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History of the Annunciation Church


The church stands on the corner of Richmond Wood Road and Charminster Road. It is aligned along the traditional east-west axis.

Immediately to the north, but detached from the church is a large presbytery built in 1954, and beyond that is a parish hall built perhaps in the 1940's.

The following is a short description of the church by English Heritage, dated February 1995.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation was built 1905/6 by Giles Gilbert Scott, with G.F.Bodley as joint architect owing to Scott's inexperience, as a church of modest size for the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits). The crossing and sanctuary are well lit from a crossing tower which is novel in section, with circulation normally associated with an ambulatory, here raised to an upper level.

The crossing tower, incorporating a high sanctuary roof, terminates in a double bellcote over the chancel arch, and it is said the bells were never hung. Side aisles consist only of walkways through internal buttresses and the resulting clerestory is unlit.

The construction is loadbearing brick with limestone dressings throughout, notably with minimal projections at openings and parapets typical of modernist economic detailing. Roofs are behind parapets, probably originally covered in lead but now copper for the mostpart, with exposed timber trusses, purlins and boarded ceilings, all recently repainted.

The church was enlarged to medium size by a one-bay extension to the west, with gallery, south porch and western baptistry, all in matching work in 1959. An enlarged sacristy and Lady Chapel were added in an extension to the north, about the same time.

Various publications in the keeping of the Royal Institute of British Architects describe the design of the Annunciation Church as being 'of extraordinary vigour and originality'. A thin NE campanile, never built, is mentioned as being shown in an early perspective. The following description is included:

Many ideas in this design reappear as themes much later in Scott's church designs. A short, low nave with narrow passage aisles gives way to a taller central space - both tower and transcepts together - lit from the west above the nave roof as well as the sides - and beyond that is a narrower sanctuary of the same height, lit from windows high up. The dramatic lighting and space of choir and sanctuary are, therefore, achieved by the methods used much later elsewhere.

Above the tower is a 'cyclopean bellcote'. The bell ringer stands in a little gallery inside the tower on the west - a nice conceit, accessible only across the nave roof. The designs for the fittings are also remarkable, in the rather Germanic Gothic style;... a hanging rood, curved sanctuary steps and a reredos with a tall dorsal above on the blank east wall.

The church is of red brick with stone dressings, plastered internally, except for the stone piers, with coloured decoration, originally stencilled on the roofs. It has since been sensitively extended one bay to the west in 1965. The reredos was not executed, but a drawing of it is preserved at the church.

In his 'Buildings of England' - 'Hampshire and Isle of Wight' volume, Nikolaus Pevsner describes the church thus:

Brick, remarkably blocky. The wholly original central effect is the central tower, not really a tower, but a part of the building raised high up like the stage-house of a theatre. Very tall windows and a Cyclopean bellcote.

The short chancel is lower, but only by a little, whereas the nave and aisles are kept demonstratively low. The aisles are no more than narrow arched passages through the internal buttresses. In the chancel high up on the north and south are two-bay arcades to a gallery or passage. In the west wall of the tower is a small corbelled-out balcony towards the inside. The nave roof is the least satisfactory feature.

The church is currently Listed as Grade II*. The original listing in 1976 as a simple Grade II described the building as above, but with further references concerning the use of thin bricks arranged in five courses of stretchers and two of headers; - a triforium gallery with an elegantly moulded pair of arches (without capitals) on each side, and a decorative wrought iron balcony connecting them above the altar; - above the triforium a clerestory of three tiny flat-topped windows on each side; - bands of pink stone around each of the piers; - a sanctuary floor of slate-grey (or blue-grey) and white stone bands radiating out from the tabernacle and continuing into the stone altar rails.

The poet, John Betjeman also gives a brief but favourable mention of the Annunciation Church

The site was donated by a Miss Ellis, and the building was a gift from Mrs Lionel Coxon as a memorial to her father, General Augustus Meyrick, (note the small brass or copper memorial plate in the church, surmounted by the initials AMDG, (Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam - to the greater glory of God) being the motto of the Society of Jesus, - the Jesuits, who had pastoral responsibility for the church from 1906 till 1958.

However, most of Giles Gilbert Scott's correspondence, concerning interior decorations and fittings at least, seems to have been conducted with a Miss Knox of Wayside, (now thought to be No.21), Richmond Park Avenue, a relation of the well-known Monsignor Ronald Knox.

The church sadly does not retain the architect's plans or drawings, although these are believed to be preserved in the archives of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in Portman Square, London.

However, the church still possesses Scott's painting, signed and framed, of his original plan for an elaborate reredos behind the high altar, depicting the Trinity, the 12 apostles and 6 scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The church also has a number of Scott's letters concerning the furnishings and other internal matters. They clearly indicate his meticulousness in ensuring that every internal detail reflected his original concept and design; even the tabernacle curtains were stitched by his mother!

The letters cover many other subjects such as the statues and pictures, the Stations of the Cross (the Scott-approved originals are no longer in the church), the moving of the heating grille in the floor, suggestions on how to make the west end warmer and the sacristy cooler, provision of altar rails and gates, and the design (costing 1-11s-6d) of an oak credence table and sanctuary seat (manufactured by Bennet Furnishing Co of Old Kent Road, London for 8-17s-0d in all), which can still be seen in the church, though not now used for their original purpose.

