Church History

The Parish of Portsdown was created in 1870, in response to John Deverell, the Lord of the Manor of Farlington’s concern over the lack of spiritual welfare for the troops based in the new Forts on Portsdown Hill at Purbrook and Widley.

The parish was created by taking land from the existing parishes of Farlington, Widley and Wymering.  The Widley of today is not the original village of Widley, that was located at the rear of Fort Widley and all that remains now of the village is the graveyard of the church.

The earliest recorded mention of an established church at Widley is 1154.  This church was extended in 1709 and again in 1813, unfortunately the 1813 extension removed not only most of the oldest structure but also important structural elements, which resulted in its partial collapse in 1847.  The church was demolished in 1849 and a new church, built from the rubble opened in 1850.

The life of the second church was short.  The building of new churches in the area together with land which was taken from the parish to create the parishes of Waterlooville (1830), Purbrook (1858), Portsdown (1870) and Cosham (1935), left Widley with very few parishoners.  Services became less frequent and in 1919 were stopped altogether.  From then until 1937 the church was only used for special services, christenings, marriages and burials.  In 1953 the church was bulldozed and the graveyard cleared.  In recent years the foundations of the church have been exposed and the remaining gravestones made more visible.

In the nineteenth century, the people of Purbrook were expected to attend services regularly in St Andrew’s, Farlington.  They could be, and were, fined for not attending church.  In 1826, the Rector of Farlington, the Reverend Richards, felt the need for a chapel of ease in Purbrook.  In 1828 he chaired a meeting with the landowners of Purbrook (which was part of the parish of Farlington) to discuss the possibility of obtaining a site for a church.

John Deverell was approached by the Rector for donations of money and land for the Purbrook church.  John Deverell offered his support to the project and said that he would give a great deal towards the construction costs once he completed his house.  The following Sunday a sermon was preached in Farlington church with specific reference to those who were more concerned with building their own houses than providing for, and supporting, the House of God.  John Deverell vowed he would not return to the church until he received an apology.

The Rector of Farlington, the Rector of Widley and Vicar of Wymering (which were held in plurality by Reverend Nugee) were supporters of the Oxford Movement, which was High Church.  John Deverell was a convinced evangelical, which tended to be low church, and did not agree with the Oxford Movement style of churching.  He feared that as the new chapel of ease was within the parish of Farlington, it would have ‘a high churchman’.  He therefore withdrew his support.

John Deverell finally agreed to support the new Chapel of Ease (St John’s) at Purbrook and became one of the first churchwardens.  He attended the consecration and his fears of it being ‘high church’ were justified.  He resigned from his position as churchwarden and erected his own chapel or meeting house, which opened for services in 1860.  These independent services were conducted by a Scripture Reader approved by the Bishop of Winchester.  The chapel was called Christ Church Purbrook.

In the same year, the War Department compulsorily purchased Portsdown Hill for military purposes.  Included within this purchase were nearly 190 acres of John Deverell’s estate, for which he was handsomely compensated.  He entered into negotiations with the War Department, expressing concern at the lack of spiritual welfare for the troops based at the new forts on Portsdown Hill and Purbrook and Widley.

The Secretary of State for War granted a one acre site for the building of a church and John Deverell agreed to finance the building and in return for providing the endowment, was granted the patronage of the church, which was to be known as Christ Church Portsdown, a parish in its own right.  In return for giving the land the Army was given rights to hold services in the church.  The churchyard was to be used for military burials as required.

In 1872, although not completed, Christ Church Portsdown was roofed and given a certificate so that it could be used by the soldiers in the forts.  Records of baptism in the church began in 1871.

On 30th July 1874 Christ Church Portsdown was consecrated.

On the morning of 4th June 1944 (the eve of the D-Day Normandy invasion), Christ Church Portsdown was the venue for one of the most important services of the 20th Century.  The service was the Knight’s Vigil, a service organised by the Vicar (the Reverend RBS Gillman) and General Sir Miles Dempsey (Commander of the British Second Army).