The Parish of Portfield was amalgamated with that of Whyke in 1980, it had survived as a parish for only 109 years. Its history is unremarkable and of interest mainly in that it chronicles the diverse life of a typical Anglican parish during the late 19th and 20th centuries. It describes a community of devout worshippers who both prayed together and played together. Their annals contain accounts of church fetes in the Vicarage garden, of harvest dinners, Sunday School outings and Christmas tableaus.
Two great common fields, Guildenfield and Portfield, had dominated the area to the east of Chichester since the 12th century. They were divided into small plots and held by a large number of landowners. As the city expanded in the early years of the 19th century roads were constructed and houses built.
The area came under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the parish of Oving. As Portfield expanded its population grew to be twice that of Oving village. [In the 1871 census, of a population of 1403 adults, 953 lived in Portfield]
In 1851 a meeting was held in the Cathedral Library to discuss ways of meeting the needs of Portfield residents, it also wished to find a suitable way in which to provide a memorial to the Rev G.H.Langdon, the recently deceased Vicar of Oving.
It was decided that a chapel or church to be built on a site convenient to Portfield would be a fitting way to commemorate the vicar’s life. To this end a testimonial fund was instituted, the Bishop opened it with a donation of £50.00, the Dean and Chapter giving a similar amount.
By 1869 plans for a new church were drawn up by Henry Woodyer, [1816-1896], an architect based at Graffham who worked extensively in the southern counties and mostly known for church restorations and building schools and vicarages.
The site chosen was in the road leading to the new municipal cemetery, which had been opened in 1858, the road was subsequently named Church Road. The contractor chosen for the project was John Ellis, a local builder.
On 14th January 1871, at Osborne House on the IOW, Queen Victoria signed an Order in Council creating the new parish of Portfield. It was formed by dividing the parish of Oving. On February 18th Bishop Gilbert consecrated the new church and instituted the Reverend H M Davey, MA of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, as Portfield’s first vicar with a stipend of £200 pa.
The new church was built in traditional style, it provided seating for 257 worshippers, its final cost was £2640, music was provided by a harmonium.
One of Davey’s first acts was to procure a room in a former foundry in Oving Road for use a a school to serve the new parish. Thus Portfield Infants School opened its doors on July 12th 1871.
Building of a new vicarage was commenced on a site in Church Road; nearby to the Church in September 1873, once again the architect was Woodyer and the builder John Ellis. The Vicar and his wife moved in August 1874, the cost of building was £1500, the half-acre site was purchased and donated by the vicar. Thus giving a suspicion that, like most clergymen of the time, he was a man of private means, not entirely dependant on his stipend for survival.
The first vestry meeting was held on April 13th 1871 when Mr. R Sadler was appointed as the vicar’s churchwarden and Mr. Charles Barton elected as the peoples warden.
Rev. Davey remained at Portfield for eight years, leaving in 1879; he was to die later the same year. Rev John Scott replaced him, unfortunately the new vicar was in poor health for most of his time in the parish and he died in office in 1881.
His successor Percival Webb stayed only two years, it is recorded that a hot water heating system was installed in the church in 1882 at a cost of £60. At this time Mr Daughtry the organist and choirmaster, who also served in the Cathedral, was paid £100 per annum.
The next vicar Rev W.A.Firth was in office from 1894 to 1903. It was in Firth’s time at Portfield that Thomas Wingham was first chosen as the peoples’ churchwarden, he held the office for 37 years dying in office in 1930. The pair of silver topped churchwardens’ staves presented to the church to commemorate his long service are still in regular use by the wardens of St George’s.
George Irvine the next priest to come to Portfield remained for eighteen years from 1904 to 1922.
In 1914 Mrs Davey. widow of the former vicar, paid for various alterations to be made to the church, in her husband’s memory. These included extension to the chancel aisle, enlargement of the vestry and a new stained glass window. The new window was carried out by the workshop of Charles Kempe, the distinguished stained glass artist and was in three panels depicting St Richard, St. Nicholas and St Christopher. The Bishop of Chichester dedicated it in March 1915. It is now in the South aisle of St George’s church.
When Revd Irvine left, his replacement, Revd A.L.Coates, former vicar of Littlehampton, stayed for less than a year, the post then being taken by Revd. B.Foster Palmer from 1926 to 1934. Revd Charles A Weekes succeeded him and stayed until 1939.
The Revd Bernard Tanner served the parish during the war years from 1939 to 1950, to be followed by Robert Hull from 1950 to 1957.
The Revd Eric Marsh who served from 1957 to 1964 was the last vicar of Portfield, when he left owing to ill health Charles Mills was appointed as a priest in charge remaining until 1966 when W.L.O’Neill took over.
On the amalgamation with the parish of Whyke in 1979, Father David Brecknell became priest in charge of Portfield in addition to his duties as Rector of Whyke.
The last PCC of Portfield met on 11 June 1980 to be informed that the church was to be made redundant. The Diocesan authorities sold the building, which was converted to become the Mechanical Music and Dolls Museum. Responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the graveyard was passed to the PCC of the parish of Whyke.
Thus All Saints Church had served the people of Portfield for just over a century. The growth of the parish, anticipated in 1870, never took place. The site adjoined the municipal cemetery on one side and on the other sides the land proved to be gravel bearing and was excavated in the 1930’s and 1940’s. At one time the church and its graveyard was virtually an island. Eventually the pits were filled, only to become the Portfield Retail Park. In hindsight the church’s setting could hardly have been worse.
In 2006 the former Rectory and its site, which had been in private ownership since the 1960s, were re-developed to provide new flats and housing.
Contributed by Ken Green