A couple of his more interesting letters - one written in 1960 by Miss Winefride Hornbuckle concerning a 'painting or triptych' of, - she claims,- Mary Magdalene. This could possibly be the triptych of Madonna and Child now hanging near the confessionals in the Lady Chapel and which is referred to in the letter from Judge Tucker in 1995.

Alternatively, it could be the large (43ins by 53ins) Victorian (?) and rather grim painting recently discovered in a damaged state in the presbytery loft, depicting Jesus appearing to confer either physical or spiritual healing on a figure (either male or female, and possibly Mary Magdalene) surrounded by his apostles looking benevolent, and a group of others looking anything but benevolent!

It is curious that none of the 'official' descriptions mentions the small room situated above the sacristy and below the triforium, or gallery, above. This served as living accommodation for the priest until the presbytery was built in 1954.

The room has no window, as this was blocked up when the Lady Chapel's flat roof was replaced by a pitched roof in 1984. Access is by means of a ladder from a trap-door in the floor of the NE triforium. At the other end of the room, a much smaller trap door in the floor of the room gives access to the sacristy by means of a rope ladder.

When using this room, the priest's cooking and washing facilities would have been across the wrought-iron bridge over the sanctuary, and down to the ground level area where a sink and other facilities were available. This area is now used as a flower room and 'working' sacristy.

On the blank east wall, above the tabernacle and below the wrought-iron bridge, hangs a fine painting of the Annunciation (Mary receiving the message from the Archangel Gabriel), reputed to be a copy, - possibly contemporary,- of an original by Guido Reni, which is an integral part of the Pope's Quirinale Palace in Rome.

The picture, in canvas and exactly as the Bournemouth copy (though possibly a little larger), is behind the altar in the Annunciation Chapel, accessed from the Hall of Mirrors (Ballroom), by the sliding aside of two huge gilt mirrors. It is considered to be the masterpiece of Reni's Roman period of 1607ff.

The other walls of the chapel are covered with murals depicting scenes from the life of Our Lady, the most famous being that of the Madonna sewing. Another (oval-shaped) copy can be seen in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome.

This church also contains Reni's other masterpiece, the Crucifixion. The Bournemouth copy may have been by Reni himself, or one of his school. It has recently been cleaned at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Above the painting, along the skirting of the iron bridge are the words spoken by Gabriel to Mary: 'Ave, Maria, gratia plena dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus.' (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.).

The consequence of Mary's acceptance of God's will is inscribed on the front of the marble altar: 'Et Verbum Caro Factum Est ...Et Habitavit In Nobis' (The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us). Also on the front of the altar, in the centre, is a crucifix in slight relief

There was a strong choir from the Church of the Sacred Heart, which rendered the music throughout, the Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei being sung from the Mass of St. John the Baptist, and the Gloria and other portions from other compositions.

The Rev. Father Bernard Vaughan, S.J., preached the sermon, his discourse being based on the 38th verse of the 26th chapter of St. Matthew, "Then saith He unto them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.

Tarry ye here and watch with me.'" Father Vaughan, in the course of a long eloquent, and impassioned sermon, drew a graphic word picture of Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, of His trials, and of His mastery. He touched briefly on the subject of the higher criticism, and beseeched his hearers to hold fast to the Catholic faith, which meant salvation.

All the doubts respecting Christ's Divinity and other matters connected with faith which were just now engaging the attention of the public could not alter the fact that they would all of them have to stand before the Great Judge, who would not question whether they were this or that in their doctrines, but who would judge them as to their conduct and their opportunities.

Let them follow the lessons taught by Jesus,, who had drained the chalice of sorrow and suffering, and who had struggled, fought, and conquered. Let them, through stress and a storm, struggle in the direction of securing a knowledge of God's truths.

Let them remember that the poor were God's aristocracy, and take lessons from the fact.

Let them be gentle and kind in their treatment of all by whom they were surrounded, and let each remember that he must be a child before he could enter the Kingdom of Heaven. All, whether Pope or bishop, or priest or layman, must be a child before he could enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

He concluded with a powerful exhortation to hold fast to the truths of the Catholic religion, and to seek the Lord Jesus Christ in all their trials, their troubles, and their difficulties.

The Annunciation became a parish in its own right in 1955, and for the next three years the Jesuits continued to serve it.

The Jesuit priests concerned were:

(Parish Priests) Fathers George Turner, John Rimmer, and (assistant priests) Fathers Richard Wiber, Bernard Whiteside, Bernard Hall, Niall Corbett, Bernard Enright.

In 1958 the parish was transferred to the care of the diocesan clergy and the parish priests have been:

Fathers John Moore (1958-63), William Dunphy (1963-90), Michael Feben (1990-94), Anthony Pennicott (1994-2004), Marcus Brisley (2004-).

The main assistant priests have been:

Fathers Thomas Grundy (1958-63), Terence Green (1958-66), Philip Quinn (1966-69), Patrick O'Reilly (1969-71), Michael Feben (1969-90), Brian Rutledge (1971-75), Michael Peters (1976-77),
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