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Saint Johns Church-School Sheep Lane

The site of Saint John's February 2007
The site of Saint John's February 2007

Saint John’s school was built by new Rector E. Norman Coles around 1858. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a scrapbook maintained by Rev. Coles, donated by the Earl of Leicester [Z1487/1]. In it is a circular letter dated April 1862 in which he sets out his new purpose: “May I be allowed to call your attention to the following charitable Appeal”.

“That part of my parish called Sheeplane is well known to all who reside in the Southern part of the County of Bedford. It is removed from the Parish Church a considerable distance, and the bulk of the population belonging to Pottesgrove reside there”.

“Nearly four years ago I commenced building a Schoolhouse and a Residence for the Mistress, in this hitherto neglected spot. I completed the work, and have used the Room not only for the Instruction of the Poor Children but also for the purposes of Divine Worship”.

“The Religious Services have been fully appreciated by the people, all of whom are Agricultural Labourers, insomuch that I am now obliged to enlarge the Building in order that it may hold those who wish to worship there”.

“My plan is to add eight or ten feet to the Room, and to build a small Apse or Chancel to contain the Communion-table, which will be shut off from the rest of the building by folding doors during School hours”.

“The cost of this undertaking will be nearly £150, and when it is completed, the Room will in its appearance and fittings be suited for the Holy Services which are celebrated there”.

“In order to raise the sum and carry out the work, the importance of which cannot be over-estimated, I am compelled to ask the charity not only of friends, but of many who are personally strangers to me”.

“A Post-office Order made payable to me at the Woburn Office, will be most thankfully received and acknowledged”.

“The Room is used by me under the Licence of the Bishop of the Diocese”.

Saint John's shown on a map of 1901
Saint John's shown on a map of 1901

Croydon’s Weekly Standard of 11th October 1862 reported on the opening of the new extension. “Opening of a School-Church. The little hamlet of Sheep-lane, in the parish of Potsgrove, near Woburn, was enlivened on the 2nd instant by the opening of a new school-church, dedicated to Saint John. About four years and a half ago the Rev. Norman Coles, the present rector, was appointed to the parish and seeing the sunken condition and spiritual destitution of the inhabitants, he determined on opening a sanctuary for the celebration of divine worship. The building is capable of accommodating about 100 persons. The interior is characteristic for its plainness and the usefulness of its fittings; it has an open ceiling with stained rafters. On the walls were hung numerous texts of scripture. The room has a semicircular termination which is reserved as an apse. It is built with coloured bricks and is divided from the school by a screen and folding doors and portable light shutters covered with damask so that during school hours this part is secluded and entirely shut off from view. The apse contains reading desks and communion table. It is lighted by two side windows, filled with Powell’s patent quarries; and in the centre is a small painted-glass window, with a representation of Saint John. Above the communion table is an architectural cross. The floor is paved with Minton’s tiles and the fittings are exceedingly plain and in good taste. Morning service, intended as the opening of the building, was preluded by a procession of the clergy and choir singing the 148th Psalm. The prayers and epistle were read by the rector, the lessons by the Rev. G. W. Pearse, rector of Walton [Buckinghamshire], and the gospel by the Rev. H. Burney, rector of Wavendon [Buckinghamshire]. The sermon was preached by the Venerable Archdeacon Bickersteth, from the 20th verse of the 103rd Psalm. At the close of the service the holy communion was administered by the archdeacon, assisted by the rector and the Rev. H. Burney. The psalms and canticles were from the Rev. T. Ellmore’s Manual. The hymns were “Jerusalem the Golden”, “Blessed City, Heavenly Salem”, “Abide with Me” and the “Sanctus” by Wilson Brown. The harmonium was kindly lent free of charge by Mr. J. Young, of Leighton; Mr. Greenfield the organist of Wavendon church presided. Amongst the congregation were Sir Philip and Lady Duncombe, Rev. G. W. Corker and Lady Charlotte Corker, of Bow Brickhill; the Rev. H., Mr. Henry, and Miss Burney, Rev. C. Mayor and Mrs. Mayor of Wavendon; Mrs. Woolman and family, of Leighton; Rev. Scoble; Rev. C. W. B. Clarke of Fenny Stratford [Buckinghamshire]; Rev. V. Smith of Crawley; Rev. G. Whitlock of Milton Bryant; Rev. T. P. Williamson, of Little Brickhill [Buckinghamshire] &c. The service in the evening was well attended by the inhabitants. The prayers were read by the rector and the Rev. T. P. Williamson, the lessons by the Rev. H. A. Gibson, of Linslade, and the Rev. G. Whitlock of Milton Bryant. The sermon, a very eloquent and plainly worded composition, was preached by the Rev. C. W. B. Clarke, M.A. of Fenny Stratford. The collections amounted to £28 2s. 4d. On the day following the rev. gentleman entertained the children of the day and Sunday schools, aged people and widows”.

The piece does not say this but Rev. Coles was trying to reclaim Sheep Lane for the Established Church in the face of nonconformist meetings which had taken a hold – a Baptist-Congregationalist Union chapel having been built in 1838, replacing a cottage used for the purpose since at least 1792 and a Wesleyan chapel built about the same time as Saint John’s, replacing a cottage first registered in 1824.

A notice in the scrapbook dated 17th August 1865 is entitled “Re-Opening of Saint John’s School-Church, Sheep-Lane, After its Enlargement”. A note at the bottom reads: “Collections will be made at the Services to defray the debt remaining on the New Part of the Building”.

The scrapbook contains notices of all special services held in the chapel until 1885. In 1866 a service was held to celebrate the first use of the new organ and services seem to be held on the first Sunday in October each year celebrating the anniversary of the chapel’s opening. Rev. Coles was clearly a committed and unstinting pastoralist.

The school element of the building ceased in 1898 when the new Board School in the village of Potsgrove opened. Sadly the parish records do not give any idea as to when the chapel closed although the building was still there in 1948 when it was proposed that it should be used for parish meetings [PCPotsgrove26/1]. By 1970, as can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map of that date, it had been demolished.

The broken wall of the former church-school February 2007
The broken wall of the former church-school February 2007