St John The Divine, Becontree
A Brief Account of its Beginnings
The congregation of St John The Divine started their worshipping life in a wooden hut on Goresbrook Road in 1933. The hut was sandwiched in on land between high density housing on one side and the A13 arterial road on the other. This building was dedicated on 18th November 1933. The first minister appointed to St John the Divine was The Rev Edward Noel Cornwallis Mann. The first baptism recorded was on 18th March 1934.
The plans for the new Church were drawn up by Eric Wiseman of Chelmsford (b 1893). His other works included shops, flats, garages and showrooms.
The Church was paid for by Mrs Lavinia Clarissa Keene who gave £10,000 in memory of her husband John Henry Keene. Mrs Keene would later pay for St Patrick’s Barking to be built along with some 26 homes in Broomfield Road, Chelmsford for elderly “deserving” people who had lived in the area for at least 3 years. John Keene died in 1931. He had been a Director of Pearl Assurance. His father was one of the founding members of the company. John left an estate worth £1,144,201 when he died.
Mrs Keene laid the foundation stone of St John The Divine on 9th March 1935. A bible belonging to the Rev Mann who had died tragically the previous August, was placed under the foundation stone. On 14th October that year, The Rev W F G Wittey, presented Mrs Keene with an inscribed leather wallet containing an illumination address and photographs of the Church.
The permanent red brick building of St John the Divine, with accommodation for 430 people, was Consecrated on 25th September 1935. The Church and Church Hall stood on 1.1 acres of land. The Hall stood to the West of the Church. The plan had been to build a Vicarage to the East end of the Church but this did not happen. The Church itself comprised a large Nave with 7 bays, arcaded side aisles, an apsidal-ended Chancel, baptistry, organ loft, a Lady Chapel and vestries. A tower with one bell rose in the middle bay of the South side. The Nave was 81ft by 31ft. The aisles were 4ft wide. The Chancel was 23 and a half foot square; the apse 12 and a half feet deep. The walls were built of dark red handmade bricks; the roofs were tiled over a steel construction. Several areas of flat roof were covered with asphalt.; the tower had a low-pitched copper roof.
Materials used were of excellent quality. The pulpit, lectern and font were all of polished greyish marble. The flooring was of oakwood blocks. The pews, benches and organ case were of oak. There was no stained glass but the windows were of greenish tinted glass. The new organ was built by Spurden Rutt and had electric action, a detached console and two manuals. The new chalice was of gothic style set with amethysts.
St John’s was the 9th of 10 churches to be built on the Becontree Estate.
Over the next 60 years there were problems with maintenance of the building which culminated when the main electric cable went down in 1992. Repairs and ongoing maintenance would prove prohibitively expensive. Restrictive Covenants drawn up in 1933 concerning what the land might be used for and the financial consequences if any part of the land was sold for non-church use, had already been the subject of much earnest discussion between the church and local council for some 6 years.
In November 1993 the courageous decision was made to build a new, but smaller and more practical Church. The following April the congregation finally moved out of the building and into a Worship Centre made out of a couple of portacabins in the grounds of St John’s. It was like going back to where they started. Paradoxically the congregation grew from around 25 people in the old, cold building to around 43 in the small and warm Worship Centre.
Two years later the Church Commissioners’ Advisory Board agreed to demolish the old Church and Church Hall. And in 1998 the redundancy of the church building was confirmed and discussions were held with regard to ways of extending the life of the portacabin which was prone at the time to be the target of much vandalism.
By 1999 plans were advanced to sell some of the land to a developer to provide 16 two-storey houses on the site; to provide a community centre that would be used by the Church and the wider community; to convert the Vicarage (built in 1989) to a community space with a two -bedroomed flat.
In 2000 the old Church was finally knocked down and work began on the new St John’s. On 29th April 2001 the congregation moved out of the portacabin into the new purpose-built Church of St John the Divine and Community Centre.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
And the sea was no more.
And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God....
See, the home of God is among mortals.He will dwell with them;
They will be his peoples
And God himself will be with them;
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
From The Revelation of St John The Divine 21: 1-4
Ministers of St John The Divine, Becontree
1933 - 1934 - The Revd Edward Noel Cornwallis Mann
1934 – 1935 - The Revd William Francis George Wittey
Vicars of St John The Divine, Becontree
1935 – 1944 - The Revd William Francis George Wittey
1944 - 1947 - The Revd James Arthur Johnson
1947 – 1949 - The Rev Alban Rabson
1950 – 1958 - The Rev Douglas Edgar Field Gilbert
1958 – 1983 - The Revd Sir James William Roll
Priest- In- charge of St John The Divine, Becontree
1985 – 1989 - The Revd David Ainge
Team Rectors of Becontree South
(St Alban and St John The Divine)
1989 – 1991 - The Revd David Ainge
1992 - 2000 - The Revd Paul Haworth
Team Rectors of Becontree South
(St Alban, St John The Divine and St Martin)
1994 - 2000 - The Revd Paul Haworth
2001 - 2009 - The Revd Geraldine Ann Clarke
2010 – 2016 - The Revd Penelope Sayer
2019 - present - The Revd Faye Bailey