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A skyline without St John's was never an option

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 03, 2014

By John Workman

  • A Dudley skyline that still includes St John's on Kates Hill

  • St John's as it appeared in the 1904 Dudley Herald Year Book

  • The golden hue of autumn at St John's Church

  • A view of St John's from the churchyard

  • Deb Brownlee (left) who has never given up on saving St John's, and an historical reenactment in the church grounds from 2011

  • The Great War Memorial lychgate at St John's awaiting renovation

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IF a time lapse camera had been set up at strategic locations throughout the Black Country half a century ago, the results of the speed of change fifty years on would undoubtedly appear as a blur. And yet changes that occur on a daily basis seem laboriously slow, almost non-existent.

This apparent false sense of security we often experience is a dangerous state of affairs, and that is why it's important to embrace the ancient edifices in our neighbourhood, the vistas and views of distant hills, and the open spaces that break up the monotony of the urban landscape, while we still can.

But it's not all doom and gloom for the future prospects of some aspects of our valuable heritage, as Deb Brownlee from the St John's Church Preservation Group knows only too well. For many years she has been leading the fight to secure a future for the church building at Kates Hill, Dudley, and for several of those years the Black Country Bugle has been keeping readers informed on the progress of the campaign. We feel that with any project such as the one at St John's, regular updates are essential to keep it in the public eye, and support from Bugle readers in the past has been very encouraging. Deb has often told us that a Dudley skyline without St John's was never an option.

Recently Deb told us, "We are still waiting for the draft lease which will enable us to re-open the St John's church building, and work being done during the past few weeks at the Diocese of Worcester, has included the inventory. The lease documents are currently with the Diocese legal department, and our solicitors Wall James Chappell of Stourbridge, who are kindly representing us on a sponsorship basis, remain on standby to act as soon as all the ramifications of the lease are sorted out. I think I can safely say we have definitely arrived at the last few minutes of the final hour."

But the need for more help and of course more money is never off the agenda for a project such as St John's, one which will ultimately benefit the whole of the Black Country. Therefore there are a few forthcoming events which Deb would like to mention.

"This Sunday, May 4, 2014, the Tipton Slasher Event is being held at the Coronation Gardens, opposite the Fountain pub in Owen Street, Tipton, and will be opened by the Mayor of Sandwell at 12.30pm. It has been 21 years since the Tipton Slasher statue was first unveiled and the Tipton Community Association, the Tipton and Coseley Building Society, and the Black Country Society are working together to make this event a fun-packed afternoon for all the family.

There will be period boxing reenactments, live entertainment, historical slide shows, talks on the Tipton Slasher, a launch of the Tipton Slasher book by Tom Langley, and plenty of refreshments will be available. For the youngsters there is going to be maypole dancing, and for everyone free rides on a canal narrow boat courtesy of the Dudley Canal Trust. We of course will have a St John's Church Preservation Group stall at the event and hope to say hello to many Bugle readers during the afternoon.

"On a practical subject we will shortly be starting the churchyard maintenance programme and if anyone is interested in lending a hand please let the Group have your mobile telephone number and we will send you a text to tell you when we will be on site. These will be at various times and of course fair weather dependent. The work involves weeding and sweeping, so you will need strong shoes and a good pair of gloves. If you have experience of building an insect hotel we would particularly like to hear from you. The number to contact is 07871195042.

"We also have a number for the jumble room which is next door to the church and open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm, with a 10pm start on Saturday. 07522184461."

Deb Brownlee and other members of the St John's Preservation Group plus an army of volunteers, are keeping alive an important building in the history of Dudley and the wider Black Country that, had it not been for their efforts, would probably have been swept from the Dudley skyline many years ago.

Designed by William Bourne and built in 1840, at the same time as its sister church St James at Eve Hill, Dudley, which was also designed by Bourne, the funds for its construction were raised at a large fair held in the grounds of Dudley Castle in July 1837. The land at Kates Hill for its build was given by the first Earl of Dudley.

In the Dudley Herald Year Book for 1904, a century ago, the following description of St John's was used. "The church cost £3,000 and was renovated in 1873 at a cost of £2,225. It is a building of stone in the early English style, consisting of a chancel, nave, aisles, west porch and embattled western tower containing ten tubular bells. In the chancel is a memorial window to the late John Beddard, Esq, of Dixon's Green, and there are others to the late Rev. William Henry Vincent Crump (curate 1878-82) and to the wife of the late Mr Edward Truelove Terry, to whose memory the stone pulpit, erected by her husband, is also dedicated.

"The reredos of stone includes a cross, and figures of the Apostles, and there is a handsome brass lectern. The interior is surrounded by galleries on three sides and affords 816 seats, 480 being free. The living is a vicarage with residence, in the gift of the Vicar of Dudley, and held since 1843 by the RevEdward Henry Lane Noott, M.A. of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge."

St John's Church has been closed since 2002, and it is a sobering thought that without the passion, dedication, perseverance shown by the Preservation Group, and hundreds of hours of hard work, the description of the building taken from a book now used for historical reference, together with others like it, would now be the only source of information available about this fine 174 year old church.

When the future of an old Black Country building is saved it means a little less of the region's character is lost, and those at the St John's Preservation Group deserve full credit for what they have achieved so far. If you have any similar stories that might interest Bugle readers please contact jworkman@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or phone 01384 567678.

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