David Proudlove's
critique of the built environment of Stoke-on-Trent

‘Ragged Glory’
Church of St. John the Evangelist, Hanley

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One of the saddest sights in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and a monument to the apathy and neglect of the city’s built heritage can be found on Town Road in Hanley, and forms the gateway to our City Centre.


Church of St. John the Evangelist, Hanley

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Hanley

The Church of St John the Evangelist was originally built in 1738, rebuilt in 1764 and once again in 1788. The church saw additions in 1872, and was recognised as the parish church in 1890. St John’s has played a central role in the community of Hanley historically, and is also of particular architectural significance:

St John’s contains some of the earliest cast-iron structural and decorative components, most notably the gallery columns, window frames, and the castellations; only St James’ in Liverpool has been identified as having earlier examples.

The first curate of Hanley was also notable. The Reverend John Middleton, was surely a record breaker, holding his position from 1737 until his death in 1802. Reverend Middleton was renowned as a strong-willed and forceful character, and once upon a time intervened when a baying mob with intentions of sacking Trentham Hall roamed his parish. His intervention was a success, and he persuaded the early ASBO candidates that their planned wrecking spree was not such a great idea.



St. John's, Hanley 2002
photo taken through Weatherby's window
Eileen Hallam


St John’s has been disused and neglected as long as I can remember. I recall sitting on buses approaching Hanley during my teenage and student years, admiring the ragged beauty of the church, and also marvelling that such an important and attractive building could be ignored and disregarded in such a way.

 This is not a recent development though; as far back as 1974, Pevsner wrote in respect of Hanley that the “parish church is at the time of writing in a desert”. His words were not heeded or considered in any way during the 1980s when Hanley last underwent major redevelopment; hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the construction of the Potteries Shopping Centre presented a great opportunity to breathe new life into St John’s. If careful thought had gone into the mall’s design, and an entrance in the vicinity of the church fronting onto a public space which St John’s could have been a central part of created, the increased footfall would surely have meant that the building presented an attractive proposition for the development industry.

The context and location is slightly different, but just look at the role the Church of St Ann plays in Manchester City Centre. Instead, the new alter to the religion of shopping turned its back on St John’s, and as has happened so many times in Stoke-on-Trent over the past 30-40 years, a great opportunity was missed. Thirty-three years on from Pevsner’s words, St John’s remains in a desert.


And so what does the future hold for this gem?

The Sentinel recently reported that repairs to St John’s would cost the Diocese of Lichfield in the region of £1.5million. This astounds me; I would have put the bill at much higher than that. The manager of the Potteries Shopping Centre, Paul Lancaster, was asked if the owners of the city’s premier shopping mall would be interested in taking the church on, and as would be expected, the answer was a polite “thanks, but no thanks”. I guess that if the question was “would they like the land without the building”, the answer would be “yes please, where do I sign?”.

St John’s is a Grade II* Listed Building, and the Government’s historic environment advisor English Heritage normally channels its limited funding into the repair and restoration of Grade I and II* Listed structures; those at just Grade II go to the back of the queue. However, don’t hold your breath and wait for English Heritage to save the day. As stated previously, their funding is limited, and their priorities seem to be extremely high profile, sexy propositions. They recently raised the listing status of Battersea Power Station from Grade II to II* in order to make the site eligible for substantial grant aid, in spite of the fact that the site is in a city with some of the highest real estate values in the world, and is owned by a large European developer who no doubt will be laughing all the way to the bank. I would dare say there is more chance of Pink Floyd reforming and playing a Battersea Power Station Benefit Gig than English Heritage saving St John’s.


There is hope though; earlier this year, the City Council held an international competition to bring forward exciting designs and proposals for the City Centre’s public realm.

This was won by Glen Howell Architects from Birmingham, who included in their interesting proposals the creation of ‘St John’s Circus’, a large pedestrian-friendly area, of which St John’s would be the clear focal point, and the pedestrianisation of Town Road.

This would surely increase footfall around the church, and recreate the missed opportunity of the 1980s. Even if the worst came to the worst, and St John’s went the same way as Burslem Sunday School with just ruins left behind, a talented and creative designer could surely salvage something from dereliction; I have recently been admiring the new Diocesan Museum in Cologne, where the remains of St Kolumba’s Church, a beautiful Gothic edifice which fell victim to allied bombing raids in World War II, have been incorporated into the design and construction of a new high profile visitor attraction.

Giving up should not be the option. Long live St John’s.

David Proudlove     29 November 2007



it was announced on 6th July 2008 that St. John's is to be restored
and converted into a restaurant

on the history of Hanley
on St. John's Church

previous: ‘In Praise of Father Ryan’ -Church of the Sacred Heart, Tunstall
next: ‘The Shock of the New (part 1)’ Victoria Hall Extension, Hanley