Church History

History of the Parish and Church of St. John the Baptist, Purbrook

Purbrook, or Puke Brook ‘the brook of the water sprite’ as it was known in the early 13th century is located to the north of Portsdown Hill. Originally aligned on an east to west Roman road it now sits firmly alongside London Road, the old Portsmouth to London turnpike.

In the early part of the nineteenth century most of the development of the village took place to the east of the church but the second millennium has seen substantial development to the west.

Construction of the church began in 1843 but conflict between the Rector of Farlington and the local squire, John Deverell, delayed consecration until 1858. In the early 1840s the Rector of Farlington, in whose parish Purbrook sat, decided that the inhabitants of the village deserved their own place of worship, the long trek ‘over the hill’ meant that few of them attended Sunday worship in his church, a problem exacerbated by the recent consecration of St. George’s, Waterlooville. He eventually obtained authority from the Bishop of Winchester for the construction of a chapel of ease – and the story of St. John’s commenced. Many of the arguments between the Rector and Deverell centered around the proposed style of worship at the new church; Richards was a Tractarian, a follower of Keble and his Oxford Movement, and favoured a high church ritualistic style whereas Deverell was a Dissenter and preferred a more traditional approach.

The architect selected for the design of St. John’s was J.P. Harrison, a follower of Pugin and architect of Keble’s church at Hursely, near Winchester, indeed, many of the features of St. John’s may be found more ornately in All Saints church, Hursley.

Deverell, although delaying the construction and consecration of St. John’s was a great benefactor to the village: In the years between the commencement of St. John’s and its consecration he constructed his own independent meeting place in the house now known as Fir Lodge at the northern end of Park Avenue, and employed, with the Bishop’s approval, his own ‘scripture reader’. He had already built April Cottage as a reading room and school house, at the end of Stakes Road, and the Methodist chapel (now our church Hall) to the north of the St. John’s. He went on to finance the construction of Church of Christ’s Church, Purbrook, now known as Christ Church, Portsdown, the new parish being carved out of the parishes of Farlington, Purbrook and Widley thereby halving the size of Purbrook parish. The coming together of the parishes of Purbrook and Portsdown may see these two parishes once again joined as one.

The basic structure of the church is even now much as it was in 1858 except for the construction of the two vestries, one in the late nineteenth century and the second in the mid twentieth century. The oak reredos at the east end of the church and the clock in the tower were both fitted in the mid-1890s.

The lych gate was erected in 1919 and, dedicated as our village war memorial, helps us remember those who gave their lives for freedom in the two world wars of the twentieth century.

In 1999 a steel frame was erected in the tower to take the weight of a peal of six bells cast by London’s Whitechapel Foundry, these bells replaced the original single bell and were purchased with the help of a grant from the Millennium Commission.

The nineteenth century village of Purbrook was transformed by a surge in house building that started when the larger estates were split up and sold shortly after the first world war; construction of the Horndean Light Railway, which had a power station in Purbrook, also facilitated ribbon development alongside London Road. Development of the Mill Road and Stakes area began after the second world war and continued through to the early 1970s. Purbrook was soon bracketed between the A3 to the west and the A3(M) to the east, leaving the church clinging to the eastern bracket. All that changed with the sale of parts of the Southwick Estate and development of land to the west of Purbrook and Waterlooville, soon to be called Berewood. This major development may again place the church in the centre of the revised parish boundary.

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