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During the middle of the nineteenth century Balby-with-Hexthorpe was an out-township in the parish of Doncaster. Mis Elizabeth Goodman Banks of St Catherine’s Hall wished for a church to be built to serve this township. It was through her that an order was obtained to establish a separate parish for these villages. The town Council of Doncaster willingly and generously appropriated five roods of land for the site of the proposed church, which was at the point where the lane leading from Hexthorpe joined the turnpike road at Balby. At the time this was considered to be the ideal site for the proposed church as it was of easy and convenient access from all parts and to all parties and was approachable by good roads.
The funds for the erection of the church were by subscriptions in the locality and neighbourhood. Miss Banks and others liberally contributed to to the same.
The foundation stone was laid on the 20th April 1847 by Captain Frank Ramsden in the presence of the incumbent, the Reverend William Green, the Mayor and Corporation of Doncaster, the architect, Mr John Francis, the Vicar of Doncaster, Dr John Sharpe, the builders and a vast crowd from the area. During his address Captain Ramsden remarked that the inhabitants of Balby would no longer have the excuse for not attending church as it was too far away! Before the stone was laid a document, which bore the record of the erection of the church, was placed in a bottle and put in the cavity beneath the first stone of the chancel. It was also understood that there were some coins in the cavity. The silver trowel and rosewood mallet used in the ceremony were presented to Captain Ramsden.
The low-lying land known as the Carr provides an item of history recorded in the dedication of the church to St John the Evangelist. The Carr was largely under water and under this swamp a monastic establishment, the remains of which have been discovered, existed. It, too, was dedicated to St John the Evangelist. This may e mereky coincidence, or more probably may have suggested the dedication of the later building.
In the same year as the new parish was formed the school (the old Church Hall) was built as a memorial to Mr George Banks of St Catherine’s hall. by his sister, Miss Elizabeth Goodman Banks.
It is with gratitude that Miss Banks is remembered for her efforts in getting the parish formed and so generously giving half the endowment in addition to building the school.
Whilst researching this booklet documentary evidence came to light that the church was consecrated on 2nd May 1848 and not 5th May , which has been celebrated as the anniversary date for at least the last eighty years. The 2nd May is also supported by the inscription on the silver alms dish presented to the church in memory of Captain Ramsden. In the Church’s calendar,St John the evangelist was celebrated both on the 27th December and 66th May (St John Lateran). It is quite feasible that sometime in the 19th century it was decided to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration of the Church, because the original consecration we 2nd May, a date was probably chosen which was both near to this date and 6th May (patronal festival). Perhaps 5th May fell on a sunday and therefore this was chosen as a convenient date to combine the two and thereafter it is possible that the error arose from this decision. As I, the author, can find no documentary evidence for the change in the date i can only speculate how the error occured, but perhaps you, the reader, may have your own theory on this matter.
For the purpose of this history and to set the record straight the consecration of the church of St John the Evangelist took place on 2nd May 1848. The church was consecrated by the Archbishop of York and attended by many notable people from the area, including the Mayor of Doncaster and more than thirty clergy. The full amount of the services of the laying of the Foundation Stone
and the Consecration can be read in the copy of the Doncaster, Nottingham and Lincoln Gazette for the appropriate dates and available in the Doncaster Reference Library.
The church is built of grit-stone, obtained from the neighbourhood and the interior interior is plastered. The style adopted by Mr Francis, the architect, was of Gothic Ecclesiastical of the Early Pointed Period, as adopted in the latter part of the 12th century. The bell turret contains a bell of about 4cwt by Mears of London. The cost of the church was £1,071: the yard wall £84 and together with other expenses the total cost was £1,337. The original church had a seating capacity of 220.
The population of Balby and Hexthorpe increased during the ensuing years and it was necessary only 30 years later to enlarge the original church. The enlargement consisted of the erection of an aisle on the north side of the nave, thus increasing the accommodation of the church to about 300. Communication from the old part of the church is by three spacious arches resting on finely worked and substantially formed pillars. Heating was also included in the refurbishment which meant gas had to be layed on. The total cost of this work came to over £1,000. The idea also occured at this time that there ought to be a good organ for the building. For this purpose the ladies of the parish commenced fund-raising nd their efforts resulted in the purchase of an organ costing £170. The church was re-opened in October 1877 and the Archbishop of York preached.
In 1908 an ambitious scheme was launched by the vicar, the Reverend A M Bolland and his churchwardens for a large scale extension of the church building. This was to include the extension of the nave and north aisle, provision of a large south aisle, side chapel and new vestries, at a cost of over £3,000. A great effort was made at the time to raise this money but it was unsuccessful and therefore the south side extension was abandoned until a date in the future. This resulted in the bricking-up of the south side which is most conspicuous and causes much comment even today.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Lang, consecrated the new extension on February 1911. The length of the church had been extended by 60 feet and the seating capacity had been considerably increased. Mr Temple Moore of Hampstead, an eminent ecclesiastical architect was responsible for the plan and the cost was in the region of £2,400.
