Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew, Portland

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Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew. The building to the left was once the Grove Post Office and General Store.

Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew is a 19th-century Roman Catholic church, located in The Grove village, on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. Today the church remains redundant and in private ownership.[1]


During the 19th-century, the demanding projects of building Portland's harbour breakwaters and the Verne Citadel led to a large influx of outsiders coming to Portland, (known as Kimerlins to Portlanders - a term meaning stranger), to work and serve on these government works. Although there were few Roman Catholics among the native population, the many outsiders working at HM Prison Portland within The Grove village, as well as the constant stream of sailors and the soldiers stationed at the Verne, meant there was a growing need for a Catholic church. Before the building of the Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew, an Ordnance Survey Map shows a "Church of Our Lady" adjacent to the site in 1866. This small building was in use to the rear of what is now the Presbytery. It is believed that this was a temporary chapel set up following the government's decision that Portland should hold a convict establishment in 1848. Right up until 1868, the Catholic prisoners, warders, soldiers, and civilians would be spiritually ministered to by Father Lawrence Smythe from Weymouth, who would occasionally visit the island and hold a public service once a fortnight in the temporary chapel. During the same period as the chapel, Father Martin Hoskins decided to open a Mass Centre on Portland at the home of Mr William Lyle Smith. Mass was said on Palm Sunday of 1856 and 50 people attended this Mass. That same year Smythe would perform a second Mass at Portland on Sundays.[2]

Not long before the building of the church, the Government had labelled Portland as the chief place of confinement for the political Irish Fenians prisoners, and therefore agreed to appoint a paid Catholic Chaplain. Father George Poole was appointed, and he settled into his residence in a cottage near the Catholic Temporary Chapel, ministering to the prisoners inside the convict establishment, and to the Catholic warders, soldiers and coastguards in the Chapel.[3] In order to meet the requirements of the increasing Catholic community on the island, it was agreed to construct a permanent Catholic Church at 47 Grove Road. Built during 1868, it was designed by architect Joseph A. Hansom. A short time after Rev Arthur Gill would launch an appeal for an Anglican church to serve the same area. By 1872 St. Peter's Church had been built within close proximity to the Catholic church. As Portland's most expensive church, St. Peter's had been built using convict labour, mostly from HM Prison Portland.[4] The catholic church was soon dedicated to Our Lady and St. Andrew.[1] Poole became the first Priest in Charge of the new parish of Our Lady and St Andrew, Portland. The church's longest serving priest was its sixth - Rev Walter Keily - who remained priest from 1881-1930. There would be eighteen priests serving the church from its opening to closure in total, with two assistant priests operating at separate times from 1868 to 1873, when Poole was the parish priest.[2]

Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew.

From the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, the church's main offering revolved around two Sunday services. Sailors would have a service at 9am, whilst another would follow immediately after at 10:30am for the military and civilians. The juvenile members of the congregation received religious instruction from the priest, who catechised the warders' children, etc., on Sunday in the church, the soldiers' children and drummer boys on Fridays at the Verne, and the sailor boys on Saturdays on H.M.S. Boscawen.[5] Right from the opening of the church, it proved a valuable establishment for the community as well as to the various Regiments in Garrison and the Royal Navy. It was supported and used by the community right up until the end of the 20th century, including Portland's three prisons - HM Prison The Verne (a prison opened in the Verne Citadel in 1949), HM Prison Weare (a prison ship in Portland Harbour from 1997 to 2006), and the Young Offender's Institution (which was originally the Grove Convict Establishment).[3] For many years the village Post Office was situated next to the site until its closure, and next to this remains the Clifton Hotel.[6]

In the late 1970s the church obtained an altar from Buckfast Abbey, and this was soon installed within the church. It was the third altar to be used, and often gained credit by being described as beautiful in its stark simplicity. Additionally a fine baldachin, that had originated from the Wimbledon Convent/Hospital, was also a delightful feature complemented by a crucifix, sculptured by the late Mr. Robinson, who was the father of the then Sacristan Mrs. Margaret Evans. By the end of the 20th century various defects were discovered within the church structure, and the fabric of the church building required expensive repairs. This was coupled with a major lack of priests in the diocese, meaning that resources were being spread more and more thinly. It was decided by the Bishop that the church was too expensive to keep open. The last Parish Priest was Father Peter Coxe, who departed in 1996. That same year there was a Mass to celebrate the ministry of Coxe, as he left Portland and returned to the English College at Valladolid. Mr John Cranny, Miss Amy Deeney and Mrs Margaret Evans gave a presentation to Cox, whilst Father Peter Collingwood gave the Farewell Address.[7] The parish was then to be served by St Joseph's Weymouth, where Sister Benignus O'Brien FDLC was appointed to offer pastoral care to the parishioners on the island.[7] For some years afterwards, Sunday Masses were celebrated at the Avalanche Memorial Church in Portland's southerly village Southwell by permission of the Pastor.[3]

The church's future remained unsure until 27 March 2008 when the Rt Rev Christopher Budd, Bishop of Plymouth, decreed that the parishes of Our Lady & St Andrew, Portland, St Augustine, Weymouth and St Joseph, Weymouth, be suppressed and united to form a new parish which was to take the name of Our Lady Star of the Sea. This union came with the announcement that the Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew would remain closed.[8] After Weymouth and Portland merged as a single Catholic parish, overseen by Father Stephen Geddes, the church was then sold three years later. In March 2010, the Dorset Echo newspaper had reported the farewell of Portland's pastoral assistant Sister Maria Cooke, with the Catholic Parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea for four years, acting as a link between the parish and Portland residents. It was noted that the sale of the church and adjoining presbytery at The Grove had prompted her move.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Portland Directory 1895". Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  2. ^ a b "History". Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  3. ^ a b c "History". Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  4. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland, an Illustrated History. Dorset: The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset. p. 98. ISBN 0-946159-34-3. 
  5. ^ Paul Benyon. "Portland Churches, Buildings and Views". Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  6. ^ "Grove Road, Portland, Dorset". 1941-04-12. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  7. ^ a b "History". Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  8. ^ "History". Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  9. ^ "Portland's fond farewell to Sister Maria Cooke (From Dorset Echo)". 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 

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Coordinates: 50°33′05″N 2°25′44″W / 50.5513°N 2.4288°W / 50.5513; -2.4288