Basingstoke - Holy Ghost

Sherborne Road, Basingstoke, Hants

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The major church by Father (later Canon) Alexander Joseph Cory Scoles (1844-1920) and his memorial. Scoles was one of two architect-priest sons of J. J. Scoles, eminent Gothic Revival architect and receiver of a number of important Catholic commissions, particularly for the Jesuits. Before coming to Basingstoke and Portsmouth diocese, Canon Scoles was in the diocese of Clifton, where he designed and built churches at Bridgwater, Trowbridge and Yeovil as well as the Carmelite church and Priory at Wincanton. After falling out with the Bishop of Clifton, Scoles moved to Portsmouth diocese, where he designed a number of churches, of which Holy Ghost Basingstoke is the finest.

The church is designed in Scoles’s favoured late-thirteenth century style, and occupies a corner site on rising ground to the north of Basingstoke town centre. There is a substantial contemporary presbytery in Gothic style to the south of the church, and an earlier, more modest chapel (now parish hall) to the east. The interior of the church is lavishly furnished, and is notable in particular for its Westlake paintings and stained glass. It is however marred by the more recent introduction of a western gallery. Scoles lies buried outside the east end of the church. 

At the start of the nineteenth century Woolhampton was the nearest Mass centre for Basingstoke Catholics. In the 1840s there was an influx of Irish labourers building the railway, and Mass was sometimes said in the town.

In 1875 John Soper, a worthy of Basingstoke and not a Catholic, made available a site adjoining the cemetery where Holy Ghost church now stands. In December 1877 a small chapel (which survives as the parish hall) was opened, with a schoolroom behind (the school closed in 1900).

Fr A.J.C. Scoles, then in Clifton diocese, was said to have been so impressed by the view of the ruins of the medieval church of the Holy Ghost at Basingstoke, as seen from the railway line, that he determined to build a new church here with the same dedication.

On 21 October 1900 Bishop Cahill,who had just become the second Bishop of Portsmouth, wrote in an ad clerum:

You are aware that for some time past the Mission of Basingstoke has had no resident priest, because the Diocese could no longer afford the heavy expense of his almost entire support. Now a good priest of another Diocese taking pity on the place, and moved by his lifelong desire to raise up shrines in honour of the Holy Ghost, has offered to undertake the Mission of Basingstoke (a town anciently dedicated to the Holy Ghost), and to build a suitable church and presbytery, and, if possible, endow the Mission sufficiently to enable its priest to remain there always. The Very Rev. Canon Scoles, who has already built and endowed two churches in his own Diocese of Clifton (spending some £13,000) - one of them being the very beautiful church of the Holy Ghost at Yeovil - has determined to leave his perfect presbytery at Yeovil, resigning his Rectorship, his Canonry, and his office of Vicar Forane, in order to devote himself to Basingstoke, on which he proposes to spend at least £4,000.

Scoles came to Basingstoke in 1901 (work was already sufficiently advanced on the presbytery to allow for his occupation) and built the church to his own design as well as at his own expense. The foundation stone was laid in 1902 and the church was consecrated and opened in September 1903. Canon Scoles died in 1920 and is buried outside the east end of the church.

The high altar has a sub-plinth of Languedoc marble, a cornice of polished alabaster supported by four columns of Bois de Jourdan and Serpentine marble. The frontal is Mexican onyx and the altar slab is Sicilian marble. There is an onyx and alabaster tabernacle.

Stained glass: Apart from the reset sixteenth century glass mentioned in the list description and the later glass in the west windows, the stained glass dates from the early twentieth century and can be stylistically attributed to the firm of Lavers and Westlake. They comprise

  • four lights of the apse depict the four evangelists, 1903-08
  • two-light window in the north chancel depicting St Joseph and St Alexander c1903?
  • two-light window on the south side of the nave commemorating the dead of World War 1, c1919
  • Two-light window in the north transept (Lady Chapel), depicting the Visitation, Nativity, Presentation and Christ and the Doctors

The three-light abstract windows in the west elevation are by Andrew Taylor, and were installed in 1992.

On the west wall of the Lady Chapel is a monument inviting prayers for Canon Scoles, founder of the church (photo above).

The presbytery is attached to the south side of the church. It is a large red brick house with a three storey gabled wing and stone dressings to the Gothic windows and doors.

Lying to the east of the church is the original 1877 chapel (with 1878 datestone in the gable). This is a simple flint structure with stone dressings, by Joseph Tigwell, builder. There is a gabled north elevation facing the road with three trefoil headed windows and a gabled bell-cote.

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: A.J.C. Scoles

Original Date: 1902

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II