St Augustine's, North Town was built in 1907 to a design by Sir Thomas Jackson RA.
It was erected to meet the spiritual needs of the little hamlet of North Town which was rapidly expanding westwards to ultimately merge itself with Aldershot proper. It replaced a small iron Mission Church located some 200 yards further along North Lane which had been opened in 1880, but was, by the dawn of the 20th Century, quite inadequate.
Lack of funds, however, necessitated certain curtailments to the original design of the new Church primarily the building of the planned Chancel and Vestries [Click here to see the original plans]. These were finally added in 1964, but to an entirely revised design. It is generally agreed that the end result is a happy blend of ancient and modern. St. Augustine's is basically a lofty, dignified structure, full of natural light, while the absence of a traditional Chancel gives it a friendly intimacy much in keeping with modern concepts of Church design and worship.
From the West Door
Visitors will probably approach St. Augustine's via the Church Porch and in through the South Door. Before actually entering, however, it is worth noting a somewhat worn but intriguing notice which hangs under the eaves of the Porch. It reads.
"The Incorporated Church Building Society granted £130 in AD 1907 towards the building of this Church upon condition that all the seats are for the free use of the parishioners according to Law".
This quaint proviso has always been carefully adhered to in St. Augustine's.
Upon entering, it is as well to proceed directly to the West Door in order to obtain the best overall view of the Church Interior. From here the clear lofty lines of this modest building becomes apparent. As Sir Thomas Jackson, the architect himself described it
"For economy and also not without a definite architectural motive, the Nave arcades will be represented by timber posts and bracing and the Nave roof will cover both Nave and Aisles without a break".
The ten timber 'posts' referred to are actually pillars of Oregon Pine – eighteen feet in height, four feet in circumference and set in stone capped brick piers which are themselves three feet high.
Beyond the last of the lofty pillars is the compact modern Sanctuary, built in the 1964 Completion Plan in place of the lengthy Chancel envisaged in the original 1907 design.
Above the Sanctuary is a modern round Stained Glass Window the only stained glass in the Church. It was designed by Margaret Traherne who was responsible for much of the stained glass in Coventry Cathedral. At first glance it appears to be merely a bold but motley collection of vividly coloured pieces of glass in vary shades of red, orange, blue and pale grey. A longer contemplation, however, brings home dramatically the message the artist meant to convey namely the work of the Holy Spirit. The brightest red represents the Holy Spirit in ultimate splendour. The pale grey represents human existence in its most ultimate drabness until illuminated by the Holy Spirit it passes with ever increasing brightness to the resplendent colour of the Holy Spirit itself. The window was dedicated on 1st July 1964 to the Glory of God and in memory of Henry William Broadhurst.
Flanking the West Door are the Organ and the Font. Both 'pre date' the Church by many years. The Organ is a two manual instrument built by Alfred Monk in London about 100 years ago. It was installed in St.Augustine's in 1969. The Font originally stood in our Mother Church of St. Michael's, Aldershot. After World War I it was decided that their War Memorial would take the form of a complete refurbishing of the Baptistry Corner of their Church and their existing Font was donated to St. Augustine's in 1921. It has little artistic merit and even the donors described it as "a poor Victorian specimen with very indifferent carving".
The Oak Font Cover is much more attractive and has an even more eventful and fascinating history.
During the transfer of the Font from St. Michael's it appears to have been 'mislaid'. It was located 25 years later by the Incumbent, Father Roger Francis, in an old lumber store in the grounds of St.Augustine's. It has since been lovingly restored in 1966 to its former beauty as an act of remembrance to Albert Duffy a former parishioner of St. Augustine's
The South Aisle
Behind the Font is the Children's Corner dedicated to the memory of Kate Charles. Kate Charles was the Founder Chairwoman of the Church's Women's Fellowship in 1916. No less than five generations of her family have been linked with St. Augustine's
Moving back towards the South Door one passes the Church Dedication Stone set in the wall above the bookshelves. This stone was originally intended as the Church Foundation Stone anal was to have been laid as such on the 8th May 1907 by H. R. H. Princess Christian, Sister of Edward VIII. Circumstances subsequently precluded this event so the original inscription was erased and a new one carved on the stone giving the date of the Dedication of the Church (November 1st 1907) by the Bishop of Winchester. Few Churches can boast a Dedication Stone with such a chequered history! Underneath it are reputed to have been deposited a copy of the pamphlet on the Church Completion Scheme (as then envisaged) and a written statement regarding the Stone's own strange history.
