St George's Church - Portland
St George's Church - Portland - late on a winter's afternoon, as the sun sets !
The Chancel of St. George's, the Parish Church of the Island - contains a tablet recording that " This church was founded in the year of our Lord 1754 and consecrated 1766, at the expense of the inhabitants.
BENEFACTORS: His late Majesty King George the Second, £500; George Pitt and Humphrey Sturt, Esquires, Knights of the Shire, £40 and to a Charity School, £30; John and Richard Tucker, Esquires, £100"
The consecration ceremony was performed on July 29th 1766 by the Right Rev Dr Newton, Bishop Bristol. In the parish accounts for 1766 there is the following item: " Paid to the people for assisting and carrying the Bishop over the passage as by his desire, 5s." It would appear that the Bishop was carried across the Ferry on the shoulders of stalwart Portlanders.
The erection of St. George's was rendered necessary by the ruinous condition of the old parish church of Andrews situate on the east side of the Island near Pennsylvania Castle and Bow and Arrow Castle. At a vestry held August 30th, 1753, trustees were appointed on behalf of the inhabitants to examine estimates plans, and designs of Mr Thomas architect of Portland either for repairing the old parish church or building a new one. On November 2nd 1753, the trustees decided that, St. Andrew's roof and walls were all in so ruinous a condition that it would be advisable to build a new and larger church in a more convenient locality. Accordingly the trustees approved and signed Mr Gilbert's plan of "an extensive and well defined church," to seat at least 600 and to be erected at Reforne. Pending the erection of the building they arranged for a "commodious tabernacle in or near the dwelling of the late Mr Cooper at Wakem [Wakeham]. "The trustees stipulated with Mr Gilbert that the new church and fitting up the "Tabernacle" with the exception of "ceiling the roof and carriage of material" should cost £2,100, allowing the architect liberty to take down at his own charge and to employ parts of the old church, except the seats. The trustees were Edward Pearce, Copas Attwool, Thos. Gilbert (architect), John Tucker, Richard Tucker, and John Cooth (rector.)
On November 8th, 1753, the inhabitants in vestry approved of the grant scheme and the first was £250 out of the parish stock of tonnage. A petition was also prepared "humbly beseeching, his Majesty King George for his bounty towards finishing this work". (George II., contributed £500.) In 1756, 29 George II, an Act of Parliament was obtained for completing the new church and laying out and enclosing a burial ground. On June 26th, 1758 a majority of the vestry appointed four assessors and collectors of the "rates for building of the new church this year ensuing." Services were transferred from the old St. Andrew's Church to the "tabernacle" in 1756 and continued there for 10 years. Curious enough the communion table was not kept at the "Tabernacle," but carted from and to the church as required. The last record, of burials in St. Andrew's Church are:
1732 the mother of Edward Pearce:
1747 Katrine Pearce ; and
1752 Shadrach Stone.
St. George's Church was finished in 1764 and consecrated on July 29th, 1766.
In 1772 the vestry was called to consider the state of the churchyard - "Unwholesome and wet, the graves . . . at several times have been one half full, and at other times almost full of water, not only that but very annoyance and smells from the same to the inhabitants and other offences therefrom. The vestry agreed "to dig or cause to be digged or made a ditch round the churchyard of sufficient width and depth in order to take off or convey such waters from the said churchyard." Every inhabitant and boy able to labour was required to "work and perform this work" or in the alternative to hire another man to do his day's labour and pay 2s 6d per day for his not coming to work.
Mr Thomas Gilbert the architect and builder of St. George's died in 1776. Mr Robert Pearce in his interesting book of local history says that "large sums of money were spent upon the church after its consecration and in the year 1798 the roof was taken down." As security for the large expenditure on the roof of the church, the tonnage money due from the Stewards on stone taken by them from the common lands, was allowed to remain unpaid from 1792 to 1798. A sum of £464 the accumulated tonnage money was accounted for to the churchwardens. Mr Gabriel Tucker Steward, the governor of the Island and a trustee of the grant money also obtained a further donation of £200 from King George III towards the church expenses. The Act 29, George II (1756) stated that 36 trustees were chosen to pull down the old church and make use of or sell the materials to build a new one. The cemetery was to be on a waste ground called Wide Street and at the west end of Reforne, near the centre of the Island, to contain from east to west not more than 152 feet and from North to South not more than 300 feet. The Act also assigned the duties of tonnage on stone and rubble for a term not exceeding 31 years from June 24th 1736; and the money arising from the sale of seats to secure the repayment of moneys not exceeding £2,000 and interest not exceeding £4 per cent. Not more than £4,000 was to be raised by this Act. In 1759 a collection was made in the county for carrying on and completing the work but it produced little result.
St George's is in the form of a cross with a tower at the west end. There are galleries across the transepts and west end of the nave.
There are mural tablets in the church to the memory of Baron Nolcken, who died at Ivy Cottage in the grounds of Pennsylvania Castle, June 12th, 1831 ; to the Rev. J. Manning (rector), 1836 ; the wife of the Rev. David Hogarth (rector), 1841 ; John Penn, grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania and Governor of the Island, 1834; Thomas Gilbert, architect and master builder of the church, 1776; and the Rev. David Addison (rector), 1811.*
Rectors of St Andrews and St George's:-
1754. S. George's Parish Church was begun in this year.*
1756. Services transferred from the old S. Andrew's Church to the " Tabernacle" for ten years. An Act of Parliament was obtained for completing the new church of S. George and enclosing a burial ground.*
1764. The new church of S. George was completed. *
1766 (July 29th). S. George's Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Bristol. King George II gave £500 to the Church. The register at S. George's Church dates from this year.*
1772. The Vestry called on every male inhabitant, able-bodied, to labour at digging a ditch to drain the churchyard at S. George's.*
1776. Thomas Gilbert, architect of S. George's church, died in this year.*
1837. The Rev Harrington (Rector of S. George's) established the first Church Sunday School.*
And catches a grave marker in silhouette, demonstrating the art of the Portland mason most beautifully.
Whilst the sun shines on the south side the north side of the church subsides into shadow.
1824. In St. George's Churchyard :-"Sacred to the memory of William Hansford, aged 64 years, who was killed on the 23rd Nov. 1824, by the sea overflowing the village of Chissel. His leg was broken in attempting to make his escape. Afterwards the house fell on him." *
1840. St. George's churchyard enlarged *
1878. A handsome stained window was put in St. George's Church by Mr Richard Lano as a thank offering *
The yearly value of St. George's Rectory with house is £345. *
1902. Rev. F. D. Bullock appointed curate of S. George's. *
1904. The Navvy Mission Hall (built by Messrs Hill & Co., in 1899) was sold to St. George's Church for a Parish Room. *
* Portland Year Book for 1905
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© Paul Benyon