High Street, Gosport, Hampshire
Occupying the site of an eighteenth century wooden chapel, the church was built in three phases in the second half of the nineteenth century. With the presbytery and war memorial, the frontage makes a highly prominent contribution to the Gosport High Street Conservation Area.
The baptismal register for Gosport Catholics goes back to 1759, when there was already a chapel in South Cross Street. The 1834 Strangers’ Guide to Gosport refers to a small Catholic chapel behind the Independent Chapel in Middle Street (now High Street). The present site was acquired by a member of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s family in 1776 and a chapel built behind cottages fronting Middle Street, two years before the first Catholic Relief Act of 1778. This small wooden chapel was enlarged in 1830 and 1834, when the Spanish queen Donna Maria Francesca D’Asis De Bourbon died at Alverstoke Rectory. Her remains were interred in the sanctuary until 1885. The Rev Dr Angelo Baldacconi was appointed to the mission in about 1849 and started building the present church in 1855. The architect was Robert Edward Philips of 51 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Fr Baldacconi had previously served the Sardinian Chapel at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and may have met the architect, who is not known to have built any other Catholic churches, during his time there).
Progress was slow, as fundraising was difficult in this poor mission attended mainly by garrison soldiers; the nave was reported as having been roofed in by June 1856, and in February 1857 Fr Baldacconi reported that ‘the eastern aisle, chantry, cloister, and entrance for the military, with their panelled and groined ceilings, are nearly completed, besides the outward porch and part of the tower’. However, work was suspended in July 1857 as debts rose.
Fr Baldacconi died in 1868, and work resumed under his successor, Canon Thomas Doyle. The Tablet reported on 26 September 1874 that ‘work of improvement has been going on during the past four months…Under the superintendence of Mr Henry John Hansom, architect, of Battersea, Mr Lowe, of Gosport, has effected a great transformation, which has materially improved the appearance of the church. The windows, which were formerly anything but perfect in an architectural sense, being merely old sash windows fastened over the openings, have been filled in with elegant stone mullions, while the roof, nave and sanctuary, have been very skilfully improved’.
Canon Doyle died in 1896, and left money in his will for a presbytery and ‘additions and improvements’, which were completed in 1898 (The Tablet, 15 October 1898). The additions included the rebuilding of the west end which might be attributed on stylistic grounds to the Rev. A.J.C. Scoles, an architect-priest active in the Diocese of Portsmouth at this time.
In 1919 a large war memorial in front of the church in the form of a large stone crucifix was unveiled.
The church has a gabled nave and gabled liturgical south aisle, with no more than a small front area to the High Street. Sanctuary with chapels on either side. The church is hemmed in by buildings on its west and east sides and the significant elevation is the liturgical west front to the High Street. This has a tall narrow nave with a four-light window with Decorated tracery above a pointed arched doorway with a trumeau between two doors with a corbelled shaft supporting a niche containing a statue of Our Lady in the tympanum with rich foliage decoration to either side. Plain lancets either side of the doorway. The lower, gabled liturgical south aisle has a single doorway and a circular window above of four encircled quatrefoils. All this work is of 1897-8. In front of the church is a large gabled war memorial cross of 1919, its panelled base with an ogee frame. The liturgical west front is of uniform build with the attached presbytery of 1897-8.
The interior is surprising, especially for its Gothick tracery. The nave has six bay arcades, that to the liturgical north simply defining blank recesses. Depressed arches and moulded surrounds without capitals or bases. Large three-light clerestory windows to the liturgical north, truncated ones to the liturgical south, all with pointed trefoiled lights. The walls are plastered, with the exception of the liturgical east wall which is of red brick and pierced by four open circles, the lower pair opening through to the sanctuary, the upper pair part blocked and part glazed to the exterior. It is believed that plaster was at some stage removed from this wall. Broad pointed sanctuary arch with semi-octagonal responds. The depressed arches are repeated in the form of the roof trusses with quatrefoils in the spandrels. The aisle has a blind arcade to its outer wall with two-light windows above. The aisle has the first of the curious panelled ceilings, canted, with bosses and ribs, of Georgian Gothick character. The sanctuary has a high altar and reredos against the liturgical east wall. Arcaded Gothic with painted panels. Good stained glass window above, reputed to be by Gottfried Semper (1803-79) who was in London between 1851 and 1855. Semper is best known as a theorist and writer on architecture and design, if he designed stained glass at Gosport this would be most interesting. Either side of the sanctuary are elongated chapels with canted ends and decorative plaster ceilings of Georgian Gothick character. Chapel altars with Gothick panel tracery on the walls behind. Stations of the Cross as painted panels, said to have been cut down and to have been painted by a member of the congregation. Pieta, after Michelangelo’s in St Peter’s Rome, presented to the church by the Woolfrey family between 1910 and 1930. Brass eagle lectern from an Anglican church. Plain octagonal stone font and open pine pews.
Entry amended by AHP 25.11.2023
Architect: Robert E. Philips
Original Date: 1855
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed