St Ambrose Church is the parish church of Westbourne, Bournemouth. From early meetings in Middle Road and Seamoor House, through a temporary structure while a mission church (now Alumhurst Day Centre) was built, to the permanent parish church that celebrated its centenary with the millennium, St Ambrose has been at the spiritual heart of Westbourne.
The site at the top of Alum Chine, at the junction of West Cliff Road and West Overcliff Drive, was the gift of Mr Cooper Dean. The church was designed by architect Charles Hodgson Fowler, then consulting architect to Durham Cathedral, with a carved and painted reredos and an intricate font cover by Temple Moore. The foundation stone was laid on 20th October, 1898, by Mrs Abel Smith (wife of the local MP). Messrs Bowman of Stamford were the builders and the church was Dedicated on 10th October, 1900, by Rt Rev Randall Davidson GCVO, PC, Bishop of Winchester (later Archbishop of Canterbury). Eleven days later the saintly Dr Edward King (now commemorated in the Church of England's lectionary) preached in St Ambrose' Church on the text: "In this place will I give peace." With the tower completed and the debt paid off the church was Consecrated by Dr E H Ryle, Bishop of Winchester, on 14th May, 1907. The district was gazetted as a separate parish in October, 1921, and the first separate Parish Magazine appeared in April, 1922. The freehold Vicarage was built behind the church, without aid from the Diocese, designed by Reynolds & Tomlins to a detailed specification by the PCC, and built by F Hoare & Sons in 1929.
It is a large church in the Perpendicular style, built of honey-coloured Bath stone, with green Westmorland slate roofs. It contains some fine stained glass (east end and aisles by Burlison & Grylls, west window by James Powell of Whitechapel), and some glass from the previous church is also incorporated. Other elements of the previous church include a polychromatic Italian marble pulpit, brass eagle lectern, and wrought-iron rood screen. In addition there are high-quality carved oak choir stalls, a detailed alabaster Lady Chapel reredos, and large sculptures of saints, all by George Walker Milburn. Following a fire in the north aisle, in 2007, the building was fully restored (at a cost of £638,000) and is again open for all the usual services and concerts.
Whilst St Ambrose is part of the Diocese of Winchester (the Bishop of Winchester is the Patron) it was part of the Oxford Movement from the outset and - having passed Resolutions A, B and C - now continues within the "Forward in Faith" movement having the Bishop of Richborough as its Episcopal Visitor and is a member of the Society under the patronage of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda. The Eucharist is central to the church's life and the main Sunday Mass (Common Worship, Order One) is sung with traditional hymns using the New English Hymnal led by a small choir. The liturgy is enriched with ceremonial, vestments, candles and incense. Sunday Evening Prayer follows the Book of Common Prayer and, on the second Sunday of the month, Evensong is normally followed by Benediction. Weekday services include daily Mass (Common Worship) at 8:45 a.m., and Evening Prayer (Common Worship) at 5:30 p.m. The Bournemouth Ward of the Society of Mary and the local Chapter of the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary (dedicated to St. Osmund & St. Swithun) are based at St Ambrose Church, it is the regular venue for the guild offices and meetings of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and the Society of the Holy Cross, and it holds an annual festival for the Catholic Societies in May.
The church has a lofty and spacious interior, with excellent acoustics, making it a popular venue throughout the year. It was designed to seat over 800 people, however, most congregations and gatherings are very much smaller and the Victorian wooden seating is reduced to reflect this. The 55-strong Westbourne Orchestra (founded in 1930 as the St Ambrose Orchestra) has its home at the church and puts on three concert programmes a year. Bournemouth University Music, the Bournemouth Male Voice Choir, and other musical groups provide a regular programme of concerts. The church is also very photogenic making it a popular venue for weddings. The church hall (behind the church) is available for hire (visit St Ambrose Church Hall page). The church is equipped with a full induction loop system for the hearing impaired and there is ample car parking on site and in the surrounding roads.
St Ambrose Church is a Grade II* Listed Building described as follows:
Architect and dates of main phases: By C. Hodgson Fowler of Durham, 1898-1900. Upper stage of tower, 1907.
Materials: Honey-coloured Bath stone, green Westmorland slate roofs.
Plan: Seven-bay nave, lean-to aisles of six bays, south west porch, north-west porch-tower, chancel with two-bay south chapel, transeptal organ chamber (north), vestries to the north-east. There is a low brick and stone hall to the south, 1968. It has little visual impact on the church.
Exterior: Mostly Free Perp style. The nave is long and high, with a clerestory rising above lean-to aisles. The aisles are buttressed, with two-light Perp windows. The clerestory has shallow pilaster buttresses. Its windows have three cusped lights, the centre one higher, an arrangement reminiscent of c. 1300. This is the only Dec tracery in the church. The gabled west front grows out of the tower to its left, with a big six-light window balancing the tower's bulk. The base of the tower was built with the church, 1898-1900, and the upper parts added in 1907. It is of four stages, well proportioned, and perhaps based on Somerset models, with angle buttresses rising to polygonal pinnacles. Embattled parapet with concave gabled tops to the merlons, and a small intermediate pinnacle in the centre of each side. The paired two-light bell openings have louvres, one transom, and ogee pinnacled hoodmoulds. The main entrance in the tower base faces north; a big richly moulded doorcase with multiple shafts, slim flanking pinnacles and a crocketed ogee hoodmould. Good Perp traceried two-leaf door. In the north gable of the north transept is a rose window. The transept has vestries attached, north again.
