Church, Anglican 1826-8 to the designs of William Coulthart of Lancaster, with some internal detail possibly to the designs of Edward Blore of London. Built and endowed by Mary Howard of Levens Hall.
Reasons for Designation
Church of St John the Evangelist, Levens is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: designed by a known architect, the Church of St John the Evangelist is a solid design whose massing and detailing are both distinctive and well executed, characteristics; although not a Commissioners Church, the design of St John’s was clearly influenced by such churches with which it shares its main characteristics;
* Historical interest: in terms of church buildings, the early C19 can provide a link, or in some cases a transition, between restrained Classical Georgian architecture and a pre-cursor to the fully blown Gothic revival. St John's is a good example of church building of this period, and also perhaps reflects the political context of the Established Church in the early C19;
* Fixtures & Fittings: for the suite of well-designed and well-detailed carved oak timber fittings including, pulpit, lectern, benches, gallery fronts and alter rail.
Historical records show that preparations for the construction of St John's church at Levens were underway in 1826 when local stone was sourced and the setting out of the site was underway. The first stone was laid on 7th July the same year and the building was completed by 6th August 1828 at a cost of £2000; the sole benefactor was Mary Howard of Levens Hall. The church opened for worship in December 1828 and its first vicar was William Stephens. It is suggested in Pevsner that the spire was not added to the church until 1831. However, the Levens Hall collection of documents include many references to a spire and it is considered that the spire was built as one with the church. The church was consecrated in October 1836 by John Bird, Bishop of Chester. In 1873, a vestry was added, and a small porch appended to the south. The organ by Wilkinson of Kendal was installed at the rear of the church in 1883. In 1913 under the third vicar Sidney Swann, a number of superficial changes were made to the church interior including the creation of an organ chamber at the east end and the siting of the organ within it, new choir stalls and clergy desks, the lowering of the pulpit and its re-siting in its present position, the corbelling of the chancel arch, modifications to the seating including the removal of the finials and book rests, and the addition of extra timbers to the roof structure. Externally, a lychgate was added and bells were brought from Milnthorpe and hung on a framework adjacent to the church. Later C20 alterations include a new East memorial window in 1921-2, replacing the original geometric stained glass, a new reredos the following year, and the chancel was panelled in 1956.
Although the church entry in the Cumbria Pevsner volume states that its architect was George Webster of Kendal, documentary research by Levens Local History Group has uncovered new evidence: all correspondence and letters in the Levens Hall Collection consistently name William Coulthart of Lancaster as the architect of the church; although Coulthart was an associate of Webster, there is no independent evidence that George Webster was involved. A document written by the first incumbent of St John’s, William Stephens, states that the church was built to a drawing originally by a ‘Mr Blore of London’. One letter in the same collection from the renowned architect Edward Blore of London (1787-1879), and a second letter from a Mr Mortimer, record that Edward Blore was consulted and indeed drew plans for some interior fittings and furnishings, although these plans have not been found. Edward Blore’s Ledger Book in Cambridge University has entries in 1827 for Mary Howard of Levens Hall for the provision of specific drawings none of which is for the structural fabric. On balance, it seems that St John’s was designed by William Coulthart of Lancaster with some internal detail possibly provided by Edward Blore. The attribution of the church to Coulthart is confirmed by his short biography in Colvin, which also attributes the church at Levens in 1828 to Coulthart.
MATERIALS: regular coursed local limestone with ashlar dressings; pitched roofs of graduated slate. Windows have leaded glass with stained glass to the chancel.
PLAN: rectangular nave with south porch, west tower and organ chamber attached to the north; narrower chancel with a vestry attached to the north side.
EXTERIOR: the church is oriented east to west and is prominently sited on an elevated site overlooking the Kent Estuary. There is a plinth and continuous sill band to all elevations, which also have alternating lancets and buttresses; all window and door openings have hood moulds and carved stops. The main (south) elevation comprises a narrow rectangular chancel with angle buttresses and a single lancet window. The six-bay nave has angle buttresses, and lancet windows alternating with buttresses; a stone cross finial surmounts the apex at the right. The fourth bay houses an entrance with stone steps up to a gabled and buttressed porch; the latter has paired lancets in its returns and a large pointed-arch entrance with modern double doors. The three-bay buttressed west end has a lancet in each end bay; the central bay has the main tall pointed-arch entrance, with stepped lancets above lighting the gallery. Rising above is a steeple comprising a rectangular tower supporting an octagonal belfry surmounted by an octagonal spire; four louver windows light the belfry. The east elevation has stepped lancets and a stone cross finial at the apex; to the right the attached single storey, pitch-roofed vestry has short, paired lancets and steps up to a pointed-arched entrance. The rear (north) elevation is similarly styled to the main elevation but with a full height organ chamber lit by a single lancet, attached to the end of the nave.
INTERIOR: the walls are plainly painted, and floors are stone-flagged, parts now carpeted. Early C20 photographs show that the Sanctuary floor is tiled. Roofs are of scissor-braced form. The narrow chancel has a corbelled arch and C20 stained glass by A K Nicholson (East) and Abbot & Co of Lancaster (north and south). The Sanctuary has C20 oak panelling and reredos but retains the original oak altar rail formed by a trefoil-headed arcade. On the north side of the chancel a studded door gives access to the vestry, there are C20 oak choir stalls, and a full height pointed arched organ chamber and organ is situated at the north east corner of the nave. Opposite is the original oak pulpit, reduced in height; it has an octagonal drum with panels carved with blind trefoil-headed arches with hood moulds and detached stops. There is an adjacent oak, octagonal lectern with carved panels surmounted by an eagle. The original oak benches have blind pointed arch arcading to the inner backs and ends are shaped; they have been slightly modified by the removal of their finials and book rests. An octagonal marble font is set at the west end. Above, the gallery runs behind three tall pointed arches and their flanking buttresses supporting the east side of the tower. The gallery fronts have heavily moulded top and bottom rails with a colonnade of trefoil-headed arches. The arch to the right leads though to a narrow pointed arch studded door and a stone winder stair giving access to the narrow two-tier gallery. This has wide oak floor boards, and benches similar in detail to those of the nave; a plaque recording the opening and consecration of the church is affixed to the rear wall.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the churchyard is surrounded by a drystone wall pierced by an entrance with a timber lychgate set upon a pair of stone piers and with clay roof tiles; the double gates are later C20 replacements. Immediately to the north of the west end there is a detached and roofed open a framework containing bells (imported from Milnthorpe).