St Katharine’s Church was founded by personal friends of John Keble to exhibit and strengthen the Anglican Catholic aspect of the Church of England. In 1876 a temporary church was built in a very desolate spot near the cliffs by Doctor Thomas Armetriding Compton, who had been practising in Bournemouth since 1866. Originally Dr Compton had purchased 230 acres of land from General Cleveland, with a sea frontage of just over 1 mile, this area extended from what is now Clifton Road in the west to Hengistbury Head in the east and was bounded in the north by the Carbery and Stourcliffe estates. Bournemouth at this time was a popular and rapidly expanding seaside resort and there is little doubt that the Doctor founded the Southbourne Land Society and purchased this very poor land at Southbourne with a view to future development and as a sound investment. Apart from the church, Dr Compton was instrumental in the development of the area. To make easier access he was responsible for the construction of Belle Vue Road and Tuckton Bridge.
As a conventional district within the Parish of St James, Pokesdown, Dr Compton built his temporary church on the gorse covered cliffs which served as a schoolroom on weekdays. The Rev. T. Anderson, Vicar of St James, appointed the Rev. E. H. Fellowes as the first Priest-in-Charge and the first service in the temporary church took place on 1st July 1876, when the alms were collected by Dr Compton’s gardener, Mr John Barnes who later became the verger of the permanent church and served it with distinction for 51 years. It is important to point out that Mass Vestments were used at St Katharine’s from the very beginning although at first only made from plain white linen.
Communions for the first year totalled 347, an average of 7 a week with collections totalling £45.1.9. Services on that first day, 1st July 1876 were Holy Communion at 8am, Matins and Sermon 11am, Litany and Sermon 3pm, finishing with Evensong, without a Sermon at 7pm. A harmonium was used to accompany the hymns.
The Rev. H. Saunders replaced the Rev. Fellowes as Priest-in-Charge in 1880 the same year as Mr Theodore Cornish formed his ‘Pembroke Lodge’ School for boys. Communions this year totalled 787 with collections amounting to £91.5.8.
On 7th June 1881 the foundations of the present church were laid by Rev. W.H. Lucas, Vicar of Sopley and Rural Dean of Christchurch. Dr Compton gave the site for which he had paid £70 some years previously. His brother-in-law, Mr Alfred Birt of East Dulwich, was appointed architect and he produced a design which is ‘Early English’ in style.
In consultation with Rev. Alexander Morden Bennet, Vicar of St Peter’s Bournemouth and pioneer of several local churches, Dr Compton decided on St Katharine’s as a suitable title for the new church, lying as it does between a view of St Katharine’s Point in the Isle of Wight to the south-east and the hill of St Catherines to the north-east. Thomas Chalk became the Priest-in-Charge of the temporary church in 1881 when Communions reached 920 and collections totalled £193.
Tuesday 30th May 1882 was the next landmark in the history of the church, when Dr Harold Browne, Bishop of Winchester, dedicated the first (western) part of the church. Communions this year exceeded 1000 for the first time.
St Katharine’s was consecrated on the Festival of its Patron Saint, November 24th 1886, by Dr Harold Browne, Bishop of Winchester, who accepted the Deeds of Conveyance from Dr Compton, and laid them on the Altar.