In winter after dark it took some navigation to get from St John’s to the more inhabited parts of the city. After twisting and turning to avoid holes full of mud and water, pedestrians often found themselves back where they started - or in the parklands, which was then a forest of dead trees.
As a result St John’s was not well attended and it was partly closed between 1843 and 1846. Then in 1861 a substantial fall in offertories and pew rents was a new cause for concern.
In 1874 Reverend F. Slaney Poole obtained the incumbency and under his care the St John’s complex reached its present form.
The boom period of the 1870s and early 1880s led to the building of many fine residences that still largely define the character of this south-eastern corner. The population increase also led to an increase in stature for St John’s as a place of Anglican worship and no doubt stimulated Poole to consolidate the complex.
In 1879-80 the Parish Hall was built, and in 1883 the new rectory. In 1886 when new classrooms were built the old church was condemned by the City Council surveyor.
The church considered transferring St John’s to Hurtle Square but decided to rebuild it and provide a mission church at the western end of the parish. It bought a plot on Moore Street and planned to use the materials from the old St John’s to build the mission church of St Mary Magdalene.
Poole recounted in 1926 that St Mary’s was built by “using up so much of the old material as was possible” to keep costs down, but also to maintain the historical link with the old St John’s and overcome the “tender regret” members of the congregation felt when old St John’s was demolished (see St Mary Magdalene’s Church).
Architect R.G. Holwell (associated with St Mary’s, Sturt, now in the Marion City Council area, and St George’s, Gawler) drew up plans for St Mary’s. The builder was William Rogers, a member of the congregation who also built the Jubilee Exhibition Hall off North Terrace (now demolished) and Rymill House.
In 1887 the foundation stone of the new St John’s was laid. The building is a credit to Rogers, whose work extended far beyond what the building contract required. It is substantially built of sandstone rubble unusually tuck-pointed. The brick dressings are also interesting, especially the buttresses with their cut-back courses on the rake (reminiscent of brickwork peculiar to Norfolk, England). The prominent tower, fashionably asymmetrical with its clasped buttresses, is well detailed and integrated with the main body of the church. The elegant sanctuary and division of walling into bays relieves its solidity and austerity. The interior is simple, with an unusually wide nave. The stout roof features exposed king-post trusses and matchboarding.