A Short Guide

A Short guide to St. Aldhelm`s Church, Branksome


St. Aldhelm was a Saxon saint who became the first Bishop of Sherborne in 705.

He is sometimes called the “apostle of Wessex” on account of his enthusiasm in bringing Christian civilisation to that part of England in cooperation with his friend, King Ina of Wessex. He was also a musician and responsible for building many churches. Today suffragan bishops of the diocese of Salisbury take their title from Aldhelm`s see of Sherborne which became part of the diocese of Salisbury in 1075 as part of the re-organisation of the Church of England following the Norman conquest. He is commemorated in the Church Calendar on May 25th.

The Parish

The parish of Branksome St. Aldhelm in the diocese of Salisbury came into being on 30th December 1930. Since 1877 it had formed the northern half of the parish of All Saints` Branksome Park and was known as ” Bourne Valley”. Its artisan population lay north of the Poole Road clustered around the railway, the gas works, and the pottery. Further to the North lay the “smallholdings” in the neighborhood of Winston Avenue.

The first attempt to evangelise the Bourne Valley came, however in 1875 when it still formed part of the parish of Parkstone. In that year the first vicar of St. Peters Bournemouth, the Rev. Alexander Morden-Bennett, crossed both diocesan and parochial boundaries to hold open air meetings amongst the pottery workers.

To facilitate his work he founded, near the pottery, St. Aldhelm`s School which was to serve also as a mission church on Sundays. after the creation of the parish of All Saints` Branksome Park , his work in Bourne Valley was taken over by the new parish and especially championed by its third Vicar, the Rev.d C.G.Doyne who shared both Morden Bennett`s Tractarian principles and evangelistic fervor.

It was Doyne who initiated the building of St. Aldhelm`s church.

The Church

The site on which the church stands was given by R.J. Bates and the foundation stone was laid on 2nd December 1892. The famous Victorian architect, G.F.Bodley, R.A., designed the church in the style of the latest “Decorated” period.

The exterior is of ashlar work in Bath stone, and the same stone is used in the construction of the pillars and windows.

The first part of the church to be built extended from the east end up to two thirds of its present length. This was dedicated by Bishop John Wordsworth of Salisbury on 11th July 1894 in a most impressive ceremony attended by several hundred people.

The Rev. C.G. Doyne died in 1909, but his work was continued by his successor, the Rev. H.C. Percival until, on 29th June 1912, Bishop Ridgway was able to consecrate the church as we see it today.

The church was never completed. Bodleys design originally provided for a cloistered way from the south door to a campanile. Had this tower been erected it would have relieved the severely plain lines of the exterior as they now are.

At the consecration in 1912 it was reported that £800 was still needed for the furnishing of St. Aldhelm`s. There is no record of that money having been raised.

For instance, the interior roofs were painted white in 1894 ” Until such time as they shall receive colour”. The colouring has never been carried out, and although the building itself and its original fittings are of the highest quality, little has been added. St Aldhelm`s stands to mark the last high tide in English religion at the close of the Victorian era.

Details of interest

The Pillars

There are nine pillars to the south of the centre isle and eight to the north. They are remarkable for their slender design allowing maximum vision of the chancel.

The Windows

(More information on st-aldhelm.com/church-windows )

The windows in the East and South walls are from the firm  Burlison and Gryllls of London and the windows in the west wall from C.E. Kempe & Co., Ltd. Their delicate colouring is their outstanding feature.

The east window contains delicate tracery. There are seven panels; the central three depict the Crucifixion with St. Mary and St. John at the foot of the Cross; to the left there are representation of St. Peter and St. Aldhelm carrying a model of the church as it was intended to be, complete with tower; to the right St. Augustine and St. Paul complete the missionary theme.

In the Lady Chapel the east window shows the Virgin and Child in the centre; the figure to the left may represent Bishop Wordsworth of Salisbury who dedicated the first part of the Church in 1894; whilst that to the right is St. Francis. Of the windows in the south wall, that nearer the altar shows Christ reigning in glory surrounded by two angels, while the other portrays two women saints, St Agnes with her lamb to the left, and St. Margaret of Antioch to the right.

At the West End the centre window was installed in 1922 in memory of those who died in the first Great War and in gratitude by those who returned home. Its motif is the three Archangels, Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael. The window to the south was installed in 1927 in memory of the Rev. J.W.H. Watson-Foale who died while serving a curacy at St. Aldhelm`s. It shows the Virgin seated with her Child in company with Elizabeth and John the Baptist as a boy.

The War Memorial contains the names of those in the parish who were killed in the two Great Wars and also the name of one young man killed in the Suez operation in 1956. The lettering by a local artist, Miss Hilda Price, is particularly beautiful.

The Houseling benches were a gift to the church in 1963 and are copies of those in the Lady Chapel of Llandaff cathedral. The kneelers, embroided by Mrs. D.K. Hope. deserve examination. Their design includes the symbols of St. Aldhelm, the arms of the Borough of Poole, the cross from the cover of the New English Bible, and the ecumenical “ship”

The organ was built by Gray and Davison Ltd in 1927. Although it contains three manuals only two, the Great and Swell, have been completed.

(Taken from a pamphlet of the same name that was published in 1966 by the then Vicar J.C. Townsend, (modified in respect of the windows with information provided by Peter Moore 2013)