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St Columba History

The History of St Columba Church
Based on the 1991 Centenary leaflet with later additions and updating

Fareham was just a small Saxon settlement when St Birinus landed here in 634 AD. He had been commissioned by the Pope in Rome to bring the Christian religion to England and his followers founded the parish church of St Peter & St Paul.

St Augustine had landed in Kent on a similar mission 38 years previously, while St Columba had landed on the island of Iona, off the West Coast of Scotland in 563 AD, with the primary purpose of converting the Picts on the mainland of Scotland to Christianity. Columba had previously founded monasteries in Ireland, where he was a member of the loyal family, and by the time he had died on 9th June 597 AD, he had established missions over a large area of Scotland.

Catisfield existed as a settlement in 1216. It may have split off from the Manor of Fareham by the early C16.

The population of Fareham in 1830 was 3,677 and only slightly larger than Titchfield. The town was expanding westwards, away from the old High Street, and the parish church of St Peter and St Paul was no longer able to serve the needs of the whole town. It was decided to build a new church in West Street, and in 1834, Sir Henry Thompson, who was previously a curate at St Peter & St Paul, built Holy Trinity church. In 1846 Holy Trinity became a separate parish.

In Victorian times the local population was expanding rapidly and things were changing quite fast. The 109 acres of Catisfield Common were enclosed and sold off, and several large new houses appeared. Catisfield at this time was a hamlet of large houses and cottages with a shop, separated from Fareham by farmland, but standing by the side of the important Southampton Road (now the A27).

The First St Columba Church

Tin Tabernacle

The original St Columba church was the old “tin tabernacle” in Catisfield Lane. Designed as a mission church to serve the outlying parts of the parish, it was built by Captain William Thresher, a retired naval officer, who was previously a Churchwarden at Holy Trinity church. It was constructed in 1891 on land which came from The Limes estate and opened on Thursday 9th June 1892 at 7.00pm.

The church was a daughter church to Holy Trinity and had three local Trustees, Reverend Charles Lowther Arnold (28/12/1859 – 10/03/1942) (Vicar of Holy Trinity), Captain William Thresher (19/06/1841 – 28/03/1922) (known as Father Christmas in Catisfield) and Alyne Louisa Eliza Mathias (02/05/1844 – 16/07/1923) of Catisfield Lodge.

Captain William Thresher

This is the background to the building of the new St Columba church in 1891. As “tin tabernacles” go, it was quite substantial. The external cladding of corrugated iron had a wooden lining, there were arched lancet windows, and a small wooden spire over its bell tower. It had a harmonium and a choir, originally of boys, but men and women joined the choir later, and an organ was fitted in 1948.

There was some rivalry in the early days between the boys choir of St Columba and Holy Trinity, which led on one occasion to a threatened strike over a rumour (which proved unfounded) of Easter eggs to be given only to the Trinity boys. The church received many gifts, including an oak chair from Reverend Arnold in 1924, a priest’s desk from Reverend Spencer in 1925, and a stained glass window in memory of Ellin Napier (b. C.1848 – 06/03/1933) of Catisfield Cottage, as well as many smaller items from members of the congregation. The window being dedicated by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Neville Lovett, on Thursday 1st November 1934.

Contemporary photographs show an attractive and well cared for church. The Sunday school flourished, at first in a hut in Catisfield Lodge grounds, then in the church and the first Catisfield Memorial Hall opened in 1948. By 1960 there were also Sunday Schools in Fareham Park School and the Womens’ Institute hut in Oak Road to cater for the children on the new estates. By 1965 the Sunday school was 250 strong, but meeting space was difficult to arrange.

St Columba interior 1938

“The Guild” held services in the church from 1942 to 1945, and this was the forerunner of the Catisfield Ladies Guild, closely linked to the church in its early years. In the 1950’s the church flourished. It was painted green in 1956, and six horse chestnut trees in front of the church were removed. A weather vane presented by HMS Collingwood was installed in 1957 to replace the old wooden spire. Garden Fêtes once held in the grounds of the big houses, were held in the Memorial Hall grounds until replaced by “planned giving” in 1959. A flower show at the last Fête led to the formation of the Catisfield and District Horticultural Society.

Celebration of the Patronal Festival is first recorded in 1955. Christmas, Easter and Harvest celebrations were regularly held at this time and were well supported.

By the end of the 1950’s it was felt that the site of the old tin tabernacle was inappropriate as it was small and at the western edge of the parish. The new housing estates were developing further east, both north and south of Highlands Road. A site was obtained at the junction of Hillson Drive and Highlands Road. The old church still received gifts, including a processional cross, and many did not want to move. The congregation was assured that the old building would be re–erected as a private school chapel, but this did not happen.