Interior: The interior is ashlar lined, and the long high nave dominates. It has a good timber roof with tie beams and collars, crown posts, and queen struts braced to the purlins. The nave arcades are conventional; moulded arches, and shafted piers on a quatrefoil plan. Symmetrical lean-to aisles; the north aisle roof was destroyed by fire in 2006, and completely rebuilt in oak to match the original design. It was left unstained. The chancel has a boarded wagon roof with transverse ribs and subsidiary diagonal ribs forming lozenge panelling. The north and south chancel walls have wall-shafts in place of the nave piers, rising to big blind arches which frame the clerestory lights. Elaborate statuary niches flank the east window, which has five lights with Perp tracery and transoms in the heads of the sub-arches (a similar arrangement to the west window). The floors in the body of the church are of pale grey terrazzo with coloured and patterned borders, except the seating areas which are floored with oak parquet. Some scorched blocks remain in the north aisle floor as a reminder of the fire of 2006. The chancel and sanctuary have mosaic floors of buff, with green, gold and black patterned friezes. The south chapel is arranged as a Lady Chapel and has a two arched west entrance with a trumeau figure (a figural statue on the central mullion within the arched opening), depicting the Virgin and Child.
Principle Fixtures: The splendid reredos was designed by Temple Moore, 1914, and painted and gilded by Head & Son of Colchester, one of Moore's favoured artists. It has a high rectangular frame with a meandering leafy border, and five standing angels across the top. The centre panel has a Crucifixion, with the Annunciation below in a predella. There are two narrow side panels, with three tiers of saints in each. It was dedicated on November 19, 1915. The font is also very fine; a heavy octagonal cup-shaped bowl with concave gables on the sides, and dense carved decoration. The thick stem is surrounded by eight slender colonnettes. Its designer is not known. Temple Moore made sketches in 1912 for the font cover, but he also gave his son Richard the task of designing a font cover for Bournemouth, which is probably this one. It is of oak, very tall, with elaborate Gothic openwork and pinnacles. There is an open wrought-iron pulpit, on a base of Devonshire marble. Also of wrought-iron is the tall chancel screen with matching gates; its lower part came from the old church, and was heightened to suit; it is Gothic in its style, with angel figures. The chancel stalls are of oak, with linenfold fronts, seat backs with pierced friezes of Flamboyant tracery above, simplest panelling below. The bench ends have elaborate tracery, with buttress-like detailing, and big standing figures as finials. The sanctuary has exceptionally crisp traceried dado panelling with built-in sedilia. The south chapel has panelling with linenfold and coloured shields, and a gilded oak reredos in similar style to the other fittings, with three relief panels in white marble. The church has much good stained glass. There are twenty windows by Burlison & Grylls; in the east end (c. 1897-1901) and aisles (c. 1904-18). The west window is by Powell & Sons, 1899, of six lights. The south aisle west has been attributed to Lavers & Westlake, 1891 (unverified), and is dedicated to George Stopford Ram, 1887; he was vicar in the 1880s. It is one of four west windows that are ex situ, and presumably from the previous church in Alumhurst Road.
History: Westbourne is a superior suburb of Victorian villas around the thickly planted ravine of Alum Chine, bordering the clifftops of Poole to the west. It grew rapidly after the arrival of the Midland Railway in 1874, and was incorporated into Bournemouth in 1884. St Ambrose is one of a number of spectacular High Church foundations in Bournemouth of c. 1880-1900. These stem from the work of the Rev. A.M. Bennett (d. 1880) of St Peter's, the mother church of Bournemouth. The big but undistinguished predecessor church of St Ambrose, Alumhurst Road (by Adams & Horner) was opened in 1880, and enlarged in 1884. The new site was given in 1894 by the Cooper-Dean family, prominent landowners and benefactors to Bournemouth. The church opened in 1900, and the former church became the parish hall; it is now a day centre. The parish of St Ambrose was formed in 1922.
The architect C. Hodgson Fowler (1840-1910) was a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott, and became Diocesan architect to York and Durham, also cathedral architect at Lincoln (1890) and Rochester (1898). The north aisle was damaged in an arson attack on November 20, 2006, and its roof has been entirely rebuilt.
Pevsner, N. and Lloyd, D., The Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, (1967), 120.
Geoff Brandwood, Temple Moore, (1997).
Reasons for designation: The Church of St Ambrose is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* A handsome design for a large Free Perp church, drawing extensively on High and Late Medieval inspiration.
* An ambitious Somerset-style tower
* Spacious and very long interior, as if designed for processions.
* Refined and decorative reredos by Temple Moore, 1914, continuing the late Gothic theme.
* Wrought-iron screen and pulpit
* Good stained glass, especially that by Burlison & Grylls, a collection of twenty windows installed over two decades.
Originally listed on 27th February, 1976
A large (independent) archive of images of the church can be seen on the Flickr website: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjr7PZGs