Wednesday, December 14, 2011

St Saviour's Church, Swindon

In 1881 the population of New Swindon stood at nearly 20,000 and was rising. In just forty years building had spread out of the railway village, first along Westcott Place and then beyond the railway line to the north of the town.

With the parish church of St Mark's struggling to meet the spiritual needs of its ever increasing congregation, another church was desperately needed, but the coffers were empty.

Undeterred Canon Maurice Ponsonby stepped into the pulpit to give an inspirational Whitsunday sermon on June 9, 1889. Taking as his text Genesis Chapter 6, verse 14, he told his congregation to 'build me an ark' - and that's exactly what they did.

Meetings held on two consecutive Wednesdays in June soon saw a band of sixty volunteers step forward. The men were rapidly organised into three groups headed by Cresser, Hayward and Wager, three carpenters and joiners employed in the GWR works. Work began immediately on a plot of land in Ashford Road gifted by local landowner William Sheppard.

Rev. Charles John Corfe set the ball rolling, lifting the first spade of earth on the site while Miss Ethel Dean, daughter of Chief Mechanical Engineer at the works, William Dean, laid the foundation stone on August 12.

With Cambria Bridge room serving as a workshop, each of the three groups put in two evenings voluntary labour a week. Work continued every evening and Saturday afternoon, with the volunteer labour force working throughout the GWR Christmas shut down. In just six months St. Saviour's Church was ready to open.

Gifts included 1000 bricks donated by local builder George Wiltshire, and wood, of which there was a considerable amount, by an anonymous 'Welsh Churchman.'

Among others who made donations were the Verschoyle sisters, daughters of Crimean veteran Henry William Verschoyle and his wife the former Lucy Clarissa Goddard. The Goddard granddaughters Sybil and Kathleen gave eight chairs costing 2/6 each while their sister Theresa provided the altar cross.

As if their Herculean effort had not been enough, fifteen years later and the congregation were asked to do it all over again as the busy little church required an extension.

By the 1950s the congregation at St Saviour's anxious to protect their 'temporary' wooden structure considered their options and whether to rebuild or renovate. Local architect R.J. Beswick was engaged and produced designs to build an outer shell of Cotswold Dale random stone blocks.

In 1961 St Saviour's was rededicated and the homemade wooden church as last became a permanent fixture.

Family Service at St Saviour's takes place every Sunday at 9am and the church has a thriving number of clubs including Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Brownies. For further information telephone 619706.

Build Me An Ark, a history of St. Saviour's Church by Frederick Fuller is available for consultation in the Swindon Local Studies section at Central Library.

Images - 1910 views of St. Saviour's are by William Hooper, available to view on

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