One of the earliest buildings erected in Naini Tal was the church of “St. John-in-the-wilderness” in 1846.
The site was chosen as early as 1844 and approved by the Bishop of Calcutta, Daniel Wilson. The name appears to have
originated from him; and as Naini Tal had been discovered only in 1841, the reason for its choice is obvious.
Even today there is a vast area around the church and it is very peaceful.
The plans were prepared by Captain Young, Executive
Engineer, and the corner stone was laid in October 1846.
The cost of the original structure was about Rs. 15,000,
and was met by private subscription and pew rents. It
was first opened on April 2, 1848, though it was still incomplete. In 1856, it was taken over by Government as a public building. Since then the church has been considerably enlarged.
The church opens only on Sundays at 4 pm for service. I could not visit the church from inside though I have made several trips to it. This time it was closed because of the pandemic.
However, from accounts that I have read:
There are several memorials inside the church : Of these the most important tablet is that which commemorates those who were killed in the land slide of 1880.
I was told that a special service is held on that day.
The second important tablet is dedicated to the members of the Indian Civil Service, who were killed in the First World War (1914-1918).
I have come across one more St John’s in the Wilderness church in Macleod ganj
Nick Balmer adds on the Face book page : East India Company and the Raj Research Group
“The front porch is a clever adaption of the sort of porch that you would see in a similar porch on a village church in England.
This entrance porch is a lot wider and has the two side entrances greatly increasing the room inside the porch to afford more shelter from the sun.
English porches only have the one door into the porch and a second door into the nave.
They have even found conifers to plant in the graveyard in place of the Yew Trees most churchyards have in England.
With so many of the congregation in the services away from home “in the Wilderness” I expect that this church must have been a very powerful reminder of “home.”
At major times of the year like Christmas when families traditionally get together, it would have been very hard for most expats in India. Going to a Christmas service was a very powerful way of connecting with their distant family, especially in a church that was so quintessentially “English” as this one is.
In one of the side pot he’s Funda group of young adults playing chess.
Nick Balmer writes:
“There is a long tradition of playing games in churchyards, although this was not always popular with the church authorities.
The game of Fives is believed to have been invented by boys bouncing balls off the corner where two walls met, and the buttress features in purpose built Fives Courts to this day.”