An appeal was launched in 1934 by the vicar, the reverend L Webster for certain furnishing and decoration work to be carried out. During the latter part of the decade a new chancel and sanctuary furnishings, choir stalls, alter, rood cross, communion rails and panelling were completed and dedicated in 1939 by the bishop of Sheffield. The oak panelling and rood cross were memorials to the clergy and laity who had worked and worshipped at Balby.
During the centenary celebrations in 1947 a fund was launched for the provision of a new organ. The rebuilding and dedication of the new organ was performed in 1955.
The Lych Gate, given by Mr W Lister and made at this workshops, was dedicated in 1950 by the Assistant Bishop of Sheffield. A new Lady Chapel altar and side panels, a memorial to Mr E M Fox, was dedicated in 1951 by the Archdeacon of Sheffield.
In 1961, as a result of a successful ‘direct giving’ scheme carried out in the parish, a number of major repairs and improvements were able to b e implemented. The re0siting of the font and the renewal of the floor in the Lady Chapel being amongst the improvements. It can be seen that the font is now placed on top of a gravestone bearing the date 1826 (22 years prior to the consecration of the church). The explanation for this being that the gravestones used as part of the new floor were those taken up from St George’s churchyard when the new dual carriageway was being constructed.
Future enhancements of the church were envisaged ten years later when it was hoped that a large clerestory window could be placed on the south side in place of the once-proposed side chapel. This work has never been contemplated because of the financial situation.
Some of the pews and chairs have been taken out of the church during the last few years enabling a nave altar and three shrines to be added.
The heating of the church has been a recurring problem during the life of the church and all forms have been tried using gas, coke, oil and the up-to-date present system of electric quartz.
All the stained glass in the church is by Mr Camm of Smethwick, near Birmingham.
The Crucifixion Window was given by Mr E Peniston, in memory of his niece and great nephew. According to a report in the Gazette (7 May 1897).
“It is a three light window, the figure of the Saviour crucified occupying the centre light, and representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St John, filling the North and South lights respectively.”
The representation of the Crucifixion bears the inscription,
“To the Glory of God and in loving memory of Annie Elizabeth Wilson and her son, Arthur Wilson 1896.”
The Nativity Window - dedicated by the Archdeacon of Doncaster and in memory of 50 people whose names were inscribed in a ‘book’.
The Light of the World Window - bears the inscription,
“This window is dedicated to the Glory of God and in loving memory of William George and Robert Rhodes, of New Zealand by their sister Margaret, 1897.”
The Rhodes family were long resident in Balby, and many members of it are buried in the churchyard.
The good Shepherd Window bears the inscription,
“To the Glory of God and in memory of Wm Rt Weston, 24 years vicar of this parish, 1896.”
Given by Mrs Weston and her family.
Jonathan Window bears the inscription,
“Tom Fowler Yates, born Ap 22 1877, died a volunteer in the Imperial Yeomanry at Kroonstad, S Africa, Sept 7 1900.”
The Eagle Lectern was presented to the church by James Davey Showler in memory of his wife Ann (16 May 1848 - 12th September 1912). The piece was carved by Showler.
The Pulpit - is in memory of Mr William Richard Gundry. Presented to the church by hs wife and family. Mr Gundry played an important role in the parish. He had been a church warden and taught at King Edward Road School for more than 30 years. The pulpit was dedicated in May 1932.
Bishop’s Chair - dedicated by the vicar in 1952, in memory of Mary Gundry.
Font - paid by subscription by parishioners in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (placed 4th July 1897), and resited in 1961 to its present position.
There have been many items of furniture and articles of devotion presented to the church over the past 40 years, and as time has passed some of the gifts are no longer in use or have been replaced. The generosity of people throughout the life of the church has been overwhelming and it makes it impossible to record all the items which have been so lovingly given, but is is with gratitude that all these gifts are aknowledged.
The school was discontinued as a public elementary school in 1901, o the opening of the Board School at the top of Sandford Road. The school was held by the vicar and churchwardens as trustees since 1910 and used as a church hall. In 1957 the vicar was informed that under the Education Act 1944 the building had to revert to its original purpose. In the event of it not being able to the property had to be sold and its value put to the original use. The property was purchased, the trustees having been allowed ten years to pay the cost which was £1,500.
In 1927 an agreement was made between the vicar, the church council and Thompson and Dixon, for the erection of a church hall at a cost of £1,600. The parish hall was erected at right angles to the Old Hall.
The halls have been used for many social activities during the years both by the church organisations and the community as a whole.
The first residence of the vicars of St John’s was the Old Manor House at Hexthorpe. In 1882, the vicarage was built in Greenfield Lane. This house was demolished and the site used for an old people’s home, Stenson Court, when the present vicarage was purchased in 1965.
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