Pear Tree Church - Southampton

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The 19th Century - A period of rapid growth

Early in the nineteenth century Southampton began to decline as a Spa town, mainly because Brighton was now coming to the fore. Various attempts were made to rekindle its former popularity, but they came to nothing, yet despite this, Southampton continued to grow and to attract new trade. When the Napoleonic war ended, the coastal and channel trade was resumed. From the 1820's onward, steam driven paddle ships, good roads and fast stage coaches established Southampton as a major port in the South.

 

By the 1830's the volume of goods being handled, and the numbers of passengers using the port were such that the Town Quay and West Quays were inadequate to deal with them. The Royal Pier and the Old Docks were built to ease the situation. Hundreds of workers flocked to the town, attracted by the promise of work for all. They built the docks and the warehouses. Later they were joined by hundreds more who came to build the railways. The workers had to be housed, so after each influx there was a building boom. Within a few years, the fields, orchards and marshes around St Mary's had become transformed into street after street of working class homes, and St Mary's church had to be completely rebuilt to accommodate its greatly increased congregations.

 

In time, the population spilled over on to the Eastern side of the river, into Woolston and Itchen, with a further influx of people, mainly from the North of England and Scotland, when Oswald and Mordaunt's, later Thornycroft's, was established on the bank of the river.

 

The newcomers brought changes to the area The tight-knit little community of Itchen Ferry resented the coming of the "foreigners" and fights broke out. Though inter-marriages took place, it took a generation or more for the area to settle down. No matter how long a person lived in Itchen Ferry, he remained a foreigner unless he had been born there. Another major change as a result of the growth in population was the coming of the Floating Bridge. The ferry boat had become totally inadequate for the amount of traffic across the Itchen, and a new means of transporting people and goods had to be sought. The people of Itchen Ferry objected strongly to a bridge being built, fearful of losing their livelihood. The Admiralty and the Northam Bridge Company also objected, on the grounds that a bridge would interfere with shipping in the river. Finally the Admiralty came up with the idea of a floating bridge, steam driven, working on wire hawsers. After a period of hard bargaining, terms were agreed, and the new Floating Bridge began to operate in 1836. As a result of the rise in the population of the parish of St Mary Extra, throughout the nineteenth century the ministers of Jesus Chapel were closely concerned with the problems involved in enlarging the church, building the schools for the children, providing more burial ground and building three new churches.

 

For two hundred years Jesus Chapel had remained virtually unchanged, but in 1821, when the population of the parish was 983 and the seating capacity of the church only 290, the South transept was built. In 1847, the addition of the North aisle increased the accommodation to 539, but on several occasions, the church was so full that parishioners had to be turned away. It became necessary for three new churches to be built - St Mark's, Woolston, in 1863; Holy Trinity, Weston, in 1865; and St Mary's, Sholing, in 1866. The parishes of all three were carved out of the parish of St Mary Extra. Jesus Chapel was again enlarged in 1883, when the Chancel was built on to the church. By then, the gallery built in 1618 had been removed because it was unsafe. The gallery was broken up for firewood and used to heat the church "It was not the first occasion by many on which the gallery had been instrumental in increasing the heat of the church - at least to those who sat under it," wrote the Rev T L O Davies.

 

1822 1847 1913

The money needed for the alterations to Jesus Chapel came partly from the diocese and partly from private subscriptions. The Rector of St Mary's was approached in both 1821 and also in 1847 and invited to subscribe, but on both occasions felt unable to do so. He was the Earl of Guildford, a noted pluralist, who enjoyed the stipends from a number of churches, but as he no longer received any monetary gain from Jesus Chapel he evidently felt under no obligation. The tie between the mother church and the daughter church was becoming weak, and in 1881 it was broken entirely when the minister of Jesus Chapel became vicar in his own right, and no longer a perpetual curate of St Mary's.

 

Fortunately for Jesus Chapel, help was now coming from a new source. A number of wealthy people had moved away from the overcrowding and cholera outbreaks of Southampton and now lived in fine residences on the outskirts of the parish. Many of these people were supportive of the church and generous with their money. Their names, and the names of the houses where they once lived, can be found on the memorial tablets around the walls of the church - the Macnaghtens of Bitterne Manor, the Hultons of Barnfield, the Wrights of Oak Bank and Mayfield. The Chamberlaynes of Weston Grove, the Richardsons of Chessel, and the Edes, Forbes and Erringtons of Merry Oak. The latter name, a corruption of St Mary's Oak, came from the old oak tree which stood in the Errington's stable yard right up to the beginning of the 20th century, marking the old parish boundary. Sadly, most of those fine houses no longer exist, but the memory of them is kept alive by the street names near their former locations.

 

The Pear Tree Schools, formerly the National Schools, were built in 1848 on land adjoining Pear Tree Green given by the Bishop of Winchester in his capacity as Lord of the Manor. Built of stone, at a cost of £865 15s 3d, the buildings are a fitting complement to the church. An infants' school, added in 1897 in memory of the Rev W. Lewis Davies, cost £600, raised by voluntary contributions. This little corner of the parish, with the church, the schools, the Pear Tree Inn and the Green in close proximity, retains a little of the village atmosphere of former days. As in the case of many former church schools, the Pear Tree Schools have now passed into the care of the state, for the rising cost of maintenance and the higher standards of the provision required were burdens too great for the church to bear.

The provision of more burial ground in the area to cope with the increasing population proved to be a thornier problem than had been anticipated. The enlargement of the church in 1821/2 had taken away some of the burial ground, so in 1846 the boundary was pushed out slightly to make the church yard exactly one acre in extent. By 1852 the space was filling up rapidly, and the owner of Ridgeway drew attention to the fact that many of the people being buried in the churchyard were non-parishioners. The Bishop was consulted, and with his help regulations were drawn up putting limitations on its use.

 

For a while, the burial grounds attached to the new churches of Weston and Sholing eased the situation, but by the 1870's it became clear that more ground was needed. Mr Chamberlayne offered to sell a piece of ground beside Sholing Lane for £50, but the villagers wanted to enclose the land at the back of the church. The Commissioners, reluctant at first, finally agreed to this proposal, but Mr Forbes of Merry Oak strongly opposed any further encroachment on Pear Tree Green and took out an injunction to prevent it. He was prepared to give the £50 so that Mr. Chamberlayne's offer could be taken up, but by then it was realised that the parcel of land was too small. A Burial Board was set up in 1878 on which the Rev T L 0 Davies served for 18 years. The Rev Hulton, son of the first minister of Weston, sold the Board ten acres of Weston Common for £1500. This land became St Mary Extra Cemetery. A curator's lodge and chapels were provided, and to pay for it all, £3000 was borrowed at 4 ½ % for 30 years, to be repaid by annual instalments. The last instalment was paid in 1910. The management of the cemetery is now vested in the Council. Pear Tree's own burial ground was closed at the beginning of the 20th Century, whereupon it became the Council's duty to keep it in order.

 

In the 19th century yachting became the new sport of the wealthy. Three roads in the parish still perpetuate the names of yachts famous in their time - Ailsa, Defender, and Shamrock. The fears of the ferry men that the coming of the Floating Bridge would take away their livelihood proved groundless, as many of them were sought after to skipper or crew some very famous yachts. Ben Parker became the captain of the German Emperor's yacht "Meteor". Charles Dyke and Henry Parker were skippers in succession of Thomas Chamberlayne's "Arrow", which, bought from a breaker's yard, redesigned and rebuilt, was the only English yacht ever to beat the 1851 Queen's cup winner "America". This happened in a race off Ryde, in the following year.