The two churches of Haslemere had a moderately Catholic tradition in the past, though less than their departing incumbent would have liked (we will see what the new one brings with them). In both St Bartholomew’s and its daughter church, St Christopher’s, you can see similar patterns reflected as elsewhere. St Bart’s mostly dates from an almost complete rebuilding in 1870 and seems to have been built by an architect who had no idea what he ought to do because it’s a long distance from Ecclesiological correctness. Pevsner loathed St Christopher’s but I quite like it – virtually a single, barrel-vaulted space full of light.
The mid-Victorian rector of Haslemere, Mr Etheridge, had been the chaplain and was the grandson-in-law of the firmly Evangelical bishop of Winchester, Dr Sumner, and was put in the parish to do two things: demolish the old church and rebuild it, and resist the dreadful incursions of High Churchery. However he showed that such a position was not incompatible with gorgeous fixtures like the red marble font, and stained-glass windows full of saints.
Mr Etheridge was succeeded by Mr Aitken, who from their respective photos in the church history you’d have thought was even more definitely Evangelical as he was portrayed in imperial collar and white bow-tie rather than a dog collar; but he turned out to be a funny sort of Low Churchman who clearly wanted to fill the church with lovely things. In that he fitted in well with late-Victorian and Edwardian Haslemere which was a bit of an Arts-and-Crafts colony. Certainly St Christopher’s, which was built during Mr Aitken's incumbency and furnished in the latter years of it, has a decidedly Catholic and arty tinge to it. Above the altar – considerably raised above the rest of the church – is a huge triptych designed by the architect’s wife, Minnie Dibden-Spooner. As well as an array of saints (and Jesus), on the right-hand side, among heroic Victorian Christians such as Florence Nightingale, Sir James Paget and General Gordon, can be found Father Damien of Molokai (not canonised until 2009), John Keble and Bishop Edward King, last victim of the Ritual Trials. This is an extraordinary thing for an ostensibly Evangelical clergyman to commission, if he did.
It was after Mr Aitken retired in 1918 that the next Rector, William Wragge, brought in a more definite Catholicism – apparently of the Percy Dearmer, Sarum-Rite variety. The parish began using the English Hymnal, a hymnbook so reviled by Evangelical bishops on its publication that it was banned from their dioceses. It seems to have been Mr Wragge who introduced the Lady Chapel in St Bart’s. Both churches have Lady Chapels and both are a bit weird. If you’re a smallish parish church the usual place to put your Lady Chapel is at the east end of one of the aisles (that’s where Swanvale Halt’s is). Not in Haslemere: in St Bart’s it’s at the west end of the north aisle and the altar faces south, while at St Christopher’s it’s in a little side room fitted out in 1935, and the altar is the windowsill, I suppose because it’s such a small space they didn’t want to reduce it any further. I’ve never seen this anywhere else.
Both churches have aumbries for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament though I have yet to discover when this was allowed. The continuing Catholicism of the parish is suggested by the fact that it was the favourite designer of the Anglo-Papalist movement, Martin Travers, who was commissioned to make the hanging crucifix in St Christopher’s, as a memorial to Kit Tanner, chaplain on HMS Fiji in 1941 who rescued 30 members of the crew after its sinking at the cost of his own life. St Christopher’s is also the first church I’ve seen in this diocese to have proper English altars, with curtains on riddel-posts. At those, and at the mighty triptych, Percy Dearmer would have nodded in approval!
Predictably, both churches were re-ordered in the 1970s, the altars brought forward and arrangements for the choir changed. In St Christopher’s case it’s a bit of a shame as the high altar is easily visible from every part of the church. It also has a fantastic acoustic – as I found out. ‘Lift up your hearts …’