The Architect of St John’s

Published 1977

There are no books on the life and work of John L Pearson, he never lectured and wrote little.

Architectural history sometimes reads like a chronicle of edifice builders, often with no mean show of personal vanity. As far back as 1272 Beauvais was the first of many cathedrals which was never properly completed because it was too ambitious and, perhaps, ambitious for the wrong reasons. When St. John’s was built it was for the new and fashionable suburb of Upper Norwood, the place of retired Empire builders, and one cannot escape the impression that its grandeur and triumphalism was not only “to the glory of God” but in keeping with the parishioners’ assessment of themselves. The first Vicar and founder of the church almost says this in one of his articles to stir the people on to build such a church as St. John’s. Like Beauvais, St. John’s was never completed. It remains without its planned magnificent spire.

Not that one can charge Pearson himself with immodesty. When he was presented with the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880, the President did say that Pearson “had never in these pushing, enterprising days, ostentatiously identified himself with his splendid buildings or loosened even for a moment the old-fashioned bond of modesty and merit.”!

Nevertheless, Pearson was permitted to be the architect he was because of those “pushing enterprising days” of the British Empire. It would have impossible for Pearson to have worked in the confusion which the sweeping theological reappraisal has placed upon the modern architect.

We, the custodians of a distinguished Victorian building, are to do what we can to preserve it; although a little more conscious perhaps than were the Victorians that we are travellers rather than settlers in this world, aware that “here we have no continuing city” and that we should be “content like Jacob to dwell in tents” and be “aware also that her earthbound tabernacles like the Temple at Jerusalem are threatened with destruction.”

L Craske 1977

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