The other day, I received in the mail a glossy, full- color 57-page magazine entitled A history of St. Agatha’s Church, Portsmouth by Rev J. D. Maunder, the priest in charge of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham community that worships there.
I opened it to read:
The story of St. Agatha’s opens on Advent Sunday 1882, when the Rev Dr Linklater arrived in Portsmouth as the Winchester College Missioner to Landport, a district which had developed to the north of Portsea during the first half of the 19th Century. In later years Dr Linklater recalled how he arrived at Portsmouth Town Station with little more than “a few books and a box of Keating’s Insect Powder.
The insect powder might well have been a wise precaution, for Landport was a mean slum area, a mixture of pubs, brothels and narrow streets of damp and unsanitary houses. Dr Linklater gave a flavour of the challenge before him when he described his mission as, “to charge right into the very centre of the influence of Satan.” Dr Linklater laboured in this Dickensian haunt of lost souls for three years and in July 1884 he opened the Mission Church of St. Agatha, a humble bricke structure which seated 500 people and cost £600.
With an opening like that, how could I put it down?
Then a bit further into the story:
In 1885, a new missioner arrived. He was Anglo-Irish, Anglo-Catholic and a Christian Socialist. In ten tremendous years he was to transform the slums of Landport, treading on scores of privileged toes in the process. He was Fr Robert Radclyffe Dolling. In a whirlwind of pastoral acticity, Fr Dolling set about the building of what he called his “eight milestones”: the gymnasium, the meeting room, his sister’s house, the 12 almhouses, the parsonage, the boys’ school, the girls’ school and finally, the new church.
The story goes on to show how Fr Dolling had first wanted to build as plain a building as possible, but then, according to his book Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum, he realized after meeting architect Joseph Henry Ball, “how wrong this intention had been.”
“If there is one place that needs a magnificent and impressive church, it is a slum.”
Those wishing to learn more about the parish or to obtain a copy may find contact information at St. Agatha’s website.
I have a special affection for St. Agatha’s because it is there, on the altar, that the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Community signed the 2007 letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking to come into full communion with the Holy See while retaining some elements of their Anglican patrimony.