St. Christopher’s Church was built as a result of the westward expansion of the small town of Haslemere following the coming of the railway and the addition of a part of a nearby parish. The initial proponent of the project, in the last decade of the 19th century, was the Parish Rector, Rev’d Sanders Etheridge, and his work was continued enthusiastically by his successor, Rev’d George Aitken, a noted social reformer and Liberal. Likely under his influence and that of Algernon Methuen, the publisher and a parishioner, the architect Charles Spooner – the follower of William Morris and a light of the flourishing Arts & Crafts movement of the time – was engaged to design the new church. St Christopher’s was built to a very high standard over quite a short time and was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester in September 1903.
It fully justifies its Grade II listing, being built predominantly of (now rare) Bargate Stone, with decorative mortar flints and with dressed stonework being either Bath or York Stone. Its interior was cleverly designed without any internal support columns and is a virtually perfect rectangle.
It has the benefit of a hardwood barrel ceiling under a conventional pitched and tiled external roof and so provides that rare commodity, perfect acoustic within a large building. As a result it is much in demand for concerts and the like, for the only amplification needed is to provide a hearing loop for those with poor hearing.
The interior is also one of the finest examples of late-Victorian Decorated style, which has been carefully maintained by the present congregation and is in excellent condition. Spooner attracted some of the best of the Arts & Crafts world to work at the church. His speciality was wood carving and he designed all the beautiful oak fittings – pulpit, organ casing, choir stalls, prayer desks, even the hearts and crosses ventilation holes in the roof and the painted ceiling are his design. Minnie Dibdin-Spooner’s painted triptych for the High Altar was exhibited in London at the 1912 Arts & Crafts Exhibition before installation in the church.
The gilt lettering was done by Eric Gill, a stained-glass window by Martin Travers, another by Mary Lowndes and the East Window by Christopher Whall’s workshop. The decorated Hanging Rood Cross (for Rev’d Christopher Tanner AM, curate of the church and WWII hero) was also designed by Martin Travers.
It is said that the church was a particular favourite of the late Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, who commended it in his 1958 address ‘In Praise of St Christopher’s Church’. Relatively unusually, the church stands at the absolute centre of its community and is widely used for concerts and presentations of one sort or another apart from its principal role as the church of a thriving and enthusiastic congregation for whom an average of three services a week are provided.
The church is open for roughly 150 days per annum. Its gardens, part consecrated as a Memorial Garden, is used as a place of calm and reflection by local people, during the day and particularly at lunchtimes. There is now a Memorial Wall carrying plaques commemorating those whose ashes are interred in the Garden. It is notable as a building for having had virtually its whole construct as hand-made.
As it says in the Building Committee’s minutes of the time “We will not be content to put into our little House of Prayer anything cheap or ordinary. Each piece of furniture as it has come has been specially designed and made. And with hardly a single exception – all those machine-made articles which may be seen by the dozen in the catalogues of church shops – have been excluded. Only the best we have said – for the service of God’s House.”