HistoricGosport Rowner Garrison Church

Rowner Garrison Church

Rowner Garrison Church

Rowner Garrison Church a photo taken by the author in 1966
Rowner Garrison Church a rare photo taken by the author in 1966. Few photos of the church have been taken.

The Garrison Church in Military Road, later known as Siskin Church or the ‘Tin Church’, was constructed as a temporary church in July 1872 to serve the nearby Gosport Advanced Line forts which were all joined by the Military Road. Originally an Army garrison church it was taken over by the RAF and then the Royal Navy.

Built of wood with a slate roof it was expected to last 50 years but was still in use in the 1960s.

The church stood in its own parcel of land on the east side of Military Road, close to Brockhurst Station, opposite the keep to Fort Rowner. The church was one large nave with an east facing stained glass window and two side isles with a small lady chapel used by the Sunday School. To the left side of the chancel was the vestry and the church office was to the right. Beneath the chancel was a boiler room. At the west end of the knave with a small wooden bell tower and steeple. To the left of the main altar was a side altar of carved wood, which had been the altar in the chapel of the
old carrier, HMS Furious.
To the front of the church was the entrance porch.

Adjacent to the fort was a wooden hut used by the Sunday School and for other church functions. Next to this was a small brick-built toilet block which previously served as the public toilets for the nearby Fort Brockhurst Railway Station.
The church was used by visiting regiments that were quartered within the barracks of the forts throughout the Victorian period. When the Royal Navy took over the airfield and it became H.M.S. Siskin and then H.M.S. Sultan the officiating priest was a naval padre. He was supported by a Church Army Captain, who in the 1960s was Captain White, ably assisted by his wife Sybil. Together they ran the Sunday school. The previous founder of the Sunday school was Mrs Webb, who lived in a cottage in Station Road. She had embroidered the Sunday school pennant depicting St. Francis. When the church closed in 1968 this went to the church of St. Thomas in Elson.

The Naval Padre the Rev Lovell Pocock reported in 1952 that :
At Morning Service there were . . . Captain and Mrs Hawkins, two or
three Officers and their wives, no service families other than ours, no
Ratings and about 150 civilians.

There was Evensong at 6.30 pm with about 15 present. Not a single Rating
entered the church all day and this was the Station church

Brockhurst Station with the church nearby on a plan of 1910
Brockhurst Station with the church and The Red House nearby on a plan of 1910

Mr Don Dunbar, the verger, had been gassed in Flanders in 1916, invalided out of the Army and, paid for by the Army he became Verger of Siskin Church. In 1919 he remained as Verger paid for by the RAF ranking as a Messenger. From 1945 the Admiralty paid him as a Head Messenger.

He reported to the newspaper in 1950 that the steeple was removed because it had become too weather worn. An iron cross had been knocked out of line by the trailing rope of a barrage balloon. The roof was replaced with steel roof beams and corrugated iron sheets. Internally it was lined with timber match boarding and fibre board sheeting. A small replacement wooden bell tower was constructed next to the porch.

The church services alway concluded with the singing of the last verse of the Hymn of the Fleet Air Arm:

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren’s shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe’er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

In the 1950s the the choir was composed of about 10 boys and 10 men and women, all civilians.

Fort Brockhurst Station with the garrison Church to the right
Fort Brockhurst Station with the garrison Church to the right

Brockhurst Junior School in Avery Lane used this church for its annual Christmas carol service.
The 8th Gosport Air Scout group used the church for its church parades once a month in the post war years to the 1960s. The group flags were dedicated yearly in the church. This scout group had its headquarters in a wooden gymnasium nearby in Baden Powell Road, off Cambridge Road, next to the old Fort Rowner Married Quarters. The Group Scout Master was Mr. Fred Gaze, a dockyard Shipwright Liner. He was also a church warden. His daughter Joan was the Cub Pack ‘Akela’ and one of the Sunday School teachers.

Next to the church was ‘Red House’, built post 1900 and home to the commanding officer RAF Gosport and then the Officer Commanding of H.M.S. Siskin and then Sultan until 1969.

An aerial view over Fort Rowner in 1925 with the church beyond
An aerial view over Fort Rowner in 1925 with the church beyond

In 1967 the decision was made to close the church because the supporting timbers were rotting and the whole structure moved in high winds. The church and Red House were demolished by 1969 and the land has remained unused since then.

Other references:
National Archives: Kew
AIR 2/236 AIR and MILITARY FORCES: Army British, (CODE A, 12/1): Arrangements on taking over of Garrison Church, Fort Rowner, Gosport, by R.A.F. from Army. (1922-1931)

A Chaplain’s Life in the Royal Navy: HMS Siskin, Royal Naval Air Station at Gosport 1952 to 1955 by Rev. Lovell Pocock