all saints' church, basingstoke

The "Iron Church"

The “Iron Church”

At the start of the 20th century, Rev. Henry Richard Cooper Smith was the parish Vicar of the growing town of Basingstoke. In April 1902 he sought support from his parishioners to expand the Anglican presence in the town, concerned that other churches were adding to their congregations.  The Vicar and his sisters acquired a site at the corner of Victoria Street and Southern Road (adjacent to Oxford Terrace), proposing that a ‘small iron building’ should be erected as a temporary church. The cost of building and fitting it out was estimated at £1000. It appears that the Cooper-Smiths not only bought the site but also made themselves responsible for providing the temporary church.

By July 1902 the church was already being built and parishioners were urged to contribute towards the fittings. The Vicar was setting his sights on something grander: he suggested that people as well as providing fittings for the temporary church, should start a fund towards building a permanent church. The parishioners rallied round, and Lieutenant Colonel John May of May’s Brewery (and a great benefactor of All Saints’) provided railings for the site.

Image of the original church c1905  (source unknown) 

1910 OS Map showing location (NLS) 

The “Iron Church” was dedicated on All Saints' Day, November 1st, 1902. As the Bishop of Winchester was “deeply immersed in the multiplicity of pressing duties” and the Bishops of Guildford and Southampton were both ill, there seems to have been difficulty in finding a bishop to perform the ceremony. Finally, the Bishop of South Tokyo, Japan, the Right Reverend Dr. William Awdry, formerly Bishop Suffragen of Southampton, and then on leave in England, agreed to dedicate the church. (The bishop was an uncle of Rev. Wilbert Awdry, author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books.) In his sermon, the Bishop looked forward to the time when the temporary building would be replaced by a permanent church. This theme was repeated in the Vicar’s sermon on the following Sunday, saying that the parish should aim to build a permanent church on the site within ten years. As it turned out, it was fifteen years before the present building was ready to be used, and it probably would not have been built then had it not been for the great generosity of one man.

Go to this page to read a transcript from the Hants & Bersk Gazette of the 1902 dedication service

Although initially used for few services (primarily 8am Sunday Communion), by 1906 other Sunday services as well as mid-week celebrations were taking place and All Saints was emerging as a definite community, building a social as well as a spiritual life. A parish Curate was given special responsibility for All Saints’. As early as 1903 a committee was set up to investigate the possibility of erecting a permanent church on the Southern Road site, with the Vicar writing in the Parish Magazine: “As the Parish grows and increases, so do our needs grow, and as others have provided for us, so are we bound to think, not merely of the present but of the future”. By 1910 the “Iron Church” was too small for its growing congregation and was enlarged.