In 1805 a traveller noted that Bulwell was "A big scattered, neglected and God-forsaken village". His latter comment seems to have been heard in the right quarters because a hundred years later Bulwell boasted no less than fourteen places of worship, nine of which are still thriving.

Between 1801 and 1851 the population of Bulwell almost doubled itself and accelerated even faster in the second half of the 19th century. The traditional industries of the area were stone quarrying and lime kiln workings. The opening of collieries during the 1840's, the coming of the railway in 1848 and the emergence of new industries such as Sankey's pottery in 1855, were the main influences on population growth at this time. A match factory in 1863 further speeded up the increase.

In 1882 the county of Nottingham came within the Diocese of Lincoln and the Bishop of the time, Dr Wordsworth convened a meeting in the city to discuss the urgent matter of church extension in the area. Present at the meeting was the Rev W H Cantrell, rector of Bulwell, and he stated that he would contribute 200 pounds towards the cost of a new church to be built in the Bulwell area known as the kiln yards.

This offer was a typical gesture by Cantrell who was Rector of Bulwell from 1865 to 1890. He was well known as a kindly, generous man who is reputed to have given away far more than the income from the benefice brought him in. He had earlier co-operated with Mr S.T. Cooper, purchaser of the Manor of Bulwell in 1865, in building the National school which is now known as St Mary's school. Cooper died in 1871 at the early age of 39 but his widow continued his benefactions to the area. Popular for her children's entertainments, treats to the villagers and her treatment of servants, it was to this lady that Cantrell turned for help in 1882.

The widow and her two sons shared the balance of the costs with local colliery owner, Sir Charles Seely (who also donated the first organ and is well known for his work in connection with the General Hospital which spanned over 45 years) and a bleacher, Mr G W Walker. "Gentleman" Walker had been a church warden at St Mary's for eight years and was a prominent local personality. The land for the new church was donated by Mr Samuel Ball, and Mr W Knight who had been the architect of St Andrews church Mansfield Road, was invited to prepare plans.

Although, compared with today, life in the 1880's was leisurely, the supporters of the new church moved quickly. The meeting at which the church was proposed was held early in 1882 and in October of that same year, the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone took place.

As with many aspects of the early days of the new church, written evidence of this occasion in non-existent, however fifty years later a reasonable account of the great day was compiled from personal memories.

We know for instance that the weather was not very kind when the procession moved off from the mother church of St Mary the virgin. One item of special note on this occasion was the wearing of surplices by the choir, it is understood that this was the first time the choir in Bulwell had worn such garments. On arrival at the site the stone was blessed by Bishop Trollope, suffragan of Lincoln and ceremonially laid by his grace the Duke of Portland.

The building work duly got underway, the church being built of locally quarried stone in a copy of the early English style of architecture but considerable delay was caused when early one morning the structure above the chancel arch proved too heavy. The supporting pillars collapsed and the masonry came crashing to the ground. Fortunately the workmen had not started their labours that day and so no one was injured. The design was modified and the work was sufficiently advanced for the consecration to take place on Thursday 9th April 1885.

During the course of this research much debate has centred on the actual centenary date, both 1982 and 1990 being suggested however the consecration date is 9th April 1885.

By the time of the consecration, the Diocese of Southwell had been formed and the previous links with Lincoln severed and so the act of consecration was performed by the first Bishop of Southwell, Dr Ridding, who also administered the sacrament of confirmation in the afternoon. The preacher at Evensong was Canon Hole, afterwards Dean of Rochester and the total collections of the three services held that first day added up to the then immense sum of £297. 1s 4d. The level of giving was not maintained however with collections during 1886 varying between 5s 5d and £1 15s 0d even on occasion dropping to as little as 2s 11d. If these amounts seem ludicrously low nowadays it must be remembered that expenses were correspondingly low.

Great changes in the life of the church came about in the roaring twenties. Up to May 6th 1928 the church was a chapel of ease to the parish church but on that auspicious date by order of the council, a new parish was formed round the church of St John the Divine.

Reverend S. Bradney had been curate of Bulwell and in charge of St John's since 1925 and the rector Reverend S M Wheeler invited him to become the first vicar, but due to the illness of Bishop Heywood the instruction was delayed until October 23rd 1928. A new vicarage sited in Squires Avenue was completed in 1930 and the congregation must have felt that the 20th century had really arrived, when early in the 1930's, electric lighting was installed in the church whilst November 1934 saw another visit to the parish by Bishop Haywood, this time to open the church hall on Rock street.

On Easter day 1935 Reverend Bradney officiated at no less than six services, Holy Communion at 6.15 am, 7.00am, 8.00am and 11.00am followed with a children's service at 2.30pm and Evensong at 6.30pm. The following Sunday April 28th 1935 saw the benediction of the oak eagle lectern by the Archdeacon of Newark Reverend Hadring. This commemorated the golden jubilee of the consecration and provides a point at which to end this look at the early years.

The second half century will doubtless be dealt with at a later date however one factor from this period is worthy of a mention. The post war years have brought about changes in our lives faster and more frequently than at any other time in history and we now accept rapid comings and goings of prominent and influential personnel. The Archdeacon of Stafford once commented "it takes at least three or four years work in a parish before anything worthwhile is achieved yet an ever increasing number of the clergy find it necessary to change parishes every fourth year". It is to the credit of St John's parish that since it's formation 76 years ago our present vicar is only the seventh holder of the title of Vicar of the church of St John the Devine, Bulwell.

The earliest recorded baptism took place on May 27th 1866 and is worthy of mention if only for the fact that Samuel and Anne Durose of Adelade street had baptised no fewer than 7 members of their family. The Church was completed on St. James' Day, 1890 and Reverend Cantrell saw the fulfilment of his dream, though he died in September of the same year. The complete cost of the building amounted to £5,000. In memory of her husband, Mrs Cantrell donated the five beautiful coloured east windows, and also placed the alabaster tablet in the chancel.

In 1902 a set of choir stalls were installed and dedicated to the memory of Reverend Henry Fountain. The reason for this memorial being placed in St John's is not clear. It can only be assumed that stalls were needed and as St. Johns was still the Chapel of Ease to the Mother Church, the opportunity to provide a memorial was taken. Fountain himself never had any direct connection with St John's church although he was a very popular curate of Bulwell until 1808 when he moved to Sutton Bridge Linconshire and remained as vicar of that parish until his death in 1901.

As stated previously early documentation concerning the church is at best poor and it not until 1911 to 1912 that we have any records of church accounts. However in that year John Crawford and Samuel Read started an accounts book which puts into perspective those low offertory figures. The total collections for the year amounted to £87.16.1d and believe it or not there was a surplus of income over expenditures. The present wardens would, no doubt, be pleased to have the bills of those early years.

Salaries included the occupation of Fire maker and Caretaker at £10 per year and for his years work the organ - blower received £2.10s.0d. Wine for the year cost £1.0s.0d and heating the church caused no financial hardship either as the total cost of coal and carting for 1914 was £10.10s.4d. Over the years the accounts provide fascinating and often amusing reading also proving that it is only in very recent years that costs have escalated at the rate to which we now have come accustomed to. A good example of this is the oak door to the Vestry, how much would such a door cost today? As recently as 1954 an oak door was purchased at a cost of £8! and in the same year a new safe was acquired adding a further cost of £10 to the year accounts. One item in the 1920's accounts are shown for the first time and these are the choir outings where both men and the boys being provided with separate days out. However not a mention is made about the choir ladies! did they not merit a day out or were there not any lady members of the choir?