Church of St John the Evangelist Sutton Veny
With its conspicuous spire, the church of St John the Evangelist is one of the largest churches in the benefice and has been a place of prayer and tranquillity for over 150 years having taken over the role of being the parish church from St Leonard’s in Duck Street (now a semi-ruin in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust).
Located towards the bottom of the High Street, it forms part of Sutton Veny’s hub, comprising the church, church primary school, village hall and sports pitches on the adjacent Alexander Memorial Field.
The linkages between the church and the school are strong. In addition to the involvement of clergy and foundation governors in the governance of the school, both maintain active ANZAC connections, particularly with Australia.
With a village population of about 700, church electoral roll numbers are close to 100 with about half that number worshipping on a regular basis. A Friends group was formed in 2019 and its membership reflects the strength of support for our local church – often shown in volunteering as well as financial terms rather than church attendance. Church finances can be described as sound rather than healthy and their vulnerability to the continued generosity of a small number of more generous donors is acknowledged. The church has hitherto always managed to pay its annual share (about £16,000 per year) to Salisbury Diocese. Support from the Friends to prevent the need to make use of income generating reserves, has been most welcome and as a result the fabric of the church is generally good.
A project is in progress to realise the potential of the rear of the church by creating a slightly larger space through the removal of two rows of pews, the installation of a toilet and a catering facility and also improving the heating and lighting in this area. As well as supporting our congregations, these improvements would enhance the church’s ability to be a real community space, by supporting regular social, arts & crafts and music groups in addition to the regular monthly Community Café gatherings that seek to mix village and school communities. A major fundraising effort will be required to bring it to fruition.
The church received an Eco Church Bronze award in 2017 and aspires to attain Silver in due course.
The churchyard (other than the areas maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) is looked after by a team of volunteers. As a member of the Wiltshire Living Churchyards and Cemeteries Project, the church has been recognised for the way in which the churchyard is cared for in an environmentally sympathetic way by the receipt of an annual 'Bishop's Award', which is displayed in the porch.
By way of historical background, the foundation stone of the church of St. John’s was laid in 1866 and the church was dedicated two years later by the Bishop of Sodor and Man. It is an impressive building in an Early English style by J.L. Pearson, built at the expense of the Everett family as a memorial to Joseph Everett of Greenhill who died in 1865. It is built of Frome stone with Box stone dressings, cruciform in plan with a tower and tall spire over the crossing, large five-light windows to east and west and a rose window in the north transept. Inside are stone rib vaults to the crossing and chancel which are Pearson's trademark.
The altar was presented to the church at the time of its consecration by the then Bishop of Salisbury, and the reredos was given by the parish. The belfry and ringing chamber in the tower are reached by an outside staircase. The six bells were brought from the old church and in 1927 were re-hung in a metal frame.
In 1918 a corner of the churchyard was set apart as the burial place of the service men, many of them Australians, who had been attached to the military camp and hospital in the parish. Many had died in the influenza epidemic of that year and others were battle casualties. Five Australian nurses are also buried there. The graves have been tended since 1918 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Each has a rose bush planted by it. Every year, on the Sunday nearest to Anzac Day a memorial service is held in the church. On Anzac Day itself (April 25th) a service is conducted in the churchyard and the village children lay flowers on the graves. In the past this service has been broadcast by the BBC live to Australia and New Zealand.
In 1961 the parishioners felt that a memorial inside the church would be appropriate. After much planning and discussion, a faculty was granted in January 1964, enabling the south transept to be transformed into the Anzac Memorial Chapel.
St John's celebrated its 150th anniversary between 2016 and 2018 and looks forward to ensuring that it remains at the heart of the village community for the next 150 years and beyond.
Photographs of St John's, Sutton Veny (click an image for a slideshow of larger images)
General Photo Gallery