The following information is based on the Centenary Celebrations leaflet written by Rev Geoff Holden and published in 1989.
The creative will of God worked through many people to found the church of St John the Evangelist to be built. Here is that story.
The story begins with the advent of the Reverend Edward Hughes, when he was offered the benefice of Llanaber with Barmouth in the year 1887. His appointment was seen to be well made as he conducted his ministry, with that of his amiable wife, with energy and a lively social conscience.
He found a very depressed state of worshipping life in the Parish caused by a number of problems. Considerable social change was taking place. The people of this small, but very interesting town were becoming less dependant on the local fishing industry and more and more involved in caring for holiday visitors.
We can all regret the passing of a proud boat building and maritime history, but nothing can change the most wonderful natural beauty of the Mawddach estuary and the magnificent backdrop of the Cadair Idris chain of mountains. It was this natural beauty and the new pleasure of seaside holidays that brought so many large families to Barmouth.
The former Rector of Llanaber, the Reverend John Jones M.A. had already tried to improve the seating accommodation at St David’s (Chapel of Ease by the quay) the only Anglican building for worship in Barmouth itself. But the Chapel of Ease proved entirely inadequate to cope with the large numbers of people who attended for worship.
The number of services were increased, English followed by Welsh, but even this pragmatism did not meet the need of the time. More clergy help was given to the Rector, but none of these measures really helped to solve the problem of such large numbers coming to worship.
Consequently, the devision was made to build a new and large Anglican church in Barmouth.
So, having made his decision the Rector immediately conferred and shared his mind with his Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council. They were whole-heartedly in favour and immediate steps were taken to purchase a site. Due to its geographical position land has always been at a premium in Barmouth, but the offer of a shelf of rock to the north of the town was accepted. The sceptics were critical and pointed out the obvious difficulties of rock blasting to create a terrace and of course access to the site would not be easy. The Church Building and Fund Raising committees persisted and remained undaunted in their task. A competition to design the church was carried out by “The Builder” magazine during June and July 1889.
The Rector, personally responsible for so much of the project, was often depressed by lack of financial support and many broken promises. But Canon Hughes was a man of sterling quality, great courage and inner faith. His persistence was to be rewarded in a way he could not have dreamed of even in his moments of greatest optimism.
Living at her holiday home, Plas Mynach (Barmouth), was a lady of wealth and of great sympathy for the church and for those who worked for its continuance in the town. Mrs Sarah Perrins was delighted that her help had been sought.
Very quickly she saw the opportunity to offer a memorial to her late husband James Dyson Perrins. She was most generous and immediately offered the sum of £15,000 as a memorial share in the building of the new church. Canon Hughes then knew that his personal wish to build a worthy place of worship for Barmouth was secure. The Parish share of £3,500 was also agreed and there was indeed great rejoicing in the hearts of church men and women that day.
Tuesday, 27th August 1889 showed an unusual unity for the town of Barmouth. No barrier by any section of the public had been raised to make this day other than a day of great rejoicing. No political or denominational bias was to be found. The Holy Spirit of God had indeed triumphed. The anticipated presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice and her husband Prince Henry, had even silenced those who would normally be most vocal against royalty.
The invitation to Queen Victoria had first been made by the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry. By chance the Queen was on holiday in North Wales and graciously allowed her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, to perform the ceremony and lay the foundation stone of the new church.
This was no small gift from the Queen, for she was very possessive concerning her youngest daughter and it was a condition of her marriage, to Henry of Battenberg, that they lived their married life, with the Queen.
The day began with heavy cloud and out at sea the prospect seemed little brighter. But on the arrival of the Royal Train, the weather improved, as though by a signal (forgive the pun). The town was gayly and expensively decorated, every vantage point was taken up by happy interested visitors and townspeople. I suspect Barmouth has not seen the like before or since.
In the published accounts all aspects of this Royal Visit are graphically described, but the most precious moments are when Her Royal Highness, on receiving a sliver trowel, as a gift from the Marchioness of Londonderry, placed her hand on the stone and said:
“In the faith of Jesus Christ and in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”
An so the Foundation Stone was truly and properly laid.
Beneath the stone, already had been placed a Time Capsule, which contained copies of the Times, Church Times, North Wales Chronicle, Cambrian News, Barmouth Advertiser, The Llan, The ‘Royal Visit; edition of the Oswestry Advertiser and the Gossiping Guide to Wales. Also a copy of “The Wild Flowers of Barmouth” as well as gold, sliver and copper coins of the year 1889.
The service was continued by the Rector with a Benediction spoken by the Bishop of Bangor.
Of course, the day was not ended by the ceremony. A luncheon was held and everyone, in their own way, celebrated and rejoiced with a deed well done and a day well spent. But we must remind ourselves that the church itself was not yet built.
Messrs Douglas and Fordham were chosen as architects and Mr Winnard of Wigan as contractor.
By September 1891, a considerable part of the building was finished, including the immense tower standing at one hundred feet high, Then the following headline appeared in a local newspaper – “Collapse of the New Church at Barmouth”. It was a disaster of unbelievable proportions. The roof had been prepared for the slate and the tower had been almost built to its full height. Without any warning (except of course the voice of the critics), the tower collapsed and fell into the nave, utterly destroying the near completed building. At the time the architect attributed the collapse to recent blasting operations, which was an attempt to obtain more light for the church. I suspect he was correct in his experienced evaluation but it brought no comfort to Canon Hughes and his bitterly disappointed Building Committee.
The Rector, with his parishioners had already raised many thousands of pounds and many wondered whether the tower could ever be rebuilt. We have, of course, the clear evidence today that it was. But at the time the pain and concern must have been unbearable. But these worthy parishioners and their Rector were not to be disappointed, for once again, Mrs Perrins came to the rescue.
The good lady had remarried and was now the wife of the Reverend T. J. Williams, Rector of Waddesdon, Bucks. Mrs Sarah Williams repeated her gift and building work continued, the result of which we now see today.