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The Early Years of All Saints church, Basingstoke

All Saints, Basingstoke

In 1902 Church of England services were held at St Michael’s Church and at two mission rooms: the Reading Road Mission Room serving the east of the town; and the Newtown Mission Room, otherwise known as the May Street Mission, serving the west of the town that was rapidly expanding due in part to the arrival of Thornycrofts in 1898.

At the parishioners’ meeting on 9 April 1902, the vicar of Basingstoke, the Revd Cooper-Smith referred to the rapid growth of the parish, especially in the Cliddesden Road area. He noted that the Roman Catholics, the Primitive Methodists and the Wesleyans were each adding to their accommodation. He then announced that his sisters had purchased a piece of land on the corner of Victoria Street and he proposed that a temporary iron church should be erected on the site to serve the south of the town. He estimated that the cost of erecting the church and fitting it up would be in the region of £1,000.[1]

In August 1902 the parish magazine reported that the contractors, Messrs Humphries, had completed the erection of the church and there was ‘good reason to hope that internal structural fittings (gas, heating, etc.) would be completed during the present month’. The vicar appealed for funds for fitting and furnishing the temporary church, and for subscriptions for a permanent church.[2]

The October issue of the parish magazine read:

‘Progress is being made with the fitting of the temporary Iron Church, and it is hoped to open it for the Service at the Season of All Saints. It is thought that the Dedication may well be associated with that beautiful Festival, and the Church, when open, may be known as “All Saints Church”.’[3]

On All Saints’ Day, Saturday 1 November 1902, the temporary Iron Church was dedicated. The Bishop of the Diocese was ‘so deeply immersed in the multiplicity of pressing duties’ that it was ‘impossible for him to come in person and take the Dedication Service’. The Bishop of Guildford had therefore undertaken to dedicate the church, but ‘by Doctor’s orders has been obliged to cancel all engagements’ and the Bishop of Southampton had also been ‘ordered to give up all duties for three months, the result of strain and over work’. However, as the Bishop of South Tokyo, the Rt. Revd Dr William Awdry, was in England, he agreed to take the service.[4] (His nephew, Revd W. Awdry, was the author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books.)

The Day of Dedication began at St Michael’s with services of Holy Communion at 7 and 7.45 am. The dedication service began at 3 pm by which time all 130 seats allocated to the congregation were occupied. After the procession of the clergy and the choir, proceeded by the cross-bearer, had passed up the aisle and taken their places at either side of the altar, ‘a considerable number of worshippers came and stood in the aisle and the entrance gangway’.[5]

In his address the Bishop told the congregation that they:

‘must continually bear in mind that in the course of a few years the Church must give place to a more permanent and worthy structure. It was clean and fresh now, but it would not always meet the requirements of the neighbourhood. In a few years, ten at the most, they would need a larger and more permanent Church, and as the town grew there would then be the need for a beginning in another part.’[6]

The Revd L.C. Hamerton was appointed as the first priest-in-charge of All Saints. The programme of services with effect from Sunday, 2 November 1902 was as follows:


Holy Communion                   8 am

Evensong and Sermon                        6 30 pm


Holy Communion                   7 45 am

Matins and Litany                   10 am


Matins and Litany                   10 am

Evensong and Address           7 pm.[7]

The following year a fund, entitled the ‘All Saints’ Building Fund’ was opened at the Basingstoke branch of the Capital and Counties Bank for the contributions to the building of a permanent Church.[8] In his New Year greeting in 1904, Revd Cooper-Smith announced:

‘Designs for a permanent Church have been submitted by an eminent Architect, Mr C Hodgson Fowler, F.S.A. who has the charge of the Cathedrals of Durham and Lincoln, and whose plans for rebuilding the Spire of Rochester Cathedral have just been accepted by the Chapter. I hope that 1904 will see some definite steps taken for the creation of at least a portion of the permanent Church.’[9]

During 1904 the church acquired an organ to replace the hired harmonium that had provided the instrumental music of the church. Revd L.C. Hamerton left the parish to take up the living of Ashbury in Berkshire and was replaced as priest-in-charge of All Saints by the Revd A.H. Thorold. In December, Revd Cooper-Smith explained that the urgent need for enlarging the Church of England schools had prevented progress with the All Saints’ Building Fund in the past year.[10]

In 1905 Revd H.W. Boustead became vicar of Basingstoke and for several years after his arrival there was no mention of building a replacement for the temporary Iron Church and no apparent progress was made to add to the building fund. Rev. Ernest Lang replaced Revd Thorold as priest-in-charge of All Saints in 1906 until September 1909 when he was replaced by Revd G.M. Wheeler.[11]

