St John’s Church, which today stands in the centre of Crawley, was first opened as a chapel in the mid 13th century for the parish of Slaugham, and is the oldest building in central Crawley today. The land around the church was originally used for the village markets until the banning of fairs from churchyards in 1285.
Of the original simple four wall structure, only the South wall remains. The large tower was added in the 15th century when the church was rebuilt and extended, and an oak beamed roof was added.
An inscription in St John’s Church indicates that medieval Crawley was prosperous – an acorn and oak leaf (both symbols of wealth) are carved, along with the words ‘man in wealth beware, for worldly goods make man blind, beware for what comes behind’
The Church became a parish church between 1551 and ’54, when further rebuilding work was also carried out. Remarkably, St John’s did not have any more major work done on it for 400 years, until the railway through Crawley (1848) meant that it needed to adapt to support a much larger amount of people. Competition from other churches in the 1880’s also meant that the church needed to update in order to encourage the people of Crawley to use it.
The Reverend John Barrett-Lennard (1876-1898) began an ambitious campaign of redevelopment to modernise St John’s church. In 1880, a new aisle was created, and bells were hung in the church. He also created a new access to the church by demolishing the cottages that surrounded it.
The clock that is on St John’s Church today was originally brought for £250 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, but was not installed until 1901, so instead commemorated her death.
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