St. Peter's Church, Portland
St. Peter's Church is a redundant 19th-century church, located in The Grove village, on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. It was consecrated in August 1872 and has been a Grade II* Listed building since September 1978.
Originally an Anglican parish church, the chapel was built between 1870 and 1872 by convicts for the use of the neighbouring military garrisons stationed nearby. Services and such events as baptisms were still held in the church until during the 20th century. It was designed by Major-General Sir Edmund Du Cane, whilst he was chairman of the convict prison directors, as well as an inspector of military prisons and surveyor of general prisons. It was built for a total cost of £8000 - the most expensive church on the island in 1872. As with many Portland buildings from the time, the construction and decoration of the church was done by convicts from HM Prison Portland and HM Prison Dorchester. Much of the furniture was also made by the convicts, including the pulpit and lectern.
Through the nights of early 1941, air raid sirens would sound on a frequent basis. Over what is now remembered as "Black Easter", a raid over the Grove village destroyed three houses in Augusta Road, whilst the roof of St. Peter's Church was torn off, and the Borstal gymnasium, once the prison chapel, was burnt down.
In 1973, the church was declared redundant and became privately owned, with no public access. A required a special license was needed to be issued for marriages. Since early 2004, the church was listed for sale but there were strict rules governing its development. Unable to be used for housing or commercial enterprises, one proposal was made to use it as a casino, although this didn't develop. In 2013, a public right of way through the church's grounds was made open. Around the same time it sold for £100,000 freehold, with rumours of the church being reopened, although as of mid-2014 nothing has been done with the church.
The gate piers and boundary walls to the north and west of the church, dating circa 1875, are part of a series of significant elements, helping to tie together the group of related buildings, and defining the spaces. It became Grade II Listed in September 1978. At the same time the vicarage of St Peter's Church, which dates from the mid 19th-century, became Grade II Listed too. In 2008 St. Peter's Church, was included in English Heritage's list of Heritage at Risk in 2008. English Heritage described the condition as being poor. The main vulnerability aspect of the site is decay, and with no solution agreed at the time.
Nearby further up the road is the Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew, built in 1868 after the increasing number of Roman Catholic supporters following the establishment of the prison, the harbour breakwaters and the Verne Citadel. It was designed by the prolific architect Joseph A. Hanson, and was closed at the end of the 20th century, before being sold around 2010.
The church is built with Portland ashlar stone and has slate roofs, using ornate architecture. Inside it has a cruciform unaisled plan with western narthex and bell cote, as well as trefoil-plan transepts and a chancel, designed in Lombardic Romanesque style. The church's windows are in deep embrasures, and use plain glass. One window was replaced due to bomb damage in 1941, and the new window was placed in memory of Bandmaster J. Tyson and men of the Dorset Regiment killed in action. The stained glass in the church dates from the 20th century. The church still maintains many of its original features and is set in walled gardens with mature trees. Of notable interest is the mosaic within the church, bordering around the porch and chancel, which was the work of female convicts. It was laid by Constance Kent, who was serving a life sentence in HM Prison Parkhurst. She was specially brought to the island so that she could undertake the work. The white stone pulpit, the font, and the lectern are also particular fine examples of the convicts' skill.
In the 1972 book The Buildings of England, authors Newman and Pevsner stated "St Peter is in its own way as surprising and as bold in scale as St George's Church, Reforne, Easton. It is also of ashlar, Romanesque not Norman in style, has a dwarf gallery under the eaves, large apsed transepts, and a low, wide E apse with small windows, and no campanile. The roof is open timbering with hammerbeams and arched braces and the crossing marked by the crossing of pairs of diagonally set arched braces."
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- Portland Urban District Council (Late 1950s). Isle of Portland Official Guide. Ed. J. Burrow & Co. Ltd., Publishers - Chelternham and London. p. 22. Check date values in: