Development of the church in Aldershot

"Development" is probably the wrong word to use about the Church in Aldershot just as it would be the wrong word to use about the town itself!

Aldershot did not develop it exploded! For 800 years it was an obscure little village that grew very slowly. In 1856 came the establishment of Aldershot Camp and with it a civilian "population explosion" which is probably unique in English history.

It is against these rather unique historic circumstances we must view the dramatic development of the Church in Aldershot over the past 100 years. To this end Mr. Moles has been kind enough to draw a chart published opposite which will assist readers to follow the narrative.

It all starts with our mother church of St. Michael’s almost 900 years ago. In those days it consisted of merely that part which is now the South Aisle. Around 1300AD a sanctuary was added this is now St. Michael’s very beautiful Lady Chapel. The existing bell tower dates from the 16th Century although there is evidence that St. Michael’s had a tower long before, upon the foundation of which, the present one was built. The present bell tower also had an attractive external clock which still keeps very good time. The works of this clock are dated 1799!

The present nave, chancel and north aisle were added in 1912 to a design by the same architect of St. Augstine’s Sir Robert Jackson R, A. It is a great tribute to his work that these comparatively modern additions blend so neatly with St. Michael’s ancient architecture.

Space precludes writing in detail of St. Michael’s fascinating and beautiful interior or even of its equally fascinating churchyard which contains many graves bricked solid with red house bricks to combat the "body snatchers" threat of the last century! It also contains a beautiful legendary yew tree and, tucked away obscurely on the North side are the graves of four soldiers who died in Aldershot Camp, before the Military Cemetery was enclosed in 1856.

Suffice to say we can be justly proud of our mother church and it is well worth visiting.

The coming of the Military Camp in 1856 and the subsequent population explosion produced especial problems for the Church. Normally town growth is around the original village and its church. In Aldershot it was not so. The expansion grew around the edge of the Military Camp (the area which you and I know as High Street and Victoria Road.) This new populous area was further divided from the parish church by the building of the railway line to Aldershot in 1871. Whatever its advantage it created a very real physical division between the Church and the new community.

This new community needed a new church: Thus the church we now know as Holy Trinity was conceived. It is interesting to note that the first site planned for the new church was at the top of Victoria Road where the Methodist Church now stands. Had this happened it would probably have been unnecessary to have built St. Alban’s (1887) and St. Aiden’s (1901) for the West End.

In the event however Holy Trinity was finally built in 1878 in the lower part of Victoria Road, and became a separate Parish.

Meanwhile the little hamlet of North Town started to evolve at the other end of the Town. Here there were few geographical difficulties the high hill divided it clearly from the rest of Aldershot and thus made it a well knit if poor community. So it was to progress from its tiny iron Mission Church of 1880 to its fine brick built church of St. Augustine’s in 1907 and to attain Parochial Status in 1958.
If geography and urban development helped North Town it tended to hamper the West End. Two separate areas developed, one around Church Lane East and the other around the edge of the Camp and Alexandra Road. Between them there was still arable land.
Thus there were two communities which in turn created two small Mission Churches St. Alban’s from Holy Trinity Parish in1887 and St. Aiden’s from St. Michael’s in 1901.
It was typically "untidy" Anglican arrangement but those of us who remember them remember two vigorous, if different, Christian communities who were both full of Christian drive and Christian love. Perhaps that is why so many of us view with suspicion those Christian bureaucrats who would merge us all into a faceless, passionless, sameness.

By the 1930s however the West End had gown into one urban area and thus it was possible to create one church. Unhappily the War delayed this project but in 1945 the lovely Church of the Ascension was dedicated. Let us praise the Lord!!

This then, inadequately but accurately is the story of the Church in Aldershot. It is a story of 100 years of great endeavour, high ideals some bad planning and perhaps a little spiritual self interest.

Let us pray that God will Guide us in the next hundred years towards the former motivations.