The Present St Columba Church

Laying of the foundation stone

In 1961 plans for a new St Columba church were drawn up, but at an estimated cost of £22,000 was adjudged too expensive. The design was then modified to come within a budget cost of £17,500 and this was the design to which the new church was built. Frederick Owen Goodman (01/10/1881 – 24/09/1967) laid the foundation stone in May 1962 and the church was dedicated by Bishop John Henry Lawrence Phillips (02/02/1910 – 01/11/1985) of Portsmouth at 7.30pm on Wednesday 20th February 1963 after a Service of 9 Lessons and Carols.

St Columba at the start of the dedication service

The link with Iona was imaginatively preserved by using a carved granite stone from the old ruined abbey church on Iona (St Columba’s home) as a font. The block of stone was delivered by HMS Alderney returning from a patrol off the west coast of Scotland to HMS Dolphin in Gosport, and this episode deserves a story all on its own. A plaque in the present church commemorates this action by the Royal Navy.

HMS Alderney with the font stone

The new St Columba church now had a Priest–in–Charge living in Oak Road.

Allen Cole became “temporary” Organist and Choirmaster in August 1964. In 1966 St Columba and Holy Trinity were declared inter–dependant with a joint PCC and a Churchwarden and Deputy for each. St Columba was at last licensed for weddings.

The new church incorporated many items from the old church, including the Dove from Ellin Napier’s window, clergy chairs and the candlestick holders. The service pattern centred on the 9.30am Family Service instead of Matins, and an Intercessions group started, among other innovations. In the late 1960’s the fine blue aisle carpet was given, the gold curtains, reputedly as fitted on the QE2 were hung, with the Sanctuary Cross given by Archdeacon Geoffrey Lewis Tiarks (08/10/1909 – 14/01/1987) in memory of his daughter.

In 1970 the Bishop noted in ‘The Link’ that St Columba

“for all its appalling problems is one of the most flourishing daughter churches in the Diocese.”

The hall was built in 1971, a product of energetic fundraising and generous donations. This had followed a similar story to the building of the church in that the structure had to be built within a very tight budget. In the same year, the Queen by Order in Council set up the Team Ministry covering St Columba and Holy Trinity with Revd. Simon Burrows (08/11/1928 – 05/08/2015) as Rector, Revd. Martin Pierce as Vicar of St Columba and Revd. Geoffrey Neale as Vicar for Education.

About this time, the roof of the church started leaking, (otherwise known as interstitial condensation) and this was a saga which continued for about ten years before it was finally solved.

The tenth anniversary of the new church in 1973 was celebrated by the building of a Vicarage adjoining the Church.

In the same year the late Louise Wellman started the Friendship Club and we saw the start of a scheme for gifted members of the parish for Celtic cross kneelers, started by Mary Holliday–Bishop and Alison Joint, and also with the Roman Catholics using the church for weekly services.

A new gas central heating system was installed in 1975 by Philip Riley and Graham Pike, a great improvement over the original overhead electric heaters. The choir sang in Portsmouth Cathedral for the new Bishop Ronald. In 1978 Jubilee kneelers were made, Catisfield West Guides presented a credence cupboard to replace the hole in the wall, and with their new digital Allen organ, the choir sang Stainer’s Crucifixion.

In 1979 Quest groups for 11 to 13 year olds were started and St Columba had a Youth Club with 163 members. Jane Taylor (now Venerable Dr Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich) became the parish’s first Deaconess. The first Iona pilgrimage took place that year, and a second in 1989, this led to the inauguration by Reverend John Williams of a new monthly Iona style Sunday evening service in which greater participation by the congregation is encouraged.

In the 1980’s there were innovations like the Pike Hike on New Year’s Day, and the Parish Camp in the summer, the children’s project days, and the all–age Parish Experience. There were also the ecumenical Men’s Breakfast and participation in the “Good News to You in Fareham” mission.

In the following year Heather Carling’s Lincoln Mystery Play led to the start of the Three Churches Touring Company. This church theatre group used St Columba Church as a home base for its performances, which have included “The Fox and the Dove” – the story of St Columba’s life, and in 1991, the Centenary year, “Colum Cille” – an impression of the life of St Columba in poetry and music.

Also in 1991 for the centenary, the choir (still under Allen Cole) donned new red robes in preparation for even greater musical performances.

Meanwhile the work of St Columba Church goes forward. The old St Columba was a mission church, which became like a traditional Parish church in miniature. The new St Columba built as a mission church to serve the new estates has grown and established its own niche in present day Fareham.

The hall built adjacent to the new church in 1971 is now near the end of its life and so prompted a review of the whole site. This review arose out of the Vision 2002 consultation process and now the parish is in the process of formulating a new Parish Plan to take the development forward. A follow up Vision Development Day was held on 2nd February 2003 and now plans are being considered for the reordering of the church, a new hall with additional facilities for use by both our neighbours as well as the congregation.

Due to severely diminished numbers, St Columba’s choir was suspended in August 2017.