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Church of St Francis of Assisi, west entrance steps, hall and attached vicarage

A Grade II Listed Building in Bournemouth, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole

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Latitude: 50.7486 / 50°44'54"N

Longitude: -1.8605 / 1°51'37"W

OS Eastings: 409939

OS Northings: 94341

OS Grid: SZ099943

Mapcode National: GBR X9H.MN

Mapcode Global: FRA 67Z3.K08

Plus Code: 9C2WP4XQ+CR

Entry Name: Church of St Francis of Assisi, west entrance steps, hall and attached vicarage

Listing Date: 17 December 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1416874

Location: Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, BH8

County: Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole

Electoral Ward/Division: Moordown

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Bournemouth

Traditional County: Hampshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Bournemouth St Francis

Church of England Diocese: Winchester

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The principal buildings of Church of St Francis of Assisi - namely the Anglican church of 1929-30, designed by J Harold Gibbons in a Romanesque style with early C21 alterations, the church hall of 1933, attached former curates' house and vicarage of 1939, the steps to the west door and the mid-C20 cloister to the north. Not included in the listing are the zig zag steps leading from Charminster Road, the shallow steps between the church and its hall, and Alverna House.


Anglican church of 1929-30, designed by J Harold Gibbons in a Romanesque style; early C21 alterations. Church hall of 1933 and attached former curates' house and vicarage of 1939.

MATERIALS: it is constructed of brick, Purbeck stone and shuttered concrete with a rendered finish under plain tile roofs. The church hall is faced with Purbeck stone with stucco detailing under a hipped, tiled roof; the vicarage and attached curates' house have rendered, probably brick, walls under a hipped, tiled roof with tall stacks.

PLAN: the complex has a roughly U-shaped plan comprising the church which is aligned west to east; a detached church hall to the south-west, though it was originally intended that it be linked to the church with a covered walkway; and to the south-east the attached former curates' accommodation and vicarage. The church includes a campanile; a nave, with a gallery at its west end, and a sanctuary under a single roof, a Lady Chapel to the north and a south porch. At the south-east corner is a vestry and a sacristy.

CHURCH EXTERIOR: the three-stage campanile has a pyramidal roof. The only ground-floor window is an oculus to the west side, above which is a statue of St Francis of Assisi by A G Walker; it stands on a corbel and has a decorated canopy over. The second stage has a pair of taking-in doors with an iron balustrade to the north elevation, and a two-light mullioned window with leaded lights to the east side, alongside the attached staircase to the first floor. A second integral staircase at the south-west corner leads to the belfry; both staircases are lit by small single lights. Each side of the belfry has two semi-circular openings with a circular shaft and square capital between. The west end of the nave has round-arched windows to the ground floor, a large rose window above which is modelled on a similar window in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, and louvered openings in the gable apex. To the south return, approached by shallow steps laid with pebbles, is one of the entrances into the church. The panelled doors have a recessed surround with a chamfered hoodmould and a single label stop carved in the form of a squirrel. There is a large eared keystone above the doors. At first floor is a single-light and to the right return a mullioned window, both have chamfered jambs and decorative leaded lights. At the junction between the two is a carving of a squirrel among oak leaves and acorns. The south side of the nave is lit only by clerestory windows: three arched ones to the left of the porch, six rectangular ones arranged in pairs, and two further arched windows to the right. At eaves level, above the porch, is a narrow strip of lead decorated with floral motifs. There is also a dove, the sign mark of Dove Brothers; a gibbon, the rebus of the architect; and 1930, the date of consecration. The west wall of the porch has a doorway (blocked internally), to the left of which are seven corbels which were originally intended to support the roof of a proposed walk between the church and the adjacent hall, though this was never built. Above the entrance doors within the porch is a tympanum carved with birds, probably swallows, flowers and leaves; the capitals are carved doves. To the right of the porch is the single-storey vestry with mullioned windows and a single light, all with leaded lights. The right return is formed by the sacristy and a basement level. The ground floor has an off-centre doorway, flanked by windows with wooden shutters, and a third opening to the right. To the first floor are two two-light windows in a loose Arts and Crafts style with chunky, tapering mullions and a semi-circular fanlight; between them is a five-light flat-headed window with matching mullions, and to the right is a similar window of two lights. All have leaded glazing. The south wall of the sanctuary (Blessed Sacrament Chapel) has a tall, single window and a pair of small lights beneath; to the ground floor is a shouldered opening that provides vehicle access to the former missionaries' house beyond. The opposing elevation has three shorter single windows. The east end of the Lady Chapel has a pair of single lights to the ground floor, an occulus above, and to the right is a semi-circular apse. The north elevation has single and two-light mullioned windows with ashlar surrounds and square heads. The west end of the chapel has a single door to the ground floor and a round-arched window above. The north side of the nave has four arched clerestory windows.