In January 1910 Revd Wheeler announced that the All Saints’ church roll had made a beginning with 44 members, and had begun to make their offerings for the permanent Church.[12] By May the fund stood at £169 10s. 2d.[13] In the same year an All Saints Enlargement Fund was started, and in November, Revd Wheeler thanked ‘all those who have enabled us to enlarge the Church so quickly’.[14] The building plans for the extension to the Iron Church, dated 13 November 1910, show that an extension was made to the west of the building, and the porch was removed from the south side of the building and re-erected in its present (2017) position at the new west end. The materials were timber and iron for the walls and roof and there was a new floor level with the existing floor. The architects were Wallis and Smith acting for Revd Boustead and churchwardens.[15] The cost of the enlargement was £69 19s. paid to Goodall and Sons, contractors, and £2 2s. paid to Arthur Smith the architect.[16] The lengthening of the Church enabled 48 seats to be added.[17]

In March 1912 Rev. Wheeler left to take up appointment of vicar of Hindhead and was replaced as priest-in-charge by Revd A.P. Le Maistre.[18]

1913 saw the beginnings of the Great Debate over whether resources should be deployed towards building a new Church in the West before a permanent Church for All Saints could be built. Revd Boustead was strongly in favour of the former. He argued:

‘In the Western district of the town, many of those who live there and work at Thornycrofts never see a Church at all. They pass up Sarum Hill to shop in the town – they pass to their work or school at Deep Lane … It so happens that a site for a future Church is secured opposite the Grammar School [in Worting Road]. The Bishop of Guildford who visited the Parish some time since with a view to examining what provision should be made to meet the growth of the town westward, advised that a Church should be erected on that site.’ [19]

At the Parish Meeting on 21 April 1913 opinion was divided between those who felt that they were ‘pledged to a permanent Church for All Saints before anything [else] was done’, and those who supported Revd Boustead’s argument that a Church in the west was more urgent as the West District was ‘by far the largest in Basingstoke’ and the May Street Mission could never hope to satisfy ‘the spiritual needs of the West’.[20]   

The notes of the Basingstoke Easter vestry meeting in 1914 recorded that strong convictions continued to be held on either side of the argument:

‘Naturally, All Saints, as a flourishing, if small, community, demands a Church. For this they have waited these 12 years … True worship is made as difficult as possible by the heat from the iron furnace in summer, and the cold, mitigated by the fumes of coke, in winter … Others of the Committee felt that the largest district of the town was in the west. Something must be done there, and that at once. To wait till £4,000 could be raised for All Saints might mean waiting for many years, and the opportunity for forward and Mission work in the large West End district would be lost.’

In a spirit of compromise (or indecision) the Committee decided that an appeal be made for funds to secure a temporary church for the West as well an appeal for funds to build a permanent Church for All Saints.[21]

Shortly after that meeting, Revd Alexander Hall, a retired priest living at Coombehurst, Cliddesden Road, came forward and offered £5,000 to build a permanent church for All Saints. On 6 October 1914 the Committee approved the architect’s plans for the new church.[22]

To enable work to start on the permanent Church, the temporary Iron Church had to be moved from its original position in Southern Road to its present position in Victoria Street. The last service before its removal was held on the first Sunday after Easter 1915.[23] The work of dismantling and rebuilding the Church was, ‘promptly done, and with the willing help of some members of the choir and other assistants, among them a Belgian refugee, the Altar was brought up from the Parish Church, where it had found a temporary resting place’. The first service on the new site was held on the fourth Sunday after Easter, 2 May 1915.[24]

At 6pm on Thursday, 15 July 1915 the Bishop of Winchester laid the foundation stone for the new Church. This was the first time that the Bishop of the diocese had visited Basingstoke for a similar purpose since 1510.[25] The parish magazine noted:

‘The original offer was for a Church for 500 people costing £5,000. Owing to the increased cost of materials, modifications and improvements made on the original plans, and also to the change of building material from brick to stone, the Church and its furniture will, no doubt, cost over £10,000. The Parish must, therefore, feel most grateful to Mr Hall, not only for his original offer, but for the magnificence of his further generous gift … It had been arranged to ask the congregation to subscribe for the Bells for the New Church. A day or two before the service Lieut-Col. John May telephoned from the nursing home in which he is, that he desired to have the privilege of presenting the Bells himself.’[26]

Later in 1915 Revd Le Maistre resigned as priest-in-charge of All Saints and was replaced by Revd T.F. Fuller.[27]

Throughout 1916 and into 1917 the parish magazine provided updates on the progress of the building of the new All Saints. It recorded that Mr Blencowe had given the Lady Chapel window in memory of his wife.[28] In July 1916 it reported that the construction of the roof had begun and that most of the wood was from the Imperial forests of Archangel and bore the mark of the Russian Eagle.[29] In February 1917 it reported that on Wednesday 17 January 1917 the peal of nine bells, given by John May, were blessed before being raised to the tower. The Latin inscription on the tenor bell, when translated into English read, ‘To the Glory of God, John May gave me and my companions as a gift to this Church during the Great War of 1916’. It was decided that, that as the costs of the Church was being met by Revd Hall, the sums subscribed in years past to the building fund should be applied towards the cost of an organ for the new church.[30]

Revd Boustead confirmed that the organ in the Iron Church was, ‘quite unsuited to lead the singing in the new Church, being too small in scale and of insufficient depth and solemnity of tone’. He said that a suitable organ was in the factory of Messrs Hunter of Clapham, which had become a munitions factory. It would cost £635.[31]

The new All Saints Church was dedicated on Thursday 27 September 1917 by the bishop of Winchester. The service took place at 5 p.m. by which time, according to the Hants and Berks Gazette, ‘the Church was packed to the utmost capacity, many being obliged to stand’. Among those in the congregation were the Mayor and members of the Town Council wearing their robes, together with the borough officials, John May, and the ministers of the Congregational, Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, Countess of Huntingdon’s and Baptist churches.

