Written by Tony Gale
The Hamlet of Ryde was situated in the Parish of Newchurch whose boundaries stretched from the Solent to the English Channel in the area of what is now Ventnor. The only Church was at Newchurch that had been founded in Norman times by William Fitz Osborne. For the inhabitants of Ryde the burial ground at the Newchurch was a long walk over Ashey Down for a funeral and other ceremonies usually celebrated in the Church.
The Manor of Ryde had been purchased from the Dillington family, by Henry Player, a wealthy Brewer from Alverstoke in 1705. Henry Player died in 1711 and was succeeded by his son Thomas. At that time Ryde consisted of two hamlets, Lower Ryde placed around the area where the entrance to the Pier is now located, here there were two Inns and homes of longshoremen, fishermen and pilots. Upper Ryde stretched from StThomas Square to the junction of Star Street and Newport Street; there were smallholdings (known as bargains) some shops and two inns, the Star and the Nags Head. It must be assumed that Thomas Player was concerned at the lack of a church or chapel in Ryde, so in 1719 he built a small chapel some 50 feet by 26 feet and set aside land for a churchyard for burials in land then known as Picket Close.
The Consecration Deed referred to the 6 miles from Ryde to Newchurch and continued “Their frequenting thereof for the Worship of God in Winter and bad weather apt to discourage from the performance of their duty – if not to beget in them total neglect thereof”. The chapel was dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle. It was a chapel of ease to the church at Newchurch. In order to finance the services Thomas Player charged the Manor with the payment of £10 per annum to the Vicar or Curate of Newchurch to officiate in the chapel. The erection of the chapel so soon after the Players had acquired the Manor could be regarded as the first step by the Family towards the development of Ryde. The Bishop of Winchester (Sir Thomas Trelawney who was one of the Bishops imprisoned by James II in 1688) consecrated the chapel on the 17th June 1719, the same day as the church at St Helens, the Bishop first went to St Helens and dined with Thomas Player, (presumably in his Manor House which was located in the area now used as a Car Park adjoining the Prince Consort) before returning to the mainland that evening. The chapel was of simple construction and the Curate held only one service on a Sunday from Newchurch who is likely to have ridden over the Downs on horseback.
At the turn of the century from the 1700’s into the 1800’s Ryde was still primarily the two hamlets – with the one Church. However development had started and the Players had laid out Union Street with some plots having been leased on short leases. The Napoleonic Wars and the restrictions on travel, sea bathing having become fashionable, interest in the Island and Ryde in particular was increasing plus a number of Naval Officers were finding it a good place to be as it was located so close to Portsmouth. Hence, the chapel was too small for the needs of the increasing population of Ryde and in 1813 the existing chapel was enlarged. This extension was insufficient and within a few years the population of Ryde growing ever greater with the construction of the Pier in 1814, and the further development of Union Street plus Yelfs, Crown and Kent Hotels having been opened; in 1827 the grandson of Thomas Player, pulled down the old extended chapel and built a new chapel at a cost of £3,500. The architect was James Sanderson, who had also later designed the nearby Town Hall and Brigstocke Terrace. The new chapel like the old was the private property of the Lord of the Manor. The new St Thomas‘ had a gallery for the “lower classes” with special areas set aside for girls and boys to sit where they could be supervised by their schoolteachers. The Lord of the Manor had his own large box pew with its own entrance from the churchyard. There were other family box pews ranged along the sidewalls; these pews had high panelled sides to give protection from the draughts.
Other significant dates affecting the chapel are the closure of the burial ground in 1853, the removal of the spire as it was unsafe in 1950 and the most significant, the closure of the chapel in 1959. As a result of the efforts of The Friends of St Thomas’ Church, over many years the fabric of the Church has been preserved and with the aid of grants the Church has had modern facilities installed which will enable it to have a continued part to play in Ryde but no longer as a place of worship. During the restoration work the memorial tablets have been cleaned and rehung on the walls showing the names of the Players and Brigstockes who presence and money brought so much to the Church and Town.
