St Philip’s was designed and built by the famous architect Sir Ninian Comper.
St Philip’s Church is a very deceptive building; from the outside the appearance is one of uninspiring red brick. However, once inside a very different sight meets the eyes; not without reason has St Philip’s been described as possibly “one of the outstanding pieces of architecture of the inter-war period.” The internal arrangement is one of the first in this country to revert to the older idea of ‘worship in the round’ where the altar is towards the centre of the Church rather than separated from the congregation. The central feature is the ornate ‘ciborium’ which focuses attention on the altar.
Take a few moments to look around, taking in the many features included in this simple yet beautiful interior. Entering through the main door you pass under St Philip’s question to our Lord, “Lord, show us the Father”, the answer “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” is to be found high up in the east window. Through the door, the whole church is open to view. Above your head are six plaques. From left to right, starting nearest the edge of the balcony, there are the shields of the See of Canterbury, the City of Portsmouth, the See of Portsmouth, Bishop Partridge (2ndBishop) and Bishop Lovett (1st Bishop). Between the last two shields is the Common Seal of the City with St Nicholas on the right, Our Lady in the centre and St Thomas of Canterbury on the left. The motto, translated, reads ‘Virgin, aid the port. Nicholas cherish it. Thomas pray for it’.
Directly in front of you at the end of the central aisle is the font, beautiful in its simplicity. The inscription on the gilded cover is the baptismal formula
‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’.
However, without a doubt, it is the heavily gilded ciborium, which is the most outstanding feature of the Church. This stands in the midst of a square sanctuary with communion rails of late 17th or early 18th century character all around. Above the ciborium is the figure of the risen Christ. It used to be a popular belief that the figure represented St Philip pointing to the east window to draw attention to the answer to his question.
On the inner vaulting of the ciborium, four angels hold the figure of a dove, the traditional representation of the Holy Spirit. Inside the arches are twelve portraits of the Apostles with an inscription which, translated, reads “Come, Spirit of Wisdom, Come, Spirit of Understanding and Counsel, Come, Spirit of Strength and Knowledge, Come, Spirit of true Godliness and fear of the Lord”. On the north and south sides of the ciborium are two further quotations, both from John 16, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. But ye see me”, and “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.”
Turning from the altar and facing west; the imposing organ can be seen. The inscription, from Psalm 150, reads “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet, with stringed instruments and organs, let everything that hath breath praise the Lord”. On the lower part of the organ are the figures of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, and St Gregory the Great. The organ itself was built by Harrison and Harrison of Durham, who built it at approximately the same time as their famous rebuild of the organ at Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of George VI.
The money to build the beautiful Church was bequeathed by Dame Edith Harrison in memory of her husband, Sir Heath Harrison, who died in 1934, he was a man who helped people whenever and wherever he could. He was born in 1857, in Lancashire, but spent most of his life in Hampshire. Local affairs were a major interest, and Sir Heath was elected for the year 1916-1917 to be High Sheriff of Hampshire. He was married in 1882, and Sir Heath and Lady Harrison moved to Le Court, near Liss. In Elizabethan times this was the Manor House of Greatham, a tiny village that now forms part of Liss.
Sir Heath is remembered by many people in many different places for the numerous bequests he made, Liverpool where his shipping firm was based, received help in many ways. Some £25,000 was donated to the Cathedral building fund, Engineering Laboratories, and a Chair of Organic chemistry was set up at the University. A new lifeboat was provided for Ramsey on the Isle of Man, and a travelling scholarship (worth £5) was set up at Oxford University. The list is long indeed. In our own area, a complete new wing was built at Petersfield Hospital, and £5 was donated for playing fields for Portsmouth Grammar School.
A Good Man
From late 1919 to mid 1932, Sir Heath served on the Board of Governors of Churchers College, Petersfield. He was a very respected member of the Governing Body, and it is fitting that this short article should end with a quotation from an Obituary to this fine man written in the College Magazine in May 1934. This perhaps sums up best of all the real Sir Heath Harrison.
“Kind hearted and generous to a degree, he held always before him the Christian ideal of Charity, and used his great wealth in the way which wealth is meant to be used, in helping his fellow men. He was a true benefactor: anything tending towards good had his sympathy and help. Of Sir Heath Harrison it may truly be said that he faithfully performed the whole duty of men. He left the world a better place than he found it.”