3. the thirteen incumbents
‘He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”.’ (Mark 16:15)
1. The Revd Philip Raulin Robin, Perpetual Curate, 1847 - 1852
The family of the Revd Philip Raulin Robin originated from Jersey, C.I. Before coming to Christ Church, Portswood, Philip Robin was curate of Jesus Chapel, later to be called Peartree Church, in the parish of St. Mary Extra, Southampton. In 1841 he had married but his wife died in 1844 without issue. In 1845, he lived at the Parsonage, Itchen Ferry. In 1847, at the age of 32, he was given the awesome responsibility of pastoring the new church of Christ Church, Portswood. An early task was the construction of a burial ground consecrated on 15 March 1850.
In the 1851 census, the Revd Philip Robin is listed as a widower living in Highfield, aged 36. A lodger and two servants made up his household. In 1853, he moved to Woodchurch, Cheshire, where he became curate to the rector, Joshua King, his uncle. In 1855, he married Catherine Frances Edwards of Halifax. On his uncle’s death in 1861, he succeeded to the patronage and was rector of Holy Cross, Woodchurch until his death in 1897 at the age of 82. In 1885, he was appointed an Honorary Canon of Chester.
There are many clergy among the Revd Philip Robin’s descendants. In 1898, his eldest son, the Revd Percival Carteret Robin, succeeded him as rector of Woodchurch. In 1941, Philip Raulin Robin’s grandson, the Revd Bryan Percival Robin, was consecrated Bishop of Adelaide. Today, two of his great grandsons are clergymen and a great great granddaughter is to be ordained in 1998!
2. The Revd Gerald Stephen Fizgerald, Vicar, 1852 – 1864
In 1852, the Revd Gerald Fitzgerald, succeeded the Revd Philip Robin. He was a married man in his forties, with a wife Susan, young daughter, also Susan, and son Gerald. He appears to have been wealthy as in the 1861 Census five female servants are listed as members of his household – a cook, lady’s maid, parlourmaid, children’s maid and housemaid. Gerald Fitzgerald was the first incumbent to live at the parsonage, built in 1852.
3. The Revd Frederic Edward Wigram, Vicar, 1864 - 1880
The Revd Frederic Wigram was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge. He had been ordained a deacon of Ely Cathedral in 1858 and a priest in 1859. In his early thirties, he began his sixteen-year ministry at Christ Church, Portswood.
In the 1871 Census he is listed as Perpetual Curate of Christ Church in the area of South Stoneham. He was married and his wife, Frances, two sons, a daughter and six servants made up his household.
During his ministry, the chancel was enlarged and re-built. It was dedicated on 25 October 1878, by the Rt Revd E Harold Browne, Bishop of Winchester. Frederic Wigram also made extensive alterations to the parsonage.
On leaving Highfield, by then a Canon of Winchester, he became a Prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral. From 1881 – 1895, he was Honorary Secretary of the Church Missionary Society. He died on 10 March 1897, aged 62.
The Revd Richard Clement Callender, the first curate, was the same age as Frederic Wigram, and also served the church 1864 – 1880. He died at Clifton, Bristol, on 5 June 1881, aged 46.
4. The Revd Edgar Silver, Vicar, 1880 – 1903
The Revd Edgar Silver had been a Perpetual Curate of Holy Trinity, Cowes, Isle of Wight, 1860 - 1867 and Rector of Medstead, Hampshire, 1867 - 1880.
In the 1881 Census, he is listed as aged 51, with a wife Isabella aged 51 and a daughter Ida, aged 24. His ministry of twenty-three years was the longest of the 19th Century incumbents.
During his ministry, a Parish Council was appointed, the first Parish Magazines were published and the ecclesiastical district of St Barnabas was formed.
In 1903, Edgar Silver, in his seventies, completed his ministry, having led the parish into a new century and with a new monarch. He died in 1905, aged 75.
5. The Revd Robert Andrew Mitchell, Vicar, 1903 – 1920
The Revd Robert Mitchell, a married man aged 33, was inducted as vicar by the Archdeacon of Winchester on 14 November 1903. He had been ordained a priest at St. Albans in 1894 and had served a curacy in Colchester, Eton and Southsea. Traumatic events during his ministry here were the sinking of the Titanic, on 15 April 1912 and the difficult years of the First World War. Robert Mitchell instigated the western extension of the church in 1914 to accommodate the growing congregation of a rapidly expanding parish. His ministry, particularly throughout the war years, was remembered with gratitude and affection. In 1914, he was made an Honorary Canon of Winchester.
He left Portswood in 1920 to become vicar of St. Michael’s, Chester Square, London. In 1921 he preached at Buckingham Palace ‘before King George V, Queen Mary, the Prince of Wales, Prince Albert, Prince Henry and Princess Mary’. In 1929, he was appointed a Chaplain to the King. In 1930, he became Dean of Lincoln. He remained there until his death in 1949, aged 79.
