Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SZ 09926 91298


768/20/176 GERVIS ROAD 01-AUG-74 (North side) CHURCH OF ST SWITHUN

GV II By R. Norman Shaw: chancel 1876-7, nave 1891-2. Vestries etc., by H.E. Hawker, c. 1913.

MATERIALS: Coursed grey rubble with limestone dressings, blue slate roofs.

PLAN: Broad aisleless four-bay nave, deep chancel, organ chamber in the base of an uncompleted north tower, north chapel of 2 bays. Low vestries and sacristy (north-east).

EXTERIOR: The most striking feature is the enormous eleven-light W window with flowing Dec tracery, between two deep buttresses. Beneath it is a low narthex, formerly the main entrance. The sides of the nave are windowless below, the upper nave has two-light windows under broad blank arches. This is indicative of the plan for aisles, for which foundations were apparently laid. The north side of the church is now incoherent. The base of a stubby battlemented tower sits in the position of a transept; high on its east face is a bellhood. To its west are early 21st century additions in neutral roughcast render. To the east of the tower, low vestries, and rising behind, a high narrow north chapel with two simple lancets in its north wall. The chancel projects a further two bays, with Geometrical windows of two lights north and south, and of five lights at the east. To the south the forbidding chancel and nave walls are unscreened by additions.

INTERIOR: The boldest and most unusual feature is the 'barn-like' nave (Pevsner), which is extremely broad and uninterrupted. Its timber-panelled roof forms a pointed wagon vault, with iron ties at the wall plates. It derives from Shaw's Holy Trinity, Latimer Road, London. Beneath the huge west window, the narthex opens into the church by the novel means of a wide segmental arch flanked by two narrow lancet openings. The piers between the openings continue up as wall shafts and become the main mullions of the window, a fine individual touch. Likewise the window jambs continue downwards and connect with the narthex openings. The orientation of the nave has been reversed, with the seating facing west and the narthex serving as a space for musicians. Sunk into the floor at the west end is a full-immersion baptistery. The north-west entrance to the nave was given a glass-and-oak internal porch, after 1999. At the north-east is the recessed tower base containing an organ gallery (now empty), and partitioned rooms beneath. The north side of the chancel has a two-bay arcade with octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches, opening into a tall chapel, the lower part of which is divided off as a kitchen. There is a low breast wall to the chancel, formerly carrying the wrought-iron chancel screen. The chancel arch is raised high on slim semi-octagonal responds. The chancel roof has collar-beam trusses and windbraces, against white-painted plaster. The original nave floor and its iron supports had become unsafe by 1999. It was completely rebuilt and the oak parquet relaid. The chancel is floored with plain quarry tiles.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The big reredos was designed by Shaw and carved by Thomas Earp. It has an elaborate alabaster frame with much cusping and stylised foliage, and Caen stone reliefs of the Crucifixion framed by four smaller scenes (Via Dolorosa and Gethsemane, left; Resurrection and Ascension, right). To the sides are panels of Spanish-looking tiles by Maw & Co. The very open wrought-iron chancel screen was probably designed by Shaw, and made by Singer & Sons, Frome. It was resited after 1999 a few feet in front of the reredos, and the space behind is now used for storage. The best stained glass is that in the chancel, by Burlison & Grylls, 1880s, and the north chapel east, by Kempe, 1902.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The church sits on a pine-planted triangle between Manor Road and Gervis Road. South-east of the chancel is a half-timbered church hall c. 1895, listed separately at Grade II.

HISTORY: St Swithun was one of two central Bournemouth churches (the other St Michael) designed by R. Norman Shaw in the 1870s. It was a product of the Rev. Alexander Morden Bennett's long campaign of High Anglican church building in Bournemouth, beginning in 1851 with his own church of St Peter, the mother church of St Swithun. The east end was opened in 1872, the nave in 1892 (foundation stone laid April 2nd 1891). By the 1990s the church was disused and deteriorating; most fittings were removed by the Diocese of Winchester before 1999. At that date it was leased by Bournemouth Family (later, Citygate) Church, an independent evangelical organisation which later bought the building. The interior was re-floored, with additions built to the north, the remaining fittings moved to the sanctuary and the orientation reversed. The design of St Swithun bears few hallmarks of Shaw's style, and it is hard to envisage what effect he was trying to achieve: 'The motifs appear a little recherché, as if Shaw had aimed at the unexpected' (Pevsner).

Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) was one of the most influential British architects of the 19th century. After studying in Edinburgh, he worked for William Burn then G.E. Street, designing High Victorian Gothic churches. With Eden Nesfield he developed an interest in the vernacular houses of the Sussex Weald in the 1860s, and in the Queen Anne revival of the 1870s. His late works were in a heavier Classical style which influenced the Edwardian Baroque. He was a Royal Academician from 1877.

SOURCES John Newman and Nikolaus Pevsner, Dorset (Buildings of England)(1970) Andrew Saint, Richard Norman Shaw (1976), esp 415

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION The Church of St Swithun is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A design by R. Norman Shaw with some individual touches (e.g. the internal composition of the west wall), and other less successful features. * One of a group of 1870s High Anglican churches of historic significance in the town's development * Impressive and exceptionally big west window in the flowing Dec style. * Fine alabaster and stone reredos designed by Shaw; probably his too the wrought-iron chancel screen. Notable fittings, in style of alteration. * Good late Victorian glass by Kempe and Burlison & Grylls.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 13 Apr 2007
Reference: IOE01/16243/04
Rights: © Ms Ruth Povey. Source: Historic England Archive
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