Splendid church for squalid area

The junction of Southwick Hill Road and London Road, Cosham, with a tram passing over the  bridge. Not a traffic light to be seen. Picture: GA Tucker

NOSTALGIA: Cyclist v tram in 1930s Portsmouth hill climb

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On this day in 1894 the foundation stone of St Agatha’s Church in Conway Street, Portsmouth, was laid.

Father Robert Radclyffe Dolling arrived in the town in 1885 and became one of the most famous priests in the Victorian era.

The area had one pub for every 155 inhabitants, 19 slaughter houses and numerous brothels.

Dolling had the idea of building ‘the most splendid church in the most squalid part of Portsea’. Exactly a year later St Agatha’s was consecrated.

Father Dolling was a high Anglican and Christian socialist and it was these attributes that shaped and guided his ministry.

Earlier in 1894, Dolling had ‘brought a hornets’ nest around his ears’ by describing Portsmouth as a ‘sink of iniquity’.

Stung by his criticism, the mayor, Abraham Emanuel, condemned Dolling, accusing him of only having been in the town ‘five minutes’ (it was actually nine years), said his description was ‘wanton’, ‘wicked’, ‘a slander’ and ‘a lie’.

‘It is without a shadow of foundation in fact,’ he maintained to his audience of members of the Northsea Cycling Club at a meeting in the Dairyman’s Arms, Stamshaw – John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.