This week’s article has been kindly provided by Alan Power from Wycombe Library.  
The Wycombe Arts Centre in Desborough Road is a busy place with lots of varied activities during the week. It has only been operating as an arts centre for around 10 years. Before then, the building spent its first 130 years as the church of St John the Evangelist. 

The Iron Chapel
St John’s Church came about as one part of an ambitious extension programme for the Church of England in Wycombe. Its origins date back to 1882, when a parcel of land was made available for a new church in an area to west the town centre that had expanded in recent years. Before a proper church could be built, it was proposed to put up something smaller, as a cost-effective, if temporary, solution. This was called the Iron Chapel.

Bucks Free Press: The original design for the new St John’s church in Desborough Rd, High Wycombe, by William D Caroe. Internet Archive (SWOP)The original design for the new St John’s church in Desborough Rd, High Wycombe, by William D Caroe. Internet Archive (SWOP) (Image: SWOP)
Fundraising began in 1883, and, to get something in place as soon as possible, it was decided to buy an existing chapel in Wells, Norfolk, dis-assemble it, transport it to Wycombe and re-erect it – all for the sum of £105, equivalent to about £16,000 today. This was carried out in double-quick time, and the ‘new’ church was opened on July 25th 1883.  
The Free Press described the chapel thus: “The building was 75ft by 25ft and lighted by side windows. Entrance was gained at the west through a porch, over which is a bell turret, and up stone steps. At the eastern end is a chancel, flanked on either side by a small vestry and organ chamber. The interior is lined throughout with stained and varnished match boarding and accommodation is offered for 365 sittings. There is a handsome stone font, the work of Mr Broughton (who had also donated the stone entrance steps): the pulpit however is of wood, in character with the other fittings. The altar is of solid Riga oak, with four panels of Gothic oak panels of pollard oak in front, and is constructed upon the pattern of that in the Parish Church. Being of full size, this part of the church fittings will be available for the permanent church which it is hoped will one day take the place of the present erection.”     
It was recognised that the chapel was nowhere near as grand as wanted:
“The new church, though it presents, as was remarked during the opening services, a vastly different appearance to that of the stately old pile that so well deserves the title of Cathedral of Bucks [I guess they were referring to All Saints church here], looks neat and comfortable, both inside and out.”
In 1897 it was decided that it was high time for something more permanent. As the Bucks Free Press of the time quaintly put it:
“The necessity for a new Church has for a long time past been more and more apparent, and the discomforts of worshipping in an iron building have been very keenly felt by minister and congregation alike, both in summer and winter.”
Presumably, the building had little or no insulation, which must have made it very uncomfortable.

A new permanent building
A further round of fundraising was started, and the services of the church architect, William Caroe, were engaged.  He had been involved in the restorations of Durham and St David’s cathedrals, plus the abbeys at Tewkesbury and Romsey, so he was a well-respected figure in his day. In comparison to these, a mere parish church in High Wycombe may at first have been considered beneath his stature, but his wife’s maiden name was Grace Desborough, so maybe the location in Desborough Road attracted him.
Caroe’s plans went out for consultation in November 1900. His design was for a large, impressive building, which included an imposing tower to one side and various chapels on the other side.
A local builder, Henry Flint, was contracted to construct the new church. He had tendered £4,867 for the basic work, although the ultimate cost of the church with all its fixtures and fittings was estimated to be around £9,000 (about £2m today).
 The laying of the foundation stone on October 9th 1901 was a grand affair, as the Free Press reported at the time:
“The stone-laying ceremony, which immediately succeeded the public luncheon, was witnessed by a very large concourse of Church-people and others at half-past three. Complete arrangements had been made for the accommodation of the spectators, a large proportion of whom were allotted a reserved enclosure in front of the foundation stone. . . .  Space was appropriated for the surpliced clergy – nearly 100 in number.”
The church was formally opened in February 1903, with further big celebrations.  For various reasons (mainly financial) the church was not as complete as the plans had intended at this time, and the planned tower was never actually built.   
For a while both the iron chapel and the new church stood side by side, the chapel being used as a school room until it was eventually disposed of.
The church was awarded grade II listed building status in 1973.  In common with many churches all around the country, attendances declined after the Second World War.  The church was merged with St Birinus church in Sycamore Road in 2003, and seven years later was declared redundant.  The question then arose as to what to do with the church, because a listed building cannot easily be demolished and the site redeveloped.

The Wycombe Arts Centre
Before it actually came to fruition the provision of an Arts Centre for Wycombe had been under discussion for over 50 years, originally known as the “Wycombe Dove Project”. In the 1980s a young Wycombe student, Julian Le Good, studying to be an architect at Oxford Polytechnic, was commissioned for his final year project by the then Wycombe Arts Centre committee to draw up proposals for a theatre/arts centre supported by commercial buildings. The site for the complex was to be the Oxford Road car park/Denmark St area where buildings had been demolished. His drawings and a model showing his proposals, which included opening up a section of the River Wye, were then displayed at the annual Wycombe Show on the Rye.  
This proposal got no further and the Swan Theatre and Eden were built. Then in 2010 Wycombe District Council spotted an opportunity when St John’s Church became available. The church now had a new lease of life, when WDC bought it to convert into an arts centre (or a “community centre for creativity” as it was reported at the time).
Today the building is no longer a place of worship but describes itself as a hub for creativity.  It has a daily programme of activities and offers a number of rooms to let out.  Details are at