In 1810 the Earl Spencer acquired from Robert Yelf the lease of four acres of land to the west of the Town and built a marine villa. He and his wife, the Countess Spencer were worshippers at St Thomas’. When the Countess became aware there were 500 children in Ryde under the age of 15 she immediately set to work and persuaded the Players to grant a lease of land to the east of George Street at a peppercorn ground rent for the erection of a school (the site was in what is now known as Melville Street), she had plans prepared, and finally assisted in the fund raising to enable the first school for boys and girls to be constructed in Ryde. On the 31st August 1812 the Countess opened the school that accommodated 220 boys and 120 girls, the school was known as “Ryde Free School”. (The building when it ceased to be a school was known as the Vectis Hall). The school was funded by voluntary contributions and by charity sermons preached twice a year at St Thomas’. There is a memorial hatchment to “Lavinia, Countess Spencer” in the church.
In 1857 the school was transferred to larger premises in Green Street (now Greenmount School) the official reason being it needed more classrooms and a playground, however with the build up of Ryde in the area of the school it is perhaps more likely it was thought prudent to move the school to a less prosperous neighbourhood as by this time it was surrounded by Melville Street, Nelson Street and Vernon Square with its grand houses. The school taught the “3 R’s” and religious education in accordance with the “Established Church”.
In 1799 and 1800 “Dissenters” tried to establish a meeting place in a barn in the Ryde area, however, the Establishment put pressure on those allowing the use of the barn to evict the dissenters. In 1802 one of the few plots of freehold land in Ryde became available in Newport Street. It was purchased and a small meeting room was erected at a cost of £289-19-4d. The Bishop of Winchester granted the building a certificate as a Meeting House in 1802. In 1805 the chapel became known as “The Independent Chapel of Ryde”. There was no regular Minister, students from Dr Binney’s Theological College in Gosport being ferried across to Ryde to conduct the services. In 1811 a piece of land known as “Ropewalk Field” was purchased on the corner of what was to become the junction of George Street with Melville Street and Cross Street. The foundation stone was laid on the 21st August 1815 and the “Independent Church of Christ assembling in George Street Chapel Ryde” seating 350 was built at a cost of £850. This was the first of three chapels built on the site that later became known as the Congregational Church – the last church was built in 1872 seating 1000 at a cost of £3,000. The Church remained on this site until 1974 when it was pulled down and the church combined with the Haylands Congregational Chapel and purchased premises at “Beechgrove”, Corbett Road, Ryde where a new Church was built and known as the United Reform Church, as the Congregationalists had by this time amalgamated with the Presbyterians.
Methodism was also making headway on the Island and in 1801 Preachers visited the hamlet or village of Ryde. In 1805 the first Chapel was built (on part of the site of the Telephone Exchange). However large debts had been incurred and the Trustees contemplated the sale of the Chapel but increasing membership enabled the Chapel to continue to such an extent that in 1811 another Chapel was built in Nelson Street and replaced in 1842 by a Wesleyan Chapel that could hold 500 worshippers. However a division had already started to emerge in the congregation in 1841 and those following the ideas of the Primitive Methodists built their own Chapel in Star Street (now the carpet shop). Ultimately, in 1883 The Wesleyans built a large Chapel in Garfield Road and the Primitive Methodists erected a new Chapel on the corner of High Street and Well Street, which was opened in 1902. During the Second World War, the various branches of the Church having earlier combined; the Primitive Methodists Chapel was closed in 1942 and the congregations merged at Garfield Road. The Primitives’ Chapel was acquired by the local authority and is now used mainly as a Youth Club. The Bible Christians also had a presence in Ryde and in 1879 had built a Chapel in Newport Street holding a congregation of about 200 with a minister’s residence adjoining. The Chapel had ceased to be used as such well before World War II and is now used as the base for the WRVS activities in Ryde.
The Baptists had established in Ryde in the 1840’s and were using the schoolroom of the Congregational Church for services. In 1847 they met on their own and in 1851 erected a building in John Street (now used for the sale of garden items), however, by 1861 it was too small and the site was acquired in George Street and the Ryde Builder John Meader erected the new chapel to the designs of the local architects F & J Newman in six months. The building although damaged by fire in the 1980’s still stands. The Church opened in 1862 but all was not well and differences arose with the Pastor and in 1870 a splinter group built a Chapel on the corner of Monkton Street and Park Road – the Chapel was covered in corrugated sheets and after the congregations reunited in 1912, the building had many uses including a sweet factory and furniture repository until it was burnt down. A block of flats now stands on the site. The George Street Chapel site is still used by the Baptists despite the fire.
