, redolent of the wealth of the town in the late C19/early C20. Its re-ordering in 1970s was unsympathetic to the building but does not diminish its overall quality, which includes fine materials and craftsmanship, dramatic interior spaces and fittings, and a bold French Gothic exterior that is an important local landmark.