In the area of our churchyard at the front of the church, clearly visible from the main road to passers by is an imposing grave with the inscription, “In Ever Loving Memory of Engineer Rear Admiral Charles Stevens C.B.E. Died August 18th 1933 Aged 64 Years. Greatly Loved. Servant Of God Well Done”. A history of this distinguished senior Royal Naval Engineering Officer was supplied to Christ Church a few years ago by Mr David Foster, so it is possible to trace his life.
Charles Stevens was born on 22nd April 1869 at Gateshead, County Durham to James and Rosanna Stevens. The family were normally domiciled in the Midlands area of Birmingham where his older and younger brothers were born. The Census of 1871 shows Charles Stevens aged one living with his parents and brothers James aged 12 & Robert aged less than a year old at Ladywood, Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire. Charles’ early education was at the Fullands School in Taunton, Somerset, a private preparatory school, which listed as a past pupil General Charles Gordon of Khartoum fame, the school was also involved in the establishment of County Cricket in Somerset. During the period 1881 to 1884 Charles Stevens attended Coleshill Grammar School in Warwickshire founded in 1520, and did well enough to be accepted for training as an Engineer Officer in the Royal Navy, he was 16 years of age. His Officer and Engineer training took place over the period 1884 to 1889 at The Royal Naval College Greenwich and on board the training ship HMS Fisgard moored on the Thames nearby. This set him up for a very distinguished 34 year career in the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Engineer Rear Admiral and in 1919 the award of Commander of The Order of The British Empire (CBE).
Charles Stevens married Miss Alexandra Maud Purrot in 1896 and a daughter was born to them in Malta, Marjorie Maud, in 1902. Later they had a son who also joined the Royal Navy as an officer.
During his service career as an Engineer Officer, Charles Stevens served on fourteen different warships and at various Naval Shore establishments including Chatham and Portsmouth Dockyards. He was present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in November 1918. His last post was as Engineering Captain of HMS Fisgard the Royal Naval Mechanical Training Establishment. He retired in 1923 to live at Craneswater Avenue, Southsea, near Canoe Lake, where he died after a short illness on 18th August 1933 aged 64.
In parallel with his Naval career, Charles Stevens was a Freemason and rose to the prominent rank of Provincial Grand Secretary of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the Masonic movement. After his death a Memorial Service was held on 22nd August 1933 attended by many, at St Simon’s Church, Waverly Road in Southsea, followed by internment at Christ Church Portsdown. Reporting on his funeral in August 1933 The Portsmouth Evening News describes that “A procession of some 200 carriages followed the cortege from Southsea to Christ Church Portsdown, where the internment took place in a new family vault on the west mound by the church. The Masonic Brethren formed a square around the grave and after the committal a bugler from the Royal Naval Barracks sounded the Last Post and Reveille. At the conclusion of the service the Masonic Brethren headed by The Earl of Malmesbury filed past the grave and dropped sprigs of Acacia (symbolic in Freemasonry) at the head. Over 140 wreaths were received from members of the family, service and civilian friends and Masonic representatives. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs Knight and Lee of Southsea.”
The late Alexandra Maud Stevens was later buried in the same grave at the front of Christ Church Portsdown .
With Acknowledgements to Mr David Foster.