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1785 - St. Ann’s Church

St Ann’s Church built in 8 months to the design of John Marquand. The Admiralty Surveyor, Thomas Telford, was appointed Clerk of Works for the job and the builders were Thomas Parlby & Son. The east end of the church suffered bomb damage in 1941 and re-building shortened the church by two bays. The ships bell of the “Royal George” (see 1782), hung in the cupola of the church. (See 1939-4)

Thomas Telford was the son of a shepherd and was born in Westerkirk, Scotland. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a stonemason which became the beginning of his building career. He worked for a time in Edinburgh and in 1782 he moved to London where he work as a stonemason under Samuel Wyatt who was responsible for the building work on Somerset House.

In Portsmouth, the Commissioner, Sir Henry Martin (who was a personnel friend of the Royal Family), had been given permission to construct a new residence that would befit his station and be elegant enough to act as a home for the King and the Royal family when they visited Portsmouth. The new residence was designed by Samuel Wyatt assisted by his brother Joseph and is generally thought to have been commenced in 1784 and was completed 10th March 1786. At this time Portsmouth dockyard, along with other Royal Dockyards, was in the process of major rebuilding. The Commissioner complained that the Admiralty Surveyor of Works for Royal Dockyards, (John Marquand), could not devote enough time to oversee the building of the new residence. Samuel Wyatt persuaded Sir Henry Martin to have Telford appointed as Clerk of Works for Portsmouth Dockyard where he would be in constant supervision of the new building. During Telford’s two year stay in Portsmouth he also under took other work in the dockyard such as acting as Clerk of Works for the building of St. Ann’s church.

Short Row, a residence for Dockyard Officers, is said to be the first design essay of a building by Telford. South Office Block at the head of HMS Victory was also building at this time as was No 9 Storehouse The main contractors at this time were Thomas Palby senior and Thomas Palby junior and Co. Telford would have had to work closely with these men. Interestingly at this time he came into contact with Joseph Bramah, John Smeaton, George Rennie and later became a great friend of James Watt and also a serious competitor to Isambard Kindom Brunel.

In 1787 he became surveyor of Public Works for Shropshire. His achievements coupled with his rising reputation led to his appointment in 1803 to direct the improvements and construction of roads in the Highlands of Scotland. Here he personally supervised the building of 920 miles of roads together with 1,117 bridges. His greatest road works was the London to Holyhead road. In 1819 Parliament sanctioned the building of what many say is Telford greatest achievement, the bridge over the Menai Strait that linked Anglesey to Wales. With a single span of 600 ft, it was for many years the longest single span bridge in the world.

Telford died in 1834 and is one of the great engineers of his age. In Portsmouth we can be justly proud that it was here in the home of the Royal Navy that it can be said “he cut his teeth as an engineer.”

1785 - St. Ann’s Church