John Harrison (Clerk of Works)

Although I have been attending Christ Church for many years, the beautiful architecture and design of the church interior never fails to impress me. This is in contrast to the stark grey flint exterior seen by people who pass the church on the nearby main road that gives the church a rather austere look. The architectural description of the church describes it as of the early Norman style consisting of a nave, north and south aisles with semi transepts and a spacious chancel in the form of an apse. The church also has a tall square Norman tower containing a bell. Many visitors to the church at funerals, weddings and other occasions have been very complimentary about the church interior as they enter from the new porch situated on the north side of the church. The pillars, arches, roof beams and curving apse tend more to the grandeur of a mini Cathedral building rather than a local Parish Church. We know that Squire John Deverell bought the land from the War Office and supplied the finance to build the church, but what do we know of the skilled artisans who carried out the building work?

The Clerk of Works in charge of construction, which commenced in 1871, was Mr John Charles Harrison. His Great Great Granddaughter, Mrs Caroline Reid lives in Waterlooville and has kindly supplied us with information which tells us about John Harrison and the events back in Victorian times during the building process. All pictures of Mr John Charles Harrison and his family are by courtesy of Mrs Caroline Reid. Born in Chatham, Kent in 1831, John Harrison was selected 40 years later to oversee the building of Christ Church Portsdown. It was a labour of love to this devout Christian man who took steps during construction to inter a “time capsule” in the form of a sealed bottle into the church foundations. The ‘capsule’ contained various items and a handwritten record about the construction and people involved in the design and building of the church. Two identical copies of the document were produced by John at the time, one to be buried and one to be retained by his descendants. John Charles Harrison died at his home in Albert Road, Portsmouth (opposite the Kings Theatre) on 8th February 1912, aged 81.

A copy of the text of his document placed in the time capsule written in his own hand and signed is as follows. (It should be noted that Fort Crookhorn mentioned by John Harrison in his letter, was never built and became the site of Farlington Redoubt and is now used as a Haulage Depot on Portsdown Hill Road to the East of Fort Purbrook):

The bottle containing these papers was deposited in this place by John Charles Harrison, Clerk of Works, under whose superintendence this church was erected on the 16th day of October in the year of our Lord 1871 and in the 35th year of the reign of Queen Victoria. The Right Reverend Dr Samuel Wilberforce being Bishop of this Diocese.
This church is erected from the design of Mr John Colson, Architect F.R.I.B.A. of Winchester, by Messers Wright Brothers and Goodchild, Builders and Contractors of Croydon, in the County of Surrey at the sole cost of John Deverell Esq of Purbrook Park adjoining this spot who has perpetually endowed it. The minister designate is the Revd Nicholas McGrath M.A. The building of this church was commenced on the 1st day of May this year and the walls are now ready to receive the roof. Benjamin Hartley is the Foreman for the Contractors, and has charge of the work for them. The Portland Stone, used externally in this building came from a bridge which crossed a moat at Hilsea about two miles from this place on the road to Portsmouth, and the Flints were taken from the excavation from one of the Forts, not yet finished, known as Fort Crookhorn. The Forts on this Hill were first occupied by Troops on the 27th day of September this year. Enclosed is a Shilling of this years coinage. The Masons employed on these works are receiving five shillings and sixpence per day of ten hours, the Carpenters and Bricklayers receive four shillings and sixpence and the Labourers three per day. The working hours are from six o’clock in the morning with half an hour interval for Breakfast at eight o’clock and an hour for Dinner at one o’clock leaving work at half past five in the afternoon, but leaving work at four o’clock on Saturdays. The pay for the same class of men in and near London would be eight pence an hour for Masons, Carpenters and Bricklayers and for the Labourers five pence per hour. The contract for this building was taken for Three Thousand Four Hundred Pounds exclusive of the Seating, but the cost of the Seating – some extras and incidental expenses will bring the cost up to quite Four Thousand Pounds.

That God may grant his Blessing upon this work, and that a pure Christian doctrine, founded upon His Holy Word, may be preached herein, and that souls may be brought to seek him, and be saved, in this House to be dedicated to his service, is my most earnest wish and prayer.

J.C. Harrison (16th October 1871)

Keith Fisher (CCP Historian) with acknowledgements to Mrs Caroline Reid