Three Churches, One Parish
THE CHURCH IN ITS URBAN ENVIRONMENT
St Francis Church is located in Hilsea, a district of the City of Portsmouth.
Located at the northern end of Portsea Island, for most of its history Hilsea was a small hamlet on the Portsmouth to London road. The boundaries of Portsmouth were extended to encompass the hamlet in 1832. The last working farm in Portsmouth, Green Farm, was located in the area up to the 1990s. This area is now a residential estate and is marked by a pub and hotel known locally as the Green Farm.
A dominant feature of Hilsea today is the listed walls of the barracks and the fortified ‘Lines’. The barracks, built in 1756, were knocked down to allow for housing development in the 1960s, although, with the walls, two listed buildings remain. The garrison and community were served by St. Barbara's Church. It was originally built as the Garrison Church to Hilsea Barracks in 1888 but was not consecrated to St. Barbara until the RAOC took over the base in 1921. The Barracks closed in 1962 when the memorials were transferred to the Garrison Church, also known as St. Barbara's, at Deepcut Barracks. The Garrison Church at Hilsea was demolished shortly afterwards.
In the years after 1926, Hilsea expanded with the building of the Hilsea Crescent Estate which was constructed on former allotments. This estate still has many of the original families’ descendants in residence and it forms a tight-knit community, which makes use of St Francis Church for funerals and baptisms in particular.
Modern Hilsea is a mixture of residential and industrial areas. One of the major routes into the City, HM Dockyard and Naval Base and to the Continental Ferry Terminal, the A3, still runs through the area. Hilsea Halt, a small railway station is located on the eastern fringe.
Located on the A3, this seemingly unremarkable, brick-built building contains a good sized hall with toilets and a kitchen, and a bright and airy church space separated by a retractable, glazed wooden folding partition. Being set-back from the road and with signage parallel to the road, the church often goes unnoticed by those passing by.
The Church and its ministry of welcome into the community is greatly valued by local residents, who truly see it as their own church – this is evident at the occasional offices and at extremely well-supported fairs, lunches and jumble sales.
The original worship building on the current site of St Francis Church was a temporary, iron structure dedicated to St Joan. St Francis Mission, the older part of the current building, was built in 1936 and was consecrated on 6th June of the same year, as a daughter church to St Mark.
The Screen with the magnificent Christus Rex was inserted, a portion of the building was established as a permanent nave, and the re-ordered Church was consecrated in 1991.
[i] Offord, J. (1989) Churches, Chapels & Places of Worship on Portsea Island, Southsea: John Harrison