Historical notes about St. John’s Church, Sharow

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St. John’s church is located in the Parish of Sharow with Copt Hewick which embraces the communities of Sharow, plus Nunwick and Hutton Conyers to the North, Ure Bank to the west, Copt Hewick and Bridge Hewick to the east. The foundation stone of this fine village church was laid on 13th January 1824.

‘The Church Building Act, 1818’, passed by Parliament committed £1 million to build new churches, in words generally associated with the act, “lest a godless people might also be a revolutionary people”.

The government of the day was also alarmed at the rapid spread of nonconformist denominations equating them to radical political views. It also believed that a public which was churchgoing, especially in the rapidly growing industrial areas, could be better held in check than the large groups of people who were removed from Anglican influences. As a less emotive reason for building churches, they were to be the nation’s token of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the victory at Waterloo. Many churches built about this time tend to be loosely, if erroneously, referred to as Waterloo Churches. The government appointed a commission to administer the funds. The men who served on it became known as the ‘Church Commissioners’ although strictly speaking they were the ‘Parliamentary Commissioners’. They were disbanded when the money ran out and are not therefore the precursors of the present Church Commissioners. The Commission assisted the construction of hundreds of churches across the country and architects were required to keep costs to a minimum. Nearly all these ‘Commissioners’ Churches’ were built of cheap brick, with stone dressing only for the windows and doors. The interiors were usually galleried on three sides. Four of the first churches received major funding and may be regarded as true Waterloo Churches. The four, all in South London, were purposely dedicated to the four evangelists – St John’s, Waterloo; St Matthew’s, Brixton; St. Mark’s, Kennington; St. Luke’s, Norwood.

An illuminating letter exists, dated 2nd December 1822, addressed to The Very Revd. the Dean of Ripon (Dean Robert Waddilove) from George Knowles of Lucan House, Sharow and William Charnock of Copt Hewick Lodge, with signatories from Sharow (114), Copt Hewick (108) and Bridge Hewick (89).

“We …. being very desirous of attending the service of the Established Church and anxious that our children and our servants should be bred up in its principles, feel sorry that we cannot be accommodated in the Minster on the Sabbath days to join the sacred services of the same owing to two considerations – the inadequacy of the church to contain numbers and the increased and increasing population of Ripon with Bondgate. We … have consulted together on the propriety of making an attempt, at least, to build a chapel in connexion with the Church of Ripon, at Sharow, that place being most central to the other Townships. “

St. John’s, Sharow, is built of stone and is much more elaborate than almost any Commissioners’ church. It has traceried windows and it is built in an area which was not particularly industrial and not likely to be a hotbed of radical thinking. The design is therefore far more expensive than the Commissioners would have allowed had they borne the main part of the cost. Indeed it is somewhat surprising that they gave anything! St. John’s was largely funded by Mrs Lawrence of Studley Roger. She donated in the region of £2,000. There was a grant from the Parliamentary Commissioners of only £400 and nothing to suggest that they were in any other way involved with the establishment of St. John’s Church. Other funding came from public subscription, the total cost being in the region of £5,000.

St. John’s was consecrated and dedicated to St. John the Divine on 28th September 1825 by the Archbishop of York. Sharow was at that time in the Diocese of York. Initially the church was rectangular with a gallery at the west end and could accommodate 550 worshipers. The absence of pillars in the nave and the fine gold-embossed flat roof contribute greatly to the dignity and utility of the building. Initially, the church was referred to as the Chapel of Sharow and served as a chapel of ease to Ripon. Sharow was an Ecclesiastical District, not a Parish, and its boundaries were set out in an Order of Council 4th December 1829.

In 1825 Mrs Lawrence gave the Parsonage, a farm house called Throstle’s Nest, to the parish. She also donated the Master’s House and small schoolroom now known as the School House. At this time, “music consisted of a very poor barrel organ and the voices of the old Clerk and one or two others. The school was very small and the scholars few”. School House was enlarged and improved in 1863. Mr Edwin Walter Robert Williams was appointed master of the Parish School in 1854 and retained the position for 45 years. He appears to have been a popular and successful master and there is a brass plaque to his memory on the south wall of the Side Chapel.

The present school, Sharow C of E Primary School, is located just west of the church on Berrygate Lane. The first construction was in 1857. Over the intervening years various changes have taken place and the modernisation during the last ten years has been great, benefiting scholars and teachers alike. For some years School House was the residence of the Parish Priest but in 2003 reverted back to the school when the Parish Priest moved into a modern property in the village.

In 1854 Revd. S H Powell, of Sharow Hall, gave the stone Pulpit (bearing the inscription, “In memory of Thomas Hopper of Sharow Lodge who died the XIX day of March 1849)”, Reading Desk (bearing the inscription, “In memory of Catherine the wife of Thomas Hopper of Sharow Lodge who died the VIII day of October 1842)”, and Altar Rails and “three handsome Oak Stalls in the Chancel”.

The first heating, a hot water system, was installed in 1866 at a cost of £90. Improvements have since been made and now worshippers benefit from gas heaters.

The stone font was donated by Mrs Reynard in 1867.