St. John’s Church Spitalgate, built in 1841 in the old industrial area of Grantham, has become a significant landmark in the community. It was designed by Anthony Salvin, who was also the architect of Harlaxton Manor. Built of Ancaster stone in the Early English Lancet Style, it had a chancel, transepts and a nave of five bays.
Prior to this inhabitants of Spitalgate had had no local church and worshipped at St. Wulfram's. Pews in the south aisle of St. Wulfram's were known as the Spitalgate pews.
However, it was decided in 1839 that a new church should be built, capable of containing seven to eight hundred people. The foundation stone was laid by Countess Brownlow in 1840, and the building was consecrated the following year.
Changes over the years
The population in the area increased greatly partly due to the railway line being laid in the 1850s, and in 1883 the church had to be widened to accommodate 1000 people. Two transepts were added and the chancel rebuilt and lengthened. In 1911, the church was closed for 6 weeks for repairs. While these were being done, Services were held in the church hall on Oxford Street (since sold).
The East Window above the Altar portrays the four Evangelists and is given by the sister of the Rev. Frederick Jesson, vicar between 1842-1879. Miss Jesson also donated the Chartres copies. The small meeting room is now dedicated to Rev. Jesson and named after him.
As you enter by the West door today, you pass under the tower and into the back of the church. The nave is supported by pointed and moulded arches. If you proceed down the south (right-hand) aisle, you will see the Jesson room, the choir vestry and the St. Faith or Lady Chapel. These rooms have been made by blocking off part of the widened building. The Font is positioned where the south aisle widens out.
The Eagle Lectern is made from gold lacquered brass and is very life-like. It was given by parishioners in memory of the Rev. Norman Nash, Vicar from 1909-1916. The present oak pulpit was erected at the same time as the choir screen in 1918.
Since 1976 the choir stalls had been behind the Altar, facing the congregation, but in 1994 they were moved back to their previous and more conventional position on either side of the chancel.
On the north side of the church a meeting room, kitchen and amenities have been constructed by dividing part of the widened area.
St John's Scouts
7th Grantham (St John's) Scout Group was registered on July 15th 1935. It was very successful, and in 1937, for the first time in nine years the District won the County Flag. The Troop which brought the Flag bac to Grantham was the District's newest Troop, the 7th Grantham (St. John's) Troop, Scoutmaster Alfie Lamb.
It was one of the few Troops remaining after WWII, the others being 2nd Grantham, 1st Barrowby and 1st Denton & Harlaxton (now defunct). This was understandably due to a lack of leaders since many had been involved in the war effort and had either moved away or been killed.
In 1960 the son of Scouting's Founder, Lord Peter Baden-Powell opened the 'magnificent' new HQ of 7ths in Earlsfield Lane. It had cost £4000 and Alfie Lamb the Group Scout Leader said that it was a 'far cry from the days 25 years before when the group was formed'.
St. George's Day Parade 1967
St. George's Day Parade 1972
7th Grantham Scouts are still going strong in their Earlsfield Rd HQ, and now have Squirrels (4-6 yr olds), Beavers (6-8), Cubs (8-10.5) and Scouts (10.5-14). If you are interested having your child join them please use this link
* Many thanks to the Grantham Public Library for access to their archives where much of this information was gleaned.*
The Organ was built in 1871, overhauled in 1919, restored and renovated in 1938, and again in 1994.
During the late 20th Century, under the leadership of Geoff Winter, St. John’s Choir became very well known for its high standard of musicianship and for its preponderance of outstanding girls voices.
The picture shows the choir performing at Lambrecht, Germany in 1981
St John's Church during the Wars
The War Memorial Chapel, or St. George’s Chapel, in the south transept was dedicated in 1920. The roll of honour contains names of men from the parish who served in World War One and a list of Fallen in both wars is inscribed on the panelling beside the Altar. The windows in the chapel are copied from some in Chartres Cathedral.
On Sept 30th 1940 St. John’s was shaken to its foundations when high explosive bombs were dropped nearby and in the following year the church again had a narrow escape. Nearby Commercial St and Norton St weren't as lucky and several houses were destroyed and many people died during the bombardment. The area was targeted due to the industrial works in the location, especially the Ruston & Hornsby factory (which had been making munitions for the war), as well as for it's proximity to the railway line and station. The cast iron railings surrounding the church went for scrap during the war and have not been replaced.
The suspended Rood, consisting of a carved figure of Christ on the cross flanked by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John, was dedicated in 1950 as a memorial to members of the forces and civilians from the parish who died in WWII.
Spittlegate or Spitalgate??
There is often dispute over the spelling of the official title of St. John’s. The Church Commissioners use 'St. John the Evangelist in Spittlegate, Grantham', however the name is believed to derive from the Middle English Spitel, and the Viking word 'gata' for "Hospital Gate" after the hospital for lepers believed to have been in the area from the 13th-15th Centuries. The hospital (really just a hostel where people suffering from leprosy could live and be cared for, as there was no treatment at the time) was dedicated first to St Margaret and later to St Leonard. In 1991, 66 burials were found on the other side of the London Rd near the Esso filling station.
To add to the confusion the WWII airfield, located just east of Grantham off the A52, was called Spittlegate in WWII with the alternative spelling of Spitalgate being mistakenly used when the site reverted to its original name towards the end of WWII.