The church was built between 1758 and 1776 to designs of either William Baker or Roger Eykyn It was a response to population pressures resulting from the industrial revolution and to the perceived threat of Dissent and Roman Catholicism in an area where Anglican ministry was limited by a unique ecclesiastical structure.
St John’s was built as a chapel of ease of St Peter’s Collegiate Church in Wolverhampton. The latter was a Royal Peculiar, entirely independent of the local Diocese of Lichfield. Its deans and chapter formed a college, a corporate body within canon law that had ecclesiastical control over a wide tract of Staffordshire in and to the north and east of Wolverhampton The dean and chapter were absentee clergy who resented any threat, real or imagined, to their extremely lucrative monopolies: especially that on burials throughout the extensive parish and that on pews within the town of Wolverhampton. The deanery of Wolverhampton had been united with the far more prestigious deanery of Windsor since the late 15th century, encouraging the deans to be absentees – a situation that applied also to most of the prebendaries. However, Peniston Booth, dean from 1729 to 1765, took the unusual step of establishing a home in Wolverhampton and became more susceptible to local pressure for reform.
The population of Wolverhampton itself and of the towns to the east was growing rapidly as manufacturing took hold. There was a growth of Protestant Dissent, particularly as Methodism was preached in the town from about the middle of the 18th century: in 1761 John Wesley himself preached at an inn-yard in what he called “this furious town” of Wolverhampton. Catholic recusancy was strong in the surrounding countryside, under the leadership of the Giffard family of Brewood, who succeeded in building a Catholic chapel in the guise of a private house, just to the west of St. Peter’s. The threat to the dominance of the Church of England seemed urgent and Booth bowed to pressure to authorise the building of new chapels of ease at St Thomas’ Church, Wednesfield, St Giles Church, Willenhall and St Leonard’s Church, Wolverhampton. With considerably more persuasion, and after a major public campaign fronted by Lord Grey, Booth finally acquiesced in the building of a new chapel of ease in Wolverhampton itself. It was authorised by a private Act of Parliament in 1755, and the fine Neo-Classical church of St John quickly rose on a site enclosed in a square, at that time on the southern edge of the Wolverhampton town.