Christ Church, Portswood, more often called Highfield Church, was built in 1846-7 and consecrated in 1847. The architects were two young Anglo-Jewish brothers, Raphael and Joshua Brandon, aged 29 and 25 years respectively when the church was begun in September 1846. Although inexperienced in church building (Christ Church was their maiden church), the brothers were highly influential as authors of three books which were to form the raw material of the Gothic Revival. Unfortunately, Joshua Brandon died before the church was completed, and is buried in the churchyard.

There was a significant metropolitan influence in the building of Christ Church. This may account for the relatively high cost - just over £3,500 - of a small, rural church. The architects had offices in the Strand. The builders - Messrs Burton - were of Lambeth. The stained glass was by Ward and Nixon of Soho. The organ was by Joseph William Walker of Tottenham Court Road. The two church bells were cast at the Whitechapel Foundry.

In 1849 Philip Brannon wrote “Christ Church is a pretty village church, in plain decorated style, wonderfully correct in the revival of Gothic architecture, and is situated in the delightful rural village of Portswood”.

Within a decade enlargement became urgent in order to accommodate the needs of an ever-growing hinterland. In 1851/2 the Southampton architect John Elliott (in partnership with Thomas Mason) provided an extra 303 seats by adding a north aisle. This was out of all proportion to the original building, and had the effect of doubling the nave whilst leaving the small and narrow (16 feet wide) chancel unchanged.

In 1869 the Winchester architect John Colson was contracted to improve the fabric of the church following an anonymous offer of financial aid. Specifically he was to make the roof weather- and air-tight, ventilate the building, mitigate the draught and promote the general convenience of the congregation and ministers. It is a list that questions the quality of the original build. The 1869 improvements were considerable: relaying the tiles on the roof of the nave chancel and north aisle, with an underlay of asphalted felt; lowering the north aisle roof; enlarging the vestry; removing the gallery in the north aisle; lowering and moving the pulpit; moving the prayer desk and organ; fitting a new lectern; installing new gas fittings; and blocking up several small windows. The church was reopened on 28 August 1869. The cost of restoration was £700.

It was not until 1876/8 that a concerted effort was made to address the fundamental organisational problems of the church. The original architect Raphael Brandon was approached by the curate Frederick Wigram in 1876. He refused to move in the matter unless the north aisle was pulled down. (Brandon committed suicide the following year). It took a gifted amateur to come up with the answer. The Reverend Hilton Bothamley, rector of Peper Harow near Godalming in Surrey, was a close friend of Wigram. His solution was to build a chancel and two chancel aisles across the whole width of the existing nave and north aisle. This would throw open the whole church to the chancel, converting the north aisle into the north nave and the existing nave into the south nave, each communicating with the chancel by an arch spanning half the width of the chancel. Bothamley's rough designs were translated into workable plans by John Colson. The work took seven months to complete, the restored church being consecrated on 25 October 1878.

A further extension to the west by John Oldrid Scott and Son was completed in 1915. The church is now Grade II listed.

There are two stained glass windows in the church dedicated to the Reverend Thomas McCalmont and his two sons.

Highfield Church

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Photograph, c.2000

Highfield Church

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A postcard from c.1905

Further reading:

Building of England: Hampshire and the I.O.W., by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd, p571-2. (H/i)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p352. (HS/h)
Highfield: a Village Remembered, By John Edgar Mann, p16-20. (HS/h)
Centenary Brochure. (HS/j)
Highfield Church Southampton 1847-1997, by Elizabeth Reader. (HS/j)
'John Colson: the Southampton works of a Winchester architect, 1850-78', by Richard Preston (Southampton Occasional Papers no. 4)


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