THE BISHOP of Sherborne will be at St Thomas Church on Western Avenue, Ensbury Park, this Sunday to launch the 50th anniversary since the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Salisbury in 1967. There will be a series of events following the service, culminating in June next year when they will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the church when the present Bishop of Salisbury will attend.

During the early 1900s residents living in the Ensbury Park area either worshipped at St John's Church, Moordown, St Andrew's Church, Kinson or at St Mark's Church at Talbot Village but as the population of Bournemouth increased this placed a greater strain on the ministry.

A mission hall was needed for religious purposes and secular activities which would provide a focus for a new parish for the area of Ensbury Park. Land at the junction of Barnes Road and Western Avenue was acquired by the diocese.

In 1928 the Mission Church of St Thomas was opened. Alas it was not a parish church in its own right but a daughter church of St Mark's and it remained under the pastoral care of the vicar, Rev B.R. Clutterbuck.

With no resident minister the church was kept going by a band of loyal members. It was not easy to get the necessary help as there was no vicarage or curate's house to offer a suitable candidate with a family. St Andrew's Church managed to acquire some land on the Leybourne Estate for a possible future vicarage.

In 1932 Rev. A.E. Barritt was curate-in-charge at St Thomas and a second hand organ was obtained from Longham Congregational Church. After he left the church in 1936 it was run by lay readers until Rev. Eric Smith took over in 1942.

The Sunday School had flourished ever since the opening of St Thomas thanks to a dedicated band of teachers. Numbers were so great that classes overflowed into the kitchen and vestry.

After 33 years serving at St Mark's, Rev Clutterbuck died and was succeeded by Rev. A.J. Caton who had plans to enlarge the parish church and build a permanent church at Ensbury Park.

Rev. S.E.A. Sherrell took over from Rev Smith at St Thomas and under his guidance the social life of the church developed and there were plans to extend Mission Church premises.

Numbers in the Sunday School rose to about 200 and Rev Caton was invited to St Thomas to see the cramped conditions. Nothing could be done immediately and Rev Sherrell resigned.

Land at Coombe Avenue was obtained and work began on building a curate's house which was completed in 1952 and Rev Bryan Blyth was its first occupant.

Negotiations continued to transfer the Ensbury section of Kinson parish to Talbot parish to form a new parish of St Thomas.

With the appointment of Rev J Morgan as curate-in-charge at St Thomas in 1964, the Bishop of Salisbury decided a new parish should be formed at St Thomas and an agreement between Kinson and St Mark's concluded long years of negotiations about the new parish boundaries.

In the same year a new 'Family Service' was introduced once a month to replace the customary Matins.

The Bishop of Salisbury laid the foundation stone of the new St Thomas in September 1967. Bad weather during the winter held up the work but the consecration ceremony was able to take place on June 21 1968.

The new St Thomas was designed to be light and airy, the altar was free standing to allow the priest to celebrate Holy Communion facing the people, there was a screened-off Lady Chapel for private prayer and a large porch to enable people to chat before and after the service.

Today St Thomas is very much a family church run by the Rev Simon A Evans who has been vicar of Ensbury Park for the last 13 years. Various groups meet at the church including the scouts, guides, an excellent choir, a Fathers and Sons Breakfast Club and a thriving Sunday School.

For more information on 50th anniversary events at St Thomas Church visit