Reverting to some degree of chronological order St James’ Chapel entered upon the scene in 1827 when it was erected as a “Proprietary Episcopal Chapel” by a Mr W. Hughes Hughes, a Barrister at Law, under the sanction of the Bishop and the Vicar of Newchurch. Mr Hughes brother, the Rev. Augustus Hewitt was appointed Chaplain of the Chapel. Mr W. Hughes Hughes was an Alderman of the City of London who had built Belle Vue House as his home, located close to the Chapel and had apparently changed his name from Hewitt. When erected the Chapel was capable of holding a congregation of 650 which included 200 free sittings in the gallery for the poor. The Rev. Hewitt left Ryde after three years and the Chapel was acquired by the Revd. Richard Waldo Sibthorp, who remained for eleven years; he was a man from a wealthy family and possessed great intellect and zeal. Under him the Chapel became well known and the great families of Ryde such as the Duke of Buckingham, Earl Spencer and the Simeons would come to his church. During his ministry Revd Sibthorpe altered the interior of the Chapel and decorated the sanctuary; these alterations seem to have coincided with his own views as in November 1841 he left the Chapel and Ryde and later was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest! Following his departure St James‘ reverted to the Evangelical cause. In 1846 premises were built in Market Street (now the British Legion Club) and a girls’ school was opened accommodating 100 pupils – it closed in 1880.
In 1839 the Vicar of Newchurch, the Revd Spencer Phillips, decided to live in Ryde the most populous area of his Parish. He soon realised that another Church was required as both St Thomas’ and St James’ were crowded demonstrating the necessity for additional accommodation. The Archdeacon, the Venerable Samuel Wilberforce (later Bishop of Winchester) preached at St Thomas‘ in August 1840 stressing the need, a special collection raised £86. 8s.7d. The Archdeacon preached a similar sermon at St James‘ the same day and liberal subscriptions were promised. (In fact the first Church was St John‘s in Oakfield, which was established at first as a District Church of St Helens as that Parish’s boundary was contiguous with Newchurch’s boundary at Monkton Mead Brook. The Church was consecrated in 1843.)
The first additional Church in Ryde was Holy Trinity in Dover Street. The Lind family donated the land and contributed £1,500 to the building fund. The Architect was Thomas Hellier a local man who had already designed St John’s church. The foundation stone was laid in 1841 by Elizabeth Lind, however after the Church had reached street level, difficulties arose which resulted in work ceasing for a year. The Honourable Lindsay Burrell (the Brother of the Countess of Clare of whom mention will be made in reference to the Catholic Church) was staying in Ryde at the time and, on learning of the problems, accepted responsibility for the cash security required, and the building work immediately recommenced. The Bishop of Winchester consecrated the Church on 28th October 1845. The first Vicar, the Rev Wade later wrote, “On the first Sunday in November 1845, I preached the first sermon. Upper Dover Street was partially formed, there was no thoroughfare to Star Street – opposite was still fields with hedgerows – cattle were feeding there”. In 1846 a District was assigned to the new Church but it was still in the Parish of Newchurch and remained so until the death of the Revd Phillips on the 13th May 1863, when under the provision of the New Parishes Act 1856, it became a Parish.
In 1826 Elizabeth Julia Georgina Burrell married John Fitzgibbon, the Earl of Clare. The Count and Countess’ marriage was unsuccessful and they separated in 1828, the Countess moved to the Isle of Wight in order to be near to her brother Lindsay. She acquired Number 4 Brigstocke Terrace Ryde. In 1840 she set out on a tour of Europe and whilst in Rome was received into the Catholic Church. On her return to Ryde she discovered there were only two Catholic Churches on the Island at Newport and Cowes. The Countess persuaded the Bishop of the London District to send a priest to Ryde to establish a mission and on the 19th November 1843 the mission opened in the Priest’s home, a small villa in Goldsworth Grove (between West Street and Victoria Street). The Countess purchased a piece of freehold land between the High Street and Warwick Street at auction – it had to be freehold land as neither the Lind estate or Brighstocke estate would agree to the erection of a Catholic or Non-Conformist Church on their leasehold land. The Countess engaged Joseph Hansom as architect to design a classical style church; however when he inspected the site he persuaded her the site was more conducive to an Early English Gothic style. Mr Dashwood of Ryde was the Builder (he also built Holy Trinity); he started work on the 15th October 1844. Fr William Hunt who had received the Countess into the Catholic Church in Rome some 5 years previously said the first Mass on Trinity Sunday 7th June 1846. The Countess spent about £18,000 on the Church and Presbytery, later building a School for the Catholic children. Bishop Grant of Southwark consecrated the Church in May 1863. Originally the church was known as “St Marie’s Basilica” but later as St Mary’s Church. During the rest of the 19th Century additions were made to the Church, the biggest being the purchase of the White Swan Inn, which was demolished, and the creation of a new entrance to the Church. Nuns also came and opened a Convent School in the High Street adjoining the new entrance. In 1977 the original School was closed and transferred to a new building in Ampthill Road.
Although not actually in the Parish of Newchurch because of its proximity to Ryde, the Holy Cross Church at Binstead is included as a peripheral church. It has very old beginnings mainly stemming from the good limestone that was easily quarried nearby. The Romans used the stone for the Castle at Porchester; the next reference is in the time of the Conqueror who granted rights for Winchester Cathedral to have stone from Binstead Quarries. The date of the foundation of the Church is not known but doubtless it existed from the 11th Century to serve the workers in the quarries. The first reference known is in 1284. The church now standing is a meld of a short medieval Chancel with a Victorian Nave – the Norman Nave was in a bad state of repair and demolished in 1844 and a new Nave built to the design of Thomas Hellyer at a cost of £1,800. In 1875 a north aisle was added. In the 1970’s a disastrous fire gutted the roof and the Ryde Builders GH Allen & Son’s craftsmen rebuilt the roof.
The next church to be built is not All Saints but in 1857 the construction of the Church at Swanmore commenced and when completed was known as St Michael’s and All Angels`. The church is the only one in Ryde to be built with a Tower. It was consecrated in 1863 by the Bishop of Winchester. The first Vicar was the Revd Richard Wix whose ministry was significant both locally and nationally. He adopted practices of burning incense and having lighted candles on the altar during services. At the time these practices were unlawful; Wix ignored the commands of the Bishop and ultimately he was summonsed to appear before the Court of Arches, where he was fined, but still continued with his unlawful practices. Ultimately after the appointment of Samuel Wilberforce as the Bishop of Winchester, Wix’s life became less stressed as the new Bishop appeared to have more moderate views. The church’s interior is built in soft honey coloured bricks and is lofty and stylish. With its Lady Chapel and other decorations it could easily be thought to be a Roman Catholic Church. The use of incense and candles in the services of the Church has continued since the time of the Revd Wix.
Despite the additional churches that had been built the then Vicar of Newchurch called a meeting in January 1864 to consider the erection of a new church. He pointed out the difficulties of administering his widely separated Parish and the expense of so doing. The meeting resolved to build a new church in Ryde which should be “Large, Ornamental – adapted to the wants of so important town as Ryde”! In 1866 by Special Act of Parliament, the Parish of Ryde was constituted stretching from Ashey Beacon to the Solent. The first Vicar of Ryde ministered at St Thomas'(which under the Act became a Chapel of Ease to the new church) and in 1868 the Revd Alexander Poole took over and was responsible for driving forward the erection of the new church. George Gilbert Scott was appointed the architect and the London firm of Jackson and Shaw, the contractors. Building commenced on the 20th April 1869. By the end of 1871 the Church and Vicarage were finished. The consecration was carried by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce on the 2nd January 1872, the Church being dedicated to “All Saints”. The North porch was added later by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club as a memorial to the Prince Consort. In June 1881 after all the debts had been liquidated, the contract to erect the tower and spire was signed with Isaac Barton at a cost of £3,037, the work was completed in June 1882. The final structure of a Vestry was completed by December 1891. The Revd Poole had led the people of his Parish throughout this time from the start to the completion of what is often described as one of the finest Parish Churches in the South of England. The cost of the site, vicarage and body of the church was £16,500; the tower and spire £3,037 and the vestry £854, a total of £20,391. There were many substantial individual gifts of decoration such as the Pulpit, Altar Rails, Carvings and Ornamentation of the interior and stained glass windows. By the Act which created the Parish the vicar was to be known by the title of “The Vicar of Ryde”.