St John the Baptist's church consists of a nave, a chancel, and two aisles which run the full length of both, giving a square plan. The tower fell in 1784, and was replaced by a wooden bell-frame; this was in turn replaced by the current stone turret in 1877.
St John's featured in the Catholic and ritualistic revival in the Church of England, under the great Fr Ram and Fr Roxby, who like other famous Anglo-Catholic clergy in our land had to cope with deep prejudice and even riots. Fr Ram became Vicar in 1871 and over the next 39 years worked to repair and beautify the church which had fallen into dilapidation. He wished to transform the church into his vision of what a medieval church should look like. He removed the pews, the west-end gallery, the Ten Commandment boards, the reading desk and the pulpit. He then put a beam across the chancel-arch, ostensibly to tie the walls together. But it was clear from the start that he meant to put a Cross and figures on it, so restoring the Rood, which had existed in earlier days. He found a rood screen that was no longer wanted in Horstead Church and installed it in St John's. And three fine figures, Our Lord, Our Lady and St John the Beloved Disciple, carved by Zwuik in Oberamagau were placed on the beam above the screen. Fr Ram was instructed by the Bishop, John Pelham, and the Chancellor that the Screen and the Figures were illegal and should be removed. But Fr Ram was adamant that they stayed: and stayed they did!
The reredos is also from Oberammergau, and was installed in 1911. It was shorn of its canopies in 1980, but some parts have been replaced. The pulpit dates from the 1870s. Fr Ram had started to make it himself, but found it too time-consuming. Over the altar is a candelabrum, probably German, of c1500; it was given to the church in 1723.
St John's Church was closed for some years after the second world war, when it was generally agreed that it was surplus to needs. (Norwich City had 53 medieval church buildings in the 15th century - more than any other city north of The Alps!) But when the parish church of St Peter Parmentergate was found to be in need of considerable structural rebuilding because of an unsafe tower, it was agreed that it should be abandoned, and St John's should be reopened.
And so in 1980, under Fr Michael McLean's inspired leadership, St John's was reopened, reordered and made comfortable and conducive to modern Catholic worship. Much of the work was undertaken by members of the congregation. The Rood Screen was removed and the Chancel and Sanctuary opened up, but the rood beam with its figures was retained. A toilet and kitchen were added, and the church was equipped to present the great liturgies of the Christian Church in an attractive, modern, yet traditional way.
The panel of Mary in the south nave aisle is by Martin Travers, and was originally in All Saints’ Church, close by. It is an early work, dating from his schooldays. Travers also designed the east window in the south chapel, which shows the Ascension, and is from a much later period of his life.
The medieval angels to be found in the south nave were brought from St Peter Parmentergate at its closure and are typical of Norwich School glass of the fifteenth century.