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Portland Stone and St. John’s Church.
Limestone from the Isle of Portland in Dorset was quarried by the Romans and
was used intermittently through the Middle Ages. It was only in the 17th century
that it came to be widely used, after frame saws and water power enabled it to be
cut easily and economically. Transport from Portland to London by sea was
relatively easy, and Inigo Jones introduced it with the Banqueting Hall of
Whitehall Palace in 1619. Work in Portland Stone in London continued at the old
St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Inigo Jones designed a new portico for the western
front during the 1630s. Portland Stone was widely available in London then, and
Nicholas Stone, master mason to King Charles I also made use of it.
St. John’s brick church was built in 1632 but was not completely built of brick – it
had a porch at its south door, dressings round the west door, and a font, all
designed by Nicholas Stone in Portland Stone. A few years later in 1637
Nicholas Stone also designed a south porch in Portland Stone for St. Mary the
Virgin’s Church in Oxford, a church and porch which are still in use.
Sir John Wolstenholme, who financed the church at St. John’s, and Nicholas
Stone both had positions of influence under King Charles I – did they liberate
stone which was intended for the old St. Paul’s Cathedral for the work at St.
John’s, or did St. John’s come by it honestly?
We are left with two mysteries – did St. John’s come by its Portland Stone
honestly, and where did it go to?
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