|St John the Evangelist Churchyard||Newham|
St John the Evangelist was established at Stratford when the old parish of West Ham had grown as a result of development in the area. The site for the new church was the village green, and the architect's plans included vaults beneath the church and a large graveyard. In 1878 the Martyrs' Memorial was erected in the churchyard, commemorating 18 Protestants burnt at the stake at Stratford in 1556. The churchyard was converted to lawns between 1958-78 although some tombs remain on the south side of the church In the 1980s the church exterior was cleaned and cast-ion railings were reinstated around the churchyard. The church still forms a focal point in the centre of the busy road system, now close to the London 2012 Olympic Park.
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First records of Stratford date from late C11th, the name meaning 'street by the ford'. Until then a rural village, Stratford's development accelerated from the first half of the C19th. Prior to Stratford Station opening in 1839 it was served by omnibuses and coaches en route between London and Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and rich City merchants began to choose to live in Stratford. At that time this was part of the parish of West Ham served by All Saints' Church (q.v.), but by the late 1820s there was a need for new churches to serve the growing population. St John's was the second new church to be built in West Ham, the first being St Mary's in Plaistow (q.v.). In 1832 £18,000 was raised by wealthy parishioners for the proposed church to be built on the village green, a site occupied by a blacksmith, workshops, yards, a garden and watch house. The architect appointed was Edward Blore and the plans included vaults beneath the church and a large graveyard.
St John's Church was completed in 1834, although there were later additions to the building and its furnishings, particular in 1884 when the choir vestry and chancel were built. The chancel commemorates the geologist Sir Antonio Brady who lived in Stratford and was buried in the churchyard on his death in 1881. His collection of prehistoric animals is part of the national collection in the British Museum, but he also played an important part in preserving Epping Forest as public open space. One of the donors to the new church building fund was the grandfather of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins whose family lived in The Grove. Manley Hopkins was baptised at St John's church in 1844; he later turned to the Roman Catholic Church and trained for the Jesuit priesthood when he was in his 20s.
In 1878 the elaborate Martyrs' Memorial was erected in the churchyard at the instigation of the vicar, Revd. William Bolton, a fervent Protestant. It commemorates 18 Protestants burnt at the stake at Stratford in 1556 for refusing to renounce their faith, 13 of whom were burnt together on 27 June, the largest group to be burnt at the same time in the country. Their names are listed on the 65 foot high hexagonal stone and terracotta monument, which was designed by J T Newman and built by H Johnson & Co., Terra Cotta Manufacturers of Ditchling in Sussex.
By the early C20th the population of Stratford had expanded greatly due to the industrial growth that had taken place in the area, particularly through the docks and riverside industries, although unemployment and poverty were also rife. During WWII the church crypt was used as a shelter for local people and the area suffered badly from bombing, with 76 nights of continual bombing save only 1 night's break from 7 September 1940. The church itself did not suffer a direct hit, although roof and windows were damaged and restoration took place between 1951-55 when the new East Window, designed by Gerald Smith, was completed.
From 1958-78 the vicar was Charles Fox, and during this period the graveyard was largely cleared and made into lawns. There are some tombs remaining on the south side of the church, including a broken column in red granite. The original cast-iron fencing around the church had been removed during the war and in the 1980s cast-ion railings with elaborate finials were replaced around the churchyard, modelled on Edward Blore's railings at St John Leytonstone (q.v.). The church today still forms a focal point in the centre of a busy road system.
Jane Bird & Catherine Roper, 'On the Broadway, A History of St John's Stratford', (Stratford City Challenge Community History), 1994; John Archer/Ian Yarham, Nature Conservation in Newham, London Ecology Unit, 1991; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); 'A Brief History of St John's on church website