St Peter's Chapel

IN THE BEGINNING there was just the Church of St Thomas a Becket at Warblington where the people of Emsworth and Warblington could go to worship. That was rather a long walk for Emworthians to undertake given the exposed nature of the estuary path to the church. With the increasing population of Emsworth and the static population of Warblington there was growing clamour for the Church to provide a chapel in Emsworth under its jurisdiction. Continued Church refusal to provide such a facility led to St Peter’s Chapel being built as a Proprietary Chapel, that is a chapel funded by donations and subscriptions from private individuals and completely divorced from the church at Warblington. By 1789 donations and some 500 subscriptions (one subscription per pew) had been raised, sufficient to begin construction, which led to the Chapel of St Peter being completed for a total cost of £1,400 by two local builders (John Painter and John Sueter). The chapel opened in 1790 on the site of today’s Greenhouse Cafe.

 

Concert at St.Peter's Chapel

Despite the pledges of subscriptions the chapel seems to have struggled financially from its opening, and forced to develop other income streams as the advert of a concert in 1790 might show. Note the final sentence indicates there was a feeling about that maybe the building was being put to use rather hurriedly after its completion. However it was the building of St James’ Church that dealt St Peter’s the real body blow. Lying in the parish of Warblington, St James’ was designated “a Chapel of Ease” making it free to attend while all construction and operational costs were met by the Church. Costing only £1500 it is apparent that inflation was barely an issue in the first half of the 19th century.

 

Key DatesOccupier/Function
1789-90 Built by Painter and Seuter as St Peter’s (Proprietary) Chapel HRO, LHP
1789 – 1845 Functioned until St James Church was built in 1840 in North Street
1838 Tithe No.614. Shown as Chapel, Trustees as occupiers
1852 Ceases to be a chapel HRO
1876 Purchased by The Emsworth Proprietary Hall Company. NP
1881 Becomes known as “Town Hall”.
1912 - 1930 Licensed as the “Town Hall Cinema” to George Brookfield with 270 seats, subsequently passing to Emsworth Town Hall Company, to Earnest and Victor Ruffle, then to Field & Palmer.EMA
1930-53 Functioned as the Pavilion Cinema (now with 527 seats), new frontage, under Charles Fowlie. Closed by 1953.EMA
1953 Reeves Builders’ Merchants
1998 Frobisher Court (new café), later Greenhouse Café.

Superseded by St James’, St Peter’s Chapel ceased religious activities in 1852 and gradually fell into decay, at one point becoming little more than a well-appointed pig-sty. It was rescued in 1876 by the Emsworth Proprietary Hall Association who refurbished it for use as a venue for meetings, lectures and social events. It became popularly known as “The Town Hall”, and is marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1908 as such, though it was never owned or used by local government agencies.

The Archive donated to the museum contains the booking diary for the “Town Hall” for the period July 1897 to December 1907. It was received from Roger Lintott whose Great Grandfather, William John Gray, the local bill-poster and Town Crier, looked after the bookings. At the time of the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria and a subsequent Coronation, the diary reveals some of the social and business life of Emsworth at that time. In summary 287 concerts, theatre performances and pantomimes were staged, of which 187 were promoted by the Emsworth Musical Society.

The bookings detailing cinematography foretell the next use of St Peter’s, that as a cinema from 1912 to 1953. Early in this period it was exotically called “Town Hall Electric Pictures” though fairly quickly through common usage it became Town Hall Cinema. Around 1930 it became the Pavilion Cinema. The name change may have been as a result of a relaunch of the cinema associated with the advent of talking movies. The building was certainly refurbished at this point, to little effect it seems, as there is one report of the cinema manager going round to the Methodist Chapel next door to complain that the hymn singing was drowning out the soundtrack of the film! The cinema closed in 1953.

Thereafter the building continued its journey through whatever trade and social requirements put on it. It has served the town well. What a pilgrimage!