6. The Revd Walter Henry Chitty, Vicar, 1920 – 1929
On 8 September 1920, the Revd Walter Chitty was installed and inducted as vicar by Canon Neville Lovett, CBE, Rural Dean of Southampton. Though Walter Chitty was ordained a priest in 1904 at Rochester, he had until 1920 spent his life primarily as a schoolmaster.
He had been an assistant master at Giggleswick School in 1890, chaplain and headmaster of Stratheden House School, Blackheath, Kent, 1903 – 1906 and headmaster of Aysgarth School, Yorks, 1908 – 1919.
Starting his ministry at Highfield in his early fifties proved a challenging task. In the post-war years, Walter Chitty faced many problems. The vicarage, he said was in a state of disrepair, too large and uneconomical. The financial support of the church was inadequate and so he introduced a ‘Freewill Offering Scheme’ to provide a regular income that was independent of church attendance.
In 1922, he unsuccessfully tried to abolish Pew Rents. He instituted an annual September Dedication Festival and had the school playground enlarged and re-gravelled. The opening was celebrated by a photograph of the children and published as a supplement to the still thriving Parish Magazine.
Walter Chitty longed for the chancel to be visible from every part of the church. In 1924, he had plans drawn up to pull down the church’s two centre arches and ‘the obstructive pulpit pillar’ and substitute a steel girder (hidden by an oak screen) to span the width of the chancel. To his great disappointment, but possibly to the relief of most of the congregation, this elaborate and expensive dream was never realised.
In 1928, Walter Chitty was made an Honorary Canon of Winchester. He was instrumental in the sale of the vicarage and the acquisition of a smaller one at 99, Highfield Lane. In 1929, he resigned as vicar, though remained Rural Dean of Southampton.
He presented the PCC with a set of bound copies of the Parish Magazine, on condition that future copies would be bound and preserved. He also left a ‘handsome chair’ for use of the Bishop when visiting the church.
He was vicar of Hartley Wintney, 1931 – 1933. He died on 16 September 1940, aged 72.
7. Revd Anthony William Chute, Vicar, 1929 - 1936
The Revd Anthony Chute had been vicar of St. Oswald’s, West Hartlepool, a Fellow and Dean of Divinity at Magdalen College, Oxford, Honorary Chaplain to the Bishop of Durham and Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Portsmouth. A single man aged 44, he was instituted and inducted as vicar on 28 August 1929, by the Bishop of Winchester, Dr Theodore Woods, and his predecessor as vicar, the Rural Dean of Southampton, Canon Walter Chitty.
He took an active part in the day school, youth activities and young people’s Discussion Circle. He taught many teenage lads to play billiards! He had a natural gift of friendship to old and young.
In 1936, he left to become vicar of Basingstoke. During his ministry, ‘church finances became stronger and the progress of the parish continued in an atmosphere of happiness and cheer’. The Revd George Addleshaw, the curate, in his tribute said the vicar had taught them ‘not to worry; the worst sin was to be on bad terms with anyone, to value daily Holy Communion and the beauty of worship’.
Anthony Chute had not used the income from pew rents but had invested it for the benefit of the stipend so he left the living richer than when he came. He was remembered as ‘a much-loved minister and a man of courtesy, charm and wisdom’. In 1939, he became Rural Dean of Basingstoke and in 1944, an Honorary Canon of Winchester Cathedral. He died aged 73, during Holy Week, 1958.
8. The Revd (Arthur) Stretton Reeve, Vicar, 1936 – 1943
The Revd Stretton Reeve, married and aged 29, was instituted and inducted as vicar on 9 October 1936, by the Bishop of Winchester, Dr Cyril Garbett. Stretton Reeve had been ordained a priest in 1931 at Southwark. He was curate of Putney 1930 – 1932, and Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of Winchester, 1932 – 1936. As a Cambridge Blue, he had rowed in the winning eight in 1930. His curate, 1937-1939, the Revd Frank Cocks, a life-long friend, was a Cambridge rugby Blue. Stretton Reeve came to Highfield just before the abdication crisis and succession of King George VI.
In 1938, a son, Peter Stretton Duncan, was born and in 1940, at the height of the blitz, a daughter, Margaret, who was hastily baptised in the vicarage basement during an air-raid. Stretton Reeve proved to be a tower of strength to his parishioners during the terrifying years of World War II. The parish suffered greatly during the blitz. Incendiary bombs dropped close to the church, causing severe damage to the windows and roof and part of the Church Institute. During the frequent air-raids, many parishioners lost their homes and some their lives.
Throughout the many hazards of his wartime ministry, Stretton Reeve determined services and church activities would continue to take place as usual. On 26 September 1940, the church of St. Barnabas was destroyed and from this time Stretton Reeve ministered to the two parishes.
In March 1943, he preached his farewell sermon. He was reluctant to leave the parish before the war had ended but had been invited to become vicar of Leeds. His parishioners were sad to lose the man who had led and comforted them with steadfast courage and hope during the dark days of the war.
