The Sevenoaks district of St. John’s owes its name to the medieval chapel and hospital of St. John the Baptist which stood near the Bat-and-Ball crossroads until its suppression by Henry VIII in 1538. A Victorian tradition records that, besides St. John, Our Lady of Greatness was venerated here in the Middle Ages at her spring or holy well near the hospital.
The present church was founded as a chapel of Sevenoaks parish church in 1858. Very little is known of the first twenty years of its history. The Rector of the mother-church during the 1860s was the Rev. H.F. Sidebottom, whose old-fashioned black-gowned churchmanship presumably extended to St. John’s, of which Mr K.B. Sidebottom, a relative, was the curate-in-charge. In 1874, however, the Rev. T.S. Curteis became Rector of Sevenoaks, and significant changes followed.
Mr. Curteis was a high-churchman in the tradition of the Tractarians, who had reminded England that the Anglican Church was part of the Church Catholic and Universal, with its four basic credentials of Bible, Creeds, Sacraments and Apostolic Ministry. Mr. Curteis followed, too, the example of the Cambridge ecclesiologists in the cultivation of the beauty of externals, without which (they alleged) Christian spirituality in public worship could not be adequately expressed. Today Catholic-minded Anglicans approve of both these views of the Church, though in their insistence on the need for both physical and spiritual worship they are no longer committed to medieval or gothic forms, as were the Cambridge men.
These ideas were no doubt introduced here by the Rev. E.K.B. Morgan, who became priest-in-charge under Curteis (1875-78) and then the first vicar (1878-82), for in 1878 St. John’s was made a separate ecclesiastical parish, the Rector of Sevenoaks being patron of the living. In the same year Mr. Curteis, with the concurrence of the Archbishop and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, transferred the advowson from himself as a private individual. Meanwhile, a scheme to enlarge St. John’s, ancillary to Curteis’s great restoration of St. Nicholas’s, was abandoned because of the estimated expense (£6,000) but it did result in the addition of a north aisle to our church in 1877, which as the second vicar, the Rev. J.S. Bartlett (1882-1900), sadly remarked could “boast of but little architectural beauty in itself.”