The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

St John's church, Waterloo, London Photo © John East

40 Buildings Saved

18. St John’s Church, Waterloo, London

Status: Listed Grade II*
Architect: Re-roofed and refitted by Thomas Ford
Owners: Church of England
Location: Waterloo Road, London


Built in 1829 in Greek revival style, it was reduced to a shell in the Second World War. Re-roofed and refitted by Thomas Ford in 1951 as the church for the Festival of Britain, during which it was used for services, concerts and events. It is the only physical survival of the Festival on the South Bank apart from the Royal Festival Hall.  Ford followed the Regency style of the original but re-ordered the sanctuary sensitively responding to the original building while introducing new elements and a liturgical arrangement typical of its time and flexible in its potential. In place of the former East End window, the émigré artist Hans Feibusch (1898-1998) painted a Crucifixion, with a nativity panel over the altar.  A careful refurbishment and restoration of the soft original colours took place in 1994. Listed at Grade II* in 1951.


In 2014 the church proposed a reordering of the interior, including the removal of two chapels, the pulpit, reading desk and altar rails. New bright white side galleries were proposed by Eric Parry Architects, extending to the east wall, with angled walls and storage underneath, claiming it would make the space more suitable for worship and musical events. The C20 Society felt that these changes were solutions to imaginary problems and actually reduced flexibility, while the church’s admirable plans for more community services could be implemented without jeopardising the Thomas Ford work.


C20 objected to the plans, supported by Historic England and the London Borough of Lambeth. In 2016 the Chancellor of the Southwark Diocese convened a Consistory Court Hearing, the equivalent of a full planning inquiry for a Church of England church, for which C20 was able to draw on pro-bono legal representation.


In 2017 the Chancellor upheld the objections of C20 and the other opponents and awarded costs to the church.  Leave to appeal was granted but the Court of Arches made it clear that the church would have to bear costs, so they withdrew their appeal.

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