INTERIOR: the interior, which is unpainted throughout, is undergoing some re-ordering and refurbishment (2013), including a new floor and heating system. There are also proposals to relocate the font to the front of the church and to install a lavatory at the west end. The nave has narrow passage aisles formed by single arches or buttresses rising as curves from the floor level. The Stations of the Cross date from 1961 and replaced the original ones which were sent to British Honduras. The lanterns are gilded and painted, as are the shades to the wall lights, some of which are painted with angels, others with letters which serve as memorials to former parishioners. The nave roof is barrel vaulted and boarded. The deep choir gallery to the west end is carried on massive piers which rise up to the roof. The gallery front has inset panels and there are shouldered openings to its side walls; that to the right providing access to the campanile. The gallery stairs are situated at the south-west corner and the baptistery in north-west corner, a combination that is a signature feature of Gibbons' designs. The ceiling beneath the gallery has square panels with moulded ribs. There are three round-headed arches in the west wall. The central one serves as an entrance hall and the right-hand one is the baptistery. They both have groyne-vaulted ceilings. The circa 1800 organ which was installed in 1964 from a church near Slough was not successful because of its poor position and has recently (2013) been removed. The Lady Chapel, under a panelled gambrel roof, has an apsidal east end, a wall-mounted ceramic piscina and wooden communion rails. The altar is a replacement and the original timber one has been moved to the vestry. Between the Lady Chapel and the sanctuary is a confessional. The chancel is a continuation of the nave, situated in the position of the crossing. It has a barrel-vaulted roof; its boards are painted blue and the mouldings in green. At either end of the chancel roof are plaques of gilded angels holding a shield of Arma Christi. The high altar is made of Hoptonwood stone with a Purbeck table top and a Siena marble front and stands under a baldacchino or ciborium which is flanked by low walls. Either side of the sanctuary arch are statues of the Virgin Mary, carved in the Tyrol, and St Francis of Assisi, by A G Walker; their canopies were designed by Gibbons. The east wall of the sanctuary has a shallow round-arched recess containing a painted depiction of the Crucifixion by Nina Somerset. The altar is approached by six shallow steps. The sanctuary lamps, created from a silver tea service, are carried on decorative brackets. The roof timbers rest on corbels and there are painted ceiling panels of blue with orange sun motifs; the rib mouldings are painted red. The sacristy and vestry are located to the south-east corner, connected to the church by a passage. The sacristy has a tiled floor and a stone sink with a splashback of glazed, coloured tiles and a stone shelf above.
PRINCIPAL FITTINGS: massive wooden baldacchino on four foliate-carved columns on fluted bases. It has four round-headed arches with reliefs of censing to the spandrels. An original plan indicates that it was intended to be painted but has only an undercoat of paint. The font is Norman, said to have been recovered from Wales by the architect. It has a circular bowl, lined with copper, and a moulded circular stem.

EXTERIOR: this is a detached building to the south of the west end of the church which is rectangular in plan with side aisles that mark the position of the central hall. The windows are a mix of single- and two-light timber windows with leaded lights. The east elevation has a shouldered doorway and at its northern end is a lower, flat-roofed projection that has a further doorway. The north elevation has a round-arched entrance approached by steps and single-light windows. The windows to the west return match those to the east elevation. The south elevation has a tall, shouldered first-floor window and single lights below.
INTERIOR: the hall has a vestibule, former dressing rooms and a kitchen at its north end, a large hall, and lavatories beyond; there are also several first-floor rooms to the south end. The central hall has a Jarrah blockwork floor and a large stage at its northern end, its proscenium arch reflecting the shape of the principal, collared roof trusses which rise from strip pilasters. The building also retains most of its mid-C20 door furniture.

