St John the Baptist's Church, Chester

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St John the Baptist's Church, Chester

St John the Baptist's Church, Chester is in the city of Chester, Cheshire, England. It lies outside the city walls on a cliff above the north bank of the River Dee. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building. It is an active Anglican parish church in the diocese of Chester, the archdeaconry of Chester and the deanery of Chester. Its benefice is combined with that of St Peter, Chester.Alec Clifton-Taylor includes it in his list of 'best' English parish churches, and it is considered to be the best example of 11th–12th century church architecture in Cheshire.


The church was reputedly founded by King Aethelred in 689. During the 11th century, Earl Leofric was a "great benefactor" of the church. In 1075 Peter, Bishop of Lichfield moved the seat of his see to Chester, making St John's his cathedral until he died in 1085. Peter's successor moved his seat to Coventry and St John's became a co-cathedral. The building of the church continued on a large scale until the end of the 13th century and continued as a collegiate church of secular canons. After the Dissolution, much of the east end of the church was demolished and some of it remains as ruins to the east of the present church. Since the Dissolution, it has been a parish church.

In 1468 the central tower collapsed. In 1572 the northwest tower partially collapsed and in 1574 there was a greater collapse of this tower which destroyed the western bays of the nave. This was rebuilt on a "magnificent scale". There were restorations to the church in 1859–66 and 1886–87 by R. C. Hussey. While the northwest tower was being repaired in 1881 it collapsed again, this time destroying the north porch. The porch was rebuilt in 1881–82 by John Douglas. John Douglas also built the northeast belfry tower in 1886. In 1925 the chapel at the south east corner, then the Warburton chapel, was extended to form a Lady Chapel.


The church is built in sandstone. At the west end is the ruined first stage of the northwest tower. The plan of the body of the church consists of a four-bay nave with a clerestory, north and south aisles and a north porch, a crossing with north and south transepts each of one bay, a five-bay chancel with aisles, and chapels at the north and south. The north chapel lies beneath the 1886 belfry tower and is now used as a vestry; the south chapel is the Lady Chapel. To the south of the Lady Chapel is a room known as the Chapter House.


While the external fabric of the church is largely Early English in style due to the restorations, much of the interior consists of Norman material. This is present in the nave, the crossing, the first bay of the chancel, the arch to the Lady Chapel and in the remains of the choir chapels. Richards considers that that it is the best masonry of the Norman period in Cheshire. Inside the church are many early effigies which are all damaged, some dating back as far as the late 13th or early 14th century. Monuments to the Warburton family are in the Lady Chapel. In the church are two fonts, one dating from the 15th century, the other from the Commonwealth period. Two brass chandeliers are dated 1722. The pulpit is from the 19th century. The reredos, dated 1876, is by John Douglas and was made by Morris & Co.; it includes a painting of the Last Supper. The organ had been built as a temporary organ for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 by William Hill and Company of London. It was then rebuilt for St John's, transported to Chester by barge and installed in the west gallery. In the 1859–66 restoration it was moved to the south transept and in 1895–96 it was moved to the north transept. In the 1960s it was converted to electro-pneumatic action by Charles Whiteley and Company. In 2002 it was restored following vandalism by Rod Billingsley. The organ case dated 1895 is by Thomas M. Lockwood. A memorial to Lockwood is in the north aisle. The stained glass in the east window dated 1863 was designed by T. M. Penson and made by Clayton and Bell. The west window was designed by Edward Frampton and is dated 1887–1890. In the north aisle is a barely visible wall painting of St John the Baptist. The church contains nine memorial boards by members of the Randle Holme family. The church plate includes two damaged pewter chalices and a paten from the late 12th or early 13th centuries and a number of silver items from the 17th and 18th centuries. The parish registers begin in 1559.

External features

Outside the church to the east are ruined remains including parts of former chapels which are recognised as a scheduled monument.

The exterior of the church contains a few tombstones that remain in their original positions. The vast majority of the gravestones have now been repositioned and laid to the ground forming the footpaths immediately in front of the church. In 2009 a research project recorded the inscriptions on the remaining tombs and gravestones.

Building Activity

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