The bishop and clergy, having robed in the Iron Church, entered the church followed by ‘a long procession of choristers’. The bishop, wearing cope and mitre, and the choir and clergy proceeded up the aisle chanting the 24th Psalm ‘a fine effect being obtained by the alternation of men’s and boy’s voices’. The bishop said prayers at the chancel steps and at the high altar. He then proceeded to the Chapel of our Lady and dedicated the altar there, after which he returned to the chance and pronounced the sentence of dedication. As the congregation left the church at the end of the service, the new bells rang out for the first time.

The Gazette provided a brief history of events leading up to the service, in which it said that the foundation stone was laid in 1915, ‘about six months after the builders had set to work, so that more than two years and a half have elapsed since the building was begun’.[32] An earlier guide to All Saints explained:

‘A splendid set of elderly stone masons and labourers, all over 60, plodded on, excellent at their work, but far too old to be of use in any warlike occupation.’[33]

During the service of dedication, the bishop explained that, owing to lack of time and legal delays, it was not possible to complete the legal formalities that would enable to the act of consecration to take place. That would follow at a later date.[34] On the afternoon of Thursday, 8 November 1917, the Bishop of Guildford attended All Saints and signed the legal instrument of consecration.[35]

The parish magazine said:

‘The original plans in brick, and of less stately dimensions, were changed by the Architect, Mr Temple Moore, at the request of Mr Hall, to the wonderfully effective stone Church … The style if English Gothic 14th Century. The glass in the great East Window is the gift of Mr Hall, the subjects being the Life of our Blessed Lord. The East Window of the Lady Chapel is the gift of Mr R.C. Blencowe (former Churchwarden of this Parish). The figures represent Our Lady holding the Holy Child, while in the two side lights figures of St Mary Magdalen and St Elizabeth with St John Baptist.’[36]

The final cost of the Church was about £18,000, nearly all of which was borne by Rev. Hall.[37] The craftspeople involved in the building and decoration of the church included:

Architect: Temple Moore, Hampstead.

Contractors: Benfield and Loxley, Oxford.

Stained Glass: Burlison and Grylls, London.

Decorative Painting: Mr C. Head of Colchester after designs by Mrs Leslie Moore of Hampstead.

Bells: The Whitechapel Foundry of Mears and Stainbank.

Marble Work: Mr R. Colles of Kilkenny.

Iron Work: Coldron and Son of Lincolnshire.

The organ builders were unable to make the necessary alterations and build it up in the organ chamber as they were doing munition work and were ‘simply not allowed by government to leave their work or to touch the organ which stands ready in their factory’.[38]

Finally, on 5 June 1919 the new organ was erected and played for the first time at the service of Sung Eucharist at 11 o’clock. In the afternoon, Basil Johnson, the Director of Music at Eton College, gave a recital in which he ‘skilfully shewed the organ’s great possibilities. The parish can well be proud of an instrument of so great beauty and richness of tone’.[39]

Bob Clarke, 2017







BMM  Basingstoke Monthly Magazine, the Basingstoke Church of England parish magazine. Bound copies from 1865 are at the Hampshire Record Office in the series 46M74/PZ.

H&BG  Hants and Berks Gazette.

HRO  Hampshire Record Office.

[1] BMM, May 1902.

[2] BMM, August 1902.

[3] BMM, October 1902.

[4] BMM, November 1902.

[5] H&BG, November 8, 1902.

[6] BMM December 1902.

[7] BMM November 1902.

[8] BMM June 1903.

[9] BMM January 1904.

[10] BMM June, August, October and December 1904.

[11] BMM September and October 1909.

[12] BMM January 1910.

[13] BMM May 1910.

[14] BMM November 1910.

[15] HRO, 58M74/BP529.

[16] BMM June 1911.

[17] BMM June 1915.

[18] BMM April 1912.

[19] BMM March 1913.

[20] BMM May 1913.

[21] BMM May 1914.

[22] BMM June and November 1914.

[23] BMM May 1915.

[24] BMM June 1915.

[25] BMM July 1915.

[26] BMM August 1915.

[27] BMM October 1915.

[28] BMM June 1916.

[29] BMM July 1916.

[30] BMM February 1917.

[31] BMM May 1917.

[32] H&BG September 29, 1917.

[33] ‘A modern church – All Saints, Basingstoke’ by HWB, no date.

[34] H&BG September 29, 1917.

[35] Reading Mercury, November 10, 1917.

[36] BMM October 1917.

[37] All Saints Church Basingstoke: A Guide (1998).

[38] BMM October 1917.

[39] BMM July 1919.


Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.

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