"By virtue of the increase of the population, the inhabitants of the hamlet of Moulsham can no longer be accommodated in the mother church; and St. John's chapel being ready for the performance of divine worship, we pray that the Bishop of London be pleased to consecrate this new place of worship."

That was the substance of the petition presented to the Bishop on Tuesday 11th April 1837 which marked the beginning of Christian service to the Community of Moulsham. The consecration - which took place just two months before Queen Victoria came to the throne - was the culmination of three years' hard work and was received with more general satisfaction than any other event in the Parish of Chelmsford.

Church Plans

Moulsham was then, of course, very different from today. The railway had not yet arrived, the expansion of the housing was only just beginning; and Chelmsford still had its Parish Church which became the Cathedral.

The building itself began as a small rectangular chapel - roughly half the size of the main body of the existing building - and yet, incredibly with a seating capacity of 550 and at the service of consecration all seats were full. (Admission was by ticket only and 1,600 applications were received.)

The original planners half-expected the building to be too small and they were proved right. As Moulsham - with its new found independence from Chelmsford on the other side of the river - grew, so the building was extended to meet the demands of the local community. The south and north transepts were added in 1851 and 1874. The nave was extended, and finally in 1884 the Tower was added, the building becoming almost half a century after its consecration the building we recognize, at least externally, today.

Outside with Tower

The Tower is perhaps the most noticeable - and symbolic - feature of the building, standing head and shoulders above the surrounding buildings (a good view of this can be seen from a London Bound train). Through its visibility from most parts of the parish, it signals that the Church is here for all who care to enter. (For those who cannot see the Tower from their home, be assured that from the top one can view the whole parish and much beyond.)

The almost continuous changes to the structure in the early years means that most of the internal features are of more recent origin. The lectern dates from 1901, whilst the organ was erected from voluntary subscriptions in 1909, replacing an earlier smaller one. The internal layout of the church has undergone changes over time and the extremely elaborate painted decorations on the East wall have, sadly, disappeared with the exception of the four angels (whose wings once as if in full flight have now been folded).

We also know that, at the turn of the century, the pews were arranged with two side aisles instead of a central aisle - so how did newly married couples process out? This barrier to pomp was rectified in a subsequent reordering which left the internal layout much as it is currently to the easterly part of the nave.

Church in 1920s
Upstairs Lounge

In 1997 St. John's completed its most ambitious modification this century, as part of an ongoing project. After great thought it was decided to separate the nave into two parts, by constructing a wall. This provides greater functionality at the west end of the Church, and has enabled us to hold Junior Church at the same time as Parish Communion.

More recently, the upstairs of the west end has been developed giving an office, a meeting room and a larger space for a variety of events and functions. The new rooms were blessed by the Bishop of Chelmsford in October 2005.

From this potted - and incomplete - history, one is left with two striking impressions of the Body of Christ in Moulsham. The first is that St. John's - that is the people not the building - have seen their mission as one of service to the people of the hamlet of Moulsham - all of us; the second is that, as the needs of the community have changed, so has St. John's been ready to adapt - even something as difficult to alter as a building - in order to play its full part in the local community. As we proceed we hope to continue to work on changes to the building to provide the facilities we need to meet the challenges of today.

In 2012 we celebrated the 175th anniversary of St John's. We hope you will join us as we look forward to next 175 years!