Building » Portsmouth – St Swithun

Portsmouth – St Swithun

Waverley Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire

A.J.C. Scoles’ first church in the Diocese of Portsmouth, in his favoured late-thirteenth century style. Although it is altered, the furnishings of the sanctuary and adjoining chapels are impressive. The presbytery and school are also of interest.

The Southsea mission was established in July 1884 as the first chapel-of-ease to the Cathedral. In December of that year a site in Saxe-Weimar Road (now Waverley Road) was acquired for £1,125. Early diocesan directories suggest that a temporary church, known locally as the Tin Church, had been opened by 1886. A parish school was opened on 4 January 1892. By 1899, £2,000 had been saved towards a new church. The foundation stone for this was laid on 21 August by Bishop John Cahill, four days before his appointment as second Bishop of Portsmouth. The church was built by Goddard & Sons (Fareham) and opened on 24 September 1901. The presbytery was built shortly afterwards. The eventual cost was over £6,000, a considerable portion of which came from the will of Elizabeth Carrew, a parishioner. The architect was A.J.C. Scoles, this being his first church in the diocese. The temporary iron building was relocated to the rear of the new church, where it survived until 1983.

St Swithun’s became an independent parish in 1964. In 1972 the sanctuary was reordered and the new altar consecrated by Bishop Worlock.


The church is in late-thirteenth century Gothic style and consists of nave, north and south aisles and short sanctuary with canted east wall and flanking chapels. It is built of red brick laid in English bond, with stone dressings to the windows, doors and parapets, and a Roman tile roof (a material much favoured by Scoles). The west front has a central doorway with a carved stone tympanum, with a lancet window and stepped buttress on either side. Above the door is a pair of tall two-light trefoil-headed windows with plate tracery and a large cusped round window set between the arches of the two main windows. Stone finish to apex of gable, with louvres for ventilation. Paired windows with plate tracery and diagonal buttresses to west elevation of each aisle. The side elevations are more plainly treated. There is a ramped entrance at the west end of the north aisle with a carved tympanum over the doorway, otherwise paired lancet windows, with the bay divisions marked by stepped buttresses. Lean-to aisle roofs, paired lancets in clerestories.

The interior is tall and spacious, with rendered white painted walls and a six bay nave arcade with polygonal stone pillars and moulded capitals, bases and arcades. Canted, compartmented roofs to nave and aisles. There is a gallery/narthex at the west end of the nave and aisles, incorporating a small repository. The original pulpit has been placed in store in the gallery. There is a tall chancel arch and a short (two-bay) sanctuary with a canted east end containing lancet windows in the outer bays. The sanctuary has an elaborate polychromatic decorative scheme, with stencil decoration and painted figures and an elaborate high altar ensemble with figures of saints beneath Gothic canopies. The alabaster tabernacle throne sits at the centre, with a tall Gothic spirelet over. The paintings are of high quality and their provenance and authorship need to be established (possibly by N.H.J. Westlake, who worked with Scoles at Portsmouth Cathedral, Basingstoke and elsewhere). The alabaster forward altar appears to be composed from elements of the original high altar, presumably modified in the reordering of 1972. There is a Gothic stone altar and reredos in the Lady Chapel to the south, and an altar with a fine painted triptych and oak canopy in the Sacred Heart Chapel to the north.

The presbytery abuts the external wall of the sanctuary and is built of similar materials. Two storeys, with an attic storey in the projecting gabled wing to the left. Gothic recessed entrance porch to right. Mullion and transom windows with hoodmoulds to the ground floor, paired Gothic windows with cusped arches, plate tracery and hoodmoulds to the first floor. Mullion and transom window to the attic.

The single-storey former school, now parish hall, is located to the west of the church. It dates from 1892 and is also built of red brick, with prominent tiled roofs and paired lancet windows with plate tracery.

Entry amended by AHP 27.12.2020

Heritage Details

Architect: A.J.C. Scoles

Original Date: 1901

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed