Bournemouth (St Peter)

St. Peter's Church, Bournemouth

St. Peter's Church, Hinton Road, Bournemouth (August 2010)

In lieu of a proper introduction, here is one from The Eccesiologist, Vol. XXVII, no CLXXVI (October 1866), pp. 260-264 (from Google Books, uncorrected):


This is one of Mr. Street's most important and most successful new churches, and deserves accordingly (although we have already noticed it from the drawings) a careful description from personal observation. It is remarkable as an example of the good effects of the system of gradually building a church, which is so seldom possible—or at least which is so seldom practised—in these days. Bournemouth was originally provided with a wretched conventicle-like structure, that barely accommodated the congregation, until the firm perseverance of the incumbent, ably seconded by Mr. Street's skill, completed the present noble edifice. We ought not indeed even yet to say " completed," for the tower and spire (for which space is left at the west end,) are not yet built, though money is being raised for their erection. But the body of the church is finished, having been built piecemeal, and showing (in an interesting manner,) many proofs of its progressive development. The plan consists of a nave and aisles, a chancel with vaulted sanctuary, chancel-transepts and chancel-aisles, with sacristy at the north-east angle, and a south-western porch. We shall first describe the design, leaving some few points of criticism to the last. The style is very early Geometrical Pointed, scarcely distinguishable indeed from First-Pointed in the clustered and banded shafts of the chancel. The material is local stone, of two colours, very effectively contrasted in bands and voussoirs; while the interior glows, in its eastern portion, with polished marbles and alabaster. A striking feature in the design is the comparative plainness and simplicity of the nave, when contrasted with the extraordinary architectural richness of the choir and sanctuary. The nave is lofty, with a good open timber roof; and a well-managed clerestory on each side, composed of coupled lights in hooded arcades, filled with grisaille glass, and well managed in respect of constructional colour. The arcades on each side are of five arches, excellently proportioned, and with well-moulded octagonal shafts. The south aisle is lighted by windows of two lights, having quatrefoils in the head, which are decidedly common-place and ineffective, when compared to the fenestration of the north aisle. This north aisle, built (we believe) some time after the completion of the south aisle, is lighted by twelve broad trefoil-headed lancet-lights, all connected by a continuous shafted internal arcading. Each light contains in painted glass the figure of an apostle, a portion of the Creed being assigned to each saint in succession. An excellent effect is produced by an alteration in the lower level of these arcaded lights towards the west end. Whether this was intentional or not, we do not know; but the result is exceedingly piquant and successful. The chancel, opening into the nave by a lofty and broad arch, with corbelled imposts having marble shafts, is of four bays. The two western bays are roofed in timber, and are treated internally almost as though they were a lantern. Laterally they open by two richly moulded and marble-shafted arches into the chanceltransepts. The two eastern bays of the choir, forming the sanctuary proper, are vaulted in stone. This is very properly the most ornate part of the church. The vaulting, which is octopartite, rises from groups of banded marble shafts ; the ribs and the vaulting-cells being constructed of the bi-coloured stones already mentioned. The east window is a rich and beautiful Middle-Pointed geometrical composition of five lights, with a traceried circle in the head, the whole raised at a high level above the reredos. North and south the sanctuary has its eastern bay blank in the return walls ; the second bay opens by an arch into the chancel-aisle on each side. The chancel-transepts require the next notice. They spring (as we have already described) north and south from the western bays of the chancel. They are roofed transversely to the axis of the church. On their west faces they open into the nave aisles, though of course they project considerably beyond the aisle walls. Their gables are filled with good windows. On their east faces are arches opening into the chancel-aisles, while in the north transept, northward of the north chancel-aisle, is the door into the sacristies ; in itself a good composition, with a tympanum carved in a bas-relief of the Charge to S. Peter. The chancel-aisles terminate to the east in two-light windows. Externally the general loftiness of the design is very satisfactory, though, in the absence of the western tower, the length at present looks inadequate. The clerestory, with its coloured voussoirs, is a particularly striking feature. The transepts however, being in their wrong place, are ineffective ; and the grouping of the whole east end, consequently, is confused and " muddling."