Moving up the South Aisle and just beyond the South Door one finds the first of the only two Memorial Plaques in the Church. It is characteristic of St. Augustine's that it has always been very reluctant to erect personal memorial plaques as such. It prefers memorials to its past to take a form which beautifies its present and its future. It is fitting, therefore, that both the exceptions to this rule are in memory of two quite exceptional parishioners. This Plaque is in memory of Miss Emma Greenwood. It has a special significance since Emma Greenwood died, as the Plaque indicates, before the Church was actually opened. This unusual chronological sequence is probably due to the fact that her life of Christian work and witness became almost a legend within her lifetime. Her untimely death, while still relatively young, provoked public sorrow well beyond the little hamlet of North Town.
It is at this point as we proceed up the South Aisle - that the Stations of the Cross start to appear. They are unobtrusive in the best St. Augustine's tradition. Nevertheless they merit closer examination since the figuration is much more definitive than one would suppose. They were donated to the Church by the Women's Fellowship in 1957.
On the recess of the third window is a modest but charming Statue of Saint John, presented by the Sunday School in the Forties. It is interesting to note how many of the objects which beautify St. Augustine's have been presented by its Sunday School children over the years. The Altar Party's Cross and the Church's Baptismal Shell are just two examples.
Still moving up the South Aisle just in front of the last timber pillar is the Priest's Stall. It is a handsomely carved piece of Church furnishing, but unhappily little is known of its origins. It is generally considered to be one of several items which beautify the Church which were acquired during the Ministry of Father G. H. Douglas (Priest in Charge 1928 to 1938).
The Thirties were a time of national financial stringency, which therefore precluded any major material improvements to St. Augustine's. However, Father Douglas, with four brothers in the Ministry and many other connections with wealthier Churches, did much to beautify our Church furnishings. It is characteristic that he rarely documented his sources although it is believed that Sherborne Abbey was very generous to St. Augustine's during this period. The expression 'acquired by Father Douglas' will recur again in this booklet and we praise God for it.
Close to the Priest's Stall stands the very beautiful Lectern. It was dedicated in November 1915 to the Memory of Henry Facey and his sister. Henry Facey came from an old North Town family which gave much service to St. Augustine's. Henry himself was one of the Church's Sunday School Teachers and was killed in action at Basra in 1915.
The readers platform of the Lectern is worthy of attention. Closer examination shows that it is not part of the Lectern proper and is, in fact, unusually high. It is generally believed to have been purpose built for Frank Varney senior. Frank Varney was a Licensed Lay Reader for over 50 years and was arguably St. Augustine's most venerable layman. He was, however, a very short man and, even with this elevated platform, only the top of his head was visible when he read the Lesson, Sunday after Sunday, for half a century. It is a happy thought that St. Augustine's has never changed this quaint historic fitting.
On this last pillar, behind the Priest's Stall, hangs the Banner of St. Augustine. It is the surviving banner of the three that graced St. Augustine's in the Thirties. It was retrieved and lovingly restored during the Seventies.
On the sill of the South East window is a beautifully carved Statue of Saint Augustine, presented to the Church in 1965 by Father A. R. T. Rose to mark the 10th Anniversary of his Priesting.
Sanctuary and Nave
We have now reached the most recently constructed part of the Church the Sanctuary. This was built, together with the Vestries and Sacristy, which are located behind it, under the Church Completion Scheme of 1964 and dedicated by Bishop B. M. Dale on July 1st of that year. The Completion Scheme necessitated the removal of the improvised Lady Chapel of the Thirties in order to provide access to the new Vestries. Initially the Scheme had envisaged its replacement by a purpose built Lady Chapel in this North East Corner. Not for the first time in St. Augustine's history, however, escalating costs necessitated curtailment and so St. Augustine's still awaits its Lady Chapel.
Nevertheless the Blessed Sacrament continues to be reserved, as the white Sanctuary Lamp indicates, in a curtained Aumbry set in the wall to the left of the High Altar. The Sanctuary Lamp itself is dedicated to the memory of Mary York 1951.
