The days when St Mary's, Portsea, had enough clergy for a rugby team

I recently asked about St Mary’s vicarage at Fratton which is now home to Barrell’s Funeral Directors and George Barrett came up trumps.

By Bob Hind
Saturday, 30th November 2019, 7:00 am
St Mary’s churchyard with the old vicarage behind the trees immediately to the left of the bell tower.
St Mary’s churchyard with the old vicarage behind the trees immediately to the left of the bell tower.

He writes: 'I have been unable to find out when the old St Mary's vicarage was built, but it seems to have been in place before the present parish church building was dedicated in 1889.

‘The vicar at that time was Edgar Jacob, a bachelor whose policy was only to appoint unmarried men as curates.

‘The majority of them lived in the vicarage which became known as the Clergy House, under the direction and personal superintendence of the vicar.’

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Portsea Vicarage now part of Barrells Funeral Directors. Picture: Mick Cooper postcard collection

George adds: ‘Meals were taken communally and they had a housekeeper and other domestic staff to keep the place running smoothly.

‘As well as the parish church there were seven mission churches, so the clergy team was large. It is said that at one time they could field their own rugby team!

‘This tradition continued until Lovel Southam, the then vicar, married in 1926 and moved with his bride into Vicarage Cottage in Church Road, a substantial building which had previously been the gardener's cottage.

‘The clergy house continued under the direction of the senior curate. There was an oratory, a common room and a dining room.’

George continues: ‘Each curate had a study-bedroom, and use of either the senior bathroom, the junior bathroom or the washbasin area downstairs according to his position in the hierarchy.

‘One wing was occupied by kitchens and the rooms of the women who cooked, cleaned and dusted. The vicar's secretary also had an office there.’

During the war the number of curates dropped as some became military chaplains and some moved to other parishes, and the spare space in the clergy house was commandeered as billets for the officers of the Barrage Balloon unit, an arrangement which apparently worked well, especially when the RAF officers offered to share their service rations, which were more generous than the civilian ones.

George adds: ‘In 1942 the vicarage was commandeered completely by the RAF and the curates had to live elsewhere – including one who slept in the vestry of his church.

‘Later in the war the house was known as Littlefold and was used as a centre for small children – presumably after the danger of air raids had receded and there was less need for barrage balloons.

'In 1950 the house was handed back to the church. It was rather inconvenient at first as all the essentials were still child-sized. Numbers rose to 10 curates during the 1950s.

‘The present vicarage was built opposite the church in 1957 and the vicars of St Mary's have all lived there since then.

‘By the early 1960s the parish was in serious financial difficulties and difficult decisions had to be made. Three mission churches were closed, the curates were moved to a house in Church Road, and the old vicarage, Lawnswood, was taken over by Barrells who have occupied it ever since.'

• I was talking to a friend of mine who has lived on Portsea Island all his life, like many people in Portsmouth.

I asked him if he could remember the last time he set foot off the island. He couldn't.

I asked him if he had ever had a drink at The George at Finchdean, near Rowlands Castle. He said he had never heard of Finchdean.

So here’s a question. Who has remained on Portsea Island the longest without crossing the ‘border’ on to the ‘mainland’? Should be interesting…

• Bob Gould, 85, has lived in Portsmouth all his life and has marvellous memories of Lake Road.

He says: ‘I remember the shops in the picture of Saturday, November 22. I had my first job in one of them. It may have been 127.

‘It was about five shops from Express Radio and was called The Amateurs’ Den. We sold ex-WD radio and radar sets. Radio was a very popular hobby back in 1949.

‘I was 15 and had a Saturday job there stripping down the sets and testing and labelling the components for amateurs to reuse. I liked the job so much I stayed for about two years and made my first television from radar parts. It had a six-inch green picture.

‘I had to have a large H aerial on our roof to get the picture from the transmitter at Alexandra Palace, the nearest to Portsmouth. The picture was snowy, but I was very proud of it.’

Bob adds: ‘I have been trying to remember the other shops at the Fratton Road end of Lake Road. There was a precision tool shop that I bought tools from and a gramophone shop well-known in Portsmouth.’

Thanks Bob, I’ll find out what they were.