EXTERIOR: it is in the Arts and Crafts style, of two storeys to the front (west) and two storeys and a basement to the rear. The two left-hand bays were originally the curates' house (now offices, 2013), and the rest of the building which breaks forwards is the former vicarage. The windows throughout are timber casements with leaded lights. The west front of the vicarage is symmetrical with a central entrance flanked by small arch-headed windows, all set within an applied, round-headed arcade surround of stucco with attached columns to either side of the door. The entrance is in turn flanked by a flat-headed single window and a three-light window. To the first floor are three-light windows to the outer bays and a central window of four lights above the entrance. The curates' house to the left has an entrance with stone surround to the left bay and a three-light window to the right. To the first floor are two matching windows. The south and east elevations are plainer, and have timber casements, some with stucco architrave.
INTERIOR: the curates' house which has access through to the vestry and sacristy, as well as the church, has a single room to the ground floor and two former bedrooms and a bathroom at first floor. Fittings include mid-C20 timber doors, picture rails, skirting boards and two safes. The vicarage was not inspected internally (2013).

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: on the north side of the church is a cloister or walkway which links the former missionary house (Alverna House) of 1964 with the church. It takes the form of an arcaded walkway with round-headed arches carried on piers with square moulded capitals and contributes to the special interest of the church complex. Alverna House itself is much altered and was converted to a hostel in the 1990s. The zig zag steps which form the western entrance to the church complex have plain random stone rubble walls and are architecturally modest, as is the shallow flight of concrete steps between the church and the church hall. These three structures are excluded from the listing.


Following the First World War there was a rapid expansion in the population of Bournemouth leading the Diocese of Winchester to consider constructing more churches. In 1928 Mrs Helen Reckitt donated funds for a new church in the area. Among the stipulations she made were that the donor remain anonymous, that the church be dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, that it should be a parish not a mission district, and that the full Catholic faith should be taught. Following the inauguration of the new rural Deanery of Bournemouth, the church architect J. Harold Gibbons was appointed to design the church and Messrs Dove Brothers were the contracted builders. Most of the stone carvings to the church were carried out by a Mr Fraser, though the statue of St Francis of Assisi to the west elevation is by A G Walker.

A suitable and prominent location was identified in Charminster, a suburb on the northern outskirts of Bournemouth, and the foundation stone was laid on 5 October 1929. The church was consecrated almost twelve months later on 4 October 1930 and was the first to be constructed in Bournemouth following the First World War. The adjacent church hall, which replaced a temporary wooden hut, was designed by local architects Messrs Mackenzie and Phillips and was completed in 1933. Gibbons produced the initial designs for the vicarage in 1930, but these were not approved by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners or the Diocese on account of them being too expensive and elaborate. The house was finally built in 1939 to the designs of Ronald Phillips. Gibbons intended that the land on the north side of the church be used for a convent to house the Sisters of Bethany, with access to the church through a doorway in the west wall of the Lady Chapel. This proposal was, however, abandoned due to rising costs, and in 1964 a missionary society (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) constructed a large house (Alverna House) and cloister on the site for missionaries on furlough or in retirement.

Reasons for Listing

The Church of St Francis of Assisi designed by J Harold Gibbons in 1928-30, the hall and vicarage of 1933 and 1939 respectively, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architect: the first major work by Gibbons which reflects his eclectic style and compares well with his other listed churches;
* Architectural interest: it is designed in a Romanesque style, incorporating some high-quality Arts and Crafts detailing, with an emphasis on simple planar forms and its spacious interior;
* Intactness: despite some re-ordering, it is a largely unaltered example of an inter-war church;
* Interior: it has an impressive simplicity of design and contains a rich variety of materials and fixtures, including stone font, decorative light fittings, altars and a baldacchino;
* Group value: the hall and vicarage have been designed in a complementary style and form a harmonious ensemble with the church.

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