The six brass candlesticks on the Altar are of particular interest since they are not a matching set! Two of them have slightly different rims. The other four were added during the Thirties by Father Douglas. The design difference was small, the financial economy of four additions rather than six replacements was obvious!
Today St. Augustine's is proud of its unmatched candlesticks and would vigorously resist any change. They seem to symbolise its continual efforts towards improvement in the face of financial stringency. They are as quaint as the improvised Lectern Platform and, like the Foundation Stone that had to become a Dedication Stone, are a perpetual reminder that we must make the most of what God has given us.
Before moving across the Church to the South Aisle, it is as well to glance at the Main Aisle. Its original cold and noisy white paving stones are now concealed by a soft blue/grey carpet donated by the 'Friends of St. Augustine’s' in 1964. It adds much to the warmth and quiet of the building.
The chairs in the Nave are of particular interest. The original chairs had a form of rush seating and in the early Fifties were found to be deteriorating and required urgent replacement. This was done on a typical St. Augustine's 'self help' basis. Chairs in their cheapest and most rudimentary form were purchased, then stained and polished by a team of volunteers from the congregation. To further defray expense, people were invited to 'buy a chair for St. Augustine's' and thus commemorate their departed loved ones. Appropriate small white metal plaques were accordingly affixed on each chair thus purchased. Some forty persons responded.
In front of the foremost row of chairs and serving as a kneeling rail to them is the original Altar Rail of St. Augustine's. It became redundant, as such, under the 1964 Completion Scheme but still serves a useful purpose. Little is ever wasted in St. Augustine's.
The North Aisle
As one moves to the North Aisle one passes a small piece of rock set into the wall. It is a relic of the somewhat more famous St. Augustine's at Canterbury and was presented to us in 1961 as a gesture of fellowship to mark our Completion Project.
On the East Wall of the Recess of the North Aisle hangs a striking Crucifix some five feet tall. This is another Father Douglas 'acquisition' and is sometimes referred to with reverent humour as the 'Wandering Cavalry'. During the Thirties it stood in the North East Corner of the Church. During the late Forties it was suspended from the roof beams to form a 'Rood' surmounting the Sanctuary. In the Sixties it found its present. and perhaps its final, resting place.
It was in this corner of the Church that the small curtained Lady Chapel was lovingly improvised in the Thirties when the Blessed Sacrament was first reserved in St. Augustine's. The improvised Lady Chapel once contained a beautiful carved oak Altar. It had originally been the High Altar of St. Alban's - a small sister Church in the West End of Aldershot. When this Church closed in the 1930s Father Douglas 'acquired' this Altar to enhance his beloved Lady Chapel. Subsequently the modern Church of the Ascension was built in the West End in 1945. So, quite rightly, this lovely Altar was returned, to be used in the new Church. It can be seen there today beautifying the Church of the Ascension and reminding us that the 'acquiring' zeal of Father Douglas has helped to preserve historic continuity.
Moving down the North Aisle the next object of interest is the Parish Book of Remembrance (in memory of Mary and Harry Hughes). It is contained in an inset oak and glass case and flanked by two brass candlesticks presented in memory of Cecil Thomas.
Opposite the Book of Remembrance is the Readers Stall. This is yet another gift from the Sunday School. The oak chair was presented in 1914 and the following year they gave its companion oak kneeling desk.
"For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven "
The Pulpit is yet another Father Douglas 'acquisition' and (almost inevitably) its precise origins are unknown.
The next object of interest in the North Aisle is the Shrine of the Madonna. The figure of Our Lady is in striking contrast to the Statue of St. Augustine. It presents her realistically in the strong, beautiful simplicity of a peasant girl of her time. Our Madonna, together with the attendant candlesticks, is dedicated to the memory of Claire Christie, Founder Chairwoman of the 'Friends of St. Augustine's’.
Just beyond the Madonna is the Parish War Memorial of 1914-18. There are fifty eight names inscribed upon it. This figure should be measured against the fact that there were less than one thousand families in the hamlet of North Town in 1914. The recurrence of the same family name on no less than six occasions is another poignant statistic. It demonstrates how much the hamlet of North Town felt itself to be a separate community, that when funds were being raised for the Memorial, the people expressly forbade that any should be elicited from outside the hamlet. With fierce local pride they even politely refused monies that were so offered.
North Town was North Town. It had made it’s own personal sacrifice and would make it’s own personal remembrance.