The arrangements and fittings next call for attention. The chancel and sanctuary rise by three steps at the chancel-arch, two at the sanctuary and two at the footpace. There is a low western screen of iron, but singularly wiry and inelegant in its design, on a low and elaborately carved, but thoroughly " Perpendicular," basement of alabaster. Within this screen rise the steps, and there are metal gates. The arches north and south of the choir cry out for parclose-screens. We believe that metal screens are intended, when funds permit, to be placed here. The floors are paved with marble and coloured tiles in good designs. The stalls and subsellae, though well-arranged, are merely temporary fittings of stained deal. The sanctuary, guarded by low brass rails, which do not meet in the middle, is unusually spacious and beautiful. The altar is of good proportions, and properly vested. Behind it is a richly carved retable in alabaster, richly gilt, and partially coloured. The subject is a seated figure of our Lord in His Majesty, holding the orb, within a pointed aureole, and adored by kneeling angels on each side. The carving is very beautiful, and the effect of colour, under different lights, exquisitely harmonized. Yet we should plead for a little less gilding, and for a little more positive colour in the wings of the kneeling angels: and their hair had better, we think, have been coloured than gilt. Unfortunately this beautiful carving is comparatively ineffective at any distance, and can only be enjoyed from the chancel or its aisles. The moral is, that for so large and long a church some bolder treatment is required for a carved reredos. Altar-cross and candles stand on a constructional superaltar. It is a minute point of detail, but still worth mentioning, that the horizontal gilt line, on which rest the feet of our Lord's sitting figure, interferes most awkwardly with the transverse arm of the gilt altarcross, giving, in many points of view, the effect of a double cross. In truth, the retable is too low. It should have been placed higher up, so as to be quite free of the altar ornaments. Above the retable itself there is a most elaborate piece of canopy work in alabaster. It serves as a kind of canopy to the bas-relief below, but fails for want of connection with it. The whole wants unity and fusing together. It now looks as if either the canopy or the retable was an afterthought. A result of this incoherence is that, in a general view of the east end, the window looks too high up, instead of forming part as it were of a general composition. The lower parts of the east wall, north and south of the altar, and the returned walls of the sanctuary are treated in a novel manner. The basement is an ornate mosaic of alabaster and stones inlaid with fleurs-de-lys, in large chequers, with a constructional credence table on a bracket on the south side. Above this basement is an ornamentation of green tiles enamelled in subjects. These we believe are executed by Messrs. Morris, Marshall and Co. The subjects represented in the east wall are standing angels, of a very Preraphaelite type, very cleverly drawn in a kind of shadowy style, but highly ineffective at a distance. On the returns are some much more successful designs of the Last Supper, for example, executed on tiles in the same manner, but with better drawing and more pronounced coloration. The want of sedilia is very apparent. The clergy sit, at present, on the alabaster basement of the future parclose-screens.

The pulpit, which stands at the north-east corner of the nave, is circular in plan, and in design an open arcade with coloured shafts and alabaster caps. It is very good in many ways. The book-desk is sustained by a large standing figure of an angel with extended wings. Our only complaint is that the scale of this large figure is incongruous with that of the small busts which adorn the canopied work of the arcade of the pulpit. The font, placed at the west end of the south aisle, is in marble—but not, we think, of a very felicitous design. The nave and aisles are filled with open seats of deal, of various designs, some of which struck us as being an improvement on the ordinary types. The whole floor is paved on an uniform level with coloured tiles.

Our readers will acknowledge that few modern churches are so sumptuous or so artistically designed as this. We have forgotten to say, that the floral carving throughout on the capitals, &c, is extremely rich and beautiful, without being excessive. There are also richly carved reliefs, in bold circular panels, on the north and south walls of the lantern, above the stalls, and between the coupled arches on each side. These panels represent the Annunciation and the Crucifixion respectively. Nearly all the windows are filled with painted glass, chiefly by Messrs. Clayton and Bell, and most of it excellent of its kind. There are some inferior (perhaps earlier) windows in the south aisle, representing scriptural scenes on grisaille backgrounds ; but the clerestory grisaille is more successful, and the single figures in the north aisle are decidedly good and bold. There is also a very successful grisaille window, with coloured subjects, in the east wall of the south transept. The east window is an elaborate composition, pleasingly coloured, and with a grayish tone, which is particularly refreshing in these days when most modern painted glass is so hot and yellow in hue. But we have some faults to find with the iconography of this window. The five lights are filled with scenes in two ranges: the upper row representing incidents in our Lord's life, and the lower one corresponding scenes, supposed to be types, from the Old Testament. These are not always well chosen. For in- . stance, the cutting off the ear of Malchus by S. Peter—in itself a not particularly edifying event—is balanced by the murder of Abel. The consequence is, that by far the most conspicuous object in the iconography of the whole church, owing to the prominence of the two nude struggling figures, is the sin of Cain ! What can be the advantage of gazing at such a picture continually ? The Crucifixion is balanced less objectionably by the Brazen Serpent, and the Entombment by the lowering of Joseph into the Pit. The other antitypal scenes we could not make out.

Decidedly the least satisfactory thing in the design, considered as a whole, is the position of the transepts. We are more and more strongly of opinion that transepts should spring not from the chancel of a church, but from its nave. In this case the comparative meagreness of the transepts, with their large surfaces of blank plastered wall, is an eyesore from the nave, when contrasted with the beauty of the chancel. Again they decidedly swallow up the voice. We know few modern churches which are so unsuccessful acoustically. The Lessons are nearly inaudible in the nave; and even the choir (though this may be due partly to the unison Gregorian music that is exclusively used,) is not heard through the whole building. Again, the people seated in the transepts and choir-aisles must miss the sermon altogether. On the other hand, the effect of the choir-aisles is not only admirable in an artistic point of view, but they afford great facilities for the recession of communicants from the altar. The fact that the sanctuary is vaulted deserves all praise. But we could wish that the chancel proper had been vaulted too. The wooden roof of this part, with its quasi-lantern effect, is not satisfactory ; and the vaulted sanctuary, from the fact that its outer roof is lower than that of the nave, is decidedly too low for internal effect. But, in spite of these criticisms, this church must be regarded as one of the very best of our time.



8, 20-2-7 in E. Also 12 cwt. Sanctus bell.

St. Peter's Church, Bournemouth

View of St. Peter's Church and Bournemouth Bay (August 2010)

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