Historical Notes

St Aldhelm’s Church, Some Historical Notes by Martin D.P.Hammond

By 1878 the Vicar of St Peter’s, Bournemouth had started the mission which was the predecessor of the present St Aldhelm’s Church.  Why, because Branksome was in a different diocese and at that time in a different county.

Morden Bennett was not the kind of man who could see a need and then sit back and do nothing about it.  In the 1870’s and possibly earlier he used to go along after Evensong at St Peters to the waste ground opposite Sharp Jones, Bourne Valley Potteries and there he conducted services for the growing community of people who foregathered each Sunday among the stacks of stoneware drainpipes.

Later he built a school/chapel in Langley Road, off Bournemouth Road-Poole Road.  A possible explanation for this link is that at the time Branksome Park was owned by Henry Bury, who went to live at Branksome Tower in about 1869.  The district was then in the parish of Kinson, but the Bury family worshipped at St Peters.  Bury must have been very conscious of the need for a place of to worship in the 750 acres which comprised his estate, and it seems probable that he discussed this with Morden Bennett, especially in the early years of the decade when Bury was selling off much of his land for building.

It was 1875, the year that the school-chapel was built, that Bury laid the foundation stone of All Saints, Branksome Park, and Morden  Bennett took part in the service.  In his address he referred to the lack of accommodations for the poorer people on the outskirts of the town, and in doing so indicated the responsibility of local landowners for providing them with places of worship.  The district around the potteries was evidently in his mind, and so it came about that, resulting from his early efforts, the foundations stone of St Aldhelm’s Church was laid in 1892.  (Ian McQueen, ‘Bournemouth St Peter’s’ 1971,pp 80-1) It was completed in 1894.

St Aldhelm’s School, the ‘school-chapel’ mentioned above, was designed by the architect of St Peter’s, George Edmund Street R.A. (1824-81) President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 1881; RIBA Gold Medallist 1874. The building was 79feet (24meters) long by 18ft 9in (5.7meters) wide by 27 feet (8.2meters) high.  It was demolished in 1994 to make way for housing. (Patricia M.Wilnecker, ‘A History of Upper Parkstone’, 1988; Everyman’s Concise Encyclopaedia of Architecture ed. Martin S Briggs FRIBA 1959)

The original boundary wall of Branksome Park forms the northern boundary of the church property.  Substantial portions of it still exist between the railway bride and Frizzell’s Roundabout.  Next door, Sir Robert Ventry, the airship designer, added seven feet to his section of the wall in about 1901 to stop people on the top deck of the new trams overlooking his garden.

St Aldhelm’s was designed by George Fredrick Bodley (1827-1907) and Thomas Garner (1839-1906).  Bodley was the most distinguished exponent of revived 14th century Gothic.  His work included new college buildings at Oxford and Cambridge’ and Malborough College chapel.  He designed Cathedrals at San Francisco, and Hobart, Tasmania; Washington, with James Vaughan; and was assessor in the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral competition in 1903, and acted as advisory architect to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott OM, RA, who was only 22 years old when he won it.

The design is very typical of Bodley and Garner’s later years, graceful and refined.  A long low ‘West Country’ style with three gables and no clerestorey.  In the 14th century the distinction between nave and chancel disappeared, particularly in Devon and Cornwall, and only an elaborate rood screen separated the two spaces.  In the absence of a clerestory the nave and aisles were roofed with steeply-pitched roofs with plastered or boarded ‘wagon-vaults’ internally.

Here at St Aldhelm’s we have wagon vaults of painted boarding over the aisles, but over the nave the roof structure is exposed; each pair of rafters is joined by collar-beam with arch braces, and ashlaring to the top of the walls, all approximating to the vault shape.  The sanctuary however does have a boarded wagon vault enriched with mouldings, blue and gold paint, and the Latin words of the Benedictus.

It stops against as arch formed of arch braces and wall-posts on its western edge directly above the sanctuary step.  (J.Charles Cox ed. Charles Bradley Ford, ‘The Parish Churches of England’, 7th edition 1954, pp36, 74-8, 93: M.S Briggs, op.cit) The chancel-nave arcade is in ten bays; from the east end the first two bays are the choir, then the ‘uninspired Neo-Perp. ‘rood screen. (N.Pevsner: The Buildings of England: Dorset)

The tenth bay is shorter that the rest, for the west wall is built tight to the St Aldhelm’s Road boundary.  The four westernmost bays were completed in 1911 by the architect C G Hare (any relation to the architect Henry Thomas Hare, 1860-1921?)  The break can be seen in the vaulting; it is slightly lighter in colour westwards and there are joints in the planks.  Also in the floor a 100mm wide strip of wood runs right across the diagonal tesselated parquet flooring under the seating areas on this line.  There is, however, no such seam in the masonry work.

There would have been a temporary end wall at this point pending the completion of the west end.  The nave arcade is almost identical to that designed by Bodley for Wimborne St Giles church in 1887, and destroyed in the fire of 30th September 1908.  It had to be completely rebuilt by his pupil Sir John Ninian Comper. (Jo Draper and Penny Copland-Griffiths, ‘Around Verwood, 1999)

The church building measures approximately 47 meters (154ft) x 18.5 metres (60ft 8in).  The walls are of extruded wirecut hard common bricks in English bond, faced externally with Bath stone ashlar and plastered internally.

Mouldings and dressings are of Bath stone, most likely quarried at Corsham or Box, east Bath (St Aldhelm Ground, what else!)  The closest source of bricks was the Bourne Valley Potteries, which stood on the Poole Commerce Centre site; where they would have been burnt in the Dunnachie gas-fired continuous-burning kiln attached to the brickmaking plant.  This was built in 1884-5 to the patent design of James Dunnachie of Glenboig, Caotbridge, Lanarkshire.

It had been designed specifically for salt glazed stoneware, the first of its kind; and was demolished in 1947 and its remains lie beneath Courts car park.  I once had some correspondence with a gentleman in Edinburgh whose grandfather once worked for James Dunnachie.

The roof covering is of red handmade plain clay tiles: Keymer, from Burgess Hill, Sussex, or similar.  Internally, the floor in the nave and aisles is finished with diagonal tesselated pine blocks about 100mm square and 25mm thick, stained and sealed.  The walkways between the seating areas are of Portland Stone fags, heavily stained in the past by rising damp, but this does not appear to be a problem now.

Other areas which are carpeted are probably stone-paved.  the Font, an octagonal basin of closed grained brown travertine marble with astragal and fluted mouldings around the top edge, stands on a stepped plinth of Bath stone.  The wooded cover, painted dark green with gilding, is now in storage.  It is said to be the ‘Laudian’ style, after Archbishop Laud of Canterbury (1635-45) whose High Church polices were one of the causes of the English Civil War.  The design was by Randoll Blacking.

The stained glass in the East Window was inserted in 1911, to the design of John Burlison and Thomas Grylls; that in the West window by W E Tower, also in 1911.  All the other windows are plain glass in lozenge leaded lights.  The doors, rood screen, altars, choir stalls, pulpit, and organ case are of light oak, enriched with carving in the Perpendicular Gothic style.