A six-month interregnum followed when the senior curate, the Revd David Leslie Couper, (destined to return as vicar in 1950) took responsibility for the parish.
Stretton Reeve was Bishop of Lichfield, 1953 - 1974. His old friend and colleague, Frank Cocks, was appointed one of his two Suffragans, Bishop of Shrewsbury, 1970-1980. Stretton Reeve died in January 1981, aged 73.
9. The Revd Arthur Charles Vodden, Vicar, 1943 - 1950
On 15 September 1943, the Revd Arthur Vodden, aged 53, was instituted and inducted as vicar by the Bishop of Winchester, Dr Mervyn George Haigh. Arthur Vodden had been ordained a priest in 1919. He had been a curate at St. Andrew’s, Plymouth, a chaplain of St. Mark’s, Nairobi, and a vicar in a number of parishes, including Newport, Devon, Bingley, Yorkshire, and Roundhay, Leeds. Again, the parish welcomed a married man as their vicar.
Parish magazines during his ministry were always headed by an ‘Affirmation’, usually a literary quotation, to emphasise his message. He attempted to educate his readers and especially to reach out to those who did not come to church. He was determined his message would reach all parishioners and in 1946, parish leaflets were delivered to 5,250 homes in the parishes of Highfield and St. Barnabas.
During his ministry, Highfield church celebrated its centenary.
Arthur Vodden proved a conscientious pastor during the difficult post-war years. In 1950, he returned to his native Devon, accepting the living of St. Paul, Preston, Paignton. He died there in 1970 in his eightieth year.
10. The Revd David Leslie Couper, Vicar, 1950 - 1966
The Revd David Couper had been curate at Highfield, 1941 – 1943, at the end of the Revd Stretton Reeve’s ministry. From 1943 – 1946, he was resident chaplain to the Bishop of Chichester and from 1946, Rector of Crawley. On 23 November 1950 he was instituted vicar of Portswood by the Bishop of Winchester.
A bachelor, David Couper brought his widowed mother to live at the vicarage. He was the last vicar to live at 99, Highfield Lane, moving into the new vicarage at 36 Brookvale Road in 1954.
During his ministry, he fought tirelessly and successfully to save the church school, when it was threatened with closure by the Local Education Authority.
He is also remembered for preaching an annual sermon on Kindness to Animals. An anonymous sum had been invested for this purpose in 1947.
During his ministry, the new east windows were dedicated and the west porch was added. In 1966, he became vicar of St. Lawrence, Alton. He died in 1971, and the present wall outside the Church Centre was dedicated to his memory.
11. The Revd John Frederick Arthur Williams, Vicar, 1967 – 1990
Previously a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of East Africa, Dr John Williams became curate of the Round Church, Cambridge in 1965. He was inducted as vicar of Highfield on 21 April, 1967 by the Rt Revd Falkner Allison, Bishop of Winchester, and given a brief to make ‘Highfield’ a student-friendly evangelical church to counter the brain-drain from the Church of England occurring in the university at that time. This required a process of continuous change which was still not complete when David James arrived 24 years later!
The first major development was the re-arrangement of the interior layout of the church building in the late 1970’s which began with the construction of a platform in the nave for the communion table. The second was the growth of the staff team, beginning in 1968 with the arrival of the Revd Pat Dearnley as the first of a series of curates, and culminating in the appointment of full-time lay staff workers such as the parish administrator.
As a result, the church steadily grew in numbers and deepened in fellow-ship and commitment, and many young people were called by God to serve Him in full-time ministry, both at home and overseas.
House groups were formed and the ministry of healing through the laying on of hands was introduced. Good Neighbourhood projects, such as the Fish Scheme, were started, leading to the setting up of the Tea Club which flourishes today.
With his wife Ann and nine-year old daughter, Susan, John Williams was the first vicar with children to live at 36 Brookvale Road. Their son, Stephen, was born in 1968, and their second daughter, Rebecca, in 1973.
12. The Revd David Charles James, Vicar, 1990 - 1998
Dr David James was curate here in 1973. In 1976, he moved on to Worthing to be curate of St. Mary’s, Goring by Sea, also assisting at St. Richard’s, Maybridge. Later, he was appointed Anglican Chaplain to the University of East Anglia and then vicar and Rural Dean of Ecclesfield, Sheffield.
David James was inducted vicar of Highfield on 7 September 1990. Again, the vicarage was home to a family, with the vicar’s wife Gill and their four daughters, Joanna, Kate, Lucy and Rachel.
Since David James’ return to Highfield as vicar, student ministry has been greatly extended with the help of student pastoral assistants. The Church Centre has been modernised and completely re-furbished, enabling it to be used for a much wider range of activities to meet the growing needs of this large parish.
Through a series of Mission Audits, David James has led the parishioners towards the millennium, encouraging the discernment of talents to serve God and the community. ‘Open House 150’, was the culmination as the church strove to welcome and show God’s love to all and to be in every sense ‘Christ’s Church’ in this parish of Highfield.
13. The Revd Graham Archer, 1999 - present