The Foundation Stone was laid 28th September 1841 and a corner stone states that it was laid by Mrs Tregonwell. It was obviously prepared in advance as the good lady was unable to attend due to unfavourable weather. It was laid in her place by the Rev. Hugh Wyndham who officiated at the service though the dedication was made by Rev. W. F. Burrows Vicar of Christchurch. The cost of the building was borne by Sir George Tapps- Gervis from the designs of a Poole architect J. Tulloch. Sir George had hoped that it would be ready for dedication by May 1842 but that was nor to be. Unfortunately he died in August of that year age 47. It held 270 though some sources quote 250 and was consecrated on the August 1845 by Bishop Sumner of Winchester who held this post for a record number of years: 1827 to 1869. A description of it at the time reads “a small, neat structure consisting of a nave and chancel free of any superfluous ornament.” The only remnant of this building is the clock which is now in the present church. The first incumbent was the Rev. Alexander Morden Bennett whose name will appear several times in this story of development. He was educated at Oxford University where he would have had contact with two famous theologians of the time, Pusey and Keble. Before coming to Bournemouth he was Assistant Priest at Portman Chapel, Baker Street, which was closely connected to the Oxford Movement. This Movement endeavoured to align the Church of England to aspects of Roman Catholicism.

 It was he who in 1850 decided that a more worthy structure was needed. In 1851 a   south aisle and vestry was added with Lady Gervis laying its foundation stone. This addition was designed by Edmund Pearce of Canford. The Rev. Bennett was advised to seek advice from an architect who had already made a name for himself elsewhere, one George Street (1824- 1881) and it was through him that a virtual reconstruction of the church was undertaken. He did however retain the recent south aisle. A north aisle was begun to his designs in 1855   A clerestory was added in 1859 together with the south porch. When the clerestory was completed the roof of the original church was removed meaning that most of the original nave was new. On Christmas Day 1859 Dr. Walter Kerr Hamilton, Bishop of Salisbury reopened the enlarged church. The church was further enlarged by erection of a chancel with aisle and transepts. This new portion together with an extra portion of churchyard was consecrated on the 20th December 1864 but this time by the Bishop of Winchester. Lady Gervis laid another foundation stone on the 17th April 1869 this time for the tower which was completed in 1874. This did not include a spire. A peal of eight bells was given by the people of Bournemouth in 1871 being rung for the first time on Ascension Day of that year. An organ costing £700 was used on St Lukes Day in December 1874. There were further alterations in 1879 which included the addition of the spire. The church could by then hold 1250 people Rev. Bennett spoke at the Thanksgiving service on the 18th December 1879 but died a month later. At least he had the satisfaction of seeing the completed building. Being the Town church St Peter’s has inevitably attracted some famous people of their time. One chapel within it is the Keble Chapel. In his day Keble was a well known personality of the Church of England and came to Bournemouth due to his wife’s ill health. During the time they were living here   for the winter of 1865/6 they resided at a house called “Brookside” in Exeter Lane near the pier. He was vicar of Hursley  at the time .He attended St Peter’s every day. Strangely he died before his wife on Maundy Thursday the 29th March 1866. His wife lasted but six weeks later. A stained glass window to him was added in 1867 but it was not until 1906 that the chapel was named after him.

 One of this country’s prime ministers also has association with the church namely William Gladstone. He was in the later stages of his life when he arrived in Bournemouth in February 1897. It is said that a month later he made his last public speech at the Central station with the words “ God bless you all, and this place, and the land you love.”He took his last communion in St Peter’s on the 3rd. March 1898.

Simon Jenkin’s book “England’s Thousand Best Churches” is a truly magnificent and readable account of some of this country’s immense architectural wealth. Bournemouth has two entries, one of which is St. Peter’s. He describes the church’s glory as lying in the chancel and south transept and the church as a whole as one of the richest Gothic Revival interiors in England. He rates each church by stars (1-5) and this one gets four.”Every pier, rib and vault seems to drip with stiff-leaf and angels in stone, alabaster and marble. No inch is devoid of colour. The choir stalls erupt in a profusion of foliage.”

There is a story about the four statues at the base of the spire which depict St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St. Gregory. They came from Bristol Cathedral. They were put there without the permission of the then Dean who was away. When he returned he ordered that they be immediately removed as he would not allow any saint not mentioned in the New Testament to be part of “his” cathedral. They came into possession of the Rev. Bennett who used them in “his” church. How exactly they came into his keeping appears not to be recorded.

The churchyard contains the remains of several persons of note such as Mary Shelley mother of Sir Percy Florence Shelley who made Boscombe Manor his home. This Sir Percy was the son of Percy Bysshe who was drowned in Italy in July 1822. Their family home was in Sussex but it was said this was not to her liking. Again the reputation of the Town for its healthy atmosphere drew Sir Percy   here and whilst he bought the estate in Boscombe in 1849 his mother never moved here dying at her London residence 1st February 1851. However her body was brought here and her tomb is perhaps one of the most striking in the churchyard. Her parent’s remains are also within the tomb as is the heart of her husband. It is not surprising that the Rev.Bennett should also lie here or Lewis Tregonwell. He died 26th January 1832 age 73  and was buried in Winterbourne Anderson. However Mrs Tregonwell had them removed and reinterred in St.Peter’s churchyard 26th February 1846 together with the remains of Grosvenor Portman Tregonwell, their son who died 10 weeks old in June 1807. Henrietta (sometimes referred to as Harriet) Tregonwell died only two months later on 15th April and her body was buried with her husband’s and son. Musical names are well represented; Sir Dan Godfrey, who founded the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra (later the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) together with Constantin Silvestri one of the BSOs eminent conductors. Isabella Parry, the mother of Sir Hubert Parry who composed “Jerusalem” is also buried here. In November 2007 an information board was placed in the churchyard showing a map of where to find these various graves.

There is one aspect of influence of the early churches in general which would in itself be worthy of further study and that relates to the provision of education. Many of the early buildings made provision for a school room even if it was in some cases relating to Sunday instruction only. Morden Bennett had the drive to provide full time facilities. Although when he came to Bournemouth the population were only about 600, he nevertheless wanted to ensure young people had access to instruction. Raising funds was the first step and he soon found a parishioner who would help him by providing sketches of local views and selling them donating the proceeds to his school fund. Land was acquired from the Gervis estate near the church and by 21st February 1849 it was possible to lay the Foundation Stone. Lady Louisa Ponsonby was honoured to do this, she being the wife of the vicar of Canford Magna. The school lasted for 86 years being closed in 1936. By then the buildings needed much work to modernise them, and education was being provided by the state. Morden Bennett’s enthusiasm had undoubtedly been of huge benefit to hundreds of young people. As we shall see, he did not rest on his laurels and immediately set about repeating the exercise elsewhere.

When St Peter’s was built a parish area was allocated to it. Church Law in this respect appears to be somewhat complicated but this was referred to at the time as an Assignment of District, the Order coming into force on the 11th November 1845 and was officially called the “Particular District of St. Peter.” It was allocated an area which extended from the sea west of Alum Chine, along the County Boundary to near the junction of Eldon and Boundary Roads, continuing thence to Wimborne Road near Jamieson Road. It then continued southwards for a short distance along Wimborne Road and then south westwards to Charminster Road near Five Ways. The   boundary continued following an imaginary straight line in a south-easterly direction to Queen’s Park South Drive near Soberton Road and from there to a junction of Holdenhurst and Ashley Roads. The District then included land east of Ashley Road bounded on the north by Holdenhurst Road and on the east by Kings Park then following Ashley, Christchurch and Sea Roads down to the sea at Boscombe Pier.

One aspect of church life that has disappeared (thankfully) is the allocation of and payment for, church pews. This practice was the subject of an Act of Parliament in xxxx.  The following shows the problems that the system presented. The payment for the use of pews was part of the remuneration of the parish priest. When this church was enlarged, it fell to the duty of the churchwardens to allocate the pews to individuals who were prepared to pay. In 1864 the churchwardens (one of whom was Edmund Christy who will be mentioned in connection with St. Clements) decided that nobody should be allowed to rent more pews than they could occupy, and that no seats could be reserved after a service had started. Priority would be given to this living in the parish District and seats were not to be allocated to houses but to specified individuals. Pews would contain a notice which said

Strangers are requested not to take possession of any seat such as are offered to them by Churchwardens.

The tariff in 1864 was very descriptive; benches and pews in the south transept and south chancel were 25/- (£1.25) per seat per year or £6 per bench of 5 persons. This price also applied to 17 rows of benches on each side of the nave together with chairs parallel with them in both north and south aisles. But there was discrimination too! Four rows of benches in the nave and south aisle with chairs parallel to them were to be let to trades people only at 35/- (£1.75) per annum for 5 sittings. The 300 free seats were “for the use of the poor” and were the benches in the north aisle and transept and at the west end of the church where the seats were divided between the sexes: men on the south and ladies on the north!  In his excellent book “Bournemouth St. Peter’s” Ian McQueen gives more information on this practice in this church.

In Webb’s book of 1910 he lists 9 priests being attached to this church but this does include priests in charge at St. Swithuns and St. Ambrose

The dedication of the church to St. Peter begs the question as to what process is undertaken before the name is given. St. Peter was the leader of the Apostles and was originally named Simon. It was Christ, to whom he was introduced by his brother Andrew, who renamed him Peter, actually Cephas, which means rock. In view of his prominence, perhaps it was felt a suitable name for the first church of the Town.


It is easy to assume that the Church of England had the Town all to themselves in the early days, but it would seem that although the population was only around 500 or so, there were a number who followed other lines of doctrine. In the early days services for this denomination were held in a house occupied by a Mr Hardiman in Poole Hill and later in a house occupied by a Mr Little;  this was in 1848. The next year a small church was erected in Orchard Street. At  this time there were 24 members. In 1854 land was given by a Church of England follower, George Durrant, who hailed from Norfolk. The foundation stone of this church near the Town Hall was laid on the 4th July of that year, the architect being a Mr Creeke. There then followed a delay of 5 years due to legal dispute so it was not until March 1859 that the building was ready for use. During this period, services were held in the Belle Vue Assembly Rooms. These were associated with the Belle Vue Hotel which stood near today’s Pavilion. Then in 1888 designs for a yet larger building were prepared by Messrs. Lawson and Donkin. It is that splendid building that we see today. It was opened on the 24th November 1891. The total cost was £14,000 and has a  capacity of 1200. A number of respected preaches have served the church. Between 1898 and 1937 the Rev. J.D. Jones was the incumbent; service indeed.It is recorded that by 1900 the membership had increased to 1000. In 1972 the Congregationalists and Presbyterians merged nationally to form the United Reformed Church movement. In January 2005, St Andrews URC across the other side of the Square merged with this church to become the Richmond Hill St. Andrew URC on this site.

Before leaving this church, it is of interest to return to George Durrant. In the early days of Bournemouth, it was he who bought what became Branksome Estate. From what I can discover he did not in fact spend much time here but nevertheless was very generous to the Town. He was born in 1797 and died at his home in Surrey Street Norwich in 1882.According to an obituary printed in the Bournemouth Visitors Directory (Bournemouth’s first newspaper) of 25th November 1882 he was to be buried at Brunstead. This it transpires, was Brunstead Hall the village of that name being very close to Stalham. Around the time of his birth a William Durrant was Lord of the Manor there. Surrey Street in Norwich is very much home to the Norwich Union Insurance offices and I find that a George Durrant is listed as a director of the Life Assurance Society in the 1850s. We shall see another member of his family later. He was not only generous to churches here for he also gave money to Brunstead church. He also donated land on which the National Sanatorium was built in Bourne Valley Road and also land for the Upper Garden.