St John the Evangelist’s Church is the Anglican parish church of the Upper St Leonards area of St Leonards-on-Sea. The present building—a “very impressive and beautifully detailed” church in the Gothic Revival style, with a landmark tower—combines parts of Arthur Blomfield’s 1881 church, wrecked during World War II, and Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel’s 1950s rebuild. Two earlier churches on the site, the second possibly designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon, were themselves destroyed earlier in the 19th century. The rich internal fittings include a complete scheme of stained glass by Goodhart-Rendel’s favoured designer Joseph Ledger and a 16th-century painting by Ortolano Ferrarese. The final cost was £12,300 (£1.2m)and the third St John the Evangelist’s Church was consecrated in 1883. The church continued to thrive in the new building; it became noted for its music: a choir school operated between 1896 and 1927.
The church suffered another setback in 1943 when it was bombed during the Luftwaffe’s raids during World War II.
On 9 February 1943, a 1,000-pound (450 kg) bomb passed through the spire and tower and exploded in the aisle, destroying the building. Only the tall octagonal tower and parts of the west wall and baptistery survived.
In 1949, a hall built next to the ruins was put into use as a temporary church while another new building took shape behind the tower. Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel, a “leading authority on Victorian Gothic architecture” who often adopted elements of other styles and took a free-thinking, unconventional approach to church design, was commissioned. His design, a free interpretation of the Gothic Revival style in red brick and “with rich ornament and many mannered details”, was executed between 1950 and 1954. Most work took place between 1951 and 1952, and the first parts to be reconstructed were the transepts and nave.
On 18 May 1951, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) laid the foundation stone, and dedication ceremonies were held for the new nave and chancel in 1952 and 1957 respectively. A side chapel and a vestry were built in the 1960s. The original spire, damaged by the bombing of 1943, could not be restored and was removed; the top of the tower was altered and a “cap” added instead.
English Heritage has listed the church at Grade